Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TTT Exclusive - Interview with Hammer CEO Brian Frank

It was out of necessity – if you fuel right, you feel right. That was the baseline in which Brian Frank began building Hammer Nutrition. In the mid '80s, the Baby Boomers were in a fitness craze – often working out twice to three times as much as the average person had in the past. As endurance athletes know, the more you workout, the more fuel you need. Brian wanted to create nutritional supplements that were not only great for the body, but also pure. To this day, Hammer Nutrition keeps their products as simple as possible and stays away from sugars and other unneeded fillers.

Triple Threat Triathlon had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Frank in an exclusive interview to get more knowledge of not only Brian himself, Hammer Nutrition, and their products, but also the advice he has for everyday age groupers in the sport of triathlon. Thanks for the time, Brian!

Triple Threat Triathlon (TTT): Thank you for your time today, we are very excited to speak with you and pick your brain. You basically started the Hammer brand from your home and have helped it grow into one of the largest nutrition and fueling brands in the endurance sports realm. What drove you to start the company and did you ever think it would grow like this?

Brian Frank (BF): It’s a pleasure and thank you for having me. When we first started, I never thought we would get this big. I really wanted to keep it to 5 or 6 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 – that tells you how small we were thinking.

Hammer started out of necessity. I was using natural supplements to help my energy levels, but that was really odd in the '80s. Race Caps was our first product – it is meant to kill off the free radicals in our bodies that prevent our recovery. No one else knew what they were other than it worked.
We have had all of the big stores come after 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 want the small family style business. Are we losing money because of it? Yes. However, I’m not going to go against my principles to make an extra buck. Our principles are helping the grassroots individuals – the brick and mortar of our sports. This is local bike shops, running shops, and independent stores.

TTT: Hammer is known for its dedication to all 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?

BF: 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. We can do this because we don’t have investors, it is 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 over making an extra buck.

If customers are looking for a low calorie food base, such as those chews, we have the Perpetuem solids. These are the same minimal food concept without all of the additives. We strive for what is great for the body while making it taste the best it can.

above Brian talks about Perpetuem... incredible fuel for IM and 70.3 distances

TTT: In endurance sports, the more you race, and the longer the distance, the more important fueling and nutrition needs become. Nutrition plans are essentially the fourth leg of a triathlon and arguably the most important when racing long course. Hammer publishes a lot of great information online that can help your customers make the proper fueling choices. In your experience, what is the most common mistake athletes make when it comes to nutrition?

BF: The biggest mistake I see people make is they try to do too much. They push too hard on the swim and bike, and they take in too much nutrition. There are so many athletes who take in too much nutrition that they end up having these terrible races... I’m talking 300-400 calories an hour athletes.

A lot of athletes will also eat before a large workout. What happens is you then burn your glycogen before your fat, thus preventing fat burning which is what your body uses to burn during long workouts. You need to set up your metabolism system so you are burning fat to start off with rather than your glycogen. You should start thinking three hours before your workout. You should have all of your food digested and your body fully hydrated.

We have a customer who just finished Badwater 135 and his biggest change was his caloric intake. He went from 300 calories and throwing up an hour to just shy of 200 and having a big Personal Record.

TTT: We’ve noticed that Hammer Nutrition is a big supporter within the age group ranks in triathlon and endurance sports. When racing, there always seems to be athletes racing in Hammer kits, and I often see Hammer products either officially or unofficially being used on race courses. It also seems that Hammer has made the conscious effort to invest more in the sponsorship of amateur athletes rather than heavily in the pro ranks. Is this true, and if so, can you talk a bit about why that choice was made and if you have future plans to expand the pro presence?

BF: Hammer has always been a big supporter of the grassroots athlete. We first started with the big pro athletes to get our name out there in the 1980s. However, if you notice with our sport of triathlon there isn’t a worship mentality. Sure we have professional athletes out there, but our sport doesn’t look at them like football, baseball, or basketball fans look at their pro athletes. Also, our main clientele isn’t professional athletes – it is the Mom or Dad who wants to get a leg up on their age group counterpart. They wanted to know what their competitors were doing.

We also don’t go after the big races such as Ironman. That isn’t who we are. We are focused on the local community and supporting them – 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 while keeping the integrity of our product. Last year alone we sponsored over 2,500 events – 60% of them being triathlons.

TTT: The triathlon and endurance sport world is growing and participants are always looking for the next great thing, whether it be gear, training, or fueling. How does Hammer plan to stay on top and continue to grow with the sport and what can we expect to see from Hammer in the next few years?

the iconic Hammer crank
BF: Well, there will not be any drastic changes to our nutritional products. We don’t have investors or shareholders – so it is just me. You may see some new flavors come out, possibly new supplements or drink variations. It’ll be the same motto of “no compromise products.”

We have roughly 2 or 3 new products we are researching – but there is no rush on it. I would rather make the product right and not just add a bunch of useless additives in the mixes. We may be leaving a lot of money on the table – but I am not going to sacrifice principles for profits. I am willing to lose money if the product doesn’t match my core principles.

Keeping up with other companies, we don’t worry about. We aren’t going to add sugar to improve taste because that is not who we are. We find that many individuals try Hammer and love it. But in our sport, athletes like the latest and greatest thing. We’ll lose customers, but they always come back because they know our product is superior. 

TTT: We notice that you offer free consultations for customers – how often is that used and what is it all about?

BF: Yes, and that is something we will continue to do. We offer this because not everyone understands all of our products and what they are truly meant for. We want people to call in and take advantage of this. You’ll expect to hear someone on the phone who knows and understands our products as well as understands the benefit of them for each type of event. Many people will order online and that is without truly knowing if it is the right product for you. Call us and you may end up changing your entire nutritional plan for the better!

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