An Interview With BALCO Founder Victor Conte!

Victor Conte took time out of his busy schedule for this interview. Learn the history of this accomplished man and some of the history behind BALCO, ZMA, and a devastating raid on his facilities by SWAT and federal agents.

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[ Q ] Victor, thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to do this interview for us. Let's first start off with some background information on yourself. What originally got you into this industry?
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    [ A ] My first career was as a professional musician. In the 1970's, I played bass with the R & B funk band Tower of Power. In the early 1980's I also worked with jazz legend Herbie Hancock. During my fifteen-year music career, I recorded seventeen albums and/or CD's, many of which are still available today.

    In 1983, at the age of 33, I realized that it was impossible to raise children and be a touring musician. So, I began to look for another way to provide for my family.

    My cousin introduced me to one of his college roommates who was operating a laboratory in Santa Barbara, California. They were using a high-tech instrument called an ICP (inductively coupled plasma) spectrometer.

Victor
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Victor Conte.

    This quarter of a million dollar machine could simultaneously analyze a sample for up to 40 elements in parts per billion. The labs primary use of the machine at the time was analyzing wear oil from jet engines. Based upon the concentration of metals in the oil, they could determine when to replace engine parts to avoid in-flight failure.

    However, the lab owner also knew that the technology was starting to be used for blood and urine analysis. After learning I was a track athlete in college, he called and suggested I set up a company and pioneer the use of the ICP to enhance athletic performance. He also sent several research abstracts from the Eastern Bloc involving mineral and trace element assessment of elite athletes.

    I became intrigued by the idea and in March of 1984, I founded BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative). By late 1988, I was able to purchase the instrument from him and moved it from Santa Barbara up to the Bay Area. In early 1989, I established my own clinical research laboratory.

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    Thereafter, I spent nearly two decades conducting mineral and trace element research involving hundreds of Olympic and professional athletes. BALCO's client base included Olympic gold medalists, world record holders and Super Bowl Champions.

    At the end of 1999, I made a decision to extend my research beyond the realm of nutrition and BALCO began developing a variety of sophisticated performance enhancement protocols, including some illegal and banned substances.

    I certainly didn't realize the potential consequences of my decision at the time. However, most of the world now knows about the infamous raid of BALCO by a SWAT team of federal agents in September of 2003. In short, after four years of non-stop headline news stories involving some of the highest profile athletes in history, BALCO has become a household name.

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[ Q ] What do you feel is the future of the supplement industry as well as the future of bodybuilding?
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    [ A ] I believe the type of comprehensive nutritional assessment provided to athletes at BALCO can serve as a springboard for future developments in the sports nutrition industry. It's important for people to better understand and be able to address the issue of biochemical individuality.

    The approach used at BALCO was the exact opposite of the "one size fits all" approach. No two people are alike and each person (athlete) has different needs regarding the many components of their supplementation program.

    A regimen that works effectively for one athlete may not work nearly as well for another. BALCO provided extensive blood and urine testing and then designed individualized programs based upon the specific depletions and/or excesses found.

    In some cases, an athlete's nutritional imbalances were determined not to even be a result of an inadequate or excessive dietary intake of nutrients. Sometimes the depletions or excesses found had a genetic or psychological origin. However, what we soon realized was that the most effective nutritional manipulations were those based upon the individual needs of the athlete as well as the specific demands of their sport.

    For example, the type of supplementation program needed by a track athlete or baseball or football player may be much different than one designed for a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders don't utilize the same type of speed, flexibility, functional power and/or endurance as some other competitive athletes do.

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Baseball Supplementation!
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    Essentially, bodybuilding is about muscle size, aesthetics and a lean look, while other sports require different types of athletic performance. An athlete's individual needs and goals should determine which supplements and dosages are appropriate for them.

    It's my opinion that the sports nutrition industry is becoming more cognizant of the need to address biochemical individuality and in the future I predict we will see more products that target specific types of athletic endeavor.

    In response to the second part of your question regarding the future of bodybuilding, let me just briefly say this. It's my opinion that until there is a major change in the politics involved with pro-bodybuilding, the sport is going to continue down the wrong path.

    The current state is bad for the fans as well as the competitors. I would like to see the future of bodybuilding include greater appreciation for aesthetics and symmetry and be less about the mass-monster judging criteria.

    I am one of many who did not agree with the judges regarding the outcome of the 2007 Mr. Olympia. In fact, I talked with some of the top competitors and they seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that this contest is far more about politics than it is about competition. I think this is a sad outlook, but I have to agree. It would be great for the politics to be set aside and for the best man to win.

Jay
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2007 Mr. Olympia, Jay Cutler.

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[ Q ] You obviously have your own supplement company now, called SNAC. How is that going for you?
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    [ A ] Things are going great with SNAC System. The acronym stands for Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning. A lot of people seem to think that SNAC is a new company, but that is not actually true.

    I founded SNAC in 1987 and for more than a decade I primarily developed products that were created specifically for elite athletes. These initial products were, for the most part, mineral and trace element formulations designed to maximize the absorption and utilization of individual elements.

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[ Q ] I hear you have the best ZMA around. What separates your product from everyone else?
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    [ A ] All authentic ZMA raw material comes from my company SNAC System, Inc., and the overall sales of our flagship product ZMA are better than ever. There are more than a hundred companies who routinely purchase our proprietary ZMA blend and distribute it all over the world.

    These companies include Optimum, TwinLab, Met-Rx, ProLab, Cytodyne, Now, MHP, Universal, Ergopharm, PrimaForce, Biotest, and ISS Research. They have all signed a ZMA trademark licensing agreement with SNAC System and have become licensed distributors.

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SNAC Review Thread.
For all of you who took advantage of the abundance of samples we had, or for any and all who have used any of our products on your own dime go ahead and post your feedback here to help potential customers with their decision to use SNAC product. Also, be on the lookout for new products in 2008! - SwolenONE.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    The last time I counted, there were about forty different brands of products being sold by Bodybuilding.com that contain ZMA, so it seems to have become a staple product for bodybuilders and other athletes.

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[ Q ] You have quite a few products out on your SNAC line. Can you talk about each of them briefly to let readers know what you have to offer and how the products can benefit them?
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    [ A ] Certainly. The following is a list of the products in the SNAC line along with some of the beneficial effects that may be received by consumers.

    arrow Snac Pak - Aerobitine / Vitalyze / ZMA

      The three bottles contained in the Snac Pak provide a large number of highly bioavailable nutrients with a wide range of health and performance benefits for both men and women.

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Snac Pak SNAC Presents:
Snac Pak

Victor Conte's new Snac Pak is an innovative three bottle stack from one of the highest profile sports nutritionists in history. The Snac Pak was designed to enhance the performances of men and women from everyday fitness enthusiasts to world-class athletes.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    arrow AerobitineTM

      Aerobitine TM was designed to reduce fatigue and promote energy, stamina, strength and endurance. Some of the ingredients have been shown to decrease the buildup of lactic acid or the "fatigue acids."

      Aerobitine enhances aerobic exercise performance by increasing nitric oxide levels, which improves blood flow and circulation. This increases oxygen supply and nutrient delivery to working muscles and helps to remove metabolic waste by-products like lactic acid, carbon dioxide and ammonia. Aerobitine also promotes fat loss by increasing glucose uptake by muscle cells, preventing fat cell deposition.

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Aerobitine SNAC Presents:
Aerobitine

The innovative new Anti-Fatigue/Fat Loss formula from the makers of ZMA. Aerobitine was developed by the world-renowned sports nutritionist Victor Conte, founder of the SNAC System and former bassist for Tower of Power and Herbie Hancock.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    arrow VitalyzeTM

      Vitalyze TM promotes energy, mental alertness, elevates mood, and enhances concentration and reaction time. Vitalyze supports the body during stressful conditions and increases physical work capacity by improving muscular oxygen utilization. Vitalyze also helps to maintain the integrity of connective tissue, ligaments and tendons.

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Vitalyze SNAC Presents:
Vitalyze

Vitalyze promotes energy, mental alertness, and enhances concentration. Vitalyze helps the body handle stressful conditions and increases physical work capacity by improving muscular oxygen utilization.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    arrow ZMA

      ZMA was the first product developed specifically to enhance recovery by improving sleep efficiency. ZMA promotes a deep and restful sleep and restores exercise tolerance which is decreased by sleep deprivation.

      ZMA is an advanced formulation designed to significantly improve muscle strength and endurance as well as accelerate healing and tissue repair. Scientific research has demonstrated that rigorous exercise and stress result in significant body losses of both zinc and magnesium. These mineral deficiencies are common in the general population and even more prevalent in athletes.

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ZMA SNAC Presents:
ZMA

ZMA is an advanced formulation designed to significantly enhance strength, endurance, recovery, and growth. Through an extensive search of worldwide medical research data, we discovered that rigorous exercise and stress result in significant body losses of zinc and magnesium.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    arrow ZMA Nightcap

      ZMA Nightcap was developed for people who prefer a small fast acting 4 to 6 ounce glass of a delicious tasting drink before bedtime, instead of a capsule form of their favorite ZMA Anabolic Mineral Support Formula. The ZMA Nightcap formulation is more bioavailable and a higher rate of absorption promotes an even deeper and more restful sleep.

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ZMA Nightcap SNAC Presents:
ZMA Nightcap

ZMA Nightcap was developed for people who prefer a small fast acting 4 to 6 ounce glass of a delicious tasting drink before bedtime, instead of a capsule form of their favorite ZMA Anabolic Mineral Support Formula.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    arrow ProglycosynTM

      Proglycosyn TM is an advanced 50/50 protein - carbohydrate formulation designed specifically to accelerate post-exercise protein and glycogen synthesis by supplying a unique formulation of dextrose, whey protein isolate, and anabolic nutrients.

      While glycogen synthesis is important and dependent on an adequate supply of post-recovery dietary carbohydrate, the provision of an adequate supply of dietary protein is just as important to ensure optimal post-exercise muscle protein synthesis - a process that requires a constant supply of dietary amino acids.

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Proglycosyn SNAC Presents:
Proglycosyn

Proglycosyn is an advanced 50/50 protein - carbohydrate formulation designed specifically to accelerate post-exercise protein and glycogen synthesis by supplying a unique formulation of dextrose, whey protein isolate, and anabolic nutrients.
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    arrow Pro-QuickTM

      Pro-Quick TM is a whey protein and multi-nutritional blend for those who are seeking a high quality meal replacement. Pro-Quick TM is a scientifically designed all natural food drink that can be used by athletes or any fitness conscious individuals. Pro-Quick TM has a combination of high quality proteins as well as complex carbohydrates, with multivitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

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ProQuick SNAC Presents:
ProQuick

A whey protein and multi-nutritional blend for those who are seeking a high quality meal replacement. ProQuick is a scientifically designed all natural food drink that can be used by athletes or any fitness conscious individuals.
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    arrow PhysioBalmTM

      PhysioBalm TM is a unique and very effective post-workout cream (aqua blue in color because it contains copper).

      PhysioBalm has cooling, soothing, penetrating effects with a pleasant tangerine fragrance. The need for copper in the biosynthesis of bone and connective tissues and their maintenance is well established. This is so because the enzyme lysyl oxidase, which mediates the final step in the synthesis of collagen, a constituent of bone and connective tissue, is a copper dependent enzyme. This enzyme also plays a fundamental role in the healing process of bone and connective tissue. Many elite Olympic and professional athletes routinely use PhysioBalm and are reporting excellent results.

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PhysioBalm SNAC Presents:
PhysioBalm

PhysioBalm is a unique and very effective post-workout cream (aqua blue in color because it contains copper) that aids in reducing aches and pains of muscles and joints. PhysioBalm has cooling, soothing, penetrating and long lasting effect with a pleasant tangerine fragrance.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

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[ Q ] As many people know, you have people watching your every move since the whole BALCO issue surfaced. How has your life changed since then?
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    [ A ] A friend of mine who is a writer in the bodybuilding industry recently sent me an email that said, "Victor, you certainly have the world's attention. Now, all you have to do is figure out how to make the highest and best use of that opportunity."

    In essence, that's exactly what I'm trying to do now. It seems that every time there is a new development involving the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport, the media wants my comment.

    Upon request, I also recently met with the World Anti-Doping Agency's Dick Pound in New York. He started the meeting by saying, "Victor, tell me what you would do if you were the king of the world of anti-doping for a day." I first told him that I would not be willing to talk about any specific athletes. Thereafter, I did provide him with specific information regarding how athletes involved with doping are so easily able to circumvent the anti-doping procedures in place.

    Hopefully, the information I provided will help with the effort to create a more genuine level playing field for the competitors and to enhance the perception of integrity for the fans.

    Although I have endured a lot of hardship as a result of the BALCO scandal, the enhanced name recognition has actually turned out to be very good for SNAC's business.

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[ Q ] You and Patrick Arnold were pretty close at one time - do you guys still talk? If so, are things different now?
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    [ A ] Patrick and I have not been in contact over the past few years because we're both still on probation as a result of the BALCO legal case. Patrick is not actually named as a part of my probation, which ends at the end of March of 2008, but it's my understanding that the terms of Patrick's probation do not allow him to communicate with me.

Patrick
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Patrick Arnold.

    In short, I like Patrick. He's a good guy, and I respect him a lot. I'm sure that at some point when the legal issues are completely behind us, we'll be able to sit down and have an interesting conversation.

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[ Q ] What are your thoughts on athletes these days "playing dumb" and saying they had no idea that what they were taking were steroids?
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    [ A ] I worked closely with a famous all-pro NFL linebacker and four-time Super Bowl Champion who once said, "As soon as an athlete starts to use drugs, they automatically become a liar." The bottom line is that most athletes using drugs feel that they really don't have a choice except to lie about it.

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Victor Conte On Marion Jones' Poor Choices.
I feel very sad for Marion and her family. Marion did make some very poor choices and she does deserve serious consequences. I certainly don't condone her repeated lies. But, I do feel especially bad for Marion's mother and her two children. - Speedbuff.
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    I'll never forget the day I watched Marion Jones boldly claim on national television that she had never, ever used performance enhancing drugs. She was extremely convincing. However, as you may know, she recently made a public admission that she had, in fact, used drugs and had repeatedly lied about it. Please understand that I do not think that athletes who are forced to use drugs in order to be competitive are bad people. I'm certainly not one to judge anybody.

Marion
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Marion Jones.

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[ Q ] Being that professional athletes are indeed that, professional athletes, do you feel that they should be able to make the choice to use performance enhancing drugs/supplements since it is how they make a living?
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    [ A ] What I believe is that elite athletes should be allowed to receive the same medical treatment that all others are entitled to receive. For example, let's say a man in his mid-thirties goes to his physician with symptoms of fatigue, and delayed recovery from exercise. [They may receive some type of therepy to lessen some of the effects.]

    I feel that a professional athlete should be entitled to receive this same type of medically indicated treatment. I'm not suggesting that athletes should be allowed to use huge amounts of testosterone to enhance their performance, but I do believe they should be allowed to use hormone replacement therapy dosages if it is medically indicated.

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[ Q ] In December 2004 during an interview with ABC's 20/20, you mentioned some names who you have supplied steroids to - one of them being Barry Bonds. Has Barry contacted you since everything has surfaced? Do you feel that the home run record has been "tainted" and should have an asterisk by it?
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    [ A ] Your statement about Barry Bonds being an athlete who I supplied drugs to is simply incorrect. That's not what I said on 20/20 at all. What I said was that I had provided a couple of undetectable drugs called "the clear and the cream" to Barry Bond's trainer, Greg Anderson, on about a half a dozen occasions.

    Is it possible that Greg passed these substances on to Barry? I guess it's possible, but I have no knowledge of that. As I've stated before, I never gave anabolic steroids to Barry Bonds. In fact, I've never even had a discussion with Barry about steroids.

Barry
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Barry Bonds.

    Anyone who says anything differently is simply not telling the truth. There was no testing in professional baseball until the survey - only testing that took place in 2003. The MLB drug testing program didn't actually begin until the 2004 season. Before that, baseball players who chose to use steroids were able to use more powerful injectable anabolic steroids without any concerns of testing positive.

    I do not feel that Barry's home run records are tainted or deserve asterisks.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to set the record straight regarding why I came forward and told the truth about the drug use of some of the athletes associated with BALCO. My primary purpose for going public was because I realized that the world deserves to know the truth about the use of drugs at the elite level of sports.

    There has been a rampant use of drugs in Olympic and professional sport for more than fifty years. It certainly didn't start with BALCO. I had worked with elite athletes for more than fifteen years before I made the choice to go down the so-called "slippery slope."

    I reached a point where I realized that most athletes had no choice except to use drugs in order to be competitive. I was able to help them use drugs in a more safe and effective manner because I provided them with medical monitoring.

    My message on 20/20 was really aimed at the parents of the young athletes of the future. I wanted them to understand that if they encouraged their children to become Olympic or professional athletes, most of them would eventually be faced with the decision to "use or lose." The majority of athletes ultimately decide to do what ever it takes in order to be competitive.

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[ Q ] Is there anything else about the steroid controversy that you would like to clear up or let the readers here at Bodybuilding.com know?
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    [ A ] Yes, there is something I would like to clarify. At no point on the day of the BALCO raid did I ever name names as was widely reported. The reality is that I refused to co-operate in any way with the federal agents or prosecutors.

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My Balco Steroid Thoughts.
I'm now convinced that all on the list are or were on roids. They might not of known it but their trainers did. They all have trainers and they are like take this vitamin and its a steroid. Plus you can tell with the shrinking and injuries. - kingfish3.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    Much of the information contained in my memorandum of the interview prepared by the agents was fabricated. If I had agreed to cooperate, there would have been no need to subpoena more than forty athletes to testify against me in order to get an indictment. Almost two years after the raid, the plea bargain I finally signed required absolutely no naming of names or any type of co-operation whatsoever. Those are the facts and they loudly speak for themselves.

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[ Q ] You have a very bright future with SNAC and I wish you the best. Is there anything you would like to add to this interview before we part?
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    [ A ] Yes, I would like to ask for forgiveness for all those associated with BALCO who were either banned from competition or charged with some type of criminal activity. I especially feel bad for their family members, who didn't use performance enhancing drugs or commit any crimes, however, they have also endured great pain and suffering.

    For the most part, the athletes involved with BALCO are good people who have already paid a tremendous price for their mistakes. We live in a country where you are supposed to be able to "do the crime and do the time" and be allowed to move on and become productive members of society again. These athletes are human beings who have simply made mistakes like everybody else in society and they deserve forgiveness.

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[ Q ] Thank you, Victor for taking some time out of your busy day for this interview. On behalf of Bodybuilding.com and myself, I wish you the best of luck with SNAC and look forward to some great new products in the very near future. Take care and keep in touch!
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