Gerard Dente Celebrates 25 Years of MHP
By Ron Harris
The supplement industry is known to be exceedingly competitive and often ruthless. It’s one of the most challenging businesses to succeed in, which is why companies come and go all the time. For one to stay on top of the market for more than a year or two is atypical, which is why it’s astonishing that MHP has been on the forefront of the sports supplement industry for as long as it has. MHP recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary, which is why I sat down with owner and CEO Gerard Dente to learn how he has stayed on top of his game for a quarter century.
Some of the younger readers may not know this, but you were one of the best amateur bodybuilders in an era when pro cards were infinitely harder to come by, and in fact had superior physiques to many with pro cards today. You had several top-three and top-four finishes at the USA and North American against men who went on to have very successful pro careers. You were also a Twinlab athlete, which helped inspire you to eventually enter the supplement industry yourself.
Yeah, I started competing at 18 in 1986 and won the Teenage New Jersey, then I won the Teenage Nationals the next year, and the Collegiate Nationals in 1988. Later I became sponsored by Twinlab, one of the largest players in the industry at that time. Steve Blechman and his brothers owned the company. I saw how their organization was run and the opportunities in the nutritional supplement industry. Twinlab was at the forefront of innovation, which was a huge reason I liked representing the brand. Steve is a very intelligent guy who is deeply into research. Being part of a brand like Twinlab gave me an appreciation for the quality and research that went into their products. At the time, I relied heavily on nutrition and supplementation to be the best bodybuilder I could be. As I was doing my own research, I realized there was a void in the market. There was substantial research on many products that weren’t in the marketplace. That’s what inspired me to start MHP as I decided to step away from the stage because I knew I wanted to stay in the industry.
You were 29 or 30 years old at the time. How did you come up with the capital to get the company off the ground? This was many years before there was “private labeling,” when literally anybody can stick his own label on some generic creatine or whey protein for cheap.
It was tough and a lot of people thought I was crazy. How can a bodybuilder start a supplement business? I didn’t have much financial backing, but one thing that helped was that people knew who I was because I had been an athlete and had the exposure in the magazines, so at least the buyers at GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe would at least pick up the phone when I called. I first launched a product called Secretagogue-One that was innovative and filled a void. It was the first natural HGH enhancer in sports nutrition. Even today you see so many people starting up supplement companies. But if you’re just going to launch another whey protein or typical pre-workout, it will be a challenge. Innovation has always been what I focused on with MHP – what type of product could be effective that isn’t out there yet?
Didn’t you also have the first nitric oxide product with TRAC?
Yes. Today you see nitric oxide is one of the biggest categories in sports nutrition and it’s a component in nearly every pre-workout formula, but that wasn’t the case in 1999. TRAC stands for Time-Released Arginine and Creatine. It contained a 4-gram dose of arginine along with other things to boost nitric oxide production to enhance the pump and shuttle nutrients. Another thing is that at that time, creatine was mainly used post-workout. TRAC was the first nitric oxide product in sports nutrition. It contained arginine and creatine, to be taken pre-workout, so we started the pre-workout category from a performance standpoint. You had other energy products, but TRAC was revolutionary. That was the second product that helped catapult MHP as a brand. Secretagogue did very well, but TRAC took the company to the next level. There was also the belief at the time that you needed to load creatine along with tons of sugar to saturate the muscle tissue. We bucked that trend and had the research to back it up. A lot of people never wanted to take in all that sugar, so they chose TRAC.
You also brought one of the first blended protein products to market with Probolic.
That was interesting. Whey protein dominated the market, and it’s a great protein source. I started looking at medical research pertaining to increasing protein synthesis, maintaining an anabolic environment, and preventing a catabolic environment. Whey quickly released amino acids and spiked protein synthesis, but it dropped off fast and wasn’t providing the amino acid levels to maintain a positive nitrogen balance. I looked at the different release rates of proteins to combine different types, and later found research on how they were more anti-catabolic than just whey alone. That put us ahead of the curve, and Probolic still does very well for us. The first version came out in 2004.
Last but not least, a product I used for years and which I believe was the first dedicated post-workout formula, Dark Matter.
A lot of people were taking whey protein or amino acids post-workout. But there are other things your body needs. We looked at research and used a specific blend of essential amino acids that increased protein synthesis by 360 percent. It was far more effective than whey protein. Post-workout is when you really need those fast-acting carbohydrates to replenish spent glycogen stores and release more insulin, which is why we used waxy maize. Insulin is very anabolic and helps shuttle more nutrients. There is also an anabolic effect with cell volumizing. We had creatine to replace ATP, and also glycerol to help volumize the muscle and optimize the anabolic environment.
What are some of your best-selling products for MHP today?
Dark Matter still does well. Xpel has been number one in the natural diuretic category for a long time. T-Bomb is in its third generation now as T-Bomb 3xtreme. It’s one of the only testosterone-boosting products that has a clinical study on the actual formula itself, not just a study on one of the ingredients. Our study used highly trained athletes and found you get testosterone increases of 32 percent without any increase in estrogen over the placebo. One of the things that has allowed MHP to be around for 25 years is the efficacy of our products; they work.
You’ve sponsored some amazing athletes over the years. Who was the first, and who was with MHP the longest?
In the very beginning I utilized myself, because I still had a name and a presence in the industry. The first athlete was Jason Arntz. He was a friend of mine and we both used to train at Diamond Gym. He got his pro card, I brought him on board, and it was great working with him. Victor Martinez became part of the team early on, and he was with us for 16 years. It wasn’t long before he rose up and became one of the best in the sport, and in my opinion he’s one of the best of all time. We also had Jose Raymond, Jonathan De La Rosa, Anthoneil Champagnie, Yeshaira Robles, Dana Linn Bailey and others. MHP also focused a lot on powerlifting and Strongman. At one time we had several all-time record holders. There was Gene Rychlak, Joe Mazza, Shawn Frankl, Brian Siders and many others who were world record holders. We are currently sponsoring Julius Maddox, who is the all-time greatest bencher with an amazing 782-pound bench press. On the Strongman side we had World’s Strongest Man champs Phil Pfister, Brian Shaw, Hafthor Björnsson and Zydrunas Savickas. At one time we had all three of those last ones at once. As much as I was a bodybuilder, I always had an admiration for the strength athletes. They are very dedicated and methodical with their training. Strongmen to me are the epitome of what MHP stands for, Maximum Human Performance. What a perfect fit for the brand. What they do is amazing to watch, and so entertaining.
You also sponsor some UFC fighters, correct?
Yes, we have Charles Oliveira, who is the current UFC Lightweight Champion. We brought him on board when he was a relative unknown. Now as the champion, he’s just dominated his last three fights. He’s a great guy who loves giving back to his community in Brazil.
Do you take any role in how your athletes use the products, or do you leave that to them and their coaches?
Sometimes. Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabrício Werdum is an example of somebody we were very hands-on with. He was training years ago with Jared Bunch, who I knew from when he was a fullback for the New York Giants. I had helped him with his supplementation while he was playing in the NFL. He became Fabrício’s strength coach, and he called me up after he’d lost to Alistair Overeem, and he swore he would never be out-muscled in the octagon again. We took him on board, and he wound up winning the title and successfully defending it several times. Talk about a sport that requires total dedication! These MMA fighters do weight training, cardio and work daily with a striking coach, a grappling coach, and spar. They are incredible athletes.
What are some of the biggest markets for MHP outside the USA?
We do pretty well in Mexico, South America and the Middle East. When I started the company 25 years ago, there wasn’t much international business for anyone. We’ve seen interest in training and supplementation growing all over the world since then.
I’ve seen hundreds of companies come and go in the 25 years MHP has been around. What have been some of the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome to withstand this incredibly competitive and often cutthroat industry?
Right now is a very challenging time, as we have major supply chain issues and the costs of raw materials going up dramatically. I always maintain that quality and innovation is what will make a company stand out from the rest. Developing quality products that offer a competitive advantage is helpful. I’ve also been fortunate to have a great staff who saw the vision of where the company was and where it needed to go. I tell them that the harder the landscape becomes, the greater the opportunities. Those who can’t or won’t adapt and work through the challenges won’t last. You have to be able to weather the storms because there will always be unexpected challenges. Russia was a great market for us, but obviously now we can’t do any trade with them. Brazil was one of my biggest markets, and then my distributor started counterfeiting my products! I’ve also had some amazing athletes representing the brand, which I am appreciative of. Continuing to innovate and adapt has been key to our success. A lot of supplement sales are done online now, and social media is a critical part of any company’s marketing and sales now. MHP does its best to not only keep up with these trends, but also try to stay ahead of them.
As for the future of MHP, I feel we need to stay true to what has allowed us to be successful. Product innovation and having a dedicated team of employees and athletes working together to achieve our objectives is what will allow us to continue to grow. We have some innovative products in the pipeline that will raise the bar and help athletes achieve their Maximum Human Performance.
Well congratulations Gerard, 25 years is a remarkable achievement. I wish you continued success with the brand.
YouTube: Maximum Human Performance – MHP
IFBB Pro Victor Martinez:
‘He founded one of the best companies in the industry.’
“Form the first time I met Gerard, there was a connection. I knew him from his years as a top amateur competitor, and to me he was always a pro. He founded one of the best companies in the industry, and that’s why I stayed with MHP so long. The support he gave me went far beyond just a company and a sponsored athlete. There was a real friendship and he always treated me with honor and respect, conscious of my well-being. His support kept me going in my years of competing as a pro and meant even more in my times of personal challenges. I’d like to thank Gerard and MHP from the bottom of my heart for the years I was part of the team.” -IFBB Pro Victor Martinez and longtime MHP athlete
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