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Exclusive: Ladder's Adam Bornstein on working with LeBron James & ideal nutrition

EXPERT COLUMNIST
Exclusive
Timeless

LeBron James at the
LeBron James at the "Los Angeles Lakers Introduce Anthony Davis" event

Ladder is a supplement company with some notable founders: the NBA's LeBron James, Olympian Lindsey Vonn, award-winning bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Ladder was founded as protein powder that was specifically formulated for LeBron James after suffering from severe cramping, and its products have been formulated with quality and safety in mind to meet the wellness and fitness goals for a variety of lifestyles, not only athletes.

To get Ladder's products into top-form, the company has worked with world-class scientists. In turn, its products are NSF Certified for Sport -- meaning that they meet the guidelines for approved dietary supplements standards -- making them available to athletes involved with the MLB, NHL, CFL, NFL, PGA, LPGA, CCES, and CPSDA.

There are no unsafe levels of contaminants in the tested products of Ladder, and the Ladder products are manufactured at a facility that is GMP-registered and audited twice annually for quality and safety by NSF International.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Adam Bornstein, Chief Of Nutrition and Head Of Content for Ladder. We talked about LeBron James and plenty. More on Bornstein, James and Ladder can be found online at www.weareladder.com.

When did you first become interested in nutrition?

Adam Bornstein: I broke my back twice playing sports when I was in high school. The second time was extremely difficult and required long recovery time and a lot of struggles that resulted from bad information. I became obsessed with learning more about what I could do to protect my health — including understanding the human body, exercise, and nutrition.

That sparked a deep love of cutting through a lot of the misinformation that makes it hard to know what’s best for your body and what works when it comes to nutrition. I didn’t want other people to experience my frustration, and that’s something that motivates me to this day.

What are some of the common things you think people have wrong about nutrition?

Adam Bornstein: The biggest problem is that the entire diet industry is built on either making people fear a single type of food.

Think carbs, fat, gluten, dairy; all of which your body can handle, unless you have a sensitivity or allergy. Or tricking people into believing something will help more than it actually will.

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For instance, collagen is extremely popular right now. It’s a type of protein made up of 3 amino acids that won’t help as much as people think unless you make one very important change.

To get the benefits of any protein, you need all of the essential amino acids (EAAs). Think of them like a band that will only play music if they’re all together. If all the EAAs aren’t present, then your body can’t use the protein — or collagen — correctly. So if you’re going to take collagen, you need to combine it with a complete protein, like whey or pea protein.

Or, just take a complete protein without the collagen. But no one tells you this or makes products this way. So you have thousands of people taking collagen protein and most of it is going to waste. 

This sums up most nutrition issues. People with great intentions, trying to be healthier, but being let down by the people they trust to give them good information or good products. That’s a reality I want to change.

So do you follow a specific diet or set of dietary rules?

Adam Bornstein: Lots of diets can work — such as low-fat or low-carb — so it’s more about habits that are easy to repeat. My habits include protein at every meal, vegetables at least twice per day, and one daily small snack. Everything starts with a protein, from fat loss to muscle gain, so that’s the foundation.

Vegetables are tough for most people, but they have too many nutrients to avoid; I admittedly take Ladder Greens most days to make this easier. And I think dessert is important. Most people follow rigid diets that drive them crazy. A small treat won’t do any damage, but it will make it easier to feel like you’re not deprived.

How did the opportunity to work with Ladder come about?

Adam Bornstein: It was a dream scenario. When the best athlete in the world, LeBron James, has his trainer Mike Mancias ask for help to create better, cleaner supplements, it’s easy to get excited and get to work. It’s no secret that supplements should help people be healthier, but the industry is very broken.

From low-quality ingredients to poor safety standards, we did everything the opposite way because, initially, this wasn’t about being part of the supplement industry. This was about creating supplements to the standards that were safe and effective for LeBron. And after years of mastering formulations and creating supplements that tasted great, then we decided to share it with the world. 

To you, what makes Ladder's protein superior to other protein-related products?

Adam Bornstein: It all starts with sourcing and safety. We have 2 types of protein, Ladder Whey and Ladder Plant. Most whey protein is a concentrate variation. Concentrate isn’t standardized, so the protein can be anywhere from 30% to 80% pure protein.

That’s not a good thing. If your label says there are 20 grams of protein, if you’re using a concentrate, you may be only getting 6 grams of protein, a 30% concentrate. That sucks and this type of practice happens too often. We only use isolates, which are a higher grade of protein (no extra carbs or fat) and guaranteed to be at least 90% pure protein. 

It’s the same approach with our Plant Protein. Most brands use rice or hemp protein. Both are cheap and incomplete sources of protein -- they don’t have all of the amino acids your body needs -- and they can cause stomach issues.

We source the highest grade pea protein, which is a complete protein and at a different level in terms of quality, health, and taste. On top of it all, we use no artificial sweeteners, colours, or flavours, and every single batch is tested to ensure safety and purity.

So yes, Ladder works with LeBron James. What is it like working with LeBron?

Adam Bornstein: It’s an honour and a privilege to work with LeBron. Part of his mindset is to “keep the main thing, the main thing.” For him, that means all of his opportunity has been created by being great at basketball. So he continues to work on becoming better every day and doing all of the little things that make a big difference, including having high-quality supplements. We take the same approach at Ladder. 

Our main thing is “better supplements, better results.” We know people take these products expecting to feel and see a difference, and our job is to deliver. It’s why you won’t see us pushing out products that don’t work, such as fat loss pills. We only make supplements that have scientific support, and then we go the extra mile to make them better than anyone else. 

What involvement does LeBron have with Ladder?

Adam Bornstein: If it wasn’t for LeBron, then Ladder wouldn’t exist. It’s that simple. These products started with a personal request to create supplements that were safer and more effective.

To this day, LeBron still uses Ladder Pre-Workout before workouts or games, and then he recovers with Ladder Plant Protein after. That means we need to keep on creating something that works for him and he loves, and make sure it meets all of the strict safety standards.

Are there other notable athletes which Ladder works with?

Adam Bornstein: Arnold Schwarzenegger is also a co-founder of Ladder. He’s passionate about the fitness industry and helping LeBron create better products that work. We also have many professional athletes, Olympians, and professional teams who buy directly from us because it’s very hard to find any good supplements that do the type of testing that is standard at Ladder. We are NSF Certified for Sport, which means we follow stricter rules and can guarantee that all of our products are free of banned substances or toxins and that all of our ingredient labels are accurate.

Who are some of the sports teams you personally follow?

Adam Bornstein: I’m a native Chicagoan, so I’m a fan of the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Cubs; I’m a north-sider, so no love for the White Sox. I’m also a huge college sports fan, and love the University of Colorado and go to all their football and basketball games.


What was the last live sporting event you attended?

Adam Bornstein: I went to a Cubs baseball game.


What is coming up for Ladder in the coming months?

Adam Bornstein: We’re working on a few new products. Can't share what, yet, but we are relentless when it comes to our R&D and creating something special. Otherwise, we’re here to help make sense of the confusing world of supplements by offering lots of free information at weareladder.com.

We are relaunching our blog with lots of articles, workouts, and resources from some of the best experts in the world and building a support system that can help anyone hit a higher level of performance. 


Finally, Adam, any last words for the kids?

Adam Bornstein: If you’re going to take a supplement, I have 2 recommendations. First of all, don’t take anything that doesn’t have the “NSF Certified for Sport” label. It’s will give you peace of mind that your product is safe.

And, don’t trust supplements that promise you’ll lose “X pounds of fat” or “ Y pounds of muscle.” Some ingredients will help support your goals, like whey protein isolate, pea protein isolate, green tea, creatine, and beta-alanine, but every person’s body is different, so if someone is guaranteeing a specific result for weight loss or gain, it’s usually BS.

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