Beta-alanine before a workout, essential amino acids during a workout—this routine has become second nature to many of us. A gym session powered by these two staples simply has a way of being better: more reps, more weight, more total work performed, and less of that crippling lactic-acid burn.
Every popular pre-workout these days contains beta-alanine and amino acids, but 10 years ago, that definitely wasn't the case. A company called Athletic Edge—previously known as AEN—had a lot to do with popularizing both of these supplement categories, via two trailblazing supplement blends: the beta-alanine powder IntraXCell, and the amino/electrolyte blend Intrabolic. The rest of the sports-supplement industry took notice—and quickly followed suit.
If that part of the story is new to you, Sebastian Balcombe would like to change that. The founder and CEO of Athletic Edge is on a mission to make research-backed supplements the norm, not the exception!Q
Why did Athletic Edge get started?
Unlike many in the supplement industry, my education and expertise are in the sciences, not business or marketing. We created Athletic Edge to raise the standard in product development, innovation, and research. We want to be best in class in sports nutrition, but just as crucially, to change the public perception of sports nutrition by putting substance over hype.
From our start, our core values and passion have been a result of utilizing the latest science in our product formulations. We design them from the ground up, knowing they will be put to the test through high-quality research. We vowed not to be yet another sports-nutrition company built first and foremost by marketing hype. We refused to leave product formulation, science, research, and quality control at the bottom of the priority list.
We put countless hours of painstaking work into our product development. Each product is backed by a lifetime of scientific experience. We strive to supply targeted nutrition that enhances the quality of life of everyone who tries us.
What were the early days like at Athletic Edge?
Because of my background, I had to read and learn as fast I could while I built the company. If I didn't learn how to grow, manage, and market the business, then nobody would!
The early days were inspiring, thrilling, and empowering. I was so obsessed! I wanted Athletic Edge to epitomize perfection and innovation, and worked at a relentless pace through these adventurous, impactful, and memorable years. I had no life outside of Athletic Edge. I worked 17-18 hours a day, seven days a week for the first two years because I could hire no staff to help.
It was a grind like I never could have imagined, but I knew if I didn't work those mad one-man-show hours, Athletic Edge wouldn't stand a chance of succeeding or surviving. I loved building, creating, and grinding out the process so much that it rarely felt like work. It was the most motivating time of my life.
Working like that, you learn a lot about yourself. Your limitations shrink. Your ability to handle high levels of stress increases, and you deal with mental anguish and fear of failure. I poured my obsessive and relentless nature into those early formulas, and the effort created some of our most popular, beloved, and lasting products, like IntraXCell and Intrabolic.
Pretty soon, major suppliers attempted to make knock-offs of IntraXCell and Intrabolic. At the time, we were so small, and it was a tough pill to swallow. We also struggled to get our product to the public. For a while, we couldn't distribute to major brick-and-mortar chains, or online, domestic, and international distributors.
But we didn't buckle, and I discovered that my weaknesses were actually strengths, too. Due to my science background, the company runs using many scientific principles instead of a traditional business-marketing model. We are research science to the core. And since no one would actually lend me money—including banks or investors—I was forced to stick to my self-starter methods!
Who were some important people who helped you in the beginning?
In the first three years, I mainly ran the company by myself. I was in charge of sales, marketing, accounting, product development, you name it. But, I did have help. My friend Eduardo S. helped create the first Athletic Edge Nutrition logo, and built my first website. He kindly didn't charge me until I had money to pay.
My brainiac friend Ash B.—who was an exceptional writer, with a great science background—edited and added important flair to pump-up the energy in many of our early product fliers and online write-ups. As a science writer, I had not developed that skill.
Dr. Jeff Stout was doing much of the research on beta-alanine at that time. He gave me great insight and encouraged me to launch our dedicated beta-alanine product, IntraXCell, which launched back in 2005. That was one of the very first beta-alanine products that used research-backed dosing; many other products included ingredients like creatine or citrulline malate to draw attention away from beta-alanine's benefits. We put it in a convenient capsule and priced it affordably.
Thankfully, a certain popular magazine science editor allowed so many of my beta-alanine and intra-workout articles to run! Those multipage pieces helped grow both the beta-alanine and intra-workout categories.
I can't thank my friend Jason B. enough. He literally allowed me to work off his dining room table—much to his mother's chagrin. I used his living room as my office when I had no place of my own. These and a few other key personal relationships were instrumental in encouraging and helping me in those brutal early days.
How does research influence what you do today?
We put our finished products through research studies, and we sign waivers with the researchers to allow them to publish their unbiased results—no matter if they are good or bad.
This is the most powerful and honest strategy we ever conceived. We feel that this process honors our loyal customers, shows our strong ethical core, and gives us incomparable credibility. We put our reputation on the line every time we have a study conducted on our products. We want to consistently prove to the customer that we so strongly believe in our products that we embrace the scientific process.
So far we have had five all-positive studies. Each has reached results that back the claims we make on our products. Our products go through this rigorous research, and the labs doing the work have made it through scientific peer review; many have been published in science journals. This is the sort of thing that gets us excited! It hearkens back to AE's DNA.
What is your definition of "quality control?"
From our position, quality control needs to occur both at the manufacturing-process stage and be further exhibited by having a third-party organization test every lot of our finished products. Our third-party tests look for banned substances, over-the-counter drugs, pesticides, and hundreds of other toxic harmful chemicals.
Many third-party testing organizations only test for the banned substances listed by various sports organizations. We don't stop there. We partnered with a testing agency that analyzes our products at a much deeper level. Our testing is more relevant to the average exercise enthusiast from a health-risk standpoint.
This process is completed by Oliver Catlin's organization, Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG). You will see their seal on all of our newly branded product labels. All consumers should know exactly what they get in every scoop of their supplements. They can feel confident that we utilize&mdash the most stringent and thorough array of analyses available.
Over the last decade, you've kept Intrabolic and IntraXCell pretty consistent rather than cramming lots of new ingredients into them. Why not change things up?
We won't try to reinvent the wheel, as so many of our competitors have done. We simply trust the proven wheels and roll with them.
You don't have to look very far to see examples of ingredients with no scientific support—like creatine ethyl-ester or other "exotic" supposedly superior forms of creatine—being hyped by supplement companies. These were falsely touted as superior to creatine monohydrate. Athletic Edge has never followed the herd or jumped on the scientifically unsubstantiated ingredient bandwagon.
I'm proud to say that over the course of 10 years, we have never backed ingredients that had no scientific support. We know that consumers are a lot more intelligent than most companies give them credit for. Responsible supplement buyers will look at the track record of a company and see if their marketing promises line up with the efficacy of their products.
Why did you decide to replace your old pre-workout powder, PreSurge, with a new formula, SteelEdge?
Simple:—SteelEdge is simply a cleaner, smarter, and more advanced product in every way. We are not one of those companies that constantly reformulate and replace existing products. We don't make changes unless we can drastically improve on a formula, which we have done here.
SteelEdge is one of those rare formula changes that comes with a dramatic improvement in formulation. We felt strongly that it was time to put PreSurge to rest. We replaced it with a vastly superior SteelEdge formula.
You recently made major changes to your packaging and branding—you even changed your company name. What's the motivation behind these sweeping changes?
Athletic Edge has always been 100 percent focused on product development and research, which has strongly grown the company in every channel over the last 10 years. At the same time, most people would look at our prior packaging, branding, and messaging and have no clue what we had built the company on. We found a huge disconnect in our communication to the customer.
We made a key hire in 2014 to address this issue. We brought in Joshua Schall to serve as vice president of global sales and marketing. Josh and I have taken on the project of redefining the message and position of Athletic Edge.
Our new name and brand brings AE into focus. We can now effectively represent and communicate our core values, innovative nature, no-hype approach, and high quality-control standards.
Are you coming out with any new products?
All we can say for now is that there are at least three more products in addition to SteelEdge that will launch this year. A few of them might just create the next big thing in sports nutrition!
Interview With Kendall Lou Schmidt, Athletic Edge Sponsored Athlete
Why did you decide to sign with AE?
I knew immediately after my first phone call with my VP Josh Schall that I would enjoy being on their team. I'm a hard worker and am very professional, but I'm also a hyperactive geek! I make cheesy jokes and say silly things. All the staff members I've worked with at AE are so much fun to be around. Right away, it felt like we had been the best of friends our entire lives. That makes any project too much fun to feel like work!
From an athletic standpoint, I believe in the products AE produces. I would stand behind the science of all our products and recommend them to all my clients, even if AE didn't sponsor me.
Which AE supplements do you take, and why?
Each morning I drink LIV Hybrid. The pineapple flavor is delicious, sugar-free, and all-natural. Using this product has completely replaced my need for coffee in the morning. And since I prefer my coffee with lots of cream and sugar, LIV Hybrid cuts down on my morning calories from sweeteners. The green coffee bean and other natural ingredients give great energy without any jitters or a crash later. The mood elevation, appetite control, and focus are great as well.
On days when my workouts need an extra pick-me-up, I take SteelEdge pre-workout prior to exercise. Generally I take CreatineRT prior to my workout as well. This is the only creatine that hasn't upset my stomach or made me feel really bloated.
Like many people, though, Intrabolic is my must have. I drink it during my workout, after my workout, when I'm dehydrated, and when I want amino acids, which is basically all the time. I work hard and I sweat a lot. Intrabolic has a coconut-water base, so it hydrates me really quickly. I love the way it tastes and I love the nutrients it contains!
Why should a new customer trust this brand?
AE has been in business for 10 years and has been innovating from the start. All of the finished products get tested by Banned Substances Control Group. We work extensively with our raw materials and finished goods manufacturers. Research is done on every ingredient and dosed at or above available research levels. Athletic Edge is an amazing company in so many ways!