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Shannon O’Grady guides Gnarly Nutrition into the future



Shannon O'Grady began as chief executive officer at Gnarly Nutrition in early 2024.

By Henry Howard

 

Shannon O’Grady, formerly the chief operating officer and chief product officer at Gnarly Nutrition, recently took over as chief executive officer after Eli Kerr stepped down.

 

She received her doctorate in biology from the University of Utah, where she did her dissertation on nutritional physiology. Her approach to nutrition is to prioritize whole foods first and then use sensible products, not something with outlandish claims.


O'Grady, who joined Gnarly about 18 months after its founding, has participated in numerous endurance sports, ranging from marathons and ultras to skiing to jiu jitsu, which she discovered during a Gnarly team-building exercise. (Interested in trying Gnarly and receiving a 20% discount? Use this link to save 20%, one time per customer through May 3. No minimum purchase and no catalog restrictions. Use coupon code GNARTWENTY at checkout.)


I caught up with her recently to talk about her new role, how Gnarly products benefit athletes and what’s ahead for the company. This has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Question: First, congratulations on being named CEO! Tell me about the transition, when it officially starts, and what you see going forward.


Answer: Eli, who's been the longtime CEO of Gnarly, was really responsible for building the brand up to where it is today. He decided that he wanted to take a step away and try some new things in terms of his career. So we decided that it would make sense for me to step in that role. Eli gradually took a step back, which has made for a really nice transition. It's already in effect and he's there to support me. It's been a really nice transition, and one that I'm really excited about.


Shannon O'Grady leads a team at Gnarly Nutrition that works hard and plays hard.

Question: Tell me about how you first became connected with Gnarly.


O'Grady: I had discovered the brand through a friend who was a pro athlete and had been sponsored at the time. There was a lot of overlap between my values and direction in terms of building sports nutrition supplements and what I saw in Gnarly. I wrote them a letter and sent my resume and described what I thought I could do for the company. I began contacting work shortly thereafter, and then was brought on full-time within six months. It's been about eight years since I've been with Gnarly.


Question: How does your day-to-day role change? Are you still going to be involved in the product creation and testing?


O'Grady: I'd say in the last three years, while I still am responsible for all product creation and testing, I've also stepped more into an operations role. I'm also responsible for all manufacturing and co-packing and fulfillment and customer service. We're a small company, so we all wear a lot of hats. An employee who has worked with me for the last four years is going to be taking over as director of operations, and he's going to be taking over those pieces — manufacturing, co-packing, fulfillment and customer service. I will still be in charge of all testing, quality measures, and product formulation, but then also kind of leading the direction of the company, as well.


Question: Let's talk a little bit about Gnarly and the nutrition it provides through its various products. What makes Gnarly different from other competitors, and why should athletes of any type give Gnarly a try, whether it's pre-workout, fueling on the go, or recovery?


O'Grady: First and foremost, we make products that consumers can trust and that are high quality, efficacious and delicious. Our products are third-party tested. We use NSF to make sure that our products are meeting label claims and are not contaminated, and are really what the label represents. Additionally, all of the products are formulated with the latest scientific research in mind, and we're transparent about why we choose our ingredients, as well as the dosages. We want to be upfront about what our products can do and what actually they can't do. In the sports nutrition space, and in the supplement space as a whole, you're kind of bombarded with outrageous claims and, really, there are no magic pills. I often describe our products as pretty basic, because they are. We only use ingredients which science has established, that could really make a difference in terms of fueling or performance or recovery for athletes.


Gnarly Nutrition's vegan protein powder is my go-to recovery drink after trail runs.

Question: How does Gnarly sync with your values?


O'Grady: Eli always referred to the Gnarly brand as a lifestyle brand, because we do have values that we stand behind, and I fully agree with that. For us, those values include being cognizant of the impact of the brand on the environment and taking the steps that we can to improve that. It's never going to be perfect, and we have a long way to go, but I feel like we are one of the few brands that has taken actionable steps toward reducing the footprint that we leave. Then secondarily, we also truly believe in inclusivity. We want to make sure that the space we create is a space that's welcoming to all. We try to communicate those values with a little bit of personality and fun and humor, and that often comes through in our marketing.


Question: I've heard you talk about a fairly well-known brand, and the dosages. Talk about what you do from a research and development standpoint that ensures that consumers of Gnarly are getting the highest quality, whereas another one, just throws everything into a container and says this is your end-all, be-all, everything is in here.



Gnarly Nutrition

O'Grady: I think you're probably talking about "the green space." We see it in the greens and actually in pre-workouts a lot, where companies will use what are called “proprietary blends.”. A blend is exactly what you think of — it's a bunch of ingredients thrown together. The word "proprietary" is what's a little misleading. When these show up on labels, you don't know how much of each individual ingredient is actually included, because they only give an amount for the total blend. There could be five ingredients, but sometimes there are 10, sometimes 50. You don't really have any idea of what you're getting in the product beyond the listing of all of these ingredients. If there's anything that we know in science, and particularly in nutrition research, it's that dosage matters. It matters both in terms of safety and efficacy. What I talked about earlier with Gnarly including efficacious doses of science-backed ingredients, and not making outrageous claims, is kind of in line with that. We don't include proprietary blends. We include meaningful and intentional doses of ingredients that are actually going to have an impact, and we list the amount of those doses on the package. Instead of boasting about having 70 to 90 ingredients in our product, but then not being transparent about how much a consumer is getting in a serving, we may have only 10 to 15 ingredients, but we tell you exactly how much of each of those ingredients are there. That's extremely important to us, both because, once again, it's in line with our mission to make science-backed, effective products and to be clear about the benefits consumers can expect, but also because it helps redeem supplement companies, which have gotten a bad rap for a long time about being deceptive and being about marketing and misleading customers. We're trying to address that directly through transparency and clarity and honesty. 


Question: You also referenced NSF. For those who aren't aware, why is that important, and why should  athletes, from back of the packers to elites, look for and consider products that are designated that way.


O'Grady: NSF is a third-party testing group that has been around for quite some time. They do audits of all different types of manufacturing, including supplements. In that space, they both audit manufacturers, so the people that actually put together the supplements, and the brands and products themselves. We use an NSF-certified manufacturer, which means that that manufacturer is inspected twice a year to make sure they're following FDA guidelines for supplement manufacturing. Then we also have our products tested. There are two levels of certification that Gnarly has. There's the content-certified products, which mean that products are tested for label claims. Although there is some testing required by the FDA, it's definitely a gray area, and because there's not a lot of enforcement around FDA regulations, a lot of supplement companies can get away with, either by accident or intentionally, not meeting the label claims as they should.


Our products are tested to make sure that what is listed on the label is actually what the consumers are getting. They're also tested for pesticides and contaminants like microbes and heavy metals. Then a number of our products go a step further than that, and those are the NSF sports certified products.

In addition to the testing I just described, those products are also tested for all banned substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substances list, which right now I think it's around 300 substances. Every lot of products manufactured is tested to ensure that athletes on the pro level are not accidentally taking in any of those substances, because they're consuming a supplement that could be contaminated, which has definitely been shown to be an issue in the supplement industry. For us hobbyists, too, we don't want that crap in our bodies, either. So, just to make sure you're taking what you want to take and nothing that you don't, it's definitely a good idea to look for products that have NSF or NSF Certified for Sport, or a similar certification.


New from Gnarly: Golden Milk, vegan meal replacement.

Question: I can't wait to try out the new Golden Milk Vegan Protein. I assume the blend of the turmeric, ginger, and so forth are meant for an extra recovery boost. Is that the goal?

 

O'Grady: Yes, I've been making this recipe at home for a number of years. I've made it for a few athletes that really loved it, so I've been wanting to bring it to the line. Right now we're just offering it as a limited-time flavor, but who knows? If it sells well, maybe we'll bring it into the line. It's delicious and has 400 milligrams of turmeric per serving, so definitely getting into that efficacious dose. Turmeric has many benefits. I think it's best known for helping maintain healthy inflammatory levels, which can definitely have implications for recovery. There are also potentially some benefits for brain health, as well.


Question: The black pepper in it, I don't know the right word, but that magnifies the effect of turmeric, is that right?


O'Grady: The active components of turmeric, or the ones that are discussed more frequently, are called curcuminoids. Curcumin, specifically, is what you hear talked about most often, and like a lot of things, curcumin is fat-soluble. So, one, our vegan protein does have a good amount of fat, so it makes the absorption go up just because there is more fat included in that product than you would see in your typical vegan protein supplement. But, there's also been research showing that black pepper extract helps with the absorption of curcumin, as well. So, beyond black pepper extract already being an ingredient in golden milk, it also helps absorb the main active ingredient that's going to potentially improve recovery. It's a pretty perfect blend for that reason.


Question: I have listened to several episodes of the new Gnar Stool podcast. I really like it because it gives me some perspective of a diverse group of athletes, both as far as who they are as humans, but also who they are as athletes, and a different set of athletes than I usually listen to on podcasts. Tell me about the concept for getting it started, and where you see it going.


O'Grady: We encounter a lot of amazing people through our work at Gnarly. The idea behind the podcast came out of wanting to share their stories, both in terms of their triumphs and in terms of all the challenges and hurdles that they overcame. Everyone can have a podcast these days, so we thought we'd give it a go, and it's been really warmly received. Some of the episodes have moments that you might cry, some of the episodes have moments that are disgusting, some episodes have moments that are funny. But the truth is that anything that brings an emotion is definitely something worth spending the time listening to. We're just trying to share some of the stories and triumphs of the community that we're involved with, and that's everyone from chefs to musicians to skateboarders to runners to snowboarders. We've had some great guests on, and we have a lot of episodes that we've already taped that we're going to be releasing in the next couple months that I'm really excited about.



Gnarly Nutrition offers vegan protein powder, Pre-Workout and creatine and more.

Question: You said something about Gnarly and how it takes conservation into account, and holds itself accountable for that. The packaging was changed several years ago, as one example. Do you have specifics of how Gnarly is being good stewards of the environment?


O'Grady: We switched all of our packaging. The packaging was in plastic tubs and we switched to stainless steel cans. We also switched all of our packaging that's in bags from non-recyclable bags to drop-off recyclable bags. Most pouches that people think of are multilayer pouches, and for that reason many of them are not recyclable. So, we sourced some that were recyclable, and we would love to potentially find a better option than even that, because plastic recycling is pretty absurd in the U.S. right now. But, trying to find something that is a good positive change and still maintains the quality and safety of the products can be challenging sometimes. We're looking into that. On the ingredients front, we're critically looking at the ingredients we use in our products and whether or not we can make more sustainable substitutions. We use domestic grass-fed whey for our whey products and collagen for our collagen products. We used to source our collagen from Brazil and our whey from New Zealand, and we switched purposefully to U.S. sources to reduce the carbon footprint of our products. Internally, in the office, we pay for bus passes for our employees to encourage them to use mass transportation. We have a list of our hopes and dreams, and we try to make steps toward checking things off on that list on a regular basis.


Question: What's next for Gnarly? What's on the horizon?


O'Grady: You mentioned our Golden Milk, which we’re pretty excited about. We've got some partnerships that we're going to be launching that I'm also really excited about, new athletes as well as nutrition professionals. We're also going to be continuing down that path of sustainability. We've got some action items that we want to accomplish this year. This spring is probably the time where we will announce what we're doing on that front. Then, we've got some more exciting Hydrate flavors that'll be released for spring and summer.

 

Speed drill

 

Hometown: Burke, Va.

Number of years running: 28

How many miles a week do you typically run: Now, only 15ish. My main focus is now jiu jitsu

Point of pride: Qualifying for Boston at my first marathon.

Favorite race distance: 50K

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Gnarly Energy Bites

Favorite piece of gear: Ultimate Direction Jenny Collection Vesta running vest

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

Instagram: @shaogrady

 

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