Jeff Byers Still Leading the Way

For the first half of his life Jeff Byers spent Saturdays and Sundays protecting quarterbacks as an offensive lineman at the highest collegiate and professional levels. Upon sustaining season ending injuries in multiple seasons, Byers took the setbacks in stride and focused on preparing himself academically for life after football. During our conversation Byers takes us along his journey from middle school cross country runner, to playing in the NFL, to his role as CEO at AMP Human.

Slowtwitch: You played football at the highest levels in college and the pros. Can you tell us about your athletic background?

Jeff Byers: It feels like a lifetime ago and people joke that I’ve lost a whole human being since I played football, which is kind of true. I went to school in a small town in Colorado and I always dreamed of being a professional athlete. I loved basketball, I just happened to not be very good at it. I was really good at fouling out and not making my free throw shots. I got into football and my junior year I had a really good year and sent out my recruiting tape to a bunch of colleges and the first scholarship offer I got back was from Stanford. And then over the next few weeks I had a hundred offers from colleges and some crazy guy wrote me up as the High School Player of the Year and a top recruit and I’m just an offensive lineman for a small high school in Colorado and to play college football I had no idea where that would take me. I ended up playing at USC, Southern Cal, played for Pete Carroll and had a tremendous experience there, not only from a school setting but from a football setting too. Our football team was really really good and won a ton of games. I ended up starting a bunch of games as a true freshman but got hurt really badly right before the National Championship game and had two big surgeries on my hips following that and missed my whole second year.

ST: What did you do that year?

Byers: I was told I probably wouldn’t play again. I shifted my focus and was very fortunate to have good mentors around me that told me how life is more important than football and reminded me I was at an incredible university and to take advantage of it. I accelerated my academic studies and graduated from my undergraduate program in three years, got accepted into the masters program and got my MBA before I even went into the NFL. I ended up coming back and playing after I missed my entire second and third years. In my third year I had two back surgeries coming back from my hip surgeries from my second year. I ended up graduating undergrad, got accepted to grad school after that and played a fourth and fifth year and then got a Hardship year by the NCAA (if you miss two years due to injury or family circumstances they will grant you a 6th year of eligibility) so I ended up staying a 6th year, just for that first semester and played. I was a two-time team captain in both my 5th and 6th years, got my MBA and then had a tremendous opportunity to go play in the NFL.

I went to the NFL very well positioned for life afterwards but in this life you often only get one chance and playing professional sport had been a dream since I was a kid. There was no way I was going to work a real job when I had a chance to play in the NFL. All those hardships taught me alot about my inner strength and about myself, what you can and can’t control, and it’s really shaped who I am today.

ST: Did having the MBA in hand give you peace of mind during your NFL playing days?

Byers: One of my mentors in business school challenged me after I got my MBA to forgo the NFL because of all the sacrifices I had made to get the degree to put me in a position to succeed in the world outside of sport. His whole challenge to me was not “don’t go play in the NFL” but was more along the lines “you made these huge sacrifices in business school, to work a full time job, while rehabbing football injuries, why are you going to let it go to waste. You’ve got to make sure you stay relevant. The minute you step foot in the NFL your MBA will become irrelevant.” So what I did in the off-season every year I played in the NFL was to have different jobs with a variety of responsibilities. It was interesting, set me up post-football, and gave me the confidence to step away from the game instead of to ride it till the wheels fell off as some people say.

I got myself into a pretty sweet finance gig that allowed me to work remote and stay engaged during the season by listening to phone calls and reading research papers that allowed me to have a standing job offer. I made a commitment to honor my MBA so I didn’t lose what I sacrificed a lot for.

ST: Did any of your injuries from USC follow you into the NFL?

Byers: I was an offensive lineman so I like to tell people my job was essentially to get into a car accident every single play of every single practice and game. I didn’t have any major injuries except for my last year with what ended up contributing to me retiring. I had a bad Lisfranc which is when you tear the ligaments on the top of your foot and your bones shift aside. It’s a bad injury, especially for a big man, because you have to let everything scar down then heal. So that was my big injury in the NFL. But, really, partially torn patella tendons, I was a walking injury. My hip and back were major surgeries I had in college that changed how I thought about performance, training, health and wellness. They are still with me today and will be with me for my entire life.

ST: Was rehabbing those injuries part of what led you into endurance sports?

Byers: I think I had this incredible engine. My Dad always joked one of the gifts I was given was the gift to go. I was always able to outlast people. Growing up in Colorado, my Dad and I would always go on bike rides, always riding trails, we always went hiking and backpacking. I just loved the adventure aspect of it. And I grew up a massive skier. So endurance was always part of my upbringing. I ran cross country until seventh grade if you can believe it. I was no good, but I was the kid who did every sport and was just really good at suffering.

ST: Talk about how your size and weight played a role in your sporting decisions?

Byers: I was a big cat. In high school I weighed 265 pounds. In college I played at 280-285, maybe 290 at my heaviest. In the NFL I was always somewhere between 300-310. My best playing was always when I was light. I was not meant to be big. I was fast. I was quick. I used to step on the scale for weigh-ins in the NFL with a 10 pound plate in my spandex shorts to make sure I made weight. The coaches would comment how well I played when I was 310 but they didn’t know I was actually quite a bit lighter. My playing weight, on average, was 300 in the NFL. I did lose speed and quickness as I aged but it was still my advantage. Every year at the start of training camp, the coaches would want me to get to 325 but I told them I couldn’t get to 310. Part of it was I would do all the reps. For the first string, second string and third string. I’d do the entire practice while starters rested so I’d lose 10 pounds during practice. They’d do all these weigh-ins and the weight you lost during practice you’d have to gain back before the next practice. I remember training camps when I was with Carolina getting three bags of IV fluids in between practices so I could practice the next practice. Looking back, wow, that was ridiculous.

ST: Looking back, do you think your coaches were kind of old school in how they were fixated on your weight?

Byers: You have your position coaches, the actual coaches, who have a picture in their head of what the ideal offensive lineman looks like and weighs and they’re ultimately the ones who put the weight targets out there. Then you have the strength and conditioning coaches, the heads of performance. They’re the ones telling us to slip weight plates into our pants since they understand not everyone fits into the same mold. A lot of them are exercise physiologists and know what it takes for people to compete and play and that it’s not the same for everybody. They see an athlete and not just a football player. It’s a unique setting. In the NFL, my offensive line coach was 30 years old when my Dad was playing college football. He was in his mid-70’s. These guys have been around a long time. They would tell us how soft we were because we got to wear helmets.

ST: After your NFL career, do you remember the moment you started training with goals outside of football?

Byers: I love the outdoors. I love to adventure and I love to ski. The thing I always loved most about sport was the inner challenge and pushing yourself to the limit. I always find when I’m out there suffering is when my mind is the clearest. It’s a meditative state for me. When I was playing, my job was to lift weights and run 20 yards as fast as possible. That was my training but no one loves to run wind sprints. I didn’t. I loved to go ride my mountain bike and hike but those things weren’t conducive to being big. When I hurt my foot, I knew I had to transition to something. I was non-weight bearing for 12.5 weeks. I got in the pool and started swimming. First it was for 30 minutes and the goal the first week was don’t drown for 30 minutes. I ended up swimming miles over those three months and dropped nearly 70 pounds during that time. It was almost exclusively swimming and body weight things because I couldn’t walk or ride the bike. I was on one of those knee scooter things the rest of the time unable to put weight on my foot. I was a 7000-8000 calorie a day eater so when you cut that in half, and go to 4000 calories, that was a pound a day I wasn’t consuming. Swimming got me back into endurance sports. You can always find the pain cave and it made my body and mind feel good. It wasn’t high stress. It was meditative. The sensory deprivation and all that, it was really healthy for me. It was a challenge because every day I could get in the pool and suffer and push myself harder. Swimming took a lot of work for me. Finding a pool, etc.

When I was able to get onto the bike I fell in love with it. There was a great community aspect to it, and you could also suffer like a dog and that ability to endlessly suffer is what I loved about being an athlete. I do love to run but it’s not good for me. I’ve got a set of wheels on me that are 30 years overdue for being replaced. My hips, my back, my foot are ticking time bombs. I did the Orcas Island SwimRun last year and that was the most I’ve ever run. Ever. I’ve got great endurance but running breaks me down. I’ve run a little bit with my wife during the COVID and all the injuries start to reemerge.

ST: Did finding endurance sports allow you to extend your “athletic life”?

Byers: I don’t recognize myself as an athlete anymore. Internally at AMP Human we talk about ourselves as athletes and I think to myself “I’m not an athlete. I”m a retired athlete”. I’m experiential. Athlete to me brings a different connotation but I think it’s because of the level of football I was playing. For me, life is about challenges, doing what you love and pushing the limits. Part of why I helped found AMP Human was knowing and wanting to do more. Being a lifelong athlete, an endurance athlete, allows you to extend that. Riding a bike is really good for your brain health. Being an athlete is really good for my soul but it’s allowing me to perform better in my life. It’s not about how to get to 50 it’s about the quality of life after 50.

ST: How did you conceptualize and start AMP Human?

Byers: Over five years ago I joined an early stage biotech. I had been in the financial world and realized quickly after retiring it was not what I wanted to be doing long term. I was really passionate about building, taking risks and betting on myself, pushing the needle forward and doing things better than they had ever been done before. I reached out to my network and got in touch with an early stage biotech and was employee number five after the founders. My role was to help raise capital and think about business development. They took a big risk on me as I didn’t have concrete business skills but had a bunch of intangibles and strong relationships. We had this technology and saw some incredible things coming out about delivering things across the skin barrier that had never been done before. But it was really early stages. The crazy idea was about avoiding the gut and delivering non drugs through the skin. Basic vitamins, minerals, supplements and that led into this passion project within the biotech which a few years later became Topical Edge.

Topical Edge sought to answer the question whether this technology could be used outside of the medical space and bring something to market. For people who have used Topical Edge, they know it wasn’t pretty, it was straight out of a lab, it looked like honey mustard, but we validated that we could do something. Ultimately we came to this tipping point because it had gained traction but it didn’t fit within the parameters of the biotech firm. So myself and one of my colleagues, Erica Good, bonded over PR Lotion and our belief in it as a business. We ended up doing a deal with the biotech spinning the technology out to create AMP Human.

But it is more broadly focused as we saw an opportunity in the human performance space to leverage our leadership and access and bring some of the technologies in. There are so many great things happening at the university level, the military level, and the elite sports level that never end up reaching the consumer. We saw that and we think we can leverage our commercial might to bring technologies to market and create a human performance company. And we’re doing that on the back of PR Lotion, which is what Topical Edge became. We ask a lot of hard questions and we don’t always get the answers we want but we’re still very much in the early stages. When we first launched we were told we were doing something not thought to be possible but we still have tons of questions we still want to learn answers to. What I’m most excited about these next 12 months is leveraging our world class advisory board to bring better information to athletes. Expanding AMP Human as a human performance company and not simply as PR Lotion.

ST: What is the most beneficial way to use PR Lotion for a longer endurance lasting at least a few hours?

Byers: What I want everyone to know first off is that we are always learning and have a lot of questions to ask and answer ourselves. We’re seeing things happen through transdermal application that are different than oral intake. Cutting the long term fatigue that PR Lotion, oral sodium bicarbonate doesn’t have that effect on long distance athletes or they haven’t been able to test it because of the GI issues. We are similar to oral but we are also different and we’re learning how we’re different. When you apply it topically you don’t see massive spikes, it’s a slower process getting it into the body through a topical application so it has a longer window to be effective. Is it as effective as oral sodium bicarbonate? We did some tests where it showed it was as effective without the nasty side effects.

ST: How does PR Lotion aid in recovery?

Byers: The data we have is all around pre-recovery. One of the secret tips of the pros is that they use it post workout. The science would suggest if you were to buffer some of the acidity within the muscle post workout, it’s the acid that does the damage to the body, so you’re helping clear some of the damage out of the muscle to help reduce inflammation to help the recovery process. But no one has done a clinical to see if and how PR Lotion assists in recovery.

ST: What tips do you give to those you hear from who are using PR Lotion?

Byers: The biggest tip is to use it consistently. What we’ve seen is the ability to increase training load over time and withstand training loads has improved with many of the high level athletes using it. They use it on all of their hard and intense workouts and they’ve been able to extend and make gains faster over time. The consistency of use over training blocks, whether it’s from NFL players to Cam Wurf, is where they’ve noticed the biggest differences. If you’re using it on a one off basis, bicarbonate is 100% most effective for very high intensity, interval type sessions, time trials, that’s where it works. If you want to see the biggest performance gain you do it in a really intense effort. But it’s the long term tails we’ve seen people train with. It’s really no different than an electrolyte mix. Bicarbonate is an essential electrolyte. We just don’t think of it as one because you can’t ingest enough into your body without having side effects. If you go out training without electrolytes on a long or hard day, you’ll have a rough training day. We have to increase and manage the load over time.

ST: Any big athletic challenges coming up?

Byers: I’m in this group of really crazy people in Park City consisting of ex-Special Forces, CEOs and other high achievers. We have something called a Crucible Challenge that we do every year. This year’s crucible was cancelled. It’s led by Hoby Darling - the Founder and former CEO at Skullcandy - and is one of the leaders of human performance. He’s the ring leader. We run up the ski lift once a week here in Park City, four rounds of it, do some CrossFit activities, and we’ll inject swimrun. Last summer we were swimming in the reservoir and running 10 miles every few days at 4am with lights strapped to our backpacks. We’ve talked about doing an outrigger paddle competition in Hawaii. I said I’ll show up just tell me what to do. I’ll book my flight and I’ll be there. My body is a bit beat up right now which I’m bummed about. I did a lot of upright weight bearing activities over the last three months, mostly walking. But right now I could use a pull up bar and some bike riding more often. I have no big challenge but I would like to do a 10,000 foot vertical day on the bike again soon.