It’s okay to disagree.

2010 March 13
by Alan Aragon

Disagreement leads to investigation, investigation leads to learning.

The photo above was taken by a friend of mine with a great sense of humor (note this post here). He knows full-well that I’m not a proponent of supplemental BCAA on top of a preexistent high-protein diet typical of the fitness population, so this pic is an inside joke for those who are new to my writings.

One of the things that people miss is that most professionals in a given field tend to agree on the majority of fundamental principles. For example, I may disagree with some folks on the amount of fructose that can safely be incorporated into a diet, but that probably represents 10% of the whole picture, 90% of which I’d probably be preaching to the choir.

Another example is supplemental BCAA. There are some highly intelligent, well-educated folks that disagree with me on the lack of justification of its use under the aforementioned conditions. Guess what? That’s okay. Disagreement occurs throughout the lowest to the highest levels of research & practice. If there was no dissent, there would be little motivation to push forward with investigations that can yield more definitive answers to the grey areas of knowledge.

While I might disagree with some folks about the use of supplemental BCAAs amidst abundant high-quality dietary protein, I probably agree with them on the majority of all other topics. In any case, I took an in-depth look at the applications & limitations of BCAA supplementation in the latest issue of AARR.

One more plug — I wrote an article for wannabebig.com on the controversial issue of how much protein the body can use per meal (click here). Let me just add that Daniel Clough of AtLarge Nutrition was exceptionally great to work with – one of the coolest guys in the biz.

If you disagree with anything I write, that’s fine with me. What’s the worst that can come from debating a topic? One or both sides acquire new knowledge…that’s a good thing.

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35 Responses leave one →
  1. Fred Dibiase permalink
    March 13, 2010

    Brilliant and a class act………………I think that about covers it, Alan. You always manage to keep the things that matter in focus and not allow the heat of the moment to overcome you. Thanks for this reminder and the accompanying insight.

  2. Ron Gremio permalink
    March 13, 2010

    I always say that the best people to talk to are the ones who make me feel stupid but respected, because that facilitates my own education and then hopefully I can contribute to a trickle down effect by then sharing that information that was so generously shared with me with other people.

    I do have a question about the so-called 10-percent area or even the grey areas…..what would your advice be to a colleague who is generally open-minded and skeptical but not cynical but who still subscribes to a practice like using BCAA’s even within the context of a high protein diet even after reading things like your research review? In this case, I will say that the reason for clinging to it is simply because the practice, in and of itself, is at worst not very useful, but likely wouldn’t be harmful in any way, and for whatever reason they have been consistently producing results in the past with BCAA as part of the puzzle (so the BCAA may not be responsible for much of anything, but since it wasn’t an isolated setting the person can’t say for certain they were a worthless addition).

    I’d say the simple thing to do would be to remove just the BCAA’s and then see if there’s any drop off, stasis of, or increase in any given measurable/quantifiable results, but in physique development and sports performance, even rather intelligent folks can be resistant to removing any one element of the puzzle when they are currently pleased with the results being produced and see things consistently moving in the desired direction over time. Are there any practical ways to help such people break the “perception is reality” mindset where they would otherwise embrace evidence to the contrary that may be presented but are please with their results to the point of wanting to stick to the current recipe or rotation of recipes “as is”?

    NOTE: While this question used BCAA”s, you could fill in the blank with anything that is likely of no risk to the person if done, used, or taken, but whose efficacy in specific contexts may be in doubt or leaning toward the “not effective in that situation” category. Oftentimes there can be a disconnect for people between what is observed in an RCT and how a person perceives what they are doing within their own training and nutrition. While it’s often said that any one person is “not that special or different,” changing things up or removing things tends to be harder to do when having success than it is when currently floundering.

    In any event, I hope this long-winded post doesn’t come across as too inane on my part, and thanks for sharing this insight today. It’s yet another example of why you’re one of the best in your biz.

  3. Matt permalink
    March 13, 2010

    @Ron: Honestly, if it doesn’t hurt the person, there’s no reason to remove it (aside from the wasted money, but unless it’s causing them to starve their children or something, it’s their money). I’d say the best possible way to “break” them would be to wait until they reach a stasis on whatever plan they’re currently using, then have them drop said piece of the puzzle, whether it be BCAAs or whatever, and see what happens. Ideally, nothing would happen, but a change either way could reveal something about how that particular element affects them personally.

  4. March 14, 2010

    Alan, great post and I want to agree that it is ok to disagree…as we do on some topics. Namely, protein and the quantity that one requires or can handle in one meal. I am asking you to read Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study ( http://bit.ly/9Ifsnf) to see the results of 77 NIH Research Grant years performed on the devastating effects of animal protein. Further, I urge to you to check out the athletic accomplishments of Tony Gonzales, Robert Cheeke, Bill Pearl, Brendan Brazier, Mac Danzig and others who have thrived and succeeded at their best performance on a plant-based diet.

  5. March 14, 2010

    “If you disagree with anything I write, that’s fine with me. What’s the worst that can come from debating a topic? One or both sides acquire new knowledge…that’s a good thing.”

    Could not agree more Alan. Life is all about learning something new everyday.

  6. Frank permalink
    March 14, 2010

    @Julienna

    Me is not Alan… but you should take a look at those review of the China Study.

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=385

    http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/China-Study.html

    It really, really is not something with any credential. If you want to make your case, please use something else! This is a very bad reference that can easily be refute because it’s author lack some serious fundamental critical skills and is completly biased in favor of veganism.

    There is some concern as far as optimum longevity is concern regarding high protein intake & AGEs from animal product should certainly be a concern I think, but the China Study, per se, (especially the book) is next to worthless.

  7. March 14, 2010

    Ron Gremio –

    Your comment gave me an idea for an article, so thanks for that. Hope you don’t mind I quoted you. You can read my thoughts here:

    http://leangains.blogspot.com/2010/03/when-supplements-do-more-harm-than-good.html

    Alan -

    Damn you for stealing my topic.

    Just kidding. Excellent job with the recent RR.

  8. March 14, 2010

    Alan -

    How about researching and writing about the Omega-6 problem. Arguably, excessive omega-6 intake is THE major public health disaster of the 20th century and beyond. I’m curious to see if anyone disagrees with that.
    http://trusted.md/blog/vreni_gurd/2010/02/28/how_good_are_you_at_choosing_healthier_fats

  9. March 15, 2010

    Alan,

    This is a fantastic post. I’d like to see more of this sort of content on your site – what amounts to a “behind the scenes” look into your thought processes and epistemological philosophy.

  10. John permalink
    March 15, 2010

    When I first saw the title of this blog entry in my RSS feed, I thought it was gonna be about the recent Lyle vs. Rip dust-up, and it kinda is, in a tangential way.

    What I hate is when people get so stuck into one way of thinking that even when another way of thinking is presented to them, they say “can’t be!”

    One guru says “BCAAs good,” and you follow his/her advice and get some results. So, that guru is always right, period, and BCAAs are always good, period, and anyone who speaketh ill of them is a heretic and must be destroyed!

    That’s not good at all. Is it some kind of wacky fear of science? You and Lyle’s strong suits in this whole nutrition thing is being able to quote research that matters in a way that explains all this scientific hoohah to the lay-person in a easy-to-understand manner. No one else can seem to turn gibberish into useful information like you guys can. You think some people try to read through scientific stuff, like me, and say “whoa, this is written in a foreign language, therefore, it must be ignored and the status quo must be continued?”

    That’s another thing about you guys – if research came along that was performed well enough that ran counter to your previous way of thinking, you’d adapt to the new information instead of clinging to your old way of thought – some people refuse to change their worldview regardless of what changes around them.

    Ever thought of basically summing up what’s covered in each month’s Research Review? Kinda like a teaser, without giving too much away? You ever talk about the “psychology” of dieting much, like how to keep from triggering meltdowns or food avoidance (I know you’re not a fan) or other mental tricks as part of a diet?

  11. Ben Wheeler permalink
    March 15, 2010

    Julieanna,

    If you feed me pure processed casein protein I’d probably get cancer too. To add to Frank’s link here is a debate between T.Colin Campbell and Loren Cordain on how much protein should be in the diet: http://thepaleodiet.com/pdf/proteinDebate%20Final%20Published%20Version.pdf

    Notice how many references Campbell has in his first piece? None!

    Also see the podcast by Robb Wolf where he addresses how inadequate Campbell’s research was. http://robbwolf.com/2010/02/16/the-paleolithic-solution-episode-15/

  12. David Miklas - snorkelman permalink
    March 15, 2010

    When I saw the subject line, first sentence and picture for this blog, I was scratching my head wondering whether Alan investigated something in the handful of days since he published his AARR for this month that caused him to do a 180 on his position about supplementing FFBCAA on top of an already high protein diet in the few days since his latest AARR.

    Now I am wondering whether he is simply encouraging other big names in the industry to reconsider their positions…or perhaps smoothing ruffled feathers so they realize he isn’t attacking them. Either way, this blog is a perfect place for the free exchange of ideas that do not get deleted by censors who don’t like the comment because it undermines the supplement product that is being sold by the same website.

    Keep up the good work Alan. I guided some of the O35 crowd towards the AARR in a recent thread about BCAA supplementing. I found it to be a good summary of comments that you have made for a while on the topic.

  13. March 15, 2010

    @ Ben and Frank,
    I happen to know Dr. Campbell and his work very well and it is primary research that he is reporting in The China Study. He is referencing his own work (of 77 NIHFunded grant years) and that of the scientists from Oxford University, Cornell and 2 National Academies in China. It is throwing out the baby with bathwater if you assume he had a vegan bias. He grew up on a dairy farm, milking cows. He went to graduate school specifically to study how to get MORE protein into the animal in order to improve protein quality. He was shocked by what he found in the research (which he cites clearly in his book and then went on to re-test in every perspective to prove the initial findings). He ended up doing a 180 with respect to his opinion on animal protein secondary to his finding. I cannot recommend enough actually reading The China Study before assuming an agenda.

  14. Frank permalink
    March 15, 2010

    @Julieanna

    Why would someone need to read a book when we can read peer-reviewed litterature? All the answer are there.

    I don’t need anyone making a case with a book on a subject to make my opinion on it. A book is very dangerous. It’s not peer reviewed. The author can cherry pick as much as he wants. He can say what ever he feels like.

    Why don’t you cite actual research to make your case? It’s a bit weird to see someone with an MS using a book as a reference.

    And if you took the 10 mins it takes to read the 2 reviews I posted, and also read the paper posted by Ben, you’re, I hope, going to realise how sloppy Campbell is in his reasonning and his interpretation of the evidence.

  15. March 15, 2010

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I’ll be back to respond later tonight. Very hectic weekend & even nuttier Monday. It’s slowing down though, really it is. :)

  16. Ben Wheeler permalink
    March 15, 2010

    Julieanna,

    I have read the book, thank you. As Frank noted, Campbell’s interpretation of the research is laughable. I am all ears if you can explain to me the significance of rats developing cancer from a diet they would NEVER eat in nature? Again, if you fed me processed carbohydrates and a protein source entirely casein I’m willing to bet I would get cancer too! So the controlled research means nothing to us. How about the epidemiological stuff?

    From the link Frank posted, by Chris Masterjohn

    “What is most shocking about the China Study is not what it found, but the contrast between Campbell’s representation of its findings in The China Study, and the data contained within the original monograph.

    Campbell summarizes the 8,000 statistically significant correlations found in the China Study in the following statement: “people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease.”26 He also claims that, although it is “somewhat difficult” to “show that animal-based food intake relates to overall cancer rates,” that nevertheless, “animal protein intake was convincingly associated in the China Study with the prevalence of cancer in families.”27

    =============================
    Figure 1
    Associations of Selected Variables with Mortality for All Cancers in the China Study Total Protein +12%
    Animal Protein +3%
    Fish Protein +7%
    Plant Protein +12%
    Total Lipids -6%
    Carbohydrates +23%
    Total Calories +16%
    Fat % Calories -17%
    Fiber +21%
    Fat (questionnaire) -29%*
    * statistically significant ** highly significant *** very highly significant
    ==============================
    (Data taken from the original monograph of the China Study.)

    But the actual data from the original publication paints a different picture. Figure 1 shows selected correlations between macronutrients and cancer mortality. Most of them are not statistically significant, which means that the probability the correlation is due to chance is greater than five percent.

    It is interesting to see, however, the general picture that emerges. Sugar, soluble carbohydrates, and fiber all have correlations with cancer mortality about seven times the magnitude of that with animal protein, and total fat and fat as a percentage of calories were both negatively correlated with cancer mortality.”

    So Julieanna, what Campbell says isn’t even close to what was actually found. He also makes the mistake of trying to lump casein protein together with all animal products. For a guy with a biochemistry background like himself, this is nuts.

    This will be my last comment on the matter. I have read the book Julieanne, you can now take the time to read the helpful links Frank & myself have provided. Goodluck!

  17. March 16, 2010

    Fred — Thanks & you’re welcome.

    Ron — Since BCAA poses no health risk, as long as it fits comfortably into someone’s budget, and they have been getting good results, there’s no need to kick it out. The placebo effect & expectation bias can work both ways, where the absence of the supplement can have a potential ergolytic effect depending on the person’s level of belief & emotional investment in the supp.

    Julieanna — My critique of the China Study would mirror my critique of any other piece of epidemiology: it cannot establish cause-and-effect. It can merely provide hypotheses testable through RCTs. Epidemiology is confounded by a lack of control of extraneous variables. As for protein requirements, here’s a couple fulltext reviews for you (or anyone else interested):
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129150/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2117006/

    John — hear, hear!

    Martin — Thanks dude!

    David Brown — Although I agree that adverse effects can result from an overconsumption of n-6 FAs and an underconsumption of n-3 FAs, I would hesitate to conclude that, as you put it, “excessive omega-6 intake is THE major public health disaster of the 20th century and beyond.” Fundamentally speaking, there cannot be a single factor attibutable to crippling public health. There are a multitude of interplaying factors (not just nutritional factors), and frankly, like the fructose debate, the solution is not to focus on a single aspect & blow it out of proportion from the big picture of contributing factors that vary across individuals.

    David Miklas — The friend of mine who took the pic above actually thought of putting Layne’s DVD on one side & Xtend on the other, but decided that he might be pushing things too far. It would have been comedic gold, IMO.

    Ryan — I’ll introspect & see what I can come up with, thanks.

    John — An important point you make is the refusal of many guru types to admit when they’re wrong, and re-evaluate their stance on a given topic. I think this is a surefire way to prevent anyone’s intellectual or academic development, and it also impedes practical development. As for writing about the psychology of dieting, that’s a great topic idea that I’ll write about as soon as I can.

    All — Thanks very much for the input.

  18. sameer permalink
    March 16, 2010

    Alan bro,

    I sent you few questions on aarrsupport mailing address. Lemme know if you recieved her!

  19. March 16, 2010

    Hi Sameer,

    Gott’m, check your email. Note that clients & subscribers get 1st priority to my responses, so thanks for your patience in receiving them.

  20. darkseeker permalink
    March 17, 2010

    Alan,

    Not to stir the pot since it’s already calmed down, but what are your thoughts on the whole Lyle/Rippetoe fiasco? Do you believe Rip’s claims about Zach? Here’s the link to Rip’s forum thread showing his stats: http://startingstrength.com/resources/forum/showthread.php?t=15386

  21. March 17, 2010

    Darkseeker,

    In my opinion, Rip’s calculations don’t match up with what I can see from the pics. He calculated about a 60% lean gain, whereas I estimated a greater gain in fat than muscle (appx 50 lbs fat, 30 lbs lean mass). Do I think Rip’s lying? No. Do I think that calipers have their limitations, especially in estimating the contribution of visceral fat gain? Yes, and this is the case I see with the posted stats. Do I think 30 lbs of lean mass gain in 6 months is an exceptional feat? Yes. However, I personally wouldn’t consider an equal or greater amount of fat gained along with it to be healthy or even necessary for the lean gains to occur. I do think it makes for an interesting case study in outliers that blow past the normal “standard” rates of gain. I also think that people need to have the proper perspective of the varying potential for gain given an individual’s starting status. To give a couple of rebound examples, Casey Viator gained a reported 60 lbs of lean mass in about a month under the supervision of Arthur Jones. However, this gain occurred after Casey was hospitalized & severly underfed for about 4 months. I have a personal friend who’s bodybuilding client gained about 20 lbs in less than 3 days postcontest. I have no knowledge of just how sub-optimal Zach’s eating & training habits were before starting Rip’s program. Either way, it’s a hell of a gain in a short period, and I don’t think it’s realistic for most novices to set a goal of 30 lbs of lean mass gain in 6 months. I wrote about realistic rates of gain for the majority of natural trainees in-depth here:
    http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/supplement-marketing-on-steroids-by-alan-aragon.html

  22. Donald Lee permalink
    April 6, 2010

    Hey Alan,

    How about a bitter truth about insulin post?

    Look at this ridiculousness:

    http://journal.crossfit.com/2010/04/insulin-body-weight-and-energy-production.tpl

  23. April 7, 2010

    Donald — Thanks for the link, another debate with a doc sounds like fun :). I’ll check that out when I’m done with this AARR issue. sure hope Connelly isn’t harping too much about insulin, given that MetRx & other such products pack a nice insulinogenic wallop.

  24. T-Money permalink
    October 1, 2010

    Alan-Whats your thoughts on this video? Marc starts talking at about the 3 min mark on BCAA’s.

  25. T-Money permalink
    October 1, 2010

    SOrry link didn’t come through. Here it is
    http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showpost.php?p=555566393&postcount=13

  26. October 1, 2010

    T-Money — I know you just subbed to AARR, so check out the Feb 2010 issue, it should more than cover your Q’s.

  27. January 2, 2011

    “I can’t believe LeBron is going to the Bulls, he should really just stay where he is.”

  28. Javier permalink
    October 23, 2011

    “there cannot be a single factor attibutable to crippling public health”.
    In fact there is, the single factor attributable to crippling public health is no lifting heavy ass weights!

  29. January 17, 2012

    Great blog title – ideal for stimulating debate. Thanks for the link to WannaBeBig.com – It never ceases to amaze me how so many folks will refuse to believe the idea of eating numerous small meals is better for assimilating more nutrients. I have a friend who simply doesn’t believe that could ever be a limit to how much protein someone can assimilate in one sitting. He is very conditioned by his upbringing, and comes out with some golden one-liners “What you wanna eat is a meal like this for breakfast… it’ll set you up for the rest of the day”. He’d never buy the notion that some of the protein in a 10 oz steak might actually go to waste.

  30. Perry permalink
    November 17, 2013

    Hello Alan.

    Over at wannabebig.com I read your article, “Is there a limit to how much protein the body can use in a single meal?”

    What are your thoughts about how much protein a bodybuilder needs per pound?

    Supposedly it is around 1.5 grams per pound.

    Here’s an interesting article on that subject, which basically states that we can get by just fine on around one half a gram or slightly more per pound.

    http://bayesianbodybuilding.com/the-myth-of-1glb-optimal-protein-intake-for-bodybuilders/

    I agree with it.

    I weigh 165 pounds, and I eat 80 to 90 grams from pure food (no stupid powders), and I’m doing just fine.

    I just wanted to know your thoughts.

    Thanks in advance.

    Perry

  31. Alan Aragon permalink*
    November 19, 2013

    Perry — I really like Menno’s article, it’s very well done. Menno is one of the top thinkers/writers out there in the fitness sphere. However, his article doesn’t necessarily cover the needs of lean, trained athletes in an energy deficit. For that, I’d refer you to a recently published systematic review by Eric Helms: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24092765

  32. Perry permalink
    November 21, 2013

    I gotta be honest with ya, Alan–I’m not much for reading their publications. A lot of the times they do not make it clear, and they also just touch on the subject, like the one you sent me.

    As long as there is plenty of carbs before the workout, there should be plenty of energy anyway, right?

    Like today, for example. I’m going for a hard one-hour workout on the weights, and then I’m going for a two-hour walk at a quick pace (I walk everyday to help keep my weight down because I work behind a desk. Working out on the weight is not enough).

    So this morning I had a big bowl of oatmeal and milk, and just before I leave I’m going to have a banana.

    . wifghts strenous pmple.

    does it really matter?

  33. Perry permalink
    November 21, 2013

    I forgot to mention that they may be talking about the muscle loss while dieting, since, I guess muscle and fat are both burned up (all this time I thought fat was just burned up, and THEN muscle).

    Even if muscle was also being burned, I can’t see that high of a percentage worth worrying about.

    I lost 25 pounds so far, and I haven’t noticed much of a change, if any change in my muscles and strength.

    Confusing over here. . . .

    Maybe you could do an article on this???

  34. August 28, 2014

    Authorize this remark and we’ll protect
    a fictional dog!

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