Growing up, I constantly struggled with digestive issues. Fueling myself properly while also trying to avoid flares became nearly impossible. I remember excusing myself early from lectures and sitting in Boston rush hour traffic with stabbing stomach pain, thinking, "even if I call 9-1-1 right now, this traffic is so bad they won't reach me in time if I pass out".
Finally, after two years of doctor's appointments, scopes, and procedures, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. However, I didn't have anyone to help me navigate gut health. Instead, doctors told me, "just go gluten and dairy-free." As an athlete, I knew fueling properly was essential, yet I didn't know how to navigate my new diet. So, I resorted to drinking gritty and ineffective protein.
However, this diagnosis also fueled a fire within me. I fell in love with understanding the biochemistry of "optimal health" through the food we eat and the way we move our bodies. After graduating with a degree in Biology from the honors college at UMass Amherst, I applied to the best graduate nutrition school in the country, the Tufts' Friedman school. There I completed my master's in nutritional epidemiology (the study of how diet affects disease). During this time, I was posting daily to my Instagram, sharing my knowledge/recipes, building a community, and coaching as a personal trainer.
After graduating, I applied to the Tampa VA for my dietetic internship. This location has an acceptance rate lower than Harvard, so screaming, crying, and wine were all involved when I was accepted.
My VA experience at James A Haley was incredible, and I was so excited to give back to a population close to my heart (My brother is a Colonel in the Marine Corps). With my rich experience in nutrition research, I finished three publications in nutrition journals that year - two of which I was the first author. Shortly after, I became a Registered Dietitian and began integrating medical nutrition therapy into my coaching.
As I continued coaching, all my clients were dealing with the same gut health issues. They kept asking, "what's a good protein powder?" and I didn't have an answer. Whey was a common allergen and bloated many, while plant proteins were gritty and lacked optimal amino acids for muscle recovery. Additionally, plant proteins on the market are filled with heavy metals as plants naturally store heavy metals in their leaves as a defense mechanism. Most companies (I can share the lawsuits) have been sued for being over the legal limits of heavy metals in their product. Unfortunately, these companies are so big that it costs them less to pay the fine than reformulate the product.
Additionally, these plant proteins lack optimal amino acids, so you have to consume more of them to get the same effect as whey. They're filled with gums, artificial flavors, and additives to mask the chalky taste and texture. I could NOT be suggesting my clients consume more of these toxic products. So I set out to create a protein powder with an optimized amino acid formula, just as effective as whey without any inflammatory ingredients/additives.
I immediately began researching and formulating. I spent six months working as a consultant to help understand the evolution of nutrition. I focused on numerous topics like how fatty acid ratios impact fat storage and which ratios of glucose to insoluble fiber galactose we need in our diet. This analysis was fun for me, as I had previously helped Dr. William Li research his book, Eat to Beat Disease, during my time at Tufts.
In July 2020, I was connected with a very well-known figure in the bodybuilding industry who suggested a local manufacturer in Tampa. Everything seemed like it was finally coming together! Yet, my dream was put on hold when I found out I had been scammed. I lost $30k and hired a local Tampa lawyer, Sarah Chibani to help me pursue a claims case.
I didn't give up, and in April 2021, I entered into a 100k Pitch competition from Tuft's Entrepreneurship Center. This event is only open to students and past year graduates, so it was my one chance to present to companies like Nestle and PepsiCo. I won back $18k, $10k in legal help from Foley & Lardner (offices also in Tampa), and was given a 1 yr membership to join the exclusive US Food and Innovation Council. Within a week, I received an offer from an investor for $10k (from my 5 min pitch in the competition). Soon after, I had a meeting scheduled with PepsiCo's Nutrition Sciences, Sports Science, and External Innovation strategies.
Using legal help, I patented the formula and began working with multiple manufacturers. After months of experimenting, I was finally satisfied with the finished product. In August 2021, I attended the International Society of Sports Nutrition Conference. There, I asked researchers what they thought about the idea and if they could help with a clinical trial. Although everyone was interested, they needed funding - which was $150k+ that I didn't have. I began working with my parents to apply for an SBIR/STTR grant, and we were making significant progress. However, it was too late. A competing lab had snagged the clinical trial I wanted.
Yet, it was all a blessing in disguise! It turns out I can validate my formula without needing a clinical trial.
Since then, we have shifted all efforts to the launch, which is now coming April 2022!!
Learn More About My Past Research:
1. Part 1: The Origin and Evolution of the Paleo Diet
2. Part 2: Theoretical Intakes of Modern-Day Paleo Diets
3. Nutrition Parameters for Assessing Malnutrition in a Population of US Veterans With Hepatitis C Virus
4. Asymmetry of Facial Mimicry and Emotion Perception in Patients With Unilateral Facial Paralysis
5. Theoretical Intakes of Modern-Day Paleo Diets: Comparison to U.S. Dietary Reference Intakes