Marc McDougal Interviews John Berardi - Part III

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

And now the much-anticipated third installment in Marc McDougal’s interview of renowned trainer Dr. John Berardi! Be sure to check out Part I and Part II as well.

Who are some of your best athletes right now? Anybody we should look for in the next Olympics?

In the past, we worked with a lot more teams in a given year and, as a result, we only had limited time with each group of athletes.

So, this year, we decided to try something different, devoting most of our time to fewer teams and providing more in-depth services to the athletes in each group. To this end, we’ve spent most of our athlete time this year working with the Canadian National Bobsleigh and Skeleton Teams, focusing of the 80 or so athletes in this group.

And it seems to have paid off. In World Cup competition, the BCS (Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton) organization is having their best season ever, grabbing around 19 medals in the 3 World Cup races this year. As far as specific athletes, look for Pierre Lueders and his crew in men’s bobsleigh, Helen Upperton and her crew as well as Kaillie Humphries and her crew on the Women’s side. In skeleton, look for Michelle Kelly and Melissa Hollingsworth on the female side and John Montgomery and Paul Boehem on the men’s side.

We’ve also devoted some time this year to helping out the Royal Canadian Golf Association. The RCGA represents amateur golf here in Canada and although most people don’t associate golf with high performance nutrition, there are some important training and nutrition strategies that golfers can adopt to up their game. These strategies revolve around body comp management, CNS output, and improving energy levels, focus, and concentration. Our RCGA athletes are really doing a great job with the Precision Nutrition system so look for them to do well on the amateur circuit as well as the PGA and LPGA in the coming years.

I’m giving John Daly your contact info ASAP.

Funny enough, both Greg Norman Sr. and his son, Greg Norman Jr. (who is a professional kite border) use our Precision Nutrition System. However, we’ve yet to hear from John Daly. But, getting back to our current athletes, in addition to our work with BCS and the RCGA, one of our figure athletes, Valerie Waugaman recently earned a spot as one of the Gladiators in the upcoming remake of the classic American Gladiators show. We’re really excited about this.

This was a great cap to a year in which Val won 2 pro shows and placed in the top 10 at both the Olympia and Arnold shows.

I’ve followed Val’s progress a bit, she looks phenomenal. If she needs to practice the pugil fighting before show taping starts, give her my contact info.
Let’s talk rapid body comp change. In my experience, traditional accepted standards are a bit soft. What do you think is feasible per week and per month for fat loss (bf %age), without sacrificing LBM? We never have a perfect environment, but let’s say in a motivated individual on a plan you’ve designed.

Absolutely, I think the classic 1lb per week is very conservative. However, in my experience, these numbers are what we see on average – not the extremes. For example, in our recent Precision Nutrition Body Transformation Challenge, we followed men and women through 16 weeks of body transformation. And here are some of the numbers we found.

Average Body Weight: The participants began with an average 180.24lbs of body weight and ended with an average 168.54lbs of body weight. This means an average 11.7lbs of weight loss in 16 weeks – or about 0.73lbs of weight lost per week. Average Body Fat: The participants began with an average 23.72% body fat and ended with an average 16.42% body fat. This means an average 7.3% body fat loss in 16 weeks – or about 1/2% body fat lost per week. Average Fat Loss: The participants began with an average 42lbs of fat and ended with an average 27lbs of fat. This means an average 15lbs of fat loss in 16 weeks – or about 1lb of fat lost per week. Average Muscle Gain: The participants began with an average 138.08lbs of lean mass and ended with an average 141.31lbs of lean mass. This means an average 3.23lbs of lean mass gained in 16 weeks – or about 0.2lb of muscle gained per week (while dropping fat). Average Reduction in Waist Circumference: The participants also lost an average of 2.76 inches on their waists in 16 weeks.

So again, these numbers are consistent with the conservative averages discussed above. However, averages take into account everyone – low performers, average performers, and high performers. When we tease out the high performers – our challenge finalists – we see some much more aggressive numbers. Here are just a few examples: Finalist – Male Over 40 Group Lost about 30lbs in 16 weeks – losing 23lbs of fat and only 4lbs of lean mass.

Finalist – Male Over 40 Group Lost about 16lbs in 16 weeks – losing 23lbs of fat while gaining 7lbs of lean mass.

Finalist – Male Under 40 Group Lost 37lbs in 16 weeks – losing 27lbs of fat and 10lbs of lean mass

Finalist – Male Under 40 Group Lost 25lbs during 16 weeks – losing 35lbs of fat and gaining 10lbs of lean mass

Finalist – Female Under 40 Group Lost 37lbs during 16 weeks – losing 31lbs of fat and 6lbs of lean mass

Finalist – Female Over 40 Group Lost 4lbs during 16 weeks – losing 14lbs of fat and gaining 11lbs of lean mass

And remember, these are real-world examples of people following the Precision Nutrition system on their own. With my individual clients, we often see some even more impressive numbers in terms of fat loss, muscle gain, etc!

Out of curiosity, do you attempt to account for visceral fat loss and separate it from lean body mass loss? And if so, do you have a formula for this you’re willing to share? For those that don’t know what I’m referring to, with caliper testing visceral fat will show up as lean body mass (it can’t be pinched), so sometimes LBM loss on paper will actually be a loss of visceral fat.

It’s a good point. Now, with those folks above, we didn’t worry about this subtlety since they were among 400 or so that entered our Precision Nutrition Challenge.
However, when it comes to our elite athletes, we use skinfolds for bi-weekly testing and other forms of anthropometry (air displacement or DEXA) for quarterly assessments.

Along those lines, give me your thoughts on cutting/bulking vs. constant re-comping in various populations (athlete, pure aesthetic goal, competitive bodybuilder).

Everyone’s different so it’s hard to make a blanket recommendation for all. However, in general, I think that the cutting/bulking cycles should be reserved for competitive male bodybuilders or for those men who want to play the role of bodybuilder without ever stepping on stage. Indeed, all theory aside, this method is time-tested and nearly every male bodybuilder who’s had success gaining large amounts of muscle while showing up on stage in super-ripped condition has used this method. Decades of success demonstrates that this approach absolutely works as long as the bodybuilder doesn’t get too out of control with the bulking cycles. When it comes to female bodybuilders, unless they’re using androgens, things have to be much more controlled or else the fat gain is too severe, leading to a real difficulty getting into shape. So although they may do mild bulking cycles, it’s important to stay within 15 lbs or so of competition weight. Now, for the rest of you, those of you who simply want to look good in everyday life, it makes no sense to follow the bulk up/cut down thing. Rather, it makes more sense to use intelligent year-round body composition management – kind of like what we teach as a baseline in the Precision Nutrition system – always staying within a reasonable body fat range. After all, who wants to look chubby ½ the year when they’re training with the express purpose of looking good in everyday life?

I agree completely, well said.
What are your thoughts on Intermittent Fasting diets?

It seems like there are some definite health benefits associated with intermittent fasting. But I still haven’t adopted them with my clients and/or athletes. Why not? Well, most people don’t really enjoy the fasting part. And, if your training and nutrition plan is properly designed, you don’t need to go as far as fasting intermittently to optimize your health. So why make it harder than it has to be? As far as using intermittent fasting for bodybuilding purposes, it’s probably not such a great idea if you’ve got an ectomorphic body type as you’ll have a hard enough time gaining muscle without the fasting.

I agree about compliance issues with clients. Aside from the health benefits, some of the current research is showing consistent preservation of lean body mass, are you not buying it?

Oh, I think there may be some merit to it for the non-ectomorphs. So I’m not writing it off. But again, if we can get the job done without having to fast, I’m all for that. However, if you prefer the notion of intermittent fasting and it works for you, knock yourself out. Just make sure that you’ve got the right metrics in place to know if it’s “working for you” (or against you).

Thoughts on PSMF diets?

These work pretty well for short periods and I’ve detailed a program that sort of follows along these lines with my “Get Shredded Diet.” In fact, this is the diet Dave Tate used when leaning out.

However, when following a PSMF-type diet, I like to include a host of supplements that help keep the metabolism from dropping, that help keep micronutrient intake high, and that help to improve mood, focus, and concentration – all common problems with following PSMF plans.

Dish it out…what supplements?

Jeez, you want me to spill all the secrets, don’t you! But I can’t do it – mostly because the list will be out of context. So you’re gonna have to click here to check out the Get Shredded Diet.

What are your plans for the coming years? New projects?

Well, on the Precision Nutrition Inc. side of things, we just launched a brand new book – Gourmet Nutrition. It’s a beautifully photographed hard-copy cookbook with over 120 recipes, all categorized according to my Anytime and Postworkout distinction. The book has also got a meal planning chapter so it’s more than a cookbook and closer to an applied nutrition manual that also happens to have a ton of great food ideas.  For folks interested in checking out a free sample of the book, click here. Gourmet Nutrition Free Sample In addition to this, we’re about to launch two really cool group coaching programs for folks who own the Precision Nutrition System – one for fat loss and one for muscle gain. These should be off the ground in Feb or March of 2008. Participants of this program get to walk through 16 weeks of either fat loss programming or muscle gain programming with myself and my team of coaches. And this includes training programs, multi-media lessons, office hours, phone consults, and more. The resources we provide as well as the level of accountability provided is second to none. Finally, on the PN side, we’re about to complete a performance nutrition certification course for trainers and coaches interested in learning exactly how we go about coaching our individual clients and athletes. It’ll be one of the more rigorous courses out there and will go beyond the traditional certification exam type thing. Students will also be required to apply the program with a group of their own clients and submit full case studies of their progress. Finally, students will be required to submit a research paper focusing on a unique aspect of performance nutrition.

I’d love to get some M&M readers involved in that 16 week program and have them detail their progress on our forum.

I’d love to get them involved too! As soon as the program is ready to launch, the M&M readers will be the first to know.


Talk a bit about Precision Nutrition, the forums, what you have going on. It seems to have grown into a whole community.

Absolutely. Back in late 05 we put our entire nutrition system into an information product called “Precision Nutrition.” And as a way to support our customers we started our “Precision Nutrition Community” – an online forum with discussion groups, an online video library, and online audio library, an exercise video library, an online results tracker, and a whole bunch more.

Well, the community has taken on a life of its own and nowadays we’ve got over 25,000 members talking nutrition, training, supplements and more every single day. Plus, these members have access to all of our online software and resources. So it goes beyond a forum – it’s truly a community.

Uhh…I’m almost afraid to ask…but…anything else going on?

Actually, yes. Going beyond the PN side of things, there’s another special project I’m really excited about. I’m helping to get a non-for-profit off the ground. It’s called The Healthy Food Bank and it’s devoted to a very specific task. The company is raising money to provide healthy food and even supplements for people in need. Right now, most food banks do their best, but lack of funding as well as lack of nutritional knowledge can handcuff them. Plus, what do food drives typically yield? Crappy canned food. Processed cheese. Stale bread. The stuff the health conscious would otherwise scoff at or throw away. Well, it’s our mission to go beyond this and make available healthy food to these families. And that includes nutritional supplements – including essentially fatty acids and multivitamins. And we’re expecting to raise over a million bucks in the first year alone – all of it going directly to food banks we pre-approve. So I’m very excited to be a part of this project!

Damn ladies, he’s even a philanthropist.
Back to the nutrition stuff…thoughts on carbs at breakfast?
In a recent article I have suggested that many people do much better on veggie only carbs first thing in the AM due to high cortisol and other factors. The other side of this argument has been well accepted, with regards to low glycogen after an overnight fast. (note we’re talking about someone who doesn’t work out first thing in the am).

It’s definitely a body type and carb tolerance thing. I think that the old glycogen being depleted first thing in the morning is overplayed. After all, the data shows that muscle glycogen depletion is a non-issue and that liver depletion is only between 30 and 50% in the morning. So it’s not like anyone’s going to bonk without a morning carb load. With that said, I think morning carb selection should be based on goals and body type. If you’re more endomorphic and trying to lose fat, you should probably focus more on fruit and veggie carbs in the morning. However, if you’re more ectomorphic and trying to gain muscle, starchy carbs are likely required. Interestingly, this issue polarizes people quite a bit as some folks just don’t “feel right” without morning carbs. However, this has little to do with muscle glycogen. After all, most people don’t “feel” reduced levels of muscle glycogen. And it has little to do with low blood sugar.

Rather, this has to do with neurotransmitter levels (serotonin, dopamine, etc). Indeed, some studies show that some people “feel” best and have the highest levels of concentration and focus when eating a carb to protein ratio of 3 carbs to 1 protein. But again, those folks with poor carb tolerance, tend to feel better on a lower carb to protein ratio. Regardless of how you feel, however, sometimes, with specific goals, carbs have to be controlled – especially if you’ve got poor carb tolerance.

What is your current recommendation/range for EPA/DHA for body comp benefits? I’m of the high dose camp, thoughts on higher doses having negative effects?

I think that to see body comp and benefits, you definitely have to exceed the minimum recommended dose of 1-2g of fish oil (often about 300-600mg of EPA ad DHA). Indeed, my athletes use anywhere from 6-12 grams of fish oil (or about 2-4g of EPA and DHA). In terms of risks associated with this dosing, it’s definitely contraindicated in those with heart arrhythmias as well as those using anti-coagulants. However, in otherwise healthy populations, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.

Any thoughts about immunosuppression healthy populations related to high doses?

I’m going to skip over the research here and just get down to the applied stuff. I’m not at all worried about this with my own athletes. This is due to the fact that they’ve adopted a whole nutrition system – not just a supplement mentality. It might be a concern for those who are just popping their fish oil pills and not doing much else. However, when it comes to my athletes, I have no concerns. They’re training hard and following the Precision Nutrition system, which has, as part of its design, a goal of improving immune function. As a result, their blood work and history of infection/illness always improves with our approach.

Great info John, really appreciate you taking the time to do this.

No problem, Marc. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughs!


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 a certification as a strength and conditioning specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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