Interview with Brian Frank
Hammer Nutrition owner and founder
How one idea, nearly 30 years ago, fueled a new nutrition category and the success of tens of thousands of endurance athletes.
Recently, Triple Threat Triathlon blog interviewed Brian Frank, Hammer Nutrition founder and owner, about the company, its products, and fueling advice for athletes. Here's a portion of that interview, with edits for clarity.
What drove you to start Hammer Nutrition, and did you ever think it would grow like this?
When we first started in 1987, I never thought we would get this big. I wanted to keep it to five or six employees and keep everything simple - something that would just pay the bills. However in business, you need to continue growing or you'll fall behind and close. We achieved my business goals in 1989 and had to create new ones.
Hammer started out of necessity. At that time, there was nothing for endurance athletes to address their energy, endurance, and recovery needs. Supermarket sports drinks and protein powders for bodybuilders were about it. I was using coenzymes, micronutrients, and antioxidant supplements to help my energy levels, endurance, and recovery, and that was really unusual in the mid '80s. Those nutrients became Race Caps, our first product - it is meant to neutralize the massive production of free radicals in our bodies that result from high volume and intensity training. Free radical activity and the role of antioxidants were not common knowledge back then, but every athlete who tried Race Caps knew the product worked.
Recently, we've had the big stores come to us, asking to carry our products - Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods, and online portals such as Amazon. In the end, that isn't us. We run a small family business. Are we foregoing sales because of it? Yes. However, I'm not going to go against my principles to make an extra buck. Our priorities are supporting our customers by sponsoring the events they participate in at the grassroots level - and supporting the brick and mortar stores they rely on, such as the local bike shops, running shops, triathlon, and outdoor retail stores.
Hammer is known for its dedication to natural ingredients, which has earned the company many loyal customers. With some other fueling/nutrition companies not having such standards and using sugar and artificial sweeteners to create chews and gummies, how do you stay on top and compete?
We can't stay on top of them and we don't really consider them competition. We offer a much different product - we don't offer candy products, which is what pretty much every other product on the market actually does. We can do this because we don't have investors demanding growth and more profits; it's just me. Everything has to run by me before we can even think about researching it. I'm not going to sacrifice what I believe is the right thing to do just because someone else comes out with a "new" product. We make health food for athletes. If someone wants candy/sugar-based products, we're just not a good fit.
However, if customers are looking for a solid food base, such as those chews, we have the Perpetuem Solids. These are the same minimal food concept without all of the sugar and additives - just the same ingredients found in our Perpetuem powder in solid form. We strive for what is great for the body while making it taste the best it can.
In your experience, what is the most common mistake athletes make when it comes to nutrition?
The biggest mistake I see people make is that they try to do too much. So many athletes take in too much nutrition and they end up having these terrible races. For decades, I've seen athlete fail by attempting to consume 300-400 calories an hour, or more.
A lot of athletes will also eat an hour before a large workout or race. Starting a workout or race while in the process of digesting food is not ideal. This causes you to burn your glycogen stores prematurely, and at the same time prevent efficient fat metabolism. You need to set up your metabolism system so you are burning fat as your primary energy source from the beginning and sparing your glycogen. In order to do that, you must finish eating three hours before your workout/race, so that you have all of your food digested.
We have a customer who just finished and won Badwater 135 and his biggest change was his caloric intake. He went from 300 calories an hour and throwing up to just shy of 200 calories per hour, using Perpetum as his main fuel, supported by Hammer Gel, HEED, Endurolytes Extreme, Anti-Fatigue Caps, and Endurance Amino. The result was a 7-hour improvement in his time from last year. That's more than 20%.
It seems that Hammer has made a conscious effort to sponsor more amateur athletes rather than heavily in the pro ranks. Is this true, and if so, why?
Hammer has always been a big supporter of the grassroots athlete. We first started with the big pro triathletes to get our name out there in the 1980s, because all you had to do was call them up and send them some product. However, there isn't a star worship mentality when it comes to triathlon and endurance sports. Sure we have very impressive professional athletes out there, but I don't think they are viewed the way football, baseball, or basketball fans look at their pro athletes. Our clients want to know what the person who is beating them is doing - someone else who is a Mom or Dad who works full-time and still manages to excel.
We also don't go after the big races such as Ironman. We are focused on supporting the B and C events and their local communities - the local A races. We aren't in Wal-Mart, Target, or any other big chain stores except REI. We are in the local big shops, running shops, or other local sports stores because that is our philosophy. We want to grow bigger with purpose, while keeping our products' integrity intact. Last year alone we sponsored over 2,500 events - 60% of them being triathlons.
The endurance sports world is growing and participants are always looking for the next great thing, whether gear, training, or fueling. How does Hammer plan to continue to grow and what can we expect to see from Hammer in the next few years?
There will not be any drastic changes to our nutritional products. You may see some new flavors come out, possibly new supplements, or drink variations. We will follow the same motto of "no compromise products."
We are researching roughly two or three new products at any given time, but we won't ever rush to market with a new product to "keep up with the Joneses." I would rather make the product right and not just include a bunch of useless additives. We may be leaving a lot of money on the table but I am not going to sacrifice principles for profits.
We don't worry about keeping up with other companies. Most athletes who try our products love them and get the desired benefits. But triathletes are programmed to want the "new" thing in case it's better. We may temporarily lose customers, but they always come back because they realize our product is superior, even if it's not the newest thing.
We notice that you offer free consultations for customers - how often is that used and what is it all about?
Yes, and that is something we will continue to do because you can have the best products in the world but get bad results if they are not used properly. Since most athletes have it all wrong when it comes to calorie, fluid, and electrolyte intake, they need a lot of help. We also have a lot of products and people need help understanding which to use and when to achieve their goals. We want people to call in and take advantage of this. They'll speak with someone who knows and understands our products and how to fuel properly for success, as well as understands their benefits for each type of event. Many people will order online without truly knowing if it is the right product for them. Call us. You will end up changing your entire nutritional plan for the better!