|Chicago Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd|
|WBA world champion boxer Nonito Donaire|
|Three-time world champion boxer Robert Guerrero|
|Heavyweight boxer Eddie Chambers|
|Welterweight boxer Steve Chambers|
|Welterweight boxer Karim Mayfield|
|UFC fighter Kyle Kingsbury|
|English sprinter Dwain Chambers|
Marlon Byrd's(notes) career year was rudely interrupted Sunday when twice he was plunked by pitches from Roy Halladay(notes). He gamely refrained from rubbing his thigh or shoulder, but afterward Byrd consulted with his trusted performance-improving supplement guru, who not so long ago was a notorious performance-enhancing substance guru.
Victor Conte instructed Byrd to take an extra dose of a product called ZMA-5 before bed because it contains zinc and, Conte said, "It is widely known that zinc helps speed up the healing process of bruises and plays a major role in tissue repair." ZMA-5, billed as a rapid anabolic sleep enhancer, is one of a dozen or so of Conte's supplements the Chicago Cubs center fielder unfailingly ingests each day. Call it Byrd food.
None of the stuff packs nearly the wallop of the Cream or the Clear, but, hey, times have changed since Conte was dealing boutique steroid concoctions to the likes of Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. Conte hasn't run afoul of the law since BALCO blew up in 2003 and no athlete is known to have tested positive from any of his current products. Yet 30 months after adopting the regimen, Byrd is still the only MLB player known to use Conte's supplements. Conte's clients also include several prominent boxers, and a smattering of NFL players – whom Conte says don't want to be identified – and track and field athletes.
"Nobody I know uses it," Byrd said. "And I've recommended it to all my teammates. I recommend it to everyone. Everyone is always searching. I know what works for me and I try to pass that on. But they are reluctant."
Associating with Conte is perceived as a risk. The stigma lingers. When the Conte-Byrd alliance was reported by Yahoo! Sports 13 months ago, Major League Baseball officials had a hissy fit, summoning Byrd to their New York City offices, then backing off when he balked at making the trip. Officials said they'd talk to him over the phone, but never even did that.
What would they have said? Byrd broke no rules and his deportment in nine big league seasons has been above reproach.
[Photos: See Marlon Byrd in action]
"I think they backed off because it was me," he said matter-of-factly.
A year later, his performance speaks louder for Conte than any testimonial. Byrd, who played in his first All-Star Game last week, keeps getting better.
Power? Last year with the Texas Rangers he doubled his previous high in homers with 20, and this year his OPS is a career-best .864.
Stamina? The 32-year-old is batting .320, nearly 40 points higher than his career average, and hasn't dipped below .297 since April 22. Byrd, a reserve for most of his career, has played in 91 of 93 games this season.
Alertness? He threw out David Ortiz(notes) at second base on John Buck's(notes) bloop one-hopper to right field in the ninth inning of the All-Star Game, a play that helped give the NL home-field advantage in the World Series.
"The keys for me are food, supplements and sleep," he said. "Stay on the same schedule of food every day and you are going to be a better player. Even if it is a placebo. Wade Boggs ate chicken every day. That was his thing. Me, I believe in taking supplements before games."
The supplements game is now about improving performance a tick while staying legal, rather than improving by leaps and bounds and risk losing everything by cheating. The only MLB player who has tested positive for a banned substance since Manny Ramirez(notes) 15 months ago is Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez(notes). Both players were suspended for 50 games.
Conte's array of pills, powders and potions promises increased energy and faster recovery after workouts. He has his skeptics, but to Byrd it's the word. Upon signing a free-agent contract with the Cubs last winter, Byrd contacted Conte to adjust the regimen to take into account the increased number of day games he'd be playing in Chicago.
Before games, Byrd takes several amino acids, proteins and other substances sublingually and in pill form that purportedly regulate his metabolism, infuse him with sustained energy and reduce wear and tear on his ligaments and tendons. Afterward he takes a powder that accelerates post-workout recovery, and before bed he takes ZMA-5 along with a long-lasting protein that Conte says prevents muscle protein degradation during sleep.
Byrd also frequently submits to a comprehensive metabolic blood-testing panel that Conte uses to adjust the regimen. Cubs manager Lou Piniella doesn't care about the particulars, but he does appreciate Byrd's contribution.
"Marlon's done a nice job for us, a really nice job," he said. "He's played hard, he's got some energy to him."
And Byrd isn't afraid to wear a pitch. He's been plunked 16 times, the most by a Cubs player since Frank Chance was hit 17 times in 1905. Maybe because Byrd knows that tub of ZMA-5 is waiting at home.
"Victor's supplements have become so much a part of my routine, I can't imagine not using them," he said. "I think other guys are missing out."
- Marlon Byrd