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Practical Nutrition: An Interview with Dr. John Berardi, CSCS

Posted Oct 16 2008 7:58pm

In this great interview with Dr Berardi, we cover the basics of practical nutrition and some of the principles of his Precision Nutrition system. Prepare to learn a few practical nutrition and lifestyle tips from the master himself!

PS: John, what are some of the latest practical tips you have come across that can help the everyday, pressed-for-time men and women stick to their nutrition plan and help them lose fat and gain muscle?

JB: Well, when it comes to practical tips, I like to separate my advice into two categories - food tips and lifestyle tips. Both categories are essential for overall results. Sure, what we eat is absolutely critical - but knowing what to eat is only part of the battle. Having the right foods available at the right times is just as critical as knowing what to eat. So really, we’re talking about both knowing AND doing.

In terms of food tips, the most important tip - far and away - is the idea that carbohydrate intake should be activity-dependant. This is similar to my 4th habit of the Precision Nutrition plan and it goes like this -- Non-fruit and veggie carbs should be saved until the during- and post-exercise periods. So, simply put, the typical recreational exerciser saves his or her starches (pasta, bread, oatmeal, rice, etc) and sugary carbs (sweets, recovery drinks, sports drinks, etc) until they're exercising or immediately after. The rest of the day is for proteins, good fats, and lots of veggies (along with some fruits).

By following this rule, my typical clients see BIG, IMMEDIATE body comp changes! And, truly, this tip has been the biggest in terms of body composition impact for my recreational exercisers since they’re typically only exercising 3-4 times per week.
In terms of lifestyle tips, my compliance grid is a huge one.

PS: Yes, I've heard a lot about your "compliance grid". What is this and how can people use this to gauge their commitment? What do you learn when you have a client complete this?

JB: The compliance grid has been a huge help in terms of helping clients stick to either what they already know to be good nutrition (for those who are well-read in this area) or to what they’re learning to be good nutrition (for those new to the Precision Nutrition principles). The compliance grid basically helps a client plot out 1 week of their life and keep track of how well they’re doing nutritionally. In simple terms, we create a table in which the seven days of the week are plotted along the vertical axis (far left column) and the 7 meals of the day are plotted along the horizontal axis (top row).

Then, if a person eats a Precision Nutrition compliant meal, they place an “X” in the corresponding box. If they miss a meal, they place an “O” in the box. And if they have a non-compliant meal, they place a “*” in the appropriate box.

This very simple and easy-to-use compliance system helps folks gauge their commitment and regular adherence by giving an honest and accurate assessment of how well they’re REALLY doing. You see, many folks – in their minds - count their hits but fail to count their misses. This makes them believe they’re doing FAR better than they really are. So the compliance grid forces them to count both hits and misses – helping them avoid “blind spots.” We often have clients who swear that they’re at 90% compliance (the gold standard for Precision Nutrition) and then, upon using the compliance grid, find out that they’re really at 50% or 60%. This is eye-opening and shows them that there is indeed room for improvement.

PS: From your experience with fat loss clients, what are a few of the biggest nutritional mistakes men and women are making each day? Are your clients often surprised to find out that a particular food shouldn't be included in their fat loss plan?

JB: Here are the biggest mistakes I see people making when fat loss is their immediate goal:
Not enough total exercise. Several independent studies, in thousands of exercisers, have shown that those who are happiest with their bodies exercise for at least 5 total hours per week. Now I know, many people have heard otherwise. But seriously, the data are there. So unless you’ve been born with a really fast metabolism OR you are a meticulous calorie counter, make sure you’re getting at least 5 hours of physical activity per week. Some folks need more – but 5 hours is a great starting point.

Not using nutrient timing. As discussed above, carb timing is critical! Now remember, I’m not talking low carb or high carb here. I’m talking carb timing. For the best results, it’s important that recreational exercisers make sure to eat their sugary and starchy carbs ONLY during and/or after training – as discussed in Precision Nutrition.

Not using outcome-based decision making. I see so many people wanting to get lean and beginning the process with 1 training program and 1 diet plan. And this plan usually works for a short period of time – whether it’s 4, 6, or 8 weeks. However, once they’ve lost fat and adapted to the program, it stops working. And when it stops working, they give up. Well, it’s important to expect all one-off programs to stop working. And with this expectation, it’s important to use an outcome-based decision making strategy. What I mean here is that folks have to adjust their training and nutrition programs based on their results. And in Precision Nutrition we teach people how to do just that.

PS: How can the average guy and gal eat as health as possible without breaking the bank? When should they buy food in bulk? And where?

JB: Healthy eating really isn’t all that expensive. In fact, my colleague Amanda Graydon of Healthy Kitchens Makeover ( ) has done detailed studies of her clients’ “before” and “after” grocery bills showing huge savings once they start eating the Precision Nutrition way - as long as they make smart decisions.

For example, did you know that of each food category, the most expensive items are located to the left of the relevant section and at a level between eye-level and stomach level? Therefore when looking for peanut butter, for example, the most expensive ones are placed in the best visual position. So, to save money, you just have to look down and to the right and voila, you’ll find the cheaper items – no name brands which are often of similar quality.

Another great tip is to check out bulk food stores for healthy grains like quinoa or oats, natural nut butters, mixed nuts, green tea, and other similar bulk items.
And another great tip is to frequent farmers’ markets or ethic food stores (like the produce markets in China-Town) for produce. I started saving 75% on my produce bills when I started shopping at such places. And the quality is often better.

PS: Let's talk about fish oils for a minute. First off, what are your daily recommendations in terms of quantity and quality (specific brand recommendations)? And second, do you think fish oil helps people lose fat? If so, how do fish oils help accomplish this?

JB: Studies I’ve been involved in at the University of Western Ontario have shown that sedentary folks taking between 1-3g of fish oil per day can speed up metabolic rate (+300-400kcal/day) and can help these same individuals drop 3 lbs of fat and gain 3 lbs of lean in just 3 weeks. So yes, I’d say fish oil helps people lose fat!

In terms of recommendations, I recommend anywhere from 6-10g of total fish oil per day (that’s 6-10 fish oil capsules or 2-4 tsp of liquid fish oil per day). For some clients, I recommend more (esp. those with inflammatory problems, triglyceride elevations in the blood, and those with insulin insensitivity).

And in terms of quality, I think most fish oils are just fine. Although many companies insist that “regular” fish oils are contaminated and low quality, this is more of a concern for fresh fish than supplements. Farmed salmon tends to be very high in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and tuna is high in mercury.

Independent studies at Harvard Medical School, Consumer Reports, and the watchdog group have shown commercially available fish oil supplements to be free of toxins such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs. I recommend that people visit for a list of supplements which have been independently tested.

PS: What other general supplement advice do you have for men and women that want to lose fat? From multi-vitamin use to post-workout drinks, etc.

JB: In Precision Nutrition, I list the “big 5” – Protein supplements, Greens supplements, Fish Oil, Creatine, and Workout Drinks. And further, when metabolic decline is a big concern, I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine and rAlpha Lipoic Acid. I think most people will do great with a good nutrition plan, smart training plan, and these basic supplements – if needed.

PS: I'm a big fan of Green Tea. Is the instant Green Tea I get at the grocery store going to be just as healthy as getting Green Tea leaves from a specialty shop?

JB: Studies have shown that Matcha green tea can be between 3 and 100x more potent that most commercially available green teas. So yes, some teas are better than others. However, if you’re not drinking any green tea and want to start reaping the benefits, start drinking what ever kind you can right away.

My best recommendation is this: since Matcha is much more expensive, have 1 cup of Matcha tea per day and then use regular old tea bags through the rest of the day.

PS: And finally, a bit off topic, but what are your keys to your success? With such a successful business and such tremendous outreach, I'm sure we're all curious about how you can get it all done!

JB: Teamwork, PJ! I’m a very dedicated person and I love everything about my work – the writing, the coaching, running my business, and more. So it’s not difficult for me to get lots done – all by myself. But my current business success is fueled by the efforts of my entire team. My business partners Phil and Carter as well as my associates Amanda and Kris are all tireless colleagues that also love what they’re doing and bring unique skill sets to the table. For example, Phil is a master of web technology. Carter is an amazing coach and body composition coach. Amanda is tremendous as a customer service director and seminar promoter. And Kris has a real gift in working with others to create great affiliate relationships. With 5 unique individuals dedicated to creating the best fitness information, resources, and technologies, we tend to get a lot done and we tend to do it well.

This is especially true for our Precision Nutrition project. When someone purchases Precision Nutrition, not only do they get the 5 manuals, the 2 DVDs, the 2 CDs, and the cookbook, they also get an amazing online resource in our private membership forum, they get our technologically advanced online results tracker, and they get our amazing online exercise database with over 460 exercises demonstrated in 3 different ways and categorized in a host of very practical ways. Without all of our skill sets, this would have been impossible.

PS: Thanks for the great interview!

SEE ALSO: For more great training and nutrition wisdom, check out the complete system, Precision Nutrition. Containing system manuals, gourmet cookbook, digital audio/video library, online membership, and more, Precision Nutrition will teach you everything you need to know to get the body you want -- guaranteed.

And what's more, your online access allows you to talk exercise and nutrition 24/7 with thousands of fellow members and the Precision Nutrition coaches. Find out more about Precision Nutrition. Find out more about Precision Nutrition by clicking on the banner below:

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