Marc McDougal Interviews John Berardi - Part I

Marc McDougal Interviews John Berardi – Part I
by: Marc McDougal

Of all of the people I’ve had the opportunity to get to know in the fitness industry, John Berardi has always been one of my favorites. Aside from being an all around great guy, he demonstrates a passion for physique and performance optimization that few can parallel. Sure, his personal hygiene is questionable and his jeans are consistently one size too small, but he more than makes up for it with his prodigious contributions to the field. Whether you love him, hate him, or don’t even know who the hell he is…I think you’ll find this interview to be quite an interesting read. John left the fluff out and really delivered some quality information, so take your ADHD meds and dig in.

First off, thanks for taking the time to do this interview John, much appreciated. What does your typical day look like, from the alarm clock going off to you putting on your teeth whitening strips and hitting the sack? This is a personal question, McDougal…after all, I can’t start this interview by telling you all about my fetish for parading around the house in women’s lingerie, now can I? Oops, I guess I just did. In all seriousness, there’s not really such a thing as a “typical day” for me. The only constants in my life are my daily trip to the gym and my 5-7 clean meals each day. However, in general, I’m involved in a number of different projects right now – and these keep me pretty busy – including:

  1. Directing the science and content divisions of Precision Nutrition, Inc.
  2. Collaborating on research projects with the University of Texas, Eastern Michigan University, and The University of Western Ontario.
  3. Consulting with a number of elite athletic programs including Olympic, NCAA, and Pro teams.
  4. Writing articles and maintaining columns for a variety of online and offline mags including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Clean Eating, Oxygen, Inside Fitness, and more.

So, my time is spent bouncing around between my primary residence in St Catharines Ontario, a variety of sports centers in Canada and the US, a number of universities in Canada and the US, and wherever else my business meetings or sport commitments may take me. Some days are at home in front of the computer. Some days are on the road with my sports teams. And some days are in the lab. That’s quite a schedule. And confirmation that my personal assistant is overpaid. How have your ideas evolved over the years since you broke out as a fitness/nutrition writer? Well, there’s no question that my ideas have certainly changed since I published my first article about 8 years ago in 2000. And they better have! After all, there has been 8 more years of published research and I’ve gathered together 8 more years of experience. Yet if I had to pinpoint how they’ve evolved, I guess I’d have to say that the biggest changes are these: First, I’ve focused less on the minutiae of nutrition and spent more time on the big picture. It’s amazing – when I first started working with high level athletes, I’d walk in to deliver a large group education session and I’d be fired up about the latest research and the details of dialing in nutrition. And the athletes would be sitting there with bags of McDonald’s food. So there was definitely a disconnect. As a result, nowadays, I spend a lot more time on the big picture stuff. What level is the athlete at…how can I get him or her to the next level…what’s the minimum number of changes we need to make to get the maximum result…stuff like that. Secondly, I’ve learned that health and body comp go hand in hand. You see, early on, I helped guys get big and ripped. And in the process, there was little discussion of nutritional balance, health, etc. However, nowadays, I realize that the only way to sustain a big, lean physique in the long run is to make sure health is also prioritized. And yes, it is possible to look after things like fiber intake, micronutrient intake, phytochemical intake, acid-base status, and more while still packing on muscle mass. As I teach my athletes, there are certain nutritional targets we need to hit. And once they’re hit, if you still need more calories to grow, eat what you want. It’s all fair game as long as your blood profile stays in check and so does body composition. Indeed, one of my bobsleigh athletes eats 6 solid, clean meals a day year-round. And when he’s trying to gain muscle mass, he adds 1/2L of chocolate milk to every meal because he loves the stuff. And the strategy works! But remember, he’s already covered his nutritional bases and remains healthy throughout the process.

Finally, I’ve learned to pay more respect to individual differences. A decade ago, the only mind paid to individual differences was some vague notion that we all had to “find out what works for us” – whatever that means. Nowadays, with new research looking at different body types, different genotypes, and more, it’s becoming clearer that different body types may need to start with different baseline diets. It’s also becoming clearer that our food intake can profoundly interact with our genes to either prevent or accelerate disease. For just a brief example, there’s some research out of the University of Toronto showing that in individuals with a specific form of hepatic enzyme see a 10 fold risk in heart attack when drinking 3 cups of coffee per day. However, in individuals with another form of the same enzyme, there’s a 3 fold reduction in heart attack risk when drinking the exact same amount of coffee. So I’ve been spending a lot of time lately exploring the wonderful world of nutrigenomics as it applies to real-world nutrition. That’s good info. And I’m expecting a 2,000 word article on nutrigenomics for Mind and Muscle by next week… I notice sometimes you get pigeon-holed into “The Food Combining Guy.” What do you have to say to this? Well, for the record, how my Protein+Carb and Protein+Fat meal combining ideas ever spread so quickly and became so controversial is beyond me. In fact, it still baffles me. Let’s put this into perspective here. Over the last 7 years I’ve published over 200 articles, maybe closer to 300. And I’ve published about 6 books. Of these books and articles, the P+C and P+F ideas were outlined in detail in about 2, maybe 3, of the articles – articles that were written about 5-6 years ago – back in 2001 or 2002. Plus, these articles outlined one approach I’ve used with success in my clients and athletes. So, again, as these articles represent about 1% of my total work, these articles were written years ago, and these articles represented one approach of many I’ve toyed around with over the years, the fact that somehow a few people still think that I’m the “food combining guy” is beyond me. But seriously, Marc, does anyone actually think that I’m the “food combining guy?” If so – what a weird, and narrow definition of someone’s body of work. Regardless, if someone thinks this about me, that probably means they’ve not read anything of mine in the last 5 or 6 years. And if so, I encourage them to catch up a bit. Seriously, I think they’re missing out on some great content. Be that as it may, are you still invoking some form of PC/PF eating? I am, sort of. But sort of not as well. Let me explain… Nowadays, my ideas revolve more around the concept of “nutrient timing” or the notion that different nutrients are tolerated better or worse during certain times of the day. Take carbs, for example. Carbohydrate tolerance (including insulin sensitivity or glucose disposal) is best during and after training. And this has been shown in both healthy and diabetic populations. From this, in general, I recommend that higher carb meals are eaten post-exercise while lower carb meals are eaten the rest of the day. Functionally, this means that you’ll be eating higher protein and carb meals with a lower fat content (call them P+C meals if you like) during and after training. And you’ll be eating higher protein and fat meals with a lower carb content (call them P+F meals if you like) during the rest of the day. So, I guess this ends up being food combining of a sort. But I think it’s more in the realm of nutrient timing than food combining. Regardless of what you call it – this strategy works very, very well. So I guess we can quote ol’ Shakespeare here…What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. That makes sense, Romeo. So let me ask you this. Do you always have athletes and clients restrict carbs outside of the “workout window?” Absolutely not! As I said above, these guidelines are general ones. In the end, it’s your body type that should determine how you manage your carb and fat intake. If you’re more on the ectomorphic end, carbs should be higher and fats more controlled. And if you’re on the endomorphic end, fats should be higher and carbs more controlled.

However, within the context of a single day, as carb tolerance is best post exercise, this is the time the bulk of your carbs should come – regardless of your total daily intake. If you’re curious as to how this all shakes out in the real world, I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Precision Nutrition System. It details the entire approach I use with my clients and athletes and it also provides recipes and meal plans that are directed by activity levels, goals, and body type.

You know, over the years you’ve seemed to stay out of all the internet shit-slinging and just sit back and continuously get incredible results with all of your clients which has always impressed me. Thanks, Marc. Although I do have to admit that early on in my career, I got sucked into the internet antics. However, I learned pretty quickly that nothing good can come out of the shit-slinging, as you call it. Kind of like a Springer show. So, since then, I’ve done my best to steer clear of this aspect of internet communication, focusing on what I do best – teaching and coaching. Admittedly, it wasn’t always easy to do so. Especially when the BS really gets flying. But it definitely gets easier with practice. And in the end, it’s the right thing to do. Both personally and professionally. Give a brief overview of what you did with Dave Tate. Thoughts on Justin Harris’s plan with Dave? Well, let’s be clear about something. Dave contacted me a couple of years back to help him with one thing. He wanted me to help him clean up his diet – plain and simple. He wasn’t focused on sport performance. He wasn’t focused on getting shredded. Instead, he simply wanted to learn how to eat better and, in doing so, improve his overall health profile. You see, his cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and more were out of wack. And he was legitimately worried about his health. So, we spent a few months together and we focused on taking Dave from a 10,000 calorie per day junk food eater to a 5,000 calorie per day clean eater. And we had great success. But, as with any goal-directed individual, once Dave was looking better, feeling better, and had his blood work in check, he wanted more. You see, he’s a fierce competitor and needed some competition. So he decided to compete against his body fat. So we spent the next few months bringing his body fat down from 19% to about 7%. In doing so, we exceeded Dave’s original goals. And then he stepped into maintenance mode.

Dave’s Before Pics

Dave’s After Pics

If people are interested in the details of this process, they can read all about in this 2-part article series by clicking the links below.

Dave Tate Project Part 1 Dave Tate Project Part 2 As far as Justin’s work with Dave, I can’t comment too much about it. I know that after a while of maintenance, Dave wanted to take another run at dropping his body fat – this time to a competition-ready level of conditioning. And, as Justin’s a contest prep specialist, they decided to work through the process together. During this second “dieting” stint, Dave got really shredded – which isn’t surprising. He was beginning from a great base. Further, whenever your combine the right information and a strong will, good things follow. It was great to see the transformation with Dave, and I think you really helped to enlighten a quite a few power lifters about nutrition. Now I know you’ve worked with everyone from physique competitors to average Joes to Olympians. What scope of fitness does your typical client fall under? Well, as you said, we work with a wide variety of clients from pro athletes, to physique competitors, to recreational exercisers just looking to gain a little lean mass while losing some fat. Let me give you some examples. Right now I’m working with Canadian National team athletes in sports like Bobsleigh, Skeleton, Speed Skating, Cross Country Skiing, Rowing, and more. I’m also working with pro Football and Hockey athletes as well as several IFBB pro figure girls. So that represents our “elite athlete” roster. However, I also have a number of clients on the roster who have full-time jobs, families, and “normal lives.” They’re not elite athletes, per se. But they want to do the best they can with the 4-6 hours per week they can afford to spend on exercise. And, in my book, this makes them elite compared to their peers. In fact, some of these folks were recently profiled in our 16-Week Precision Nutrition Body Transformation Challenge. Here are a few before and after transformations from the challenge:


Female (Under 40) Finalist, Rebecca, lost 40 lbs and 10% body fat in 16 weeks, following the Precision Nutrition plan.

Male (Under 40) Finalist, Lionel lost 37lbs and 12% body fat in 16 weeks following the Precision Nutrition plan.

Now, these are just two of many awesome before and after picture sets. You can check out our Transformation finalists by clicking here: The Precision Nutrition Body Transformation Finalists Join us next week for the second part of Marc McDougal’s interview with John Berardi

About John Berardi, PhD, CSCS

Dr. John Berardi is one of North America’s most popular and respected authorities on fitness and nutrition. He has made his mark as a leading researcher in the field of exercise and nutritional science, as a widely read author and writer, and as a coach and trainer who has helped thousands of men and women, from soccer moms to Olympic athletes, achieve their health, fitness and performance goals. John earned a doctorate in Exercise and Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario and currently serves as an adjunct assistant professor of Exercise Science at the University of Texas . He also provides nutrition consultation services for athletes and sports teams including a number of Canadian Olympic programs (Speed Skating, Bobsleigh, Skeleton, Cross Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Canoe, and Kayak), the University of Texas Longhorns, and numerous individual professional football, hockey, and baseball players. He has published more than 300 articles in major health and fitness magazines, including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Oxygen, and more. He is the coauthor, with Michael Mejia, of Scrawny to Brawny (Rodale, 2005), and author of The Metabolism Advantage (Rodale, 2006). He also contributed special sections to Nutrient Timing, by John Ivy, Ph.D., and Robert Portman, Ph.D. (Basic Health, 2004). In 2005, John created a performance nutrition program for athletes and fitness enthusiasts called Precision Nutrition. The Precision Nutrition kit includes a nutrition guidebook, a recipe book, and instructional CDs and DVDs, and is also supported by the well-attended Precision Nutrition online forums. This program is designed to teach the principles of optimum sports nutrition to everyone from elite athletes to the recreationally active and has made a huge splash in the sports nutrition industry. Formerly, John was a competitive powerlifter, bodybuilder, track and field sprinter, and rugby player. In addition to his doctoral degree, he holds certification as a strength and conditioning specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. President, Precision Visit our Precision Nutrition Knowledgebase today –

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