In the early 1980s, long before jugs of whey protein took gym lockers by storm and everyone from bodybuilders to snowboarders trusted in brands like Muscle Milk and BPI, hardcore gym rats looking for an edge really got creative. “Guys would take anything,” says Eric Hillman, 53, who at the time was a powerlifter in Charlotte, NC, capable of deadlifting more than 700 pounds and squatting more than 600. “When I was 21 and lifting, I took ‘cheque drops,’ which is what they give female dogs to prevent them from going into heat!” The drops, he was told, would burn body fat and build strength. “I don’t know if it worked, but it burned like hell!”
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since — and no one knows this better than Hillman, whose singular influence in the world of fitness and nutrition supplementation can’t be overstated. As the co-founder and CEO of the North Carolina-based Europa Sports Products, he’s launched the majority of the industry’s biggest brands, including not only Muscle Milk and BPI, but also Clif Bar, Gaspari Nutrition, and Dymatize. Europa owns more than 450,000 square feet of warehouse space, employs 460 people, and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales, servicing 84,000 locations including Walgreens, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Duane Reade, in addition to 16,000 mom-and-pop shops. Since 2013 the company has grown close to 30% and Europa just opened their largest warehouse yet, in Las Vegas.
Though Hillman’s quick to write off his success as the product of “dumb luck,” the reality is that the road from humble powerlifter to godfather of the modern supplement industry wasn’t simple or easy. But along the way Hillman learned a great deal about fitness (for the record, he still trains five days a week and prefers Bio-Gro from iSatori, a bioactive peptide supplement that’s “fertilizer for your muscles,” he says.