Sometimes finding modern-day solutions to age-old problems requires innovation. Sometimes it demands cutting-edge science. And sometimes it requires stripping everything back and looking to nature for answers. When it came to creating a product to help consumers finesse their holistic health and wellness—a matter of finding routines and regimens that instill synchronicity and harmony—Athletic Greens sought solutions from all of these approaches…and a few dozen podcast ad placements. If you consume media, it’s practically impossible for your eyes or ears to miss an advertisement for the brand’s pinnacle product, AG1, an all-in-one foundational supplement.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about optimizing global health without recognizing the discrepancy of access. Supplements can’t be at the core of foundational nutrition for the masses because of socioeconomic barriers. In the same way you can’t out-run or out-train a poor diet, you can only buy your way to “good health” to a certain extent. And yet it’s a booming industry.
In January 2022, Athletic Greens garnered $115M in new funding to grow its subscriber base and rank as a major player in the industry, according to Business Wire. That investment is at a valuation that exceeds $1 billion dollars. (Oh, and that global health and wellness market? It’s approaching $7 trillion.)
For those who can afford to close nutritional gaps in their health, supplements are sometimes the answer. And AG1 is an appealing one.
“What makes AG1 powder unique is the density and variety of vitamins, minerals, and whole-food-sourced nutrients,” says Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., coordinator of nutrition and team sports dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers. “They claim to provide 75 different nutrients—no GMOs, artificial colors and flavors, or preservatives—in a single scoop of powder. Most greens powders don’t even come close to that.”
Founder Chris Ashenden started Athletic Greens 10 years ago. He was experiencing a lot of health issues, from gut distress to low energy to nutrient deficiency and insufficiency. Experts recommended supplements—a whole lot of ’em—but taking 20 to 30 tablets a day to rectify the problem didn’t seem logical.
To get all those vitamins and minerals, pre- and probiotics, and phytonutrients, “you’d need a whole cabinet and refrigerator,” says Ralph Esposito, a naturopathic physician and functional medicine practitioner specializing in integrative medicine at Athletic Greens. “If you look at nature, though, it does this organically. In ancient Indian culture, Ayurvedic medicine and cooking has a lot of yogurt, botanicals, herbs, and spices. Yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and apples—they have a lot of these pre- and probiotics and phytonutrients. Ashwagandha was a food first, then became a supp. When you boil it all down, it comes to establishing essentials of nutrition for proper gut health and looking at the body as a whole.”
That’s where the idea of AG1 came in. Ashenden wanted to create a green drink that went beyond a multivitamin. He wanted it to contain herbs, nutrients, phytonutrients, flavanols, pre- and probiotics to make foundational health as simple as starting your day with a beverage, much like the ritual of having tea or coffee.
When you’re experiencing a malady, like IBS, it’s not just one root cause of the problem. There are a multitude of systems communicating with one another—your gut, adrenals, vascular, skin, etc.—that need to find a sense of equilibrium to not flip the switch and short-circuit the whole system.
So when it came to formulating AG1, Ashenden took the same symbiotic approach. There are nine synergistic products by way of vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system and nervous system chugging along; a superfood complex comprising fruits and vegetables picked at peak harvest times for the most potent phytonutrient count; dairy-free probiotics to support the gut microbiome and aid nutrient absorption as well as digestion; antioxidants and plant extracts with adaptogens that help minimize stress at a cellular level; and an enzyme and mushroom complex to further aid digestion.
Innovating and optimizing
The AG1 product of today has seen many permutations. Over time, based on new science, adaptogens and different types of probiotics were added. And while there have been new additions, there haven’t necessarily been new ingredients in the 50 or so iterations.
“It’s always about optimizing the quality of the product,” Esposito says. “It could be a case of finding a better cacao from New Zealand or wherever it’s sourced from because it’s a higher quality product. There’s a whole team dedicated to seeking out new ingredients and finding where they grow the purest and most potent.”
A harvest might be better someplace or a crop could be picked at a better peak ripeness so nutrients are at their highest. Everything is constantly reviewed and tested.
“We took it a step further and got NSF Certified for Sport qualification, which is a big deal,” Esposito adds. “It’s very costly to do third-party testing, but you want athletes to feel comfortable using it. All our suppliers are NSF certified and the ingredients are tested to ensure heavy metals are safe, there are no microbes or bacteria, and it is what they say it is.”
Kids have to try something upwards of 10 times to grow an affinity for the taste. But adults? We’re hard pressed to consume anything twice if we don’t like the flavor, whether it’s good for us or not. Packing all these greens into a powder, you might imagine the taste to be somewhat akin to licking the bottom of a lawn mower.
It’s not, for the record. That was a major concern for product developers.
“You need a product to be efficacious, but how do you make it effective and get people to take it while trying to please the most palates possible?” Esposito asks rhetorically. It can’t just be palatable so people can choke it down. It’s gotta taste good.
“Ingredients like spirulina and chlorella alone provide a marine type of flavor,” he adds. “You get earthiness from barley, wheat, and alfalfa grasses; astringent tannins from cacao and Hawthorne berry; some sweetness from licorice; an herbal flavor from ashwagandha; sourness from probiotics; savoriness from mushrooms; and of course some vitamins and minerals are astringent, like zinc is metallic and selenium tastes like sulfur. It’s a lot of work to find the right ratios. We need to get the most potent and effective product first, then work with our flavoring house and partners to make sure most people will enjoy. Vanilla and pineapple gives a nice fruit forward channel, rather than overwhelming cucumber lime.”
AG1 definitely has a tropical taste that can be enhanced or mellowed with certain mix-ins. Some people like to just shake with water and lemon juice. Esposito likes to use water or coconut milk and freeze for 10 minutes to create a slushy in the summer months. Athletic Greens also offers some recipes on its site to help combat flavor fatigue.
Best Smoothie and Juice Recipes to Use With AG1
The Tropical Sensation
Whirl ingredients in blender until smooth.
- 1 Scoop of AG1
- 1 cup of coconut water
- 1 cup pineapple
- Handful of Ice
The Crowd Pleaser
Whirl ingredients in blender until smooth.
- 1 Scoop of AG1
- 1 green apple, cored
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/2″ fresh grated ginger
- 1 cup water
The Post-Workout Wonder
- 1 Scoop of AG1
- 1 cup of coconut water
- Squeeze of lemon
Efficacy and real-world application
“Powders are generally better than pills for supplements, because it takes the process of digesting the capsule out and you can get higher dosages in a powder versus capsule,” Mazur says. “Since capsules are limited in their size, the dosage of nutrients is often lower than what you should be getting per serving compared to a powder.”
The main thing here is consistency. Some people can’t remember to take supplements in a capsule form; others are averse to swallowing them. If you’re more inclined to drink a beverage, you need to actually drink it every day. Taking it once a week isn’t going to make an impact on your health. Once it metabolizes through your body, you’re not getting those benefits.
“By day 14 of use, your intestinal tract starts changing, bowels start regulating, and gut feels more settled,” Esposito says. “By 30 days, you start noticing more energy. By 60 to 90 days, you’ll get the full effect.”
In terms of when to drink AG1, there’s no right or wrong, though Mazur recommends consuming first thing in the morning on an empty stomach in order to help with the survivability of the probiotics. Make sure you also store AG1 in the fridge to keep those probiotics alive!
“Taking it in the morning can help nutrient absorption since nutrients will have to compete for absorption when combined with foods you eat later on in the day,” he adds.
Since the FDA doesn’t regulate or approve dietary supplements, the purported health benefits haven’t been substantiated, but as we mentioned, the product is NSF Certified for Sport so it’s void of over 270 substances banned by major athletic organizations.
Bottom line: It’s always advisable to get blood work done to see what nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies you have. While it seems convenient to have one do-it-all supp with 75 vitamins and minerals, you might not actually absorb everything.
“Many of the ingredients provide well over the daily needs for each nutrient, so your body might not even process all of it and you’ll end up excreting the surplus,” Mazur says.
If you follow a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, this is definitely plausible.
“Digestion and absorption in the human GI tract is complex,” he adds. “Most people don’t understand we don’t always absorb everything we consume. Some nutrients, when consumed with others at the same time, compete for absorption across the intestinal tract. For example, copper and zinc compete for absorption sites in the small intestine. If there’s a lot of zinc around, copper tends to lose out and a copper deficiency may develop. On the other hand certain nutrients can help absorption, for example vitamin C helps you absorb iron.”
If you’re on a wellness journey, find ways of making it less of a chore and more of a ritual. Upon waking, skip the urge to down caffeine and leave your phone on your bedside table. Instead, shake up some AG1 and go for a brisk walk to get early-morning sun and fresh air.
“Don’t think you need to radically change your behaviors to improve your health all the time,” says Joe Holder—fitness and wellness columnist, Nike Master Trainer, and member of the Athletic Greens board of directors. “Much of it is just paying attention to the things you already do.”
Piggyback off those good behaviors and make tweaks that keep you leveling up incrementally. Rather than adopting a new model, you’re simply installing updates to your own operating system.
[$99 for one-time purchase or $79/month for subscription; athleticgreens.com]Get it
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