This post makes a change from my previous ones in that I (or a guest) isn't writing an article with a particular topic in mind. Instead, I asked several guys within the fitness industry to answer a few questions, the answers of which I hope you will benefit from. There are many people I could have asked to be involved in this Q&A that I knew would have done a great job. However, in order for this post not to be too long, I narrowed it down to five people. The inclusion criteria was 'young, up and coming nutrition practitioners educated to at least degree level in sports science or related discipline'. If you would like to read more from each of the authors, a brief bio and links to their respective social media channels/websites appear at the end of the article.
Without further ado, let's get into the questions. I hope you enjoy reading the answers as much as I did. Thanks again, guys.
Please note - the answers to the following questions do not necessarily correspond with my opinions. As such, if you disagree with any of the points made, please engage in civil discussion with the person who made the statement in question.
1. What sparked your interest in nutrition, or fitness in general?
DG: To get girls of course!...no, I’m joking, well half-joking. I have been involved in sport such as football since 6-7 years of age. I started out like most bro’s training abs, chest and biceps everyday with no particular focus except to look good naked! (Incredibly narcissistic I know…and I’m happy to say that nothing has changed!). From there, lifting in the gym was a natural progression and I learned primarily through my own reading, as well as a whole lot of trial and error. To this day training and nutrition for physique and strength related goals is my all encompassing passion in life.
LJ: My interest in fitness began due to competing internationally in Karate at a young age. When competing in a sport, the nutrition and fitness component are key for performance and recovery. I started training at 18/19 years of age in regards to weight training. My background is in Personal Training but I have recently steered towards more of the nutrition side.
MJ: I’ve always loved food, and I’ve always been involved in sport, I’m from a sport-orientated family so sport and fitness has been an ever present throughout my upbringing. I played rugby and football to a high standard, and was competitive until a series of knee injuries prevented my further progression. It was while recovering from my first ACL reconstruction that I became aware of the world of sports science. I received support from various strength conditioners, physios and nutritionists, this was certainly a factor in the ignition of my interest in sports science.
SR: Growing up I was always interested in sport, exercise and keeping fit. I played football to a good level and was competent in most sports. Due to my interest in playing sport, I chose to study Sports Science during my GCSE’s and from then on I simply never let go of the subject! As time passed and the level of Sports Science increased and became more demanding (A Levels to Undergraduate Degree to Masters Degree) I found myself thriving off the challenges presented to me in terms of both academia (expanding my knowledge base) and on the practical side of things (getting results with clients). I enjoyed the challenge of comparing and contrasting literature, making up my own mind on matters and putting my knowledge into practice; something that I still enjoy today and will do for the foreseeable future.
AV: My general interest in sports science and nutrition started at a young age from the days when I used to play football regularly. I was always looking for ways to enhance my performance in training and on the field, not forgetting reducing my recovery and injury rate. I started to read around the area of nutrition from general sources of information where I grasped the fundamentals and applied them through practice and experience – if anything ‘trial and error’. Later on, I became a personal trainer before and during my Undergraduate years where I solidly expanded my knowledge in helping clients reap the benefits of training. In my own personal view, nutrition is the concept that allows the greatest adaptation to training. Without adequate and required nutrition in accordance to one’s training goals, one will lack the efficiency in achieving those optimal adaptations.
2. Are there any particular people you look up to in nutrition who have played a vital role in your development as a practitioner?
DG: The nutrition and fitness industry is awash with ‘experts’ whose only expertise is in making money and talking crap. This is always at great expense of the reader/ consumer, as their approaches typically over-complicate, exaggerate and provide biased views on any given area of nutrition. With that in mind, objective and research driven individuals such as Alan Aragon, Stephan Guyenet, Lyle Mcdonald, Mat Lalonde, Martin Berkhan and Robb Wolf have all significantly shaped my approach to critical thinking, interpreting research and behaviour modification within the realm of nutrition and training. Had I not found such individuals, I may have been answering some of the questions in this roundtable by emphasising the importance of meal frequency and clean eating for fat loss!
LJ: There are quite a few and in no order, Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald, Brad Schoenfeld, James Krieger, Eric Helms are who I regularly follow and read their content.
I recommend for those that are looking to expand their knowledge to sign up to Alan Aragon’s Research Review and James Krieger Weightology Weekly subscription.
MJ: In my early days as a sports scientist the textbooks and articles written by people like Asker Jeukendrup, Louise Burke, John Hawley, and Stewart Phillips (many more) enabled me to develop a solid foundation of knowledge, and a thorough grasp of the basics. As I’ve developed a nutritionist I’ve become more aware of others in the industry people like Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald have had a greater impact on my philosophy and many of my practices.
SR: The most influential people to me were, and to a large extent still are, my academic supervisors during my time as an Undergraduate and Masters student at Liverpool John Moores University (namely, Dr Graeme Close, Dr James Morton and Dr Ben Edwards), my PhD supervisor Dr Gareth Wallis, and my mentor at Guru Performance, Laurent Bannock. These people have taught me pretty much everything I know about nutrition and have kindly provided me with some great opportunities to work in the research and applied settings, as well as inspiration to one day become as knowledgeable as them! My tip for anybody going into academia (i.e. as an Undergraduate student) and/or the practical world would be to make the most of the people made available to you by your institution/team/club etc., they are invaluable sources for knowledge, experience and career advice!
AV: I would not say that I particularly look up to anyone. What I generally tend to do is learn off everyone within the field and form my own philosophies as a practitioner. The area of nutrition is always open to interpretation (albeit controversial) and existing practitioners have their own philosophies. How you form your own views and implement your philosophies comes from your own experiences as a practitioner. However, a few names that have inspired me to reach my ambitions have to be James Morton and the late Nick Broad. James is my supervisor at LJMU where I am nearing the end of my MSc degree and what really inspires me is his rate of progress and increasing reputation within such a short timescale. As for Nick, I was fortunate enough to listen from his experiences and speak to him at iSENC back in December 2012. The impact he had within high level professional football through implementing his philosophies was immense. Additionally, I am also fond of Alan Aragon's general research-driven approach to nutrition and look forward to the conference later this year.
3. The notion of "a calorie is/is not a calorie" has been a hotly debated topic in recent years. Where do you stand on this matter?
DG: The core of this argument is essentially, ‘what is more important: what you eat or how much you eat?’ Let me point out very quickly that calories are THE most important factor of a diet in the pursuit of a body composition goal. Without a calorie deficit, the goal of fat loss will not be achieved, no matter what the composition of those calories. On the contrary, a common problem I come across with the ‘a calorie is not a calorie’ argument is the straw-manning of the opposing view. The argument is misconstrued as ‘500 calories worth of chicken and rice is the same as 500 calories worth of sugar’, which is a false comparison, as both calorie composition and quality of food has been changed. It is known that a higher protein diet will win out in almost every scenario when compared to a low protein diet, no matter what the end-point. Similarly, decreasing carbohydrates in a diet typically leads to a lower daily caloric intake without individuals even thinking about it, as hunger regulation, blood sugar levels and the overall amount of food are affected.
However, to play devils-advocate, no, a calorie is not a calorie depending on where those calories are coming from and what physiological and psychological state the individual is in. Humans are not static environments like ‘bomb-calorimeters’ that simply burn calories for energy. There are significant intra-individual variability’s in metabolism depending on stress, sleep health, body composition, insulin sensitivity and everything else in between. Simply put, different foods affect different hormones in many ways. To give a specific example, sleep deprivation will negatively affect insulin sensitivity, hunger control and blood sugar regulation, which are all factors that will affect how nutrients are partitioned and increase the likelihood of bingeing.
As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the extremes, and the topic is far more complex than the either statement eludes to, as the source of calories contribute to much more than body composition alone; with health, athletic performance, satiety and long-term adherence all being impacted by food choices and total caloric intake.
LJ: Well 100 calories is 100 calories so the numbers are the same. The difference is where those calories come from. Foods have different nutrient density and calorie density. This will fall into the ‘Clean Eating’ and ‘IIFYM’ debate. It is like a war between the two parties. How about not categorising your nutrition to either and actually have a flexible nutrition approach that suits you, your lifestyle and goals at the time.
There is no point eating ‘clean’ for 8 weeks looking good and then not being able to sustain it. My approach and approach with clients is how can I get long term adherence, as this will equate to long term success. Yes the majority of your food consumed should be nutrient dense with good micronutrient profiles and fibre content. This is why a varied diet is beneficial to ensure a variety of micronutrients are obtained e.g having both white potatoes and sweet potatoes. Labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is the wrong approach. Having your pop tart, skittles or whatever the craze is at the moment will not hinder long term results if consumed in a small quantity and it fits within your overall targets. If having those foods will help you stay focused and on task then that can only be a good thing for long term success.
MJ: That argument – if you can even call it that – is invalid, a calorie is a unit of measure, just as a cm is a unit of measure. A calorie is always a calorie. I’m not really sure what the debate is; I tend to close my eyes and put my hands over my ears when I hear someone mention it. I think people get confused by the fact that calories from each of the macronutrients have markedly different effects once within the body, thus they interpret that as meaning calories aren’t equal or a calorie is not a calorie. Not matter how you dress it up a calorie is, and always will be a calorie.
SR: In principle, a calorie is simply a calorie, in that it is a measurement of energy. However, looking one step further, it is well known that the body responds differently to the various types of calories i.e. to those from carbohydrate, fat and protein, and this can have implications for weight management and health. Once ingested, proteins, carbohydrates and fats are digested, absorbed and metabolized by the body. The energy required for these processes differs between the various macronutrients. As a general rule of thumb, protein requires twice as much energy to be metabolized as carbohydrate, which implies that eating a 2500 calorie diet rich in protein is not the same as consuming a 2500 calorie diet high in refined carbohydrates. Secondly, one must consider the satiating effects of the different macronutrients (how full-up they make you feel). Protein is considered to have the highest satiating effect of the main macronutrient groups with refined carbohydrates frequently purported to have the lowest satiating effect. Placed in the context of weight management, this too can have significant implications. It is also important to look at the behavioral consequences of particular calories. Take for example sugar…
‘Sugar promotes over-consumption of calories in that its taste can lead you to want to eat more of it’
Protein, healthy fats and low-GI (non-sweetened) carbohydrates are less likely to make you want to eat more after consuming them.
It is also prudent to consider the effects that fiber has on the body. Fiber is known to delay absorption meaning that if you were to eat 250 calories of fiber-rich food, you would probably absorb only 200 of these calories. Consume a fiber sparse diet and you will more than likely absorb most of the calories you ingest. Can this have implications for weight loss? Yes. Lastly, and most importantly, it is essential to acknowledge that, when consumed in large amounts, calories from certain foods i.e. sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, are VASTLY more damaging to our health when compared with calories from healthy fats, proteins and other forms of carbohydrates such as fruit and vegetables. Such calories are frequently purported to be toxic poisons! In summary, yes, when looking purely from a measurement perspective, a calorie is just a calorie but it is prudent for one to acknowledge the physiological AND behavioral consequences of the different types of calories, particularly in the context of weight management and health.
AV: I suppose with this concept, you can look at it in two ways. One way is that yes, a calorie is a calorie because one major concept of nutrition as a whole is energy expenditure vs. energy intake. In simple terms, each individual has different calorie requirements in accordance to their lifestyle, physiological and training characteristics. Therefore, it is important to realise that it doesn’t matter how much ‘clean’ food you eat, a calorie is still a calorie and everything comes down to energy intake to achieve optimal body composition and/or performance. On the other hand however, the macronutrients that build one’s general diet all have different properties therefore meaning that once you come to a conclusion about your overall energy intake in regards to calories, it is then important to decide how many calories you require from carbohydrates, protein and fat. The energy cost in metabolising different macronutrients is different where for example protein has the greatest thermic effect of food (TEF) as opposed to the others. Therefore, if one is partaking high intensity exercise, it may be an idea to reduce protein intake to a satisfactory level and increase carbohydrate intake to meet their overall calorie intake and energy demands. Alternatively, if one is aiming to lose body fat, a diet higher in protein would be more favourable due to greater satiety where it will also lead to more calories burned through its greater TEF, as opposed to carbohydrates and fats.
4. If you could offer one piece of nutritional advice to a rank beginner, what would it be?
DG: My advice would be to NOT seek out the biggest juice-head at your gym, and ask him what the best diet is for you. Instead I would stress the importance of monitoring, tracking and measuring everything possible in order to find out what works for your goal(s). This is usually done through trial and error over many years and attempts of trying out varying protocols, whilst being objective in your approach. Although there are obvious inclusions such as a high protein intake that will benefit almost every individual whatever the goal, nobody can be more attuned as to what gets you results, makes you feel good and to what your diet preferences are….. than you!
LJ: Focus on the basics. Don’t look at any specific approaches or special supplements that will get you hench or those marvelous fat burning pills to get you cut. Look at the guys I mentioned above and those taking part in this roundtable. Another key is to be patient, everyone wants a quick fix. I like to say to clients to think about how long it took them to put on that amount of fat. A quick fix is just that, it will not last.
MJ: Focus on the basics; develop an understanding on the macronutrients and individual requirements, learn how to calculate requirements and how to manipulate those requirements depending on the goals/objectives. Only when you are confident in your ability to complete those tasks should you move on to the more detailed aspects of nutrition. When furthering your knowledge I’d pick a topic and dedicate a period of time to learning about that topic, read until you are confident and competent in that area then move on. It’s almost impossible to learn, in any depth several topics at a time.
SR: Take things in your stride. During your first couple of years of study it is easy to be overwhelmed with the vast array of information made available to you (for example, in large and comprehensive textbooks). In the first instance, select the aspects of nutrition that you feel are the most important and interesting to you and focus on these. You are not expected to know everything straight away. In fact, I have studied Sports Science/Nutrition for almost 9 years now and I am, and always will be, still learning. A key piece of advice that I can give you is…
‘Strive to be an expert in your field and have an appreciation of the surrounding research area. It is most important to realize that nobody can be an expert in everything’
AV: My one piece of nutritional advice would be to understand the concepts of energy expenditure and energy intake. From there, they should then look to get educated on the types of macronutrients and what they do. Dispelling the myths through using credible sources of research and people in the field will help them grasp the concepts a lot quicker. Additionally, I would also advise them to stay open minded and learn through implementing a range of different strategies to find out what works best for them. One piece of advice that I would like to put across is that there are no quick fixes. There is no miracle pill or training plan. But what’s there is the ability to learn and expand your knowledge. Opt for lifestyle habits and flexibility and you will sustain your motivation as opposed to extreme measures.
5. The Paleo/caveman diet is extremely popular. Do you see any merit to this type of diet? If so, who is it suitable for, and who isn't it?
DG: I most definitely see the merit in this type of approach, along with any other dietary approach that is suitable, sustainable and an improvement over the individual’s current way of eating. Paleo itself is actually quite a good basis to start from. Despite some unnecessary food-phobia (such as grains and sources of omega-6 fat) it advocates eating whole, unprocessed foods with an emphasis on variety, which is definitely a good thing. It is the reasoning of why people should adopt the approach that I take issue with, as it is grounded in pure observation and ideology. For example, two reasons given to follow a paleo diet are: 1) Our Paleolithic ancestors ate this way and they were free of disease, therefore we should, and 2) We should live like our ancestors because we’re still genetically the same. Both are unscientific and show a misunderstanding of genetics, totally ignoring the effect of the environment on genes (known as epi-genetics); as one of the mechanisms through which adaptations arise is a change in gene expression, which allows humans to thrive despite a massive change in dietary norms. There also seems to be a tendency to outlaw certain foods based on conjecture of preliminary research within the paleo community. An example of this is the concern of problematic nutrients found in white potatoes, stating that they cause intestinal issues that we are not evolved to deal with. However If you look at research studies, it is all tested in vitro (test tube experiments), and do not translate to whole body metabolism in the real world.
So, who is suitable and who isn’t? Well that would depend on the goal(s) and current nutritional practices of the individual. However, a paleo diet is a huge improvement over a typical western diet, so most of the population would actually benefit from such a change. Conversely, vegetarians who adopt a paleo approach are even further restricted with their food choices. Given that the paleo diet typically eliminates all legumes, including soy, peanuts, beans and lentils, protein intake is massively compromised from sources that when eaten together, can provide a variety of health benefits.
LJ: Anyone that follows a diet that has set rules to follow and has no flexibility loses merit in my opinion. The Caveman has come around again! Funny that, I don’t see people running around with their clubs and spears hunting down their prey in order to survive. The Paleo scene has become a cult and like with any cult it gets too much. Think about it really, you have those Paleo folks drinking their whey protein shake after their gym session in a state of the art facility, watching Eastenders on a treadmill.
A few restrictions for you if you are following a Paleo diet, you can’t eat grains, legumes, dairy, potatoes and more. If we go back thousands of years different cultures had different forms of diets. They ate what was available in their habitat.
Paleo is simply a FAD (Food Avoidance Diet) unless you have an intolerance that has actually been diagnosed by a professional, then why eliminate foods from a diet. You are restricting food choices and benefits of certain foods to your health.
Who is it suitable for? Someone with a lot of intolerances and is sedentary maybe.
Who isn’t it suitable for? I would say everyone but it wouldn’t be suitable for an athlete that is training twice a day where glycogen replenishment is crucial.
So why do people get results on a Paleo diet? Well it is better than a crap diet, there is one reason. Another reason would be the fact that you eliminate certain food groups (predominately carbohydrates) and by doing so you are more than likely reducing your overall calorie intake, resulting in reduced body fat.
A great video for you Paleo worshippers.
MJ: I do see some merit to it, I don’t buy into the suggestion that it is only good because it’s how our ancestors ate though. In my opinion that cheesy marketing ploy has tarnished an otherwise beneficial practice. Don’t get me wrong I’d like to see some alterations, and it’s rigidity is verging on obsessive but from a general health perspective the emphasis on protein, fruit and vegetables is fantastic. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it outright to anyone, although I think the Paleo framework with the addition of dairy products is suitable for the average sedentary individual who doesn’t, or rarely completes any form of exercise. It’s definitely unsuitable for athletes who’s elevated carbohydrate requirements are almost impossible to achieve. I wouldn’t advise individuals with gut issues or inflammatory bowel disorders eat a Paleo style diet either.
SR: The Paleo diet certainly has its merits. It is now relatively well accepted that the major causes of diseases such as insulin resistance, high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity and high triglycerides are caused by excess consumption of sugary, fatty (trans fats) and processed foods. The Paleo diet eliminates these types of foods and advocates the consumption of unprocessed whole foods, free from additives and genetically modified ingredients such as fish/seafood, grass-produced meats, fruit and veg, eggs, nuts and seeds and healthy oils (i.e. olive, avocado, coconut), which are all healthier alternatives. It is therefore not surprising that many people who have adopted this dietary approach have received great success in terms of fat loss and improving various health parameters. However, I believe the Paleo diet can be a little over-restrictive in that it cuts our whole food groups, two of which are grains and dairy. Yes, I believe that many of us tend to over-indulge in these types of foods but I do not think that this means they must be forbidden in their entirety. It is wise to cut out refined grains from the diet. However, consuming ‘healthier’ types of grains such as barley, oats, rice and quinoa and dairy is fine, in moderation. But that’s the key – moderation! Indeed, there are several studies that show whole grains and dairy can help to reduce one’s risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and high blood pressure, not to mention certain forms of grains and dairy are nutrient-powerhouses! Key point – the Paleo diet can help to fight off body fat as well as various metabolic diseases, but only insofar as it cuts out what none of us should be eating in the first place, sugary, fatty and processed foods. It is unnecessary to eliminate whole food groups in most circumstances. One particular situation where ‘going Paleo’ might be more useful is for those who live a gluten free lifestyle or who are celiac.
AV: I believe that the popularity of the Paleo diet is due to the notion that CV diseases and metabolic syndromes are increasing where people attribute it to the modern diet. From my experience of expanding my knowledge around the area, there have been inconsistencies in studies generally due to emphasis on food sources as opposed to controlling macronutrient ratios. It is notable that there are improvements in maintaining blood glucose levels, improved blood lipids and decreasing body mass. However, these may not be applicable to those who are active/healthy as particular studies were on those with diabetes. I do see merit in this diet for those who may suffer from obesity and/or diabetes to help regulate the factors above as it is important to keep an open mind when implementing any nutritional strategy. Nonetheless, as mentioned in the answer to the previous question, my view is that extreme measures are not needed unless one’s case is in fact extreme. I feel that our role as nutritionists is education where one can then implement the strategies that they believe are necessary.
6. What’s your opinion on the whole 'if it fits your macros' (IIFYM) vs. 'clean eating' approach to dieting?
DG: Personally, I think the conflict between the two camps is a bit silly, as personal preference should dictate an individual’s dietary approach in any scenario. That being said, the idea of flexible dieting or having discretional calorie allotments has been around for ages! So regarding IIFYM, there is nothing new here. On the flip-side, the term ‘clean eating’ and the foods that are labeled as ‘clean foods’ are totally subjective choices that are typically made under false pretences and nutritional dogmas. Ideas of a better glycaemic index profile and such like are (wrongly) used to distinguish ‘clean’ from ‘dirty’ food choices and is an example of the stubborn, closed-minded view that often is seen in clean eating advocates. For this reason I find myself gravitating towards the IIFYM end of the spectrum.
Moreover, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food can cause the destructive relationships with food commonly seen in physique competitors. This is known medically as Orthorexia Nervosa, and is a major argument against the clean eating concept.
IIFYM on the other hand prioritises calories, macronutrient and micronutrient targets as a guide to reaching a desired physique goal, with food choices being of less importance. This in my opinion, and the opinion of the research, is correct. And is an approach that leads to fewer food neuroses. Whilst clean eating primarily focuses on ‘superior’ food choices that possess certain nutritional properties, rather than overall caloric intake per se, which ironically may contribute to common nutritional deficiencies. Calcium deficiency for example is common among bodybuilders and fitness competitors due to widespread milk-phobia. This issue is solved by increasing the variety of food choices, which on paper, and in my practice, leads to improved adherence of a diet over the long-term. And after all, adherence to a diet is typically the key determinant in the effectiveness of any dietary intervention.
LJ: I sort of touched on this above. Putting your way of eating into a category is not the way to go. I don’t like saying the word diet to often as when people hear the word they automatically think of FAD’s and the rules they have to follow or points to score.
IIFYM, has a bad rep due to people having this stigma of that those who follow IIFYM eat a ton of junk food and all they care about is hitting a macronutrient target. Well if this is the case and no thought of micronutrients and fibre are taken into account then this is not IIFYM this is just a crap diet. If fibre and micronutrient content is sufficient then I do not see a problem in having an occasional ‘non clean’ food.
Clean Eating. The clean eaters are disgusted with the IIFYM crew. However the whole eat clean and train dirty group, do grate on me. I always train dirty, I shower after my training. I eat off of a clean plate most of the time and depending on the time that I eat, I maybe clean or I maybe dirty.
A smart man called Lyle McDonald wrote a book called flexible dieting. I urge people to read that and then form their views.
MJ: As ever, somewhere in the middle of the two is optimal. People always seem to be attracted to the extremes, they are drawn to either end of the spectrum when realistically somewhere in the middle is the best, its that ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking. You have individual requirements for energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat, fibre and each of the micronutrients, meeting those requirements through the consumption of single ingredient (clean) foods is always preferable and is generally easier, although avoiding foods because they are unclean is absurd. If it fits your macro’s and it doesn’t impair your ability to meet your daily requirements then there isn’t really an issue in my opinion, although from a health perspective I’d rather be seen to promote the cleaner foods, but that doesn’t mean I don’t drink diet coke and eat ice cream – when it fits my macro’s.
SR: I am a big believer in keeping things simple. For the majority of everyday people looking to improve their body composition and health, it really comes down to three things (at least in my opinion anyway):
- Reduce intake of fatty (trans fats), sugary and processed foods.
- Increase intake of unprocessed, whole foods (simply try and eat real food)
- Enjoy your food and do not be too concerned with overindulging every once in a while. Eating a little of something ‘bad’ is fine, in moderation.
I think the whole eating clean and IIFYM concepts do have their merits but again, as with Paleo, they are restrictive forms of dieting that none of us need to be doing should we follow the three points outlined above. A key question to consider when eating to improve body composition and health is…
‘Is my diet maintainable in the long term?’
It is a well-known statistic that most people who lose body fat regain it within the next 6-12 months. Why? Because we adopt dietary strategies that are too difficult to stick to. To improve body composition and health, keep things simple i.e. follow points 1, 2 and 3 and, in my experience, adherence rates will vastly improve.
AV: My philosophy is that training is a lifestyle, not a short-term fix. My first and foremost concern with clients is their health and well-being above everything else. With that in mind, yes I will combine both concepts of IIFYM and ‘clean eating’ together. I have experienced both and there are both pros and cons to both sides. On one hand, IIFYM makes dieting fun. One can eat whatever you want as long as they are hitting their macronutrient goals and calorie intake. However, it is important to note the hormonal effects with types of food that one consumes. For example, constant spikes in energy levels due to insulin may affect you and so on. Additionally, missing out on the vital nutrients one will receive with wholesome and energy dense foods may also affect their general well being. In my experience when implementing IIFYM, I did find myself becoming more run down and lacking energy at times. It is important that health is the primary factor when implementing nutritional strategies and that’s where ‘clean foods’ come in. Rich in antioxidants and managing insulin levels better means one will simply feel and recover better. In my opinion, there are no such things as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ foods, the latter often affiliated with IIFYM, but what is there are good and bad habits. People can enjoy the luxuries that come with food considering that they are generally maintaining a healthy diet. As mentioned previously, it is lifestyle habits above all else that will help your goals, not extremes.
7. What contribution would you say that both science and experience have played in your professional development?
DG: Both science and experience has played an equal role in developing my profession, as I believe one feeds directly into the other. There is no point spending all of your time reading research if you cannot apply it in one form or another. Conversely, experience is not as valuable without being able to explain why certain effects occur. Although science does tend to lag behind common nutritional practices by some length of time, a combination of both, along with common-sense thinking is obviously optimal to providing the best knowledge base possible. In regards to my approach to nutrition, science provides the foundational basis to any intervention, to which I apply experience and/or common-sense to adjust certain parameters to provide optimal results.
LJ: Look, I have been there and believed the Broscience, there is so much of it in the industry that no wonder people are blinded by it. I spend most of my days now debunking myths that have been engraved in people’s minds. To filter the BS out you would need a massive sieve to do so. Science has done a lot for me and how I have developed my knowledge and practice. When someone makes a statement don’t automatically believe it to be the truth. Be like a child and ask why? Or even better look at the topic yourself and see if the statement is supported by science.
There is biased research out there as well as some very good research, with large subject groups, long term studies and very good controls in place. Science is forever evolving and what maybe right today may not be right in 10 years’ time. We don’t live in a lab with everything controlled, but what we can do is look at the data and be as optimal with our training and nutrition that our everyday life allows us to be.
Yes experience is an important factor but if someone is starting out in the industry they will have zero experience to pull from. Therefore science and evidence based practice is their only option, well not the only one, they have the Broscience to. What people seem to forget is that when a rank beginner who is untrained any training stimulus will produce some results. Does that mean that training one body part on its own once a week is optimal for gaining muscle mass? Well no because the evidence suggests hitting a body part 2-3 times a week is more optimal for muscle hypertrophy for the natural athlete. I emphasize the natural athlete as with drug assisted guys they will make good gains with a less optimal approach, while recovering quicker to. What experience has done for me is learn from mistakes and be able to put into practice what I have learnt. What you will soon realise is that all clients are different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another even with similar stats.
MJ: Until now, science has had the greatest impact on my professional development, my knowledge has got me to where I am today and I’m still acquiring experience. Don’t get me wrong I’m still acquiring knowledge, that will never stop, but experience will increase as I become more involved in the industry. It frustrates me when people do it the other way round. My knowledge of the science dictates all of my practices, which is something I pride myself on, those practices do alter depending on my experience with individuals. But I don’t let my experiences with individuals impact upon my overall practices, my experiences are with individuals, each individual is different so my experiences of what works with them will always be different so sticking with the science initially and adapting where necessary works. That probably sounds really confusing, but basically my experience is specific to that individual, and my practices are always grounded in science.
SR: Both have played an extremely important role in my professional development. To be successful in the applied field of sports nutrition it is essential that the scientific knowledge is there. However, it is equally important to have an appreciation of the setting you are working in, and this is where the experience really plays its hand. I have come to find that it is all well and good preaching the latest research, detailed findings and somewhat staggering new statistics (at least to me!) to a crowd of experts in a particular field, but the key is to be able to tailor and translate this information to the client at hand, whether this be an elite athlete or a regular gym-goer. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the room but if the room doesn’t understand you, results will suffer.
AV: Without science, nothing would be open to interpretation and therefore nothing would be achieved. That’s the most exciting part about science in whole – there is no definite answer because research leads to more research and so on. However, on the other hand there is no substitute to experience. I would go on to say that both are equally important – having the knowledge and knowing how to implement it in different situations is what has contributed to my professional development so far. I’m still early on in my career and increasing that knowledge and experience is what will contribute to my success. Additionally, I’d love the opportunity to learn more from the more established practitioners in the field as I currently do in order to implement my current level of knowledge and expand on it.
8. The idea of ‘metabolic damage’ has been popularised in recent months by several ‘industry leaders’. Do you feel that this sudden concern is warranted?
DG: First of all, let me point out the obvious: people around the world who truly die of starvation are not overweight when they expire. Therefore it’s an absurd argument to state that when creating too severe a caloric deficit through diet and exercise, fat gain is possible due to ‘damaging’ the metabolism. It's true that when calories are cut, metabolism adjusts through the down-regulation in levels of thyroid and leptin. This phenomenon is known as ‘adaptive thermogenesis’ and is a totally normal adaptation to the environment. Furthermore, research has never demonstrated a metabolic drop so severe that it is able to overcome a deficit and actually cause fat gain.
There are a couple of issues to why people are claiming such effects when in a deficit. The first being the under-reporting of overall caloric intake and the exclusion to admit regular food binges. Secondly, an increase in cortisol may cause water retention and mask any true fat loss, which is a common occurrence in female dieters. I would suspect that these reasons, along with the severe neuroses seen in dieters that are aiming to push their bodies to the extreme, are the real reasons behind what people claim is ‘metabolic damage’.
LJ: I admit the term sounds cool and catchier than adaptive thermogenesis. I am currently writing a post on adaptive thermogenesis, so keep an eye out for that. The ‘Metabolic Damage’ buzz has been good in highlighting poor coaches that get their clients to follow stupid nutrition & training approaches. Is the term being used by everyone who has been on a diet? Yes, far too often and overstated. I still feel that those who say they are putting on fat on 800 calories a day and doing a ton of cardio hard to believe. I feel a case of underreporting calories is highly likely and the binges that they have on the weekends could create an overall calorie surplus could also be a major factor. Metabolic rate will reduce due to less overall body weight. People forget how clever the body is and that it will adapt to the conditions we place upon it. Subconsciously those on a calorie restricted diet will reduce their activity levels to compensate.
To sum up is the buzz warranted? No, if we look at current research. There is definitely a metabolic rate reduction but nothing that extreme to suggest gaining fat from the example above. I see the buzz created to be more of a selling tool to gain new clients.
MJ: It’s obviously an issue, and I’ve seen it in some athletes competing in weight governed sports; they employ drastic measures to drop weight and then alter the normal physiological function of a number of internal systems which then has a knock on effect. I haven’t read into it in any great detail as I no longer work with such athletes but simply utilizing common sense will help avoid metabolic damage occurring. I wouldn’t call it damage either, the metabolism is an extremely adaptive system, I think the current thoughts/suggestions are grossly over exaggerated and it’s unfortunate that a few people are almost using metabolic damage as a marketing tool?
SR: No. To state that the body can be metabolically ‘damaged’ is naïve to fact that the human body is a wondrous structure that is designed to adapt to its environment. In this regard, adaptive thermogenesis is a better-suited term for what we are talking about here. In a nutshell, the concept of adaptive thermogenesis is true in terms of basic physiology i.e. the body will reduce its metabolic rate as a result of body weight loss and there will also be a subsequent energy gap between predicted energy expenditure and actual energy expenditure. However, this is a normal reaction to weight loss and is certainly not worthy of the term ‘damage’. When we hear people on very low calorie diets who are performing hours of cardio a day regaining weight, this is most likely due to water retention by the body. The actual effect that adaptive thermogenesis has on weight regain (specifically, body fat) is, in most cases, insignificant and is not a cause for concern.
AV: In short, yes. I think it’s good that people are becoming more aware of the implications of extreme dieting. A number of coaches are primarily fixed on getting quick results to increase their client base. The pressure that I have seen others succumb to in build ups to fitness competitions and sporting events means that they are willing to try virtually anything to meet their short term weight classifications, amid concerns of their long term health and well-being. I generally work with athletes in weight classified sports and educating them on nutrition is my first and foremost goal whilst implementing their programmes. The role of coaches is to educate their clients on how to implement concepts solidly whilst maintaining their overall health. I have seen coaches asking their clients to do two hours cardio a day, and a gym session in the evening where they are only drinking 2-3 shakes a day and consuming only one meal. It infuriates me because clients then believe that’s what they need to do every time they want to reach body composition goals, thus in the long run affecting their physiological and psychological processes.
9. Have you noticed any emerging themes (either within the academic or applied realm) that you feel will become in vogue in coming months/years?
DG: Over the past few years, the growing popularity of gluten-free products as well as diets centred around the concept of removing gluten have highlighted the relatively unknown issue of auto-immune disease through a progression in intestinal permeability (known as ‘leaky-gut’). Leaky-gut is a breakdown in the intestinal barrier, allowing food molecules (such as gluten) to pass through and enter the bloodstream without undergoing complete digestion. Autoimmune diseases are characterised by tissue damage and loss of function due to an immune response that is directed against specific organs. Up until 2006-2007 it was considered a controversial topic of research, without much scientific efficacy; however, it has gained credibility due to the growing amount of research linking auto-immune disease and leaky-gut, as well as anecdotal reports on the positive effects of fixing a leaky-gut through nutritional practices on health. There is a definite case to be made for leaky-gut and autoimmune disease as a major player in modern health and disease, with hundreds of studies have highlighted the role that leaky-gut syndrome plays in conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, and has more recently been shown to be a possible contributor to neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. I feel that the increasing awareness of the impact that the gut has on health in general, will lead to more standardised protocols that may become the first line of defence for practitioners when faced with such health abnormalities.
LJ: I feel more research will come from the Metabolic Damage buzz which is only a good thing. I feel there will be another diet on the horizon maybe a carb front loading as we have backloading.
MJ: Good question, I’ve been working on probiotics for a while now, and I honestly feel gut health, and practices to optimize gut health, such as probiotics are the future of nutrition science. Other than that the optimal method of increasing lean muscle mass will always dominate scientific research.
SR: The idea of reducing ones carbohydrate intake (particularly refined carbohydrates) while increasing their fat intake (through healthy forms) in order to tackle various health problems such as cardiovascular health, diabetes and insulin resistance, and obesity is an area of research that I find particularly interesting and is certainly becoming a hotly debated topic in contemporary literature. Another area of research that is fast becoming popular is that of the ‘fat adapted’ athlete. That is, via diet and exercise (but primarily the former), it is possible to train our bodies to become more efficient at using fat as a fuel source. Whereas these themes are not particularly brand new concepts in the realms of research, they are now becoming more widely recognized in the applied setting by athletes and the general public and this has potentially huge implications for exercise performance and more importantly health.
AV: I think that the old way of achieving body composition goals is drifting away. The fact that there are an increasing number of practitioners who have adopted a research approach to dispel myths is fantastic. As mentioned previously, education is key and the practitioners who apply research driven methods through experience are now reaching out to a wider range of people where awareness of current practices and implications is now increasing. I do believe that flexible dieting is a concept that will become more in vogue in the industry, primarily due to the awareness that extremes are not needed to achieve goals, unless cases are extreme.
10. Finally (as it's a question I get asked a lot), if you could recommend one book or resource to a beginner/intermediate trainee looking to improve their nutrition knowledge, what would it be?
DG: Believe it or not, this is actually the toughest question of the lot! As most credible resources are geared towards a more educated population. However, due to the sheer amount of content from beginner stages of nutrition to high-level advanced articles, I think a beginner needs to look no further than Lyle Mcdonald’s Bodyrecomposition.com website. It literally covers everything from basics of macronutrients, to the metabolic pathways of biochemistry.
LJ: Now this is a very hard one as the majority of books are BS and with books they go out of date very quickly due to new research. A book is also someone’s views and their views may not be in line with current research or be biased. That being said many people cannot interpret research. I would say look at the guys mentioned above and follow their work. Eric Helms and 3DMJ are doing a great 6 part series on ‘The Muscle and Strength Nutritional Pyramid’ looking at mastering the basics and what should be the main focus/importance. James Krieger's Weightology weekly is well written for the intermediate and you get a lot for your money at a very small fee per month. Alan Aragon Research Review I would say is targeted at the more advanced. So keep that in mind for a follow on.
However, Alan is coming to the UK in October 2013 to do a 2 day conference where he will be starting with the basics on day 1 and going to the more advanced on day 2. This would be great for those that are looking at widening their knowledge on nutrition. See the conference content here.
MJ: Books, for sports nutrition probably Clinical Sports Nutrition by Louise Burke or the alternative by Asker Jeukendrup, for general nutrition the Nutrition Society series is quite good I think. For a more specific book, Metabolic Regulation by Keith Frayne is a great book looking at the physiology and biochemistry of human metabolism. Resources, PUBMED or Science Direct, or individual journals, or the websites of Lyle McDonald, Martin Berkhan or Alan Aragon are recommended, not to mention your website Joe!
SR: Hmm, this is always a tricky one as there are many different branches of nutrition. For the individual who is looking to become more competent in sports nutrition then I would suggest ‘Sports Nutrition’ by leader in the field Asker Jeukendrup. For the more clinical nutritionist, ‘Clinical Sports Nutrition’ by Louise Burke is an excellent read. If interested in physiology, nutrition and supplements, Essentials of Sports Nutrition & Supplements by the ISSN is up there with the best
AV: One book I would recommend is the Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (G. Gregory Haff, 2008). It’s a good starting point for those wanting to grasp both the basics and advanced concepts of nutrition and is easy on the eye. I do recommend that they stay up to date with current and new research through journal publications once grasping the foundations.
.About the authors
Daniel Gruic is a personal trainer and nutritionist based in Warrington, Cheshire. His passion is to help people to transform their lives by improving eating and lifestyle habits. A scientific and individualised approach has led to a long list of successful client transformations in body composition, performance and health.
Daniel has played for a number of professional football academies including Stoke City, Port Vale and Manchester City, where he played and trained with top national coaches and international level players. Since then he played for Leek Town FC for 7 years winning over 25 titles including county and international level tournaments.
Always looking to improve upon his knowledge base, he completed his Sport Science Degree at Chester University in 2011. A continuance of education in the field, coupled with the ability of integrating it into individuals lifestyle, means that an objective yet personal approach is used to ensure optimal results with clients ranging from stay-at-home-mums to international level athletes.
Luke Johnson has been working in the Fitness Industry for over a decade now. He has a BSc hons in Sport Science as well as being REPS Level 3 accredited. Luke has worked with a wide range of clients throughout his time working as a Personal Trainer. Luke provides Online Coaching and has recently started to organise Training and Nutrition Conferences with some of the best practitioners around the world.
Bio: Matt holds a BSc (Honours) degree in Sport & Exercise Science, an MSc in Nutrition Science. Through his own Performance Nutrition business, Nutrition Condition, he delivers frequent Health & Wellbeing Workshops to corporate and personal clients advising on how best to develop a sound, scientifically structured nutrition programme free from fads and marketing bias. Nutrition Condition also delivers Performance Nutrition services to professional athletes.
For regular updates follow Matt on Twitter @mattNCUK.
Scott is a Doctoral Researcher in Exercise Metabolism, Health and Performance Nutrition at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the impact of substrate utilization on metabolic health (namely, type 2 diabetes and obesity) and exercise performance. He was awarded a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Sports Physiology with the highest honours and has previous experience working within the Sports Science Departments of a host of elite level clubs and teams, including Everton FC, Blackburn Rovers FC, Widnes Vikings RLFC, FIFA and Premier League Health. Scott currently works for Guru Performance as an Exercise Physiologist and Performance Nutritionist and further to this he is a lecturer on the International Society of Sports Nutrition Diploma, held here in the UK via Guru Performance.
Amrish is nearing the completion of his Sports Physiology MSc at Liverpool John Moores University where he is undertaking a research project regarding substrate metabolism and half-marathon performance. He also consults a range of clients, including professional athletes, through his Synergy Fitness Consultancy where he adopts a research-driven approach. Always keeping abreast of the latest developments in the field, Amrish also advises Sports Science and Nutritional strategies to a professional rugby league club. He will also be expanding his consultancy in the near future.