[Critical update: Several weeks after this story was published, the startup profiled in it postponed its Indiegogo campaign and refunded its backers' money in response to allegations that several of the founders behind it had failed to deliver on promises of earlier crowdfunded products. You can read the backstory here.  I regret not vetting the founders' past records more thoroughly before writing about them. In the interest of transparency, I'm leaving this post up as originally published.]

Getting the right nutrients into your body on a regular basis is apparently such a demanding chore, some people are punting on food altogether.  A company called Soylent has raised more than $20 million to produce and market a bland-tasting powder that can be mixed with water and substituted for all meals. In Silicon Valley, where optimizing one’s performance at work and play is a collective obsession, they’re literally eating it up.

But for Soylent to be the perfect solution for you, you need to be a creature of habit to an extreme degree. If you’re not, your nutritional needs may vary considerably from day to day – because you missed a workout and then made up for it with an extra hard one, because blueberries are in season and you’ve been scarfing them down like a maniac, because you were up all night with a crying baby. Sometimes your nutritional needs and activity coincide and you feel great; sometimes they don’t and you feel logy or hungry. 

Steve Lamarre, CEO of a startup called FitNatic, calls this up-and-down nutritional cycle “the wave.” He experienced it four years ago while working two jobs, one in construction and one at a startup, while trying to keep up a demanding fitness regimen. “I realized my main pain point was nutrition,” he says. 

He came up with an idea for a device that would blend and dispense individual servings of nutritional supplements tailored to his needs in that moment. That device now exists. It’s called the Nourish, and last week Boston-based FitNatic launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign seeking $65,000 to fund initial production.

Nourish looks and works more or less like a fancy Keurig espresso machine. On top of it sit 16 pods, or “seeds,” that can be filled with a host of different supplements – “anything you can find at a GNC,” Lamarre says. Through integrations with the most popular wearable fitness trackers and food-logging apps, including Fitbit, Apple Watch, Jawbone UP, MyFitnessPal and LoseIt, Nourish plots your nutritional profile for that day. If you got less sleep than usual the night before, it will put a little extra caffeine in your morning shot; if you just finished a half-marathon, you’ll get creatine for muscle recovery; and so on. 

“We’re just trying to get you to homeostasis,” says Tim Butler, the company’s chief science officer and a nutritionist who has worked with professional and Masters athletes. “We try to take the guesswork out of nutrition.” He promises all the science behind it is rigorously peer-reviewed: "We're not just throwing Dr. Oz stuff at you."

A $299 contribution to the Indiegogo campaign gets one of the first devices and a one-month supply of supplements. The company intends to operate on a razors-and-blades model, selling the devices near cost and making its margins on the nutrients. Lamarre says the target customer is what he calls the “Crossfit mom,” someone who’s serious about fitness but too busy to spend much time mapping out a diet plan. “Instead of just telling you you did 10,000 steps, we tell you what to do with that data,” he says.  

Published on: Jul 27, 2015