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Campbell: People Aren't Just Eating Too Much, They're Eating 'Too Many Carbohydrates'

Posted Sep 12 2008 3:42am

Adam Campbell and Dr. Jeff Volek team up for new low-carb fitness book

The number of influential members of the health media today who believe in the efficacy of livin' la vida low-carb is ridiculously small in comparison to those who still subscribe to the same old failed high-carb, low-fat diet. That's one of the reasons I chose to start my blog and other media outlets because there is a noticeable vacuum in this medium that is begging to be filled.

It's rather sad that we have supposedly intelligent people purporting to know their stuff as it relates to diet, health, and fitness, but yet they hold on so tightly to an archaic belief. Isn't there ANYONE in the major health media who thinks on his own and has been watching all of the evidence in favor of low-carb diets come out over these past few years?

Yes there is! Enter Adam Campbell.

Adam individually stands out among his peers because he is unafraid and unashamed of shining the light of truth on the nutritional ruse that has been happening right in front of us for decades and quite frankly he is as sick of it as those of us in the low-carb community are. Writing for Men's Health magazine isn't a bad gig!

Today we are thrilled to have Adam here for an interview to talk about the low-carb lifestyle and why it deserves to have more attention paid to it for the sake of weight, health, and fitness. With his third book he co-wrote with respected low-carb researcher Dr. Jeff Volek on the way, you'll get some exclusive sneak preview quotes from this "explosive" (sorry for the pun!) new addition to your low-carb library!

Adam Campbell is certainly one to keep an eye on as livin' la vida low-carb becomes more and more accepted by our culture. And it is my estimation that he may very well be one of the reasons why it will happen sooner rather than later. Enjoy hearing from this young, energetic, and knowledgeable man of conviction today as he talks about living healthy--the low-carb way.

1. I am pleased to welcome to the "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog today author, journalist, and the Features editor for Men's Health magazine, Adam Campbell . He has had the opportunity to work in the research lab while earning his master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kansas and took part in studies about energy balance and human performance as it relates to athletes and overweight people. Today he is one of the foremost voices in the world of nutrition and fitness with his unique role at Men's Health. After discovering Adam was a supporter of low-carb, I can't help but ask the question, "How'd you manage to get on staff at such a powerhouse health publication like Men's Health?"

I got lucky. I was planning to get my Ph.D. in exercise physiology at the University of Kansas, and pursue a career in research. But for some reason, it didn't feel quite right. (Perhaps it was the tens of thousands of dollars in school loans it was going to cost to me.) So I opted out during the semester I was completing my Master’s degree.

A week later, I was scanning the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s career site, and noticed that Men's Health had posted a job for a reporter. I applied—I have a bachelor's degree in English—and somehow survived the interview process. Keep in mind, I was 29 at the time—and starting at the bottom rung of a new field.

2. Congratulations on your success so far in your writing career at Men's Health and I'm sure it will continue on for many years to come. Yours is a voice that is sorely needed in the health debate. Speaking of that, what an amazing column you wrote late last year about the failures of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) which garnered your fair share of criticism from them.

But you didn't back down from your thesis that a low-carb diet could very well be the cure diabetics have been looking for because you had the scientific and anecdotal support from people like Dr. Mary C. Vernon to support everything you wrote. Tell us why you felt compelled to address that controversial topic.


The main reason is that the current recommendations don't make a lot of sense. Why would you tell someone who can't tolerate carbohydrates—at least not without medication—to make them the foundation of their diet? It seemed that the ADA should at least present the alternatives to doctors and patients. Instead, they push diabetics to consume the same diet that you might recommend to an elite endurance athlete. Bottom line: I was frustrated. I know you and your readers can certainly identify.

3. Absolutely! I understand you are currently putting those stellar writing talents of yours to work on your third book in collaboration with low-carb researcher Dr. Jeff Volek from the University of Connecticut. What's the book called, when will it be available, what's it about, and why do low-carbers and people interested in health and fitness need to pay attention to it when it comes out?

The book is called Men's Health TNT Diet: The Explosive New Plan to Blast Fat, Build Muscle, and Get Healthy in 12 Weeks. TNT, or Targeted Nutrition Tactics, is just what it sounds like: specific nutrition (and exercise) strategies that enable you to reach your body composition goals as fast as possible. Essentially, it's what you should eat, and when you should eat it.

Not surprisingly, a low-carb diet is the foundation of TNT, since that's one of Jeff's primary research interests. It'll be available October 2nd from Rodale books.

In fact, you might call it an evolution of the classic low-carb diet, since it not only includes an exercise program, but also teaches you how to eat around your workout in order to optimize your results. While we provide several different eating plans in the book, our goal was to help readers understand the basic principles of why our strategy works. That way, they can tweak the diet for their lifestyle and goals. For instance, we talk a lot about glycogen in the book. Here's a quick exclusive excerpt for your readers:

"Glycogen is the name for carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles. An easy way to understand glycogen is to picture it as a storage tank for sugar, the form of carbohydrate your body uses for fuel. So just as you have fat stores, you also have sugar stores. However, unlike your fat stores, which are able to expand (read: you can get fatter and fatter), your glycogen tank has a limited capacity to store sugar. For instance, think of your car: If you own a midsize, you probably have about a 14-gallon fuel tank. Try to fill it with 20 gallons, though, and the other six would spill out onto the pavement. It's the same way with sugar and your glycogen tank.

And therein lies the problem: A full glycogen tank signals your body to use incoming carbohydrates for energy instead of your stored fat. Otherwise, your glycogen tank will overflow. As a result, your body not only stops burning fat, it starts conserving it—just in case of starvation. This is one of the main reasons for America’s growing obesity problem. Because most people’s diets are excessively high in carbohydrates, their glycogen levels are always at peak capacity. In turn, their bodies won’t allow them to use their stored fat for energy.

What’s more, there are also serious health ramifications to perpetually high glycogen levels. When excess carbohydrates from your diet can’t be stored as sugar in your glycogen tank, the overflow causes sugar to build up in your blood stream. The result: Chronically high blood sugar, which can damage the large blood vessels of your heart and brain, and the small vessels of your kidneys and eyes. As a consequence, your body starts shuttling the overflow of sugar to your liver, where it’s then converted to a blood fat known as triglycerides. If you’ve ever had blood work done, you might recognize triglycerides as one of the measurements that your doctor ordered.

And for good reason: Elevated triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease, and an early predictor of future diabetes. To make matters even worse, once sugar becomes triglycerides, or fat, it can be stored as fat. Ever been told carbs can’t make you fat? Think again.


Remember, this isn't to suggest that you can't eat carbohydrates without getting fat. It's to show what happens when you overeat carbohydrates, which most people are doing. For instance, if you look at dietary intake in the US over the last three decades from the Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), you'll notice an interesting pattern. In men, average daily energy intake during the early 1970s was 2450 calories. But by the year 2000, that number had increased to 2618. An even greater increase in calories was seen in women. Where did these extra calories come from? According to the NHANES data it was almost exclusively derived from carbohydrates. Interestingly, there were minuscule changes in the intake of protein and fat. (In fact, fat intake decreased in men.)

So sure, people are eating too much. But they’re eating too many carbohydrates, not too much protein and fat. And that's a glaring problem with the government’s nutrition recommendations—one that's seemingly being ignored.

4. Fitness is obviously one of your passions as you run an outstanding blog for Men's Health called "The Fitness Insider." You are an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, so you have an extensive book knowledge about how and why humans need exercise. But in the real world, most people can't seem to muster up the energy and commit themselves to a regular exercise routine. What advice can you share from your own experiences to help those who are reluctant to start their own fitness schedule? Also, is there an ideal mix of cardiovascular and resistance training that people should know about?

First, let’s talk about the commitment issue. I'm reminded of an interesting study that I wrote about in this story:

In June of this year, researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University, in the United Kingdom, released findings of a new study that looked at how exercise affects job performance. It worked like this: They asked 210 workers to provide feedback on their job-related duties and time management, on a day when they participated in an exercise program and again on a day when they did no exercise. They simply reported observations of their own behavior based on a 7-point scale. For example, they were asked to rate their ability to work without stopping for unscheduled breaks, and how effectively they were able to stick to their "to-do" lists. They also provided details about their workloads and exercise sessions. When the results were tallied, even the researchers were surprised.

Workers scored 15 percent higher in their ability to meet both time and output demands on the day they exercised. "What we found staggered us, and we were left wondering what companies might do otherwise to produce these 15 percent improvements," says Jim McKenna, Ph.D., the lead researcher.

Now consider for a moment what these numbers mean to you: On days when you exercise, you can -- theoretically, at least -- accomplish in an 8-hour day what normally would take you 9 hours and 25 minutes. Or you'd still work 9 hours, but get more done, leaving you feeling less stressed and happier with your job, another perk that McKenna says the workers reported. Obviously, the responses that led to these results were subjective. But it's hard to deny that perception is reality when it comes to job satisfaction. And a 15 percent boost in productivity might just give you a case for a similar boost in pay.

Besides showing how Hillman's laboratory findings are expressed in the real world, this study may also explain why busy men who regularly exercise are able to fit cardio into their schedules, while equally busy men who don't exercise claim they don't have the time. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee can relate to both sides of the story. In June 2003, he was sedentary and weighed 280 pounds; he now runs marathons and weighs 170.

"I've never found time to exercise," he says. "I make time."

Consider him a poster boy for what cardio can do for a man who's already good at his job. Huckabee, ever the conscientious politician, wants to be clear: He didn't have a problem keeping his schedule or accomplishing tasks before he started running. And it's true; this guy became governor in 1996 -- 7 years before he initiated his exercise program -- and was reelected twice along the way. It's just that he's even better now.

"I'm more creative, because I have mental energy. When I finish running several miles, it's like my mind is running on overdrive," he says. And, he adds, "It's made a dramatic difference in my ability to focus."


The only way to discover this yourself is to give it a try. But one of the big mistakes people make is to try to do too much in the beginning. Just get started—even if it's only 10 minutes for 3 days a week. The reality is that the less trained you are, the less you have to do to see a benefit. Of course, while you can improve strength or endurance quite quickly, it still takes time to see visible results. This is where people often get frustrated. So it takes some patience. In the TNT Diet, Jeff and I have this passage:

"A training program is only effective if you actually have time to follow-through with it. For instance, consider that U.K. researchers recently determined that men who lifted weights three days a week for 5 weeks increased muscle size by about 0.2 percent per day. Sure, this amount of growth is unnoticeable from day to day. But imagine how dramatic the cumulative effect would be were you to work all your major muscle groups three days a week, 52 weeks a year. This is called consistency, and it's the true key to achieving the most success possible on any exercise program.

If you work out 3 days a week, 52 weeks a year, you'll like the results. But few people make it beyond a month. Which is interesting because almost everyone will tell you they feel better—even great—after exercising. I guess our memories are pretty short.

One way to combat this lack of motivation is to make a deal with yourself: On days you don't want to work out, force yourself to complete all of the sets of your first exercise. If you want to call it a day after that, then feel free to hit the showers. However, much of the time, you'll find your mood has changed and you'll be motivated to complete your entire session. It seems the process of simply getting started—going to the gym, changing clothes, etc.—is our biggest obstacle.

As far as an ideal mix of exercise, that depends on your goals. If you're following a smart diet (ahem, TNT, ahem), then resistance training is going to make the best use of your time for fat loss. While everyone thinks that aerobic exercise is the best choice for this goal, we recommend weight training. Here's another bit from our book to help explain why:

You've Been Told: “Running is the best way to lose weight.”

The Origin: In 1977, Jim Fixx published The Complete Book of Running. This bestselling book popularized the notion of running to improve health and lose weight, and is widely credited with kicking off the jogging boom of the 1980s. Furthermore, most exercise scientists during this time were recreational or competitive runners themselves. As a result, running and other types of endurance activities were the type of exercise that was most often studied, particularly in terms of health benefits (and there are many).

And because these researchers reported that running burns a lot more calories than weight training—while requiring nothing but a pair of functional legs—the majority of experts began to widely promote it as the best mode of exercise for fat loss. However, they didn’t—and still don’t—have the data to support that assertion.
What Science Shows: First, it’s important to point out that engaging in a regular running program—or any kind of exercise for that matter—without also adopting a prudent diet is a very inefficient way to lose weight. After all, a typical fast food double-decker cheeseburger and large fries contain more than 1100 calories—a meal most red-blooded American men can wolf down in less than 5 minutes. However, to burn that many calories, the average guy would have to run for 53 minutes at an 8:30 per mile pace. Which is why your diet has a greater impact on total weight loss than exercise.

As we’ve already discussed, though, it's not simply weight loss that’s important—it’s the quality of your weight loss that matters most. That is, the amount of your weight loss that’s pure fat—since that’s what really counts. Perhaps surprisingly, endurance exercise—such as running, cycling, or walking—does little to further augment fat loss when combined with a good diet. Weight training, however, has a dramatic impact. Consider a study we conducted back in 1999. We put overweight men on a diet that was approximately 1500 calories a day, and then divided them into either a diet only group, a diet group that also performed endurance exercise, or a diet group that performed both endurance exercise and weight training.

After three months, each of the groups had lost almost the same amount of weight—about 21 pounds. But the quality of their weight loss was much different. The men in the weight-training group lost five pounds more fat than the other two groups. You might wonder how that’s possible when they all dropped the same amount of weight. The answer is that the men who dieted or dieted and performed only endurance exercise lost about 15 pounds of fat, but also lost several pounds of muscle. Those who lifted weights lost almost pure fat.

You see, weight training is a powerful tool when it comes to fat loss. Because it stimulates your muscles to grow, your body is less apt to part with your hard-earned muscle. This is crucial because the more muscle you have, the bigger your body’s fat-burning furnace. What’s more, if you lose muscle, you not only reduce your ability to burn fat, your glycogen tank becomes smaller. (Remember, most of your glycogen is located in your muscles.) So you have less room to store carbohydrates, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be converted to fat in your liver. Endurance exercise provides none of these benefits.

But what about the fact that running burns more calories than weight training? Turns out, when scientists at the University of Southern Maine used an advanced method to estimate energy expenditure during exercise, they found that weight training burns as many as 71 percent more calories than originally thought. In fact, the researchers calculated that performing just one circuit of eight exercises—which takes about 8 minutes—can expend 159 to 231 calories. That’s about the same as running at a 6-minute mile pace for the same duration. And just as important, research shows that weight training—unlike endurance exercise—can elevate your metabolism for up to 39 hours after your workout session.


As for overall health, adding a short interval training session after your weight workout or on the days in between is the most efficient way to boost your aerobic fitness, while burning even more fat than a slow to medium jog.

A lot of people become intimidated at the idea of intervals, which are short, high-intensity “sprints” interspersed with periods where you either rest completely or simply slow down. They shouldn’t be. For those who are “out of shape,” these sprints could be fast walk. It’s all relative to what’s intense for you. The best part of intervals is that they’re time-saving: You can do more physical work in less time than classic forms of cardio.

That said, if you really like running, by all means keep at it, as any activity that you enjoy is a great one to do. And there are certainly main health benefits to be achieved with regular aerobic exercise.

5. I recently interviewed a good friend of yours, the soon-to-be Dr. Cassandra Forsythe. Her work alongside Dr. Volek has been crucial in understanding the metabolic mechanisms that make the low-carb diet work extremely well for weight loss, normalized blood sugars, and many other health benefits. The impetus for her involvement in low-carb was a personal one--she's carb sensitive! How about you? What made Adam Campbell interested in livin' la vida low-carb?

In my 20s, before I went to grad school, I was working as a commodities trader at the Mercantile Exchange in Chicago. (I was really putting that English degree to good use!) Because the market I worked was only open from 8:30 to 3:15 (in those days, markets didn’t trade around the clock like they do now), I had a lot of time on my hands. So I spent it working out and going out—as in eating and drinking.

While I could tell I was putting on muscle from my gym work, I couldn’t figure out why I still had a gut. A smart friend suggested it was a nutrition problem (surprise!). So I hit the local B&N and picked up a copy of The Zone Diet by Dr. Barry Sears, which had just hit the bestseller list. At the time, I didn’t know the difference between a carbohydrate and a fat. So this was really the start of my nutrition education.

I dedicated myself to Dr. Sears’ eating plan, and was quickly amazed at the changes in my physique—and the way I felt. I continued to follow a Zone-friendly diet until I went to grad school about three years later. There, I enrolled in my first nutrition class, and soon found out that much of what Dr. Sears said was wrong!

I’m being facetious here, of course. But the point is that my formal nutrition education contradicted what I learned from The Zone. So I was constantly pondering this question: Was Dr. Sears “wrong,” or was it my college instructors and textbooks? Remember, this was when The Zone was still somewhat controversial, and the Atkins Diet wasn’t even being studied. In fact, Atkins was considered a health hazard, even more so than it is now (and typically by people who’ve never read the book).

In 2000, I started my career at Men’s Health. I hadn’t fully bought into everything I had been taught in college, but there was definitely some “brainwashing.” That’s when I started corresponding with Jeff Volek, and immersed myself in nutrition studies and books, which included re-reading the textbooks from grad school with a more discerning eye. The rest is just the logical progression of 7 years of continuing education.

6. As you have noted in your own education, we live in a society that worships the low-fat diet as the gospel truth. They have so demonized fat, especially saturated fat, that people are quite literally scared to death of it despite all the research showing the health benefits of fat consumption. What can be done to reverse the fat phobia that exists and how can we convince those same people that sugar and refined carbohydrates are very likely the culprit in their weight and health problems?

I’m not sure it will change anytime soon. Researchers like Jeff Volek, Richard Feinman, Eric Westman, Steve Phinney, Jay Wortman, and Ron Krauss are certainly providing the ammunition to blow away the saturated fat dogma, but it’s so heavily ingrained that it’s only people who have an open mind who will get it. People like you, Mike and Mary Dan Eades, Regina Wilshire, Gary Taubes, and Nina Teicholz (look for an article about saturated fat from her in the November issue of Men's Health ) are obviously raising awareness, though.

I really think the key is that people have to figure it out for themselves. It’s very hard to convince someone of the merits of a low-carb lifestyle if he or she has already decided that it’s unhealthy or impractical. All you can really do is present the science.

Of course, when faced with research that shows low-carb diets are better at lowering heart disease risk factors than low-fat diets, health “experts” always counter with the same argument: They simply point out that there isn’t any long-term data from experimental studies to support a low-carb recommendation. The reality, though, is that this type of research doesn’t exist for low-fat diets either.

7. Low-carb supporters can sometimes feel like lonely wanderers in a harsh and cruel world treating us as outcasts for our nutritional choice. Do you see anything monumental happening in the next few months and years that will serve to rekindle the fire in the low-carb community?

I think (and hope) that Gary Taubes’ ( Good Calories, Bad Calories ) book will help. But ultimately, these transitions are slow. One well-known scientist told me that he thinks it will be another 20 years before we see a paradigm shift. That might sound pessimistic, but you could think of it this way: We live in a society where people are going to eat poorly no matter what the recommendations.

And while those who choose not to eat poorly might not adopt a low-carb approach, they’ll ultimately find a diet that emphasizes whole foods, and discourages those that are highly processed or contain lots of added sugars. That’s a strategy that just about everyone promotes.

As an example, a nutrition expert I really respect, Alan Aragon, has said—and I’m paraphrasing here—you should eat as many carbs as you can tolerate. So if carbs aren’t a problem for you—you’re lean, you don’t overeat, you have plenty of energy, you sleep well, your blood work is good—who are we to tell you that you should cut back on them? Maybe you don’t need to.

But if you’re experiencing some of the negatives that can be associated with a higher carb diet—like high blood pressure, high triglycerides, or one of the other symptoms mentioned above—you may want to reconsider. Some people can tolerate lots of carbs, others can tolerate very few. For instance, a 245-pound bodybuilder who has 8 percent body fat can often handle a lot—they have bigger glycogen tanks due to their muscle mass, and also perform high amounts of physical activity. However, a 45-year old guy who’s packing 25 pounds of excess belly-fat and sits at a desk all day probably can’t. So your lifestyle and body type can make a major difference.

8. THANK YOU so much for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us today, Adam. It's nice to know there are people like Adam Campbell out there working on our behalf in the public forum sharing about livin' la vida low-carb in a non-threatening, yet assertive manner. I know it can't be easy being labeled a contrarian for not buying into the low-fat lie, but you are doing it! Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers to encourage and edify them to continue on with their low-carb way of life?

Don’t let anyone tell you what the right diet for you is. No one knows. In the TNT Diet, we encourage people to get blood work done before you start the diet, so that you have a baseline measurement. This way, you can see for yourself what’s happening to markers for heart disease risk, in addition to what happens in the mirror.

Just as important, you need to start monitoring how you feel when experimenting with a diet. We go into this in some detail in our book, but I discuss it in this blog post.

These are important factors to look at, but almost no one does this. They’re typically only interested in what happens on the scale. Interestingly, we’ve seen such great results from some people on our plan that the scale actually becomes deceiving. Here’s an example from the book:


He only lost 7 pounds, but look at the amazing difference!

“I had to keep tightening my belt.”

Name: Lucas Hutchinson
Age: 25
Height: 6’4”
Weight before: 250
Weight after: 243

If you were to judge Lucas Hutchinson’s results by the numbers on the scale, you wouldn’t be too impressed. After all, in 12 weeks on the TNT Diet and Exercise Plan, he lost only 7 pounds of body weight.

But remember, it’s body composition that matters. And by that standard, Lucas made one of the most dramatic transformations we’ve seen in any of our studies. That’s because he lost 19 pounds of fat, while packing on 12 pounds of muscle.

In fact, his results were so amazing that we double and triple-checked the readings to be sure they were correct. Not that we should have been that surprised: The change in his body was obvious. And not just to us: “In the first month, I noticed that my pants were fitting a little looser. As the study progressed, I had to keep tightening my belt, and it felt great every time I did it.”

Lucas added more muscle—a pound a week—than anyone in our studies to date. And although we can’t tell you exactly why—hey, everyone responds a little differently—we do know that he made a point to enjoy the meal plan. “The best part of the diet by far is the fat. I was able to use as much as I wanted, and it always made my meals taste better,” says Lucas. There’s an important lesson here: By not fearing fat, and eating all the calories that he desired, he allowed the TNT Diet and Exercise Plan to work its magic—diverting nutrients away from the fat depots that surround his belly, and toward the muscles of his chest, back, and legs.

What about his health? Judge for yourself. Lucas’ total cholesterol fell 17 percent and his triglycerides dropped an astounding 58 percent. On top of it all, there was another benefit: “I slept better and had more energy when I woke up,” he says.


People, well, guys mostly, always say they want to lose fat and build muscle, but when it actually happens, they can become frustrated because the scale doesn’t move faster. Sometimes that’s actually a good thing! (Thankfully, Lucas had the advantage of being in one of Jeff’s studies—so his body composition changes were measured using DEXA, the most sensitive technology available for tracking changes in body fat and muscle mass.)

Find more of Adam Campbell's thoughts about fitness and nutrition at his "The Fitness Insider" blog which will feature brand new posts starting Monday, September 10, 2007. And go ahead and PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF The TNT Diet today!

Labels: Adam Campbell, blog, carbohydrates, diet, fitness, health, interview, Jeff Volek, Jimmy Moore, low-carb, magazine, Men's Health, nutrition, The Fitness Insider, The TNT Diet

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