Have we entered a post-DMAA sports nutrition world?

Have we entered a post-DMAA sports nutrition world?

At first glance, probably not. Physique enthusiasts are still game for the hardest of the hardcore, and, by Nutrition Business Journal sales estimates, USPlabs still numbers on the list of top 50 supplement companies in the United States.

But the momentum has certainly shifted away from DMAA to alternatives in the sports nutrition market. Retailers have balked, regulators have bitten and even manufacturers have turned their backs.

A U.S. military investigation, 10 FDA warning letters, a spate of bans in Australia and across Europe, and the release of USPlabs’ DMAA-free preworkout Jack3d Micro are all signs of a diminishing business case for selling DMAA. And now GNC, the largest seller of sports supplements in the world, has publicly stated that it is shifting its focus in preworkout supplements away from those containing DMAA.

“The pre-workout category is still strong, but it's not being driven by DMAA products,” said GNC CEO Joe Fortunato in the company’s recent second-quarter earnings call. “We have made a very concerted effort to move away from DMAA products in the stores.”

This attitude is somewhat contrary to previous assertions by the company, which defended the compound’s safety and its legitimacy as a dietary ingredient. “GNC vendors contractually warrant that the products they provide to us are safe for human consumption and compliant with all applicable laws and regulations,” GNC spokesperson Greg Miller told NBJ in February.

It would appear, though, that consumers have caught on to the controversy and are making the market listen.

“Jack3d started to decline at the end of last year, going into the beginning of this year,” Fortunato added. “Oxy [OxyElite Pro] did not. Oxy stayed at a pretty high level up until the time we started to diminish the sales of it by bringing in replacement products and switching customers over to those products rather than keep the controversy going on DMAA, which seemed just an easier thing to do.”

Chalk it up to 'churn'

In true free-market fashion, GNC follows the dollar. They sell some of the best supplements in the world and some of the most controversial. And they have the liquidity and legal might to defend that way of doing business.

After the 2009 Hydroxycut recall, for example, numerous class action lawsuits landed on the retailer—and slid right off. “GNC has been a party to dozens of lawsuits brought over Hydroxycut and has not had to expend a single dime on its defense,” GNC chief legal officer Jerry Stubenhofer told NBJ in February.

Popular business pubs questioned whether the DMAA controversy would have an adverse impact on GNC’s shareholders, like in this May 2012 piece from the Wall Street Journal. In all likelihood, though, GNC will soldier on.

As Fortunato said earlier in a March 2011 earnings call, “It's a churn industry as far as products go. Things come, things go very quickly. When something goes, something replaces it very quickly.” Case in point, dendrobium from orchids has now replaced geranium as the it-botanical in sports—with synephrine, N-Methyltyramine and phenethylamine waiting in the wings.

So perhaps we’ve entered a post-DMAA era.

But the question is: Does this era look any better than the one before it?

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