In my recent blog post about workout nutrition, we got a lot of really interesting—and diverse—feedback in the comment section. In fact, the discussion was/is one of the coolest we’ve had on the blog in a while.
As I was reading through, I began see a few things emerge; patterns, if you will. Overall, it looks like we can put people into one of a few camps:
And, of course, most people are a combination of two of the above.
For my part, I’d say I fall into categories 4 and 5, with a sprinkling of category 2.
Which is to say, that I think depending on the goal, you can occasionally achieve the same result with whole foods as you can with a dedicated workout drink.
For other goals, I feel supplementation is superior—vastly so.
Finally, in looking at my history, I realize that there are people that I look to and into whose advice I put more stock than others.
Let me qualify this by saying that while I consider myself to have a very sound understanding of nutrition, I am by no means one of the “top” experts. Oh, sure, I have a sports nutrition certification, and I took some courses at the university level, but I don’t have an RD, or a Ph.D in nutrition or dietetics. I’m qualified to write diets and help people lose fat—in fact that’s a good part of how I help people achieve their goals and how I make my living.
So, while I am qualified to make decisions based on the research, I’m not the guy doing the research.
Most of what I’ve been able to do with my clients comes from years of observation, application, self-study (lots of time on PubMed) and of course a little experimentation using my own body as a laboratory.
Looking at it, though, I realize that while I’ve expanded on my initial ideas, those ideas HAD to originate somewhere—and, in truth, they have, and that “somewhere” is a “someone.”
When I first started learning about nutrition, I was exposed to Dr. John Berardi early on. Although I have obviously studied a lot of other nutrition experts, I have consistently looked at Berardi as THE source for me.
Well, a number of reasons.
1) A lot of other experts work with a general clientele. Berardi works with elite athletes of all stripes, from bobsledders to track athletes to NFL players. Given that I built the majority of my business in New York working with collegiate and professional soccer players, MLB pitchers, and a few college football guys, it always made more sense to listen to the guy who was working with the populations that were of interest to me professionally.
2) JB has been (and is) both big and ripped. A lot nutrition guys haven’t. I’m sorry, but that just fucking means something to me. Berardi has competed in sports and bodybuilding, and also done some modeling. Like me. Certain nutrition guys are ripped, sure, but are they big AND ripped? Have they stepped on stage? When I was training for bodybuilding, it made sense to listen to someone who’d done it and trained other people to do it.*
*NOTE: At that time, I hadn’t been exposed to guys like Shelby Starnes, who is a contest prep/diet guy who now writes for T-Nation and EliteFTS. Shelby is another dude who gets both big AND ripped, and does the same for others. I know people are going to bring up Martin Berkhan, and yes, that guy has an very fine physique. However, 10 years ago when I started in this business, Martin and I hadn’t been exposed to one another, and we were both still fat. Berardi was not.
I appreciate what a lot of other nutrition guys do, but since I work a lot with guys who want to do more than just see their abs, JB was my go-to guy.
3) Berardi is, quite honestly, better looking than any other nutrition expert on the planet. When all other things are equal, being better looking will ALWAYS win you the contest. Always.
And no, I’m not joking. It’s just the damn truth about the world.
NOTE: If it seems like I have a tremendous Man-Crush on Dr. Berardi, there is a very simple reason for that: I have a tremendous Man-Crush on Dr. Berardi. He’s been not only a great influence, but has also helped me with a number of facets in my career, including getting me started in fitness modeling. So, yea, I have a bromosexual crush on him, and yea, that makes me biased. That’s the beauty of my blog: I don’t always need to be objective.
4) Oh, and in case there was any level of doubt, Dr. John Berardi is the exceptionally well credentialed. In addition to having all of the certifications that most fitness professionals have, he’s also got a Ph.D in exercise biology and nutrient biochemistry. So basically, he’s the man.
All of that summarizes why I’ve consistently looked to JB for nutritional advice, and why you can see his influence so clearly in many of the things I recommend—including workout nutrition.
Less than one week after my Workout Nutrition post, Craig Ballentyne posted a segment of his interview with Big Bad Berardi that touched on exactly this topic. And, wouldn’t you know it? He talks about a lot of the same stuff I did in my post, albeit in a much more general way.
So, after reading the interview, I decided to get in touch with Berardi and see if he wanted to show the Roman Fitness Systems community some love. He agreed, so I sent him over some questions, and he, of course drops some knowledge bombs. His answers are to follow, and then posted below is my summary of the main points.
Roman: Okay JB, as I touched on in the introduction, a number of people seem to think that Workout Nutrition is as simple as eating a banana and having a turkey sandwich. Some of those people are getting pretty good results, so it’s hard to just recommend they stop.
I must imagine, though, that as one of the pioneers and a former supplement developer (note: JB designed the original version of Biotest Surge back in 2002), you don’t agree. On the other hand, in your recent interview with Craig, you said that for some populations, whole food is fine.
So this question has two parts – For which populations do you recommend a dedicated shake, and who can get away with whole foods? Give us the deets!
Secondly, can you talk a bit using something that is specifically formulated for workout nutrition vs. using just a whey powder and a carb drink?
Berardi: You know, I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember when post workout nutrition wasn’t a hot topic. That’s right, back in the mid-90s no one ever asked what they should be eating after a workout. They simply ate – for better or worse – however they ate during the rest of the day. And if their training was dialed in and their overall diet was sound, they got good results.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that the whole post-workout nutrition obsession is really a modern phenomenon. Which tells you that if you’re training right and eating properly, you don’t really *need* to do anything special in and around the workout. You can still look good, feel good, and perform well without special workout drinks.
Don’t get me wrong, though. There are certain circumstances where during and post-workout drinks can be really beneficial and make a significant different in terms of muscle adaptation and recovery.
[If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have spent 5 years of my life studying them in the research lab and a variety of designing different workout nutrition products.]
So, in general, I think workout drinks can be beneficial for the following groups:
Let’s face it: elite athletes train differently than recreational exercisers. They train for hours every day (vs. just 45 minutes or 1 hour). They are creating unusually strong demands on their nervous, muscular, endocrine, and immune systems. And they require huge calorie loads just to maintain body weight. As a result, elite athletes tend to benefit more from post-workout drinks than recreational exercisers. The extra hormonal and protein synthetic boosts can make a measurable difference for adaptation and recovery. And the extra, easy to consume calories can make it easier to maintain weight or even build new muscle.
People training for a strong physiological adaptation:
Of course, if you’re training like an athlete – although you aren’t necessarily getting ready for a pro sports season or the Olympics – you could probably benefit from workout drinks too. For the same reasons. The extra hormonal and synthetic fire-power can make a difference in your recovery and muscle adaptation efforts. But, keep in mind, it takes hard-core training to force physiological adaptations. 3-4 weight training sessions, lasting 45 minutes per week don’t necessarily qualify as elite training.
People who don’t eat enough food:
The other folks that might benefit are those who simply don’t eat enough food. And, trust me, through our Scrawny to Brawny coaching program I’ve met loads of them. Interestingly, there are people in the world who just don’t like to eat. In fact, eating is a major inconvenience for them. And for this type of person, who’s likely under eating protein and calories, workout drinks can provide a much-needed protein and energy boost at a key time of the day – after exercise.
For everyone else, workout shakes might still make an impact vs. a whole food meal post-workout. But probably not enough to make a measurable difference.
And, since the greatest test of what someone believes is what they do themselves, I do use a workout shake about 75% of the time. Generally, when training for muscle-building or maintenance, my shakes have about 25g protein, 50g carbs, and 5g creatine. And, I sip them throughout my workout, eating a whole food meal after. And, when training for fat loss, I use 15g BCAA and 5g creatine during my workout, eating a whole food meal after.
Roman: As an addition to that, for which goals is it more important to seek peri-workout nutrition, be it from supplements or whole foods. I imagine people who are trying to lose fat don’t need to eat half a turkey sammich in the middle of their workout. But for dudes trying to pack on the pounds…?
Berardi: In my opinion, if all else is equal, drinking your protein and carbs during exercise is usually better than drinking them after exercise. [Note: if you just can’t tolerate them during exercise, then, of course, wait till after.]
Physiologically speaking, when drinking protein and carbs during training, blood sugar can be better maintained – and this can either extend your efforts or help you perceive a higher intensity during your efforts. In addition, the amino acids will be delivered sooner during the recovery process – and this can lead to a quicker return to a positive protein balance.
Again, though, the same ideas above apply. These workout drinks aren’t exactly necessary unless you are training like an elite athlete for a specific physiological adaptation – or unless you don’t eat enough food and need the calories.
Roman: I have no intention of starting a war among the Big Boys of Nutrition, but Alan Aragon had a pretty well written (and funny) blog post where he made a comparative analysis of Biotest Surge to chocolate milk. What are your thoughts on that?
Berardi: If I’m not mistaken, I think his conclusion was that they’re pretty much end up doing the same thing – with neither having a distinct physiological advantage over the other.
If that’s the case…then when matched carb for carb, protein for protein, he makes a good argument. If the protein amount and the carb amount is the same, then there really shouldn’t be a major difference in terms of insulin or protein synthetic response.
It must be mentioned, of course, that there is no head-to-head piece of research comparing the two. So we really don’t know for sure. Remember, not everything that’s logical is physiological. But again, he makes a reasonable conclusion.
Either way, as lactose-intolerant guy, I can assure you there’s a major gastrointestinal difference! I can’t get near milk with a ten-foot pole. And I’d imagine a pretty significant portion of the people reading this can’t either. [For lactose intolerance rates by ethnic background, click here.]
Plus, as more and more research comes out showing that industrially processed milk might be loaded with nasty things, I’m a little more wary of milk these days that I was in the past.
Roman: In my first blog post about workout nutrition, I touched briefly on carbs of various ratings on the Glycemic Index. A few people in the industry seem to think it makes no difference. What are your thoughts on low GI vs. high GI carbs for peri- and post-workout nutrition? Is this one of those things where it’s specific to the population and the intensity with which a person trains?
Berardi: This is where things get really speculative – “theoretical physiology” is what I call it. And theoretical physiology is something I shy away from nowadays because I find it can do more to confuse and paralyze people than it can to empower them.
So, with only a small body of research comparing low GI vs. high GI carbs, during vs. after exercise, endurance vs. strength trained individuals…really, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess as to what’s better or worse. So I’ll leave that to the theoretical physiologists.
The one thing I will say is this: I’m guessing the differences here would be way too small to detect for a recreational exerciser. In other words, this might only be relevant to someone who’s training 5 or 6 hours per day and elite intensities. And, even at that level, there are usually a dozen or so things I’d try to improve before even considering whether I should add a low GI or high GI carb to the athlete’s workout shake.
Berardi’s Point: For general fat loss, a workout shake during your session will not impede progress, but is not essential. You can do the same with whole food. In fact, when Berardi is training for fat loss, he simply uses BCAAs and creatine during his workout, and whole food after.
Roman’s Response: I agree. I’ll offer the caveat, though, that if you’re dieting severely and training pretty hard, a PWO shake is a good way to have the bases covered so you don’t have to worry about it. This is what I do for my clients; in many cases they are leaving from the gym to go to work and don’t have time for a solid food meal. I prefer shakes in this instance because of convenience.
Berardi’s Point: Elite athletes or those training like athletes should be using a dedicated workout shake. This really goes for anyone training specific for “adaptation” –which for our purposes really means muscle gain.
For gaining muscle, especially if you are training hard, a workout shake (after and potentially during) made up of a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein is especially beneficial. Berardi uses this 75% of the time, along with 5g creatine.
Roman’s Response: Hellz to the yeah. For hard training people who are trying to gain muscle, having a shake after training is a great idea, and during the session is also helpful. I’ll also add in that I would follow this recommendation for anyone who is trying to simultaneously gain muscle while losing fat—recompostion efforts are supremely difficult, so for people who don’t have their nutrition really dialed in, a PWO shake can help meet their goals.
Addition to that…
Berardi’s Point: People looking for adaptation (again, those looking for muscle gain or training for athletics) can benefit from peri-workout nutrition moreso than most trainees.
Roman’s Response: Yup. Looking to grow? Drink it during your workout. Sweet.
Berardi’s Point: Shakes of all kinds—either meal replacements or workout shakes—can be of great benefit to skinny guys who don’t enjoy eating. They allow these trainees to get necessary calories with minimal time, effort, and actual food.
Roman’s Response: Who are these wacky people who don’t like to eat? Seriously. WTF?
Berardi’s Point: For someone training for endurance, a workout shake taken during the workout is the best option, as this will allow for a more productive training session.
Roman’s Response: Yup. Keep in mind, endurance training is everything from cycling to training for MMA to people unusually impressive sexual stamina. Just sayin.
Berardi’s Point: It’s inconclusive if high GI carbs are more effective than low GI carbs.
Roman’s Response: Go with what makes ya feel good.
This was a great conversation, and lots of great information. Hope you learned a lot and got some insight from the Dr. Berardi.
Leave your questions or insights below and we’ll answer them asap.
Question for you: has anything you’ve read about workout nutrition lately changed what you do? How, and why? Where did you read it?