By Matt Samansky
As part of DigitalMuscle.com’s ongoing coverage of the ever-changing sports supplement industry, our Supplement Editor Matt Samansky caught up with long time sports nutrition insider Mike Arnold to discuss a variety of topics, including the highly anticipated launch of his new supplement line. Matt Samansky also serves as editor at the Project Bodybuilding website.
Question: First of all I would like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Tell me a bit about your latest endeavor, MA Labs.
Mike Arnold: I appreciate the opportunity. Your work at Project Bodybuilding is something I have been following for some time and I think I speak for the majority when I say that PBB holds a unique and valued place in the industry. I wish you continued success.
The idea for MA Labs first came into being several years ago when, after watching several of my friends and acquaintances achieve success in the industry within a short period of time, I was inspired to try and do the same. But the one company that really showed me what was possible, as far as rate of growth was concerned, was BSL—the brainchild of Rob DiMaggio, Aaron Singerman, and PJ Braun. While BSL did not start from scratch like MA Labs did, the rate of growth was astounding. Once I saw that I said to myself “hey, if these guys can do it, why not me?” After all, I had been approached by BSL, IML and others more than once for ideas regarding product design, so rather than using my talents solely for the benefit of others, I decided it was time to use those same talents to benefit the lives of my wife and children.
Still, it was another 2 years before I finally decided to make a move and start putting together the company. By last fall nearly everything was in place, with 3 products ready to launch. It was at that time that I did a thorough evaluation of the business plan and decided it would be advantageous to take Robert DiMaggio (CEO of Ironmag Labs) up on his offer for partnership, which he had originally proposed back in the winter of 2016. After a short talk, it was apparent that this collaboration would be mutually beneficial, so we decided to move forward. On my end, the reasons were simple. Rob brought several things to the table that I lacked; namely, the operational facilities and services that are critical for any company hoping to grow their business beyond the intermediate level. Secondly, Rob comes with over a decade of experience in the industry, which speaks for itself.
With the current set-up, Rob and I each have very distinct roles and responsibilities within the company. While Rob manages most of the day-to-day operational stuff, I function more as the visionary of the company, determining its overall direction and image through product development, marketing, and devising the overarching business strategy, etc. This involves a LOT of time doing research and interacting with others through the boards, social media, e-mail, etc. Rob has been very supportive in this regard. Being that he has already achieved success in this area multiple times before, he is a great resource to turn to when I have questions. When it comes to the operational aspect of the business, I am sure Rob could tell you a lot more about that than I could, as all the products are stored and shipped on the other side of the country from where I live.
As far as what MA Labs is all about, I believe that question is best answered with a quote taken from our mission statement, which reads “we seek to meet un-met needs with best in class products that surpass our customers’ expectations. We don’t shrink from controversy, but seek to redefine the marketplace through originality, excellence, and a no-holds-barred approach that pushes the limits of mainstream supplementation”. While this may give the potential customer a general idea of what we want to do for them, to me MA Labs is about much more than just that. It is the culmination of my life’s work, passions, and ambitions.
Question: You mentioned in your mission statement that you mean to inform customers with factual information from the most up to date scientific resources. Let’s be honest, we often skim through content, failing to retain any information. How do you intend to educate your potential consumers who might prefer succinct descriptions of what the product does?
Mike Arnold: There will always be a portion of the population that is not interested in deeper education…and that is OK. Sometimes, all they want to know is if the product does what the company says it does, and how it performs relative to products within the class. But for those who do desire to learn more, it is our goal to make that information available to them. For this reason, all of our product descriptions contain both cliff notes and a more detailed product analysis, but the best way to educate the consumer is still the old-fashioned way—by getting on the boards and interacting with people. This type of one-on-one interaction allows me to reach out to potential customers in a multitude of different ways, while tailoring my communication style to the individual. I have always been impressed by companies that have taken the time to educate the consumer about their products; companies such as EAS, VPX, Gaspari, and more recently AMI. All of these companies (and many others) have at one time or another gone to great lengths to explain WHY their products were superior to the competition…and they all benefitted immensely from it.
Question: I am always fascinated with marketing techniques practiced by successful companies. Where did these unique and intriguing names originate?
Mike Arnold: All of the current MA Labs products, with the exception of NSX-6 (the letters of which stand for “neuro surge extreme” and the letter 6 designating the number of compounds in the product), are what would be referred to as portmanteau words. A portmanteau word is when the sounds and meaning of two words are combined. A good example of this would be “brunch”, which, as you know, is derived from the words breakfast and lunch. In the case of Somatozine, we are looking at a blending of the technical term for growth hormone (somatotropin) and huperzine; two of the compounds within the product. Being that Vicaine contains both an opioid receptor agonist and stimulants, I’ll let you figure out what two words I combined for that one.
Question: With the popularization of nootropics, the supplement industry is moving towards a place where products are not only being manufactured for use inside the gym, but outside as well. MA Labs’ NSX-6 is leading the charge in this new category. Discuss the importance of creating diverse, multi-faceted supplements.
Mike Arnold: Companies have been making products for use outside the gym for years now. In fact, many of today’s sports nutrition products can be used at any time and aren’t limited to just a single application. This includes products such as protein powders, amino acids, stimulants, etc. However, truly diverse multi-use products are seen much less frequently. While NSX-6 is capable of functioning in this capacity, diversity wasn’t my original intention when I first decided to make a product of this nature. Rather, it was to provide an alternative to traditional stimulant-based products, as there is a fairly large contingent of people in our community who don’t care for the overly-stimulated feeling (and crash) that these products typically provide. Nor do the majority of PED users want to place additional stress on their cardiovascular system, which can be a real issue with traditional stims. NSX-6 meets both of these needs. The fact that it can also be employed for a wide variety of other purposes is just an extra perk and something that was readily recognized during its formulation.
Question: Vicaine is a rather contradictory supplement acting as both a stimulant and an opiate mimetic. What is the most optimal time to supplement with this product and what effects can we expect?
Mike Arnold: Vicaine is a very unique product—truly the first of its kind. Although the description says opiate “mimetic” on the website, that terminology was employed as a way of communicating to the individual, in a simplistic manner, what kind of effects the user could expect to experience. In reality, Vicaine contains an “opiate-like” compound which, although not technically classified as an opiate, functions as a full-opioid receptor agonist in the same way as traditional opiates. When combined with a number of carefully selected dopaminergic stimulants and nootropics, it produces a pleasurable experience similar to what one would encounter with a less legal form of supplementation. However, before you start thinking that Vicaine serves no other purpose than making people feel good, think again.
As one would expect, the stimulants within Vicaine have been shown to enhance both physical and mental performance in numerous clinical studies, but what usually throws people off is the inclusion of a full-opioid agonist. They wonder how a compound such as this fits into the bigger picture. Without getting too in-depth, allow me to lay out a few basic facts. The opioid agonist within Vicaine is a highly unique compound, with an effect profile unlike any other opioid agonist ever created. In fact, it belongs to a completely different class of compounds altogether and to this day it remains the first and only one in its class!
Even more fascinating and what really separates this compound from other opioid agonists is its ability to induce stimulatory effects in the face of opioid receptor activation. As a result, the user feels uplifted, energetic, and euphoric…rather than sedated, groggy, and euphoric. In clinical trials conducted in France, it has even been shown to improve exercise performance and of course, it functions as a painkiller as well. Basically, the user gets all the benefits of both opioids and stimulants, but without the unwanted side effects of either! This is what one can expect to experience when taking lower doses of Vicaine (more suitable for training or other types of physical activity), while higher doses will provide a more “recreational” experience.
Question: What makes Somatozine the most potent growth hormone secretagogue on the market?
Mike Arnold: It all begins with the base compound, ibutamorin, which is more commonly known as MK-677. Backed by a mountain of both clinical and anecdotal research, MK-677 is widely recognized as the most effective, orally bioavailable growth hormone secretagogue on the planet. There is not a single orally active or even injectable growth hormone releasing agent that can surpass it. Acting as a powerful ghrelin mimetic, MK-677 works through several mechanisms to stimulate growth hormone release at the pituitary, and it does so with an efficacy equal to about 3-4 iu of pharmacy-grade GH per day. In contrast to the highly inflated claims put forth by some companies regarding their growth hormone product, this is real-talk, as literally hundreds of individuals (both clinically and on the boards) have had their GH and IGF-1 levels measured while using the compound.
Even when run solo MK-677’s effects are already extremely impressive. However, by combining it with several other ingredients clinically proven to increase GH, IGF-1, and IGFBP-3 levels through multiple mechanisms, while also potentiating the actions of IGF-1 in the body, we are left with a product of superior effectiveness. While the current version of Somatozine is an awesome product, the next version (which will be released after the beta run is sold out) will be even more effective. Oddly enough, we are the first company, to my knowledge, which has sought to further augment MK-677’s effectiveness by combining it with other proven, complimentary ingredients.
Question: Two out of three MA Labs supplements (NSX-6 and Somatozine) are proprietary blends. Why not provide consumers with full product transparency?
Mike Arnold: This is actually untrue. We currently offer three products for sale, all of which provide full disclosure regarding their ingredients and dosages. Only one product originally utilized a prop blend (NSX-6), but not when sold through MA Labs. Allow me to explain.
You see, NSX-6 was originally released through SMA Labs, the forerunner of MA Labs. At that time I was using a proprietary blend for NSX-6. However, when I decided to change the company name from SMA Labs to MA Labs, I still had some inventory (with original labels) lying around from the previous company. Being that the plan was to release NSX-7 in the not too distant future, it did not make sense to produce a bunch of new labels for a relatively small amount of stock. So, Rob and I decided to sell off the remaining inventory as a “beta” version, as this provided us with an opportunity to gain valuable customer feedback, while also giving us some extra time to make new labels for NSX-7 (all of which will provide full product disclosure).
Although the website may still list the prop blend for that particular product, we only did so to eliminate confusion, as we wanted the image on the site to match the bottle that was being sold (with old labels). However, immediately after MA Labs opened I publicly posted the full product formula on the boards where we advertise.
Regarding the future use of prop blends, unless we stumble upon something that truly requires one in order to protect our interests (which is unlikely to happen), you will never see a prop blend from MA Labs. I am well aware of the general dislike surrounding these blends. Hell, I don’t like them either…because we all know the main reason most companies use them and it has NOTHING to do with trying to prevent other companies from copying their formulas! In some cases a company may have a genuine need for one, but such instances are rare indeed. The bottom line is that prop blends will not be part of the MA Labs product line.
Question: You have built a reputation in this industry on creating products that push the envelope and MA Labs is no different. But talk about the difference between the more hardcore IronMag Labs brand and MA Labs.
Mike Arnold: Although I can’t speak for IronMag Labs, I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as more “hardcore”, as MA Labs currently offers some of the most cutting-edge, grey area products you will find anywhere. Rather, I think it is more accurate to just say that they are different. Both cater to the same demographic while striving to push the envelope, but at the same time, they seek to differentiate themselves through dissimilarity in product design. This is fairly easy to accomplish, as each company has a different product formulator, which brings with it different ideas and ways of looking at things.
Question: You are also known for including new compounds to build groundbreaking products. Some of these ingredients such as sunifiram, phenylpiracetam, and nefiracetam I have never heard of! Talk about your formulating philosophy and the art of product creation.
Mike Arnold: First and foremost, I always approach product design with the end goal of making the best product possible. While this may sound like a basic guiding principle for every company, believe me, it is not! But for MA Labs, it is the very foundation on which the company rests and lies at the core of our mission statement. I am always seeking, to the very best of my ability, to produce best-in-class products or create a new category of products worthy of the title. Despite the almost generic simplicity of this frequently over-used (and frequently broken) promise, I do not think it should be overlooked. You see, producing products of this nature is not necessarily difficult, nor, in my estimation, does it require a prodigious intellect. What it does require, however, is an education adequate for the task and perhaps even more importantly, the willingness to sacrifice profit for product effectiveness.
With this end goal in mind, I start out by asking myself what type (category) of product I want to make. Sometimes this might belong to a currently existing class of supplements, or it might be something new entirely, but I usually look for holes in the industry first—something that either hasn’t been done before, or which hasn’t been done well. This frequently leads me in the direction of what the industry refers to as “grey” area compounds. If, after looking at all my options, I determine that it is not possible to make a best-in-class product in a particular category, I will start looking in other directions, but rarely is this the case. Once I have decided on a particular product category, I usually already know what compound(s) I am going to include in the base formula, but I still do my due diligence in making sure something hasn’t escaped my attention.
Only after this initial process is complete does the real work begin—the refinement stage. It is at this point that I attempt to further enhance the base formula by uncovering and manipulating any pathway that could be used to improve the end result. Once I have a general idea of where improvements could be made, I begin sifting through an ocean of compounds that might be useful and eventually decide which are ideal for inclusion in the final formula. Sometimes this process results in significant improvement and at other times it may only be slight, but sometimes all you need is a “slight” improvement to end up with a best-in-class product. This entire process involves a lot of research, as I am required to evaluate the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profiles of dozens of different compounds from all over the world, each of which functions with varying degrees of efficacy and may be subject to various contraindications.
Even then, you can’t always know exactly how something is going to work. This is particularly true of those products which rely on a “feeling” to help make sales, such as Vicaine or the various pre-workout products. This leads to the final step in the formulation process—the beta version stage. This is when a product is released in smaller quantities in its “beta” form, which allows me to assess customer feedback and if necessary, do any last-minute tinkering before releasing the finalized version in larger quantities.
Although this might sound like an elaborate, complex process (and it can be), the truth of the matter is that those of us who do this for a living already have a pretty good idea of what is out there, as we keep up to date on all the available research. This is why I said earlier that being willing to sacrifice profit for effectiveness is often the line in the sand; a dividing factor that determines how good a product will ultimately be. Still, those who consistently turn out high-end products usually have a certain knack for being able to see things in new ways. In many cases the most popular products didn’t attain their popularity because the company created some new, radical compound, but because the formulator was able to put a new twist on previously existing compounds by combining and marketing them in new ways—ways which provide a different result and builds excitement among potential consumers.
Question: What is your opinion on the current state of the supplement industry and where do you see it approaching in the future?
Mike Arnold: At its core, I don’t think it is any different now than it ever was, nor do I see it changing anytime in the near future. I mean, products come and products go, but the only real game-changer I see on the horizon is if Big Pharma eventually gets its way and has the industry regulated according to pharmaceutical standards. That would put everyone but the very largest companies out of business and innovation would slow to a snail’s pace. But other than that, I think things will continue as usual.
Question: Do you believe MA Labs can reach or even surpass the success of its sister company, Iron Mag Labs?
Mike Arnold: While I have certain ambitions, I don’t compare myself to other companies, nor do I see myself as being in competition with them. Rather, I see all of us as brothers and sisters trying to do the best we can with what we have. Still, with that said, I think the sky is the limit for MA Labs. I think every company owner should have this mentality because if we limit ourselves to a predetermined level of success, we are unlikely to reach that limit, let alone surpass it. At the same time, I have learned to be content with more moderate living and understand we are not entirely in control of our own future, so I simply do the best that I can and let the chips fall where they may. As long as I do this, I can retire from the industry happy, regardless of the outcome.
Question: Thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview you today. How can people keep in contact with you and stay up to date on the latest developments within MA Labs?
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After a series of concussions ended his high school wrestling career, Matt discovered bodybuilding, quickly immersing himself in the world of fitness, nutrition and supplementation. A National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Trainer, Matt founded UFit Sports Performance and Nutrition and has helped dozens of clients achieve their fitness goals. Having tried and tested countless supplements, Matt is highly regarded as a credible evaluator of nutritional products.