Dr. John Berardi gives us the details on nutrition for athletes, diet strategy, food behavior, and Georges St. Pierre. See what he has to say.
It's no secret that T Nation has helped launch a number of high profile figures in the fitness and sport nutrition industry.
Many have gone on to build powerful personal training empires, write popular fitness and nutrition books, and speak to legions of adoring, panty-slinging fans at sold-out industry trade shows.
(Unfortunately, one or two have also gone on to doing three to five years at the crowbar hotel, making license plates. Ever see a car or truck with a plate that read PROTEIN4U or GOT DBOL? Next time you do, wave; we know whose handiwork that is.)
One of the most popular players to come out of the T Nation bullpen has been Dr. John Berardi. Berardi started submitting articles to T Nation over 10 years ago when he was just a lowly grad student, beginning with a review of the 2000 ACSM conference in Indianapolis.
While it's unlikely that even the most devout Berardi-ite printed out that first article, TC was quick to spot his unique ability to communicate complex ideas, simply. With that, a long, fact-filled relationship with T Nation readers was born.
The hits were fast and furious from there. Solving the Post Workout Puzzle, Massive Eating, Appetite for Construction, and G-Flux are just some of the game-changing nutrition article series that Berardi has authored, as well as helping to formulate the earliest version of what eventually became the most cutting edge post-workout recovery formula the industry had ever seen, Surge® Recovery.
Since those glory days, Berardi moved on to co-found Precision Nutrition, a very successful nutrition education and solutions company packed with all kinds of tools designed to help ordinary folks look and feel their absolute best. That venture keeps Berardi awfully busy, but as time-starved as he is, JB isn't the type of guy to forget where he got his start. So when we offered him a chance to be a part of the Sucker Punch series, JB jumped at the chance to reconnect with T Nation readers.
Plus, the opportunity to tell us all something we don't know? That's something that the Large Professor just couldn't resist.
T-Nation: Love it or hate it John, you'll likely be forever known around T Nation as the Massive Eating guy. What has been the biggest thing you've learned since the day that article series first ran?
Dr. John Berardi: Oh man, I hope that's not true. If I'm forever known as the Massive Eating guy that means T Nation readers haven't listened to a thing I've said in about 9 years!
I've published about 300 articles since that two-part Massive Eating series ran, five books, and I just released a nutrition certification program; so if I'm John "Massive Eating" Berardi, that's kind of depressing.
But assuming you're right, and that's my T Nation masterpiece, I guess the biggest thing I've added to my recommendations for "clean bulking," as some guys call it, is nutrient timing.
As you may recall, Massive Eating was based upon structuring meals to contain protein plus carbs and low fat, or protein plus fat and low carbs. Today, I'm using a new convention, which is post-workout meals (PW meals) and anytime meals (AT meals).
PW meals are higher protein, higher carb, and lower fat meals and as the name suggests, they're consumed post workout. AT meals are high protein, lower carb, and higher fat meals, and they're eaten any time other than the post workout window.
I still believe that eating the right amount of calories is critical, and I still believe that controlling your macronutrients (as I advocated in Massive Eating) is beneficial, but this nutrient timing concept puts all that info into proper context; delivering the right nutrients when your body most needs them.
Of course, there's one caveat. This entire scheme is very general. It's where someone could startwhen constructing a diet to gain muscle. But let's face it, individualization is the key, so other issues have to be factored in, like body type, activity levels, etc. However, as a baseline, and without knowing anything more about a person, it's a great place to start.
T-Nation: Okay, so you're known now as this purty, nutrition guru who helps clients and coaches yet still finds the time to rescue old ladies' cats from trees. But there was a time when the M in John M. Berardi stood for Meathead, meaning you lived and breathed bodybuilding. (John won the NABBA Jr. Mr. Universe in 1995). What lessons did you learn from those hungrier days?
Dr. Berardi: Ha, there was a time when I was considered prime choice grade A meathead for sure.
I remember when I started my fourth year of university, I met with a grad counselor. I can recall walking into her office and we had a nice chat about my goals and my academic program. The next day, she told the whole class she was teaching about some dumbass guy that was in her office with "legs so big he couldn't even walk right."
Needless to say, I think she was a little surprised to see me graduate with a near perfect GPA. I think I was third in my graduating class, big legs and all!
Situations like these aside, my meathead days were awesome in that they taught me so many valuable lessons. But if I were to narrow it down, I'd like to share three:
The first is discipline and mental fortitude. Preparing for a bodybuilding show is really misunderstood; it's a mental battle more than anything. You basically over-train and over-diet for 16 weeks, and as each week passes you get leaner, but more worn down mentally and physically.
By show time you can't think right, can't move properly, and you're literally counting down the hours for it to be over.
Every single ounce of your being wants to quit, and that's why so many people that intend to compete never do. It's that mentally draining. But for those who endure, you come out the other side with a renewed sense of confidence in your ability to tackle any challenge – no matter how long it takes and how much you have to put into it – and I think that's a valuable life lesson.
I published an article on T Nation called the Get Shredded Diet, and in it I talk about how every two years or so I go on a really intense fat loss program. Part of the reason I do this is to exercise those mental muscles of discipline and perseverance. I do think it's possible for these muscles to get "flabby."
So for me, the value of working those muscles has translated into everything that I do, whether it's growing a business or working with clients; I tend to be a lot more patient, more willing to put in the time doing behaviors that I know will lead to success, even when that success hasn't arrived yet and I might just be feeling crappy. I think that's really critical.
Next is the correlation between behavior and results. This is something many people miss when they're goal setting. You can set goals and write them down, but the most important thing to realize is that most goals are outcome oriented, and you need to engage in specific behaviors to achieve those outcomes.
My bodybuilding days taught me that when my behaviors matched my goals, I got the results I was looking for. I know this seems like a no brainer, but you'd be amazed at how many people miss this. It doesn't matter how strong your intentions are, if the behaviors aren't there, the results won't be there either.
The cool part is that once you really get this concept, you can work backwards. So, if your results are shit, it's not that there's something wrong with you, it's that your behaviors aren't correct. Fix 'em and the results will follow.
The third is mentorship. When I first started bodybuilding, a guy named Craig Bach took me under his wing. He taught me how to eat, how to train, and how to set goals. This all happened at a very influential time, when I was 18 years old, and it really set me on course. The bottom line is this: there are people more experienced than you, people with more knowledge than you, and if you aren't seeking them out and learning from them, you're an idiot, plain and simple.
T-Nation: As a coach, the biggest mistake I've ever made has been ______.
Dr. Berardi: That's easy. I used to think that training age could be correlated with nutrition aptitude.
I remember when I started working with elite teams, I was so gung ho to share the advanced nutrition protocols that I had: custom recovery formulas, nutrient timing, and macro breakdowns. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
I remember walking in to speak to one Olympic level team and half the guys in the room had bags of fast food with them. It took me longer than it should've to drop this advanced mindset, although I'm happy to say that I finally did. Yet some coaches never do; they stay advanced, pushing protocols clients never follow and then call their clients weak willed or not serious enough.
So my biggest mistake was, because I was talking to elite athletes, I believed that they must be ready for elite nutrition. It's just not true, and forced me to come up with a client level system that categorizes clients into well-defined slots. Once I remedied this I made a huge leap forward in progress.
T-Nation: But those athletes that did buy in, did they make superior progress?
Dr. Berardi: Absolutely. But the truth is, there are VERY few Level 3 athletes out there. Most are Level 2, at best. You see, when you train with that much volume and intensity, you will usually look "healthy" and if you're already performing at an elite level you don't see much value in looking harder at your nutrition. So the "market" for the Level 3 advice is very small.
T-Nation: Speaking of superior athletes, I hear you're working with a lot of MMA athletes lately, including Georges St. Pierre. To many T Nation readers, someone like GSP would represent the ideal physique: muscular, lean, and athletic. What exactly do you do with GSP, and what have you done with him that may be of interest to guys looking to attain his level of development?
Dr. Berardi: GSP contacted me a few years ago to help him with his nutrition, so essentially I plan his nutrition and supplementation program. GSP actually has a personal chef in Montreal to prepare all his meals for him, so I work directly with his chef to make sure those are the right kind of meals.
With GSP, it's no secret that he's always had a phenomenal physique. It's partly due to his training, part his work ethic, and a big part is his genetics. He's a naturally mesomorphic guy, and it's widely held that mesomorphs tend to have naturally higher levels of Testosterone and Growth Hormone.
So that's GSP in a nutshell: naturally gifted, trains like crazy year round, and committed to getting better. That leads to a good body every time.
With Georges, our goal was to pack on some lean mass. So, as we discussed earlier, we use the PW/AT strategy. His menu is basically three whole food meals a day, and two "super shakes" a day (protein, berries, almond milk, and fish oil). Before a workout he has an energy bar, a workout drink during, and after he has a recovery drink.
We use all Biotest stuff. He uses Finibar™ Competition Bar, Surge® Workout Fuel and Surge® Recovery around workouts, and Metabolic Drive , Flameout® and Superfood in the super shakes. I send him a big box of Biotest every month and he's good to go.
Now, before I started working with Georges, he was eating maybe two to three times a day, and quite often it was fast food. Because he's training two or three times a day, running back and forth between gyms in Montreal, and spending very little time at home, he just didn't have a good strategy for eating properly.
I see this all the time in MMA; they have jobs and train multiple times a day and just don't have the time to do what needs to be done in the kitchen. So GSP was chronically underfed, and that's why he was so lean. Since starting with him we've doubled or tripled his caloric intake.
T-Nation: So GSP had contacted you about gaining weight?
Dr. Berardi: I guess some people would be surprised to hear that GSP wanted to gain weight. So before I continue, you have to understand how the MMA classes work. Basically, there's pressure from the top down to fight in lower weight classes. You have these guys in Heavyweight weighing in at 270lbs, so the 230lbs heavyweights will drop down to 205 to gain an advantage. But now the natural 205 pounders will be at a disadvantage, so they'll cut to 185 and so on.
GSP, who was walking around 185-ish and cutting to 170, contacted me to get to 195-200 to then cut down to 170. Once we changed his diet, he gained 10 pounds of lean mass in 8 weeks. Again, he was chronically underfed, so when we finally started doing things right the weight just flew on.
T-Nation: Any problems with such a big cut (200 to 170)?
Dr. Berardi: No, GSP uses a very scientific approach to cut. He'll show up for a fight weighing 195 on Monday, cut to 170 by Friday for weigh-ins, and then, in the next 24 hours, put most, if not all of those 25 pounds back on.
T-Nation: Any hints how you guys do this?
Dr. Berardi: It's nothing that fancy, really. Just science. It's a lot like what competitive bodybuilders do; fluid and sodium loading, then cut the fluid and cut sodium, except we do other things as well like hot water immersion baths. Unfortunately very few guys in MMA know this stuff, so they do stupid things like wearing trash bags on an exercise bike while locked up in a sauna.
Another interesting part is the recovery from the cut, or putting the weight back on. We base everything on known fluid absorption rates. You just give that amount of fluid per hour, which works out to about 1.5 liters of fluid per hour, with an estimated 20-25% urinary excretion. But not just any fluid; I like Surge Recovery as part of the rehydration because of the carbs and buffers in the product.
T-Nation: Interesting. A lot of folks train hard, eat right, say their prayers and eat their vitamins. Yet so many guys and gals fail to make the transformation they're looking for. What are we all doing or not doing?
Dr. Berardi: Well, in some cases there are underlying physical problems that prevent people from making progress, but they're rare. In reality, I see two common problems with most people:
One is they're not doing what they know they should be doing. They know they should be eating better, and getting to the gym almost daily. They know they should be resting, and that they should use progressive resistance. It's not like they're making a big choice to screw up their progress like, "I'm not going to eat properly today."
What they're doing is making small daily compromises in each of these areas: a little extra junk food, miss a workout here, a late night there. They know what they should be doing, but making these little compromises gradually erodes excellence. They may not seem like a big deal in isolation, but add them all up and it's a big deal.
Two is they're just not consistent enough. I've always said, consistency not novelty is the secret to uncommon results. Not one day here, one day there: if you want a dramatically different body, you have to tell yourself that it's going to be a yearlong process, and for the next year be very consistent.
This is something we build into our coaching program and it's the only way I work with clients now.
T-Nation: And this involves making one small change at a time, right?
Dr. Berardi: Humans simply don't change by undergoing these major life overhauls. Doing one new habit at a time until it's mastered produces change, and then add a new habit. Studies show that if we try to change one thing at a time, we have an 85% success rate. Up it to two and it drops to 35%. More than two, and it drops to near zero. Consistent, small changes is the key. It's the way people successfully change: one thing at a time.
T-Nation: What are five supplements I'll always find in JB's cupboard, right next to the home bikini waxing kit, and why?
Dr. Berardi: OK, I admit I've an overdeveloped supplement cabinet, but as for a top five:
- I always have a protein blend on hand. I prefer to rotate them so I'm not eating exactly the same thing every day. Many naturopaths and nutritionists share this theory that eating the same thing day after day can lead to an intolerance. I think that there may be something to that, so I rotate between Metabolic Drive and MuscleMilk.
- Powdered fruits and veggies. I rotate between Superfood and GreensPlus.
- Essential Fatty Acids. I always have Flameout and a liquid fish oil on hand. I also recently added Udo's Oil back into my diet and noticed an almost immediate improvement in my skin, and I just seem to feel better. Again, I'm not replacing fish oil, just balancing out my omega 3/6/9 intake. I'm a big believer in fatty acid balance.
- A multivitamin.
- Workout drinks. On high carb days, I use Surge® Recovery with Creatine Monohydrate and Beta Alanine. On lower carb days, I use Power Drive with BCAAs, creatine, and Beta Alanine.
I use other stuff intermittently like Curcumin
I'm not sure why, but I was certainly impressed. I was taking it for the glucose tolerance benefits (as glucose tolerance tends to dive in your mid 30s) and wasn't expecting a big benefit in my androgen scores. So that was an added bonus.
T-Nation: What's currently smoking hot in the training or performance nutrition world that drives you nuts?
Dr. Berardi: I tend to be a pretty positive guy and try to just focus on what I'm doing, but I do see one thing that, well, pisses me off. It's the hypocritical coach that makes prescriptions that they don't follow themselves.
A few months back, I was a presenter at a nutrition conference and there was this guy presenting on his militant Paleolithic approach. He railed against all grains, dairy, legumes, even corn on the cob. I didn't agree but I'm like "live and let live."
But an hour later, there was a reception for all the presenters and this guy was front and center, eating hors d'oeuvres and swilling Guinness. Later on at the restaurant, he put away about a loaf and a half of white bread and more Guinness.
And I thought, what an asshole. He spent two hours convincing people that even green beans were bad for you and here he was, getting wasted and over eating junk food. That pisses me off. I see this kind of hypocrisy all the time unfortunately and it gives our whole industry a bad name. That's my biggest peeve.
T-Nation: And finally, the franchise question. Tell us something we don't know.
Dr. Berardi: thought about this one a long time. Knowing sucks.
Now that may sound ironic coming from a guy who went to school for a long time and has a PhD and stuff, but what I mean is we all like to know stuff. In the training and nutrition world, we're fascinated with knowing NEW stuff. But its not knowing that's the limiting factor, it's the doing that's the problem.
Specifically, it's the doing of the key, basic things repeatedly with relentless consistency that gets people into wicked shape.
So that's why I say knowing sucks. No one ever got into shape just by knowing, so my best advice is to stop spending time and energy trying to learn new shit. Instead, spend time and energy doing what you already know works. If you can do that day in and day out, in 6 months time you'll have a remarkably different physique.
That's how I'd like to end this, as it speaks to every thing we talked about so far, and I really believe it. Let's all start learning less and doing more. I guarantee that your physique will improve exponentially.
T-Nation: Sounds like solid advice from the Large Professor. Thanks for doing this today, JB!
Dr. Berardi: No problem. It's a pleasure being back on T Nation.