The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t always a model student. My original objective for getting a degree in nutrition was pretty frivolous – to have a unique credential among personal trainers. Amazingly enough, I intended to make a life of personal training – which didn’t end up panning out. Based on the evidence, I was destined to be glued to the computer rather than hands-on client work at the gym. Anyway, the point is, my underlying goal for the nutrition degree was to just get it over-with, so I could be more marketable than most personal trainers. In contrast to my lackadaisical waltz (& mediocre performance) through the undergrad, I got straight-A’s through my master’s degree in nutrition because I was actually interested in the topics. Timing is important; interest can’t be forced.
The class that shaped my future
The most profound change in my educational enthusiasm occurred during my graduate work in nutrition, in a research methods class. I had a professor in the late 1990′s named Brian Koziol, who had a brief stint as a part-time professor at CSUN. At the time, he was employed at Amgen, and as far as I know, he still is.
Brian Koziol’s passion was research — more specifically, dissecting it. What makes a good study? What makes a not-so-good one? What constitutes a true butcher-job of a study in terms of external and/or internal validity? Koziol actually tried to get the class interested in picking apart the strengths and weaknesses of studies. I’d say he succeeded with a handful of the class, but the majority were sort of lost on the point. In my opinion, he forgot to get across to the class why this exercise was important in the first place.
If I were to teach his class, I’d begin with the philosophy of science, and then move into the continuum of evidence. Heck, I’d even burden the class with the philosophy of evidence. I’d sincerely ask the class if they believed that science as an underlying philosophy is important, and why. I’d also belabor the elements of scientific thought, and why this is important in the battle against the bullshit products and protocols that pervade the health & fitness industry.
Perhaps not too surprisingly for those who’ve followed my work, Koziol’s research methods class was my single greatest career influence. There were other catalysts (such as the work of Lyle McDonald) that led to the materialization of my research review, but Koziol’s class – which I took more than a decade ago – was the foundation for that.
Notes for the students
Back to my presentation at the career symposium… Each year it forces me to introspect upon what makes me tick, and what makes my career something I happen to be very happy with. Here’s a relay of some of the important bits of advice I threw at the students:
- Come to grips with what it is you’re absolutely nuts about (not just vaguely interested in). This is what you should be doing as a career. Try to recall the last time you did an exceptional job at something you couldn’t give half a crap about, and my point becomes clear.
- It’s ideal to match your interests with your talents, but skill can always be developed; whereas the desire for a particular job cannot always be developed. Do not pursue a career merely because you think it’s a prudent or safe choice. This naive capitulation has been the kiss of death for many.
- There’s a market for EVERYTHING, but just be aware of how large or small that market is, in order to estimate your earning potential.
- Experience builds confidence. Don’t expect to be polished right off the bat. Get in the trenches, get dirty, but try to learn as much as you can from the mistakes of your predecessors. The career series I wrote to kick off this blog should give anyone contemplating a fitness career ample food for thought.
- Your perception of success will change over time. Your interests & goals will evolve over time. It’s crucially important to be aware of this metamorphosis and act upon it regularly. We get so caught up in the mind-numbing routine of our work week, that it’s easy to lose touch with where we are, versus the direction we need to be moving. The solution? Do a “blank sheet day” at least once a year. This is an idea I got from a highly successful friend of mine, Daryl Wizelman. What you do is block out an entire day once a year to be by yourself. The whole day – with no one around you. I know that this is a horrifying concept, but bear with me. Get a paper notebook (not something with internet access), and get yourself out into a secluded area (a park, abandoned wherehouse, etc – whatever it takes to be alone), and VERY SPECIFICALLY write out your dream lifestyle. I’m not talking about compromising here, I’m talking about having the balls to actually fantasize for a moment about what type of life would make you truly happy. This obviously is gonna vary, but in all cases, be honest with yourself about what it is. Answer questions like: Where do you want to live? What do you want to spend your day doing? How many days a week do you want to work? What kind of life & career have you always dreamed about having, and what SPECIFIC steps can you take to get there if you’re not there yet? What sacrifices do you need to make? How do you want to give back charitably once you get the means to do so? How do you want to be remembered? Then, review your plan regularly through the year. I’ve been doing this “blank sheet day” exercise annually for the last 3 years now, and suffice it to say that I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has helped me personally. I’m also consistently entertained by how much my goals & general perspective changes.
- If you are enjoying the process of pursuing your goals and crafting your career, you can consider yourself successful. This principle is hammered so very eloquently by Robert Hastings in his essay called The Station. As cliche as it sounds, the destination is far less important – and certainly far less real - than the journey. Life is merely a succession of days. What you do with each day determines the kind of life you’ll create, and ultimately the kind of life you’ll look back on.
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. For the record, their product Opticen is the best-tasting MRP I’ve tried thus far. I’ve been plowing through that stuff like a starved POW.
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.
After 300 comments and counting, it’s safe to agree with Nigel Kinbrum that my recent critique of Dr. Robert Lustig’s fructose lecture “has caused a bit of a stir in the nutritional blogosphere.” The intense debate (& discussion) that ensued inspired me to re-cap some things I feel were most interesting. There was plenty of learning to be had on both sides of the fence. Here are the highlights as I see them:
- Dr. Lustig showed up, to the excitement and anticipation of all, including me. He went 3 rounds with me, which was actually more than I expected.
- In round one, he defended his position using survey data that was contrary to the ERS/USDA data, which is well and good. I don’t disagree that survey data in general is pretty messy and equivocal, not to mention, incapable of establishing causal relationships. He then repeated his claim that the Japanese diet contains no fructose outside of fruit. Perhaps due to hasty error, he says, “That is what we are talking about here; added dietary sugars; not endogenous ones.” I’m going to assume he meant to say intrinsic sugars, not endogenous sugars. In any case, this idea that the Japanese do not add sugar to their diets is completely false – regardless of which regional or traditional aspect of Japan you’re talking about (this actually was never specified). He also mentioned the revised recommendations of the American Heart Association (AHA), which David Gillespie follows up on towards the end of the discussion, where the full picture is omitted until I post it up (I’ll get to that).
- In my rebuttal to Lustig’s initial comment, I first point out the limitations of epidemiological data, as well as Lustig’s neglect of the numerous factors that have contributed to a reduction in energy expenditure, such as, “an increase in sedentary occupations; an increase in two-income households and single-parent households; transportation and infrastructure changes that discourage physical activity; a decrease in PE classes and extracurricular sports programs in schools; an increase in sedentary forms of entertainment (i.e. TV/movie viewing, video games, internet, etc.); demographic changes (i.e. aging population, immigration, etc.); a decrease in food costs with increase in food availability and changes in food consumption patterns” (study here). I finish off by pointing out the error of the claim regarding the Japanese diet, and mention Lustig’s omission of giving concrete numbers in his lecture regarding the dose-dependent safety of fructose in the diet.
- Lustig’s 2nd round defense was merely a cut/paste of the abstract of a 31 year-old epidemiological study showing that, “a high fat, high simple carbohydrate, low complex carbohydrate diet and/or reduced levels of physical activity increase risk of diabetes.” My rebuttal to this was simple. I pointed out how Lustig was not only using uncontrolled data to support his stance, but he was being selective about what the observational data showed. I used the study he posted plus two more recent studies to show the common thread among each of them: an increase in fat, an increase in sugar, and a decrease in physical activity was associated with adverse health effects. Clearly, it’s incorrect to selectively scapegoat the single factor of your personal choice.
- In Lustig’s final defense, he first cites as study wherein roughly 150 grams of fructose (the equivalent of 6-7 cans of non-diet soda), increased visceral adiposity and reduced insulin sensitivity in overweight & obese subjects. Does this surprise anyone? The study he cited used a fructose dose that’s 3 times the average American intake. He then goes on to cite rodent research despite his acknowledgement of my demand for human interventions using non-stratospheric doses of fructose. All this, after my multiple citations of human research showing the contrary. To top everything off, Lustig cited his Youtube popularity as a basis of accuracy and credibility. That was not a good move. My rebuttal to Lustig’s final comment is right here.
- I emailed Lustig, thanking him for the discussion, and he responded by preaching to me more of his gospel. I politely asked that he take his argument back to the blog since the purpose of the whole discussion in the first place is to educate the public. He would have none of that, quipping that “real scientists” don’t go tit-for-tat on blogs, they go to journal clubs to discuss research with other “real scientists.” If his case was as strong as he thinks it was, he wouldn’t have gotten embarrassed by the opposition.
- As I mentioned in response to a straight-shooting article by Martin Berkhan, Lustig probably has more education and native intelligence than he knows what to do with. However, as he demonstrated, you can be the most brilliant guy in the world & still find yourself fumbling over groundless claims.
- Comments by Ryan Zielonka (here), RG (here), DSD (here), and Rob (here) illustrate the regional heterogeneity of the Japanese diet, and how it can’t be simply pegged as fructose-free aside from the fruit intake.
- Fred Hahn brought his classic carbophobic flair (here), which was well-rebutted by Mike Howard (here) and Leigh Peele (here).
- Ganine asked the question of whether or not HFCS has different metabolic effects than regular sugar (sucrose). James Krieger came in with a follow-up response stating that, “The only practical difference between sucrose and HFCS is in the bonding. The glucose & fructose in HFCS is mainly free and unbonded, while it is bonded in sucrose. However, this makes no *meaningful* difference in regards to metabolism in the body. The bonds in sucrose are quickly broken when sucrose hits the acid environment of the stomach. This means that once sucrose hits the stomach, it’s no different from HFCS. Once you get to the small intestine, metabolism is *exactly* the same. This *little bit of difference* does not lead to the problems Dr. Lustig talks about. The fact is, HFCS and sucrose are identical as far as your body is concerned. The difference in bonding wouldn’t make a shred of difference in regards to your health.”
- Speaking of James Krieger, I’d like to direct anyone interested in fructose metabolism to this fine tutorial here.
- In response to Mike K’s advocacy of food avoidance, I posted research indicating an association between inflexible, all-or-nothing eating habits and adverse conditions. To quote Stewart et al, “The study found that individuals who engage in rigid dieting strategies reported symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and excessive concern with body size/shape. In contrast, flexible dieting strategies were not highly associated with BMI, eating disorder symptoms, mood disturbances, or concerns with body size.”
- Here’s a quote from a similar study by Smith et al: “Subjects were administered questionnaires measuring dietary restraint, overeating, depression and anxiety. Measurements of height and weight were also obtained in order to calculate BMI. Canonical correlation was performed to evaluate the relationship of dietary restraint variables with overeating variables, body mass, depression and anxiety. The strongest canonical correlation (r=0.65) was the relationship between flexible dieting and the absence of overeating, lower body mass and lower levels of depression and anxiety.”
- Indeed, correlation doesn’t automatically equal causation, but the two studies I cited above build a far better case than the baseless assumptions of folks who assert their dietary perfectionism onto the world around them.
- Ardent sugarphobe David Gillespie presented some very engaging arguments. However, he ignored all other posters, as well as the evidence I presented. He correctly pointed out that John White’s HFCS article contained a citation of research that did not support the point he was making (good catch, David!). However, he went on to dismiss reams of data on the grounds of funding source. He also incorrectly accused a study of being funded by the Coca Cola company, when in fact, Coke funded the travel expenses after the study was already complete. As James pointed out, the study was funded by a scholarship, two fellowships, and a grant from the Canadian government. Beyond that, studies should not be judged solely on funding source; the weight of their scrutiny should rest on their quality of design.
- David responded by citing the AHA’s recommendations, which I’ll quote him as saying, “Of particular note is their final recommendation that an adult male should consume no more than 144 calories (38 g) per day in added sugars (which would be 19g of fructose).” The problem with this is that it omits the range of doses the AHA listed for various populations, which went as high as 19 teaspoons of sugar per day for active males, which is double the figure that David emphasized. Of course, it’s convenient to leave out the higher end when you’re building a case that’s biased toward sugar avoidance. Go here to see my response to this, which includes a screen shot of the chart in the AHA paper.
- In my final rebuttal to David, I explain what discretionary calories are, and how their intended use further supports the point I made in my original article. To quote my response, “The discretionary allotment for an active male is 512 kcal, and a sedentary one is 290 kcal. The average of this is 401 kcal. Technically, it wouldn’t violate the AHA’s recommendations if someone’s entire discretionary kcals came from sugar, which in the case of 401 kcals is about 100g, which equates to 50g fructose, which brings us right back to the exact number I listed as the upper safe limit in my original article.”
- An honorable mention is deserved for the most epic comment, by Jamie Hale.
I want to give sincere thanks everyone who contributed to this discussion. To end off, I encourage anyone interested to check out the following scientific reviews for further information on the topic of fructose:
It’s goin’ down like this.
Right after the completion of my MonaVie vs Two-Buck Chuck article, a wise friend of mine told me that I need to shorten my blog posts, post more often, and save the technical stuff for my research review. She feels that people visit my blog for human-interest purposes more than to get a physiology lecture. Obviously, she underestimates the nerdiness of my readership.
In any case, I’ll run with her advice for a quick second and alert y’all to the JP Fitness Summit in Kansas City, MO on May 14-16. I’m being 100% sincere when telling you that this is easily one of the most fun & gratifying events on my calendar. I get to wear the hat of a teacher during my presentation, a student during the lectures of the other presenters, and a regular guy when it comes to relaxing & stuffing my face with greasy food and beverages of varying fructose content.
Aside from the awesomeness of meeting online clients and the wonderful ol’ core group of JP Fitness forum regulars, I’m particularly excited about the speaker line-up.
- Ryan Zielonka has been a close friend of mine for years now, and it’s great to see his talents recognized with a spot on the Summit podium. Ryan attended last year’s summit, so he knows what he’s in for this time, and I’m sure he’ll deliver.
- Bret Contreras is someone I don’t know personally, but instantly admire for a couple of reasons. For one, he created the video below. Perhaps most importantly, this guy is dead-serious about perfecting the structure & function of the glutes. I’d go as far as saying that he is arguably the world’s foremost butt-spert. Check out this product he developed. I can’t wait to see the kind of hurtin’ he’s gonna put on the brave Summit attendees during his workshop.
- Nick Tumminello is another guy who I haven’t met yet. I’ve only heard good things about Nick from industry folks & enthusiasts alike. Given that the online community never pulls punches with its honesty, that’s saying a lot. Nick and I are both contributing editors to Men’s Health magazine, so you know this guy keeps it classy.
- Lou (Fricking) Schuler! Lou is my inspiration to tell it like it is, and get the point across clearly by any means necessary. Even if it means dropping an occasional F-bomb now and then. There is never a dull moment with Lou, on or off the speaking stage. He has been a Summit favorite since its inception, and the rep is well-deserved. I learn something new from Lou with every conversation.
- Alan Aragon gives continuing education lectures to dietitians and physicians, on the seldom occasions he lectures at all. He seems to be a smug prick, and I don’t really like the cut of his jib, but I’ll give him a fighting chance at pulling off a decent showing.
Summit 2010 factoid: all the presenters have written for the lovely publication we call T-mag. How perfect is that? Like I said, it doesn’t get any bro-er than this.
Go HERE to register. It’s 200 bucks for 2 full days of picking the brains of the presenters and hanging out with a great group of like-minded fitness folks.
In the mean time, enjoy the video.
Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco, is the star of the video above. While he presents some material that’s scientifically sound, he also makes enough errors to warrant a healthy dose of criticism. There’s a ton of material he goes over, so instead of writing a multi-chapter opus, I’ll discuss the aspects that I feel are the most relevant and interesting.
Lustig’s delivery is clear, confident, charismatic, and engaging overall. I’m sure many would think that his style is annoyingly smug and preachy, but I find it entertaining. This is a good thing, since the video is about 90 minutes long. Amidst the folly that prompted this post, he offers a few good observations.
First off, he makes a valid point that the public health movement against dietary fat that started in the early 1980′s was a grandiose failure. The climb in obesity to epidemic proportions over the last 30 years is plenty of evidence for this. It was also accurate of him to cite the significant increase in overall caloric consumption over this same time period. Furthermore, he shows an interesting progression of Coca-Cola’s 6.5 oz bottle in 1915 to the 20 oz bottle of the modern day.
Lustig acknowledges the First Law of Thermodynamics as it applies to changes in bodyweight. He attacks the vague expression that “a calorie is a calorie” by pointing out that different nutrients impart different physiological effects and have different roles within the body. His concluding recommendations included kicking out liquid calories except milk, which is generally a good strategy for children. Okay, so far so good. But what does he say that’s so misleading? Let’s take a look.
While Lustig correctly points out that the nation’s overall caloric consumption has increased, he proceeds to blame carbohydrates as being the primary constituent. The thing is, he uses data spanning from 1989-1995 on children aged 2-17. Survey data is far from the gold standard of evidence, but if you’re gonna cite it, you might as well go with something more recent that includes adults.
Here’s the latest from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), which tracked the percent of total daily calories of the range of food groups from 1970-2007. The actual spreadsheet of the following figures can be downloaded here, click on the “Percents” tab at the bottom (note that these figures are updated regularly by the ERS, so the version you download may be different from what’s reported here) :
- Meats, eggs, and nut kcals decreased 4%.
- Dairy kcals decreased 3%.
- Percentage of fruit kcals stayed the same.
- Percentage of vegetable kcals stayed the same.
- Flour and cereal product kcals increased 3%.
- Added fat kcals are up 7%,
- Added sugars kcals decreased 1%
- Total energy intake in 1970 averaged 2172 kcal. By 2007 this hiked up to 2775 kcal, a 603 kcal increase.
Taking a hard look at the data above, it appears that the rise in obesity is due in large part to an increase in caloric intake in general, rather than an increase in added sugars in particular.
Lustig insufficiently addresses the ‘energy out’ side of the equation. According to the research, it’s possible that over the last couple of decades, we’ve become more sedentary. King and colleagues recently compared the physical activity data in the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1988-1994 with the NHANES data from 2001-2006, and found a 10% decrease . From a personal observation standpoint, that figure seems conservative (internet surfing for hours after your desk job shift, anyone?). It’s safe to say that all 603 extra daily calories have been landing in the nation’s collective adipose depot.
It’s also safe to say that all this finger-pointing at carbohydrate is just as silly as the finger-pointing toward fat in the ’80′s. Lustig takes the scapegoating of carbohydrate up a notch by singling out fructose. Perhaps the most passionate point he makes throughout the lecture is that fructose is a poison. Well, that’s just what we need in this day and age – obsessive alarmism over a single macronutrient subtype rather than an aerial view of the bigger picture.
Fructose is evil, context be damned
So, is fructose really the poison it’s painted to be? The answer is not an absolute yes or no; the evilness of fructose depends completely on dosage and context. A recurrent error in Lustig’s lecture is his omission of specifying the dosage and context of his claims. A point he hammers throughout his talk is that unlike glucose, fructose does not elicit an insulin (& leptin) response, and thus does not blunt appetite. This is why fructose supposedly leads to overeating and obesity.
Hold on a second…Lustig is forgetting that most fructose in both the commercial and natural domain has an equal amount of glucose attached to it. You’d have to go out of your way to obtain fructose without the accompanying glucose. Sucrose is half fructose and half glucose. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to sucrose in structure and function. Here’s the point I’m getting at: contrary to Lustig’s contentions, both of these compounds have substantial research showing not just their ability to elicit an insulin response, but also their suppressive effect on appetite [3-6].
But wait, there’s more. In studies directly comparing the effect of fructose and glucose preloads on subsequent food intake, one showed no difference , while the majority have shown the fructose preload resulting in lesser food intake than the glucose preload [8-10]. A recent review of the literature on fructose’s effect on satiety found no compelling case for the idea that fructose is less satiating than glucose, or that HFCS is less satiating than sucrose . So much for Lustig’s repeated assertion that fructose and fructose-containing sugars increase subsequent food intake. I suppose it’s easier to sensationalize claims based on rodent data.
In the single human study I’m aware of that linked fructose to a greater next-day appetite in a subset of the subjects, 30% of total daily energy intake was in the form of free fructose . This amounts to 135 grams, which is the equivalent of 6-7 nondiet soft drinks. Is it really that groundbreaking to think that polishing off a half-dozen soft drinks per day is not a good idea? Demonizing fructose without mentioning the dose-dependent nature of its effects is intellectually dishonest. Like anything else, fructose consumed in gross chronic excess can lead to problems, while moderate amounts are neutral, and in some cases beneficial [13-15].
I’m obviously not in favor of replacing anyone’s daily fluid intake with soft drinks, but I can already see a number of straw man arguments headed my way. This is because people have a tendency to think in either-or terms that strictly involve extremes. I’ll quote an elegant review by independent researcher John White that echoes my thoughts :
Although examples of pure fructose causing metabolicupset at high concentrations abound, especially when fed asthe sole carbohydrate source, there is no evidence that thecommon fructose-glucose sweeteners do the same. Thus, studies using extreme carbohydrate diets may be useful for probing biochemical pathways, but they have no relevance to the human diet or to current consumption.
Atkins, Japan, & alcohol – oh my!
One of Lustig’s opening assertions is that The Atkins diet and the Japanese diet share one thing in common: the absence of fructose. This is flat-out false because it implies that the Japanese don’t eat fruit. On the contrary, bananas, grapefruits, Mandarin oranges, apples, grapes, watermelons, pears, persimmons, peaches, and strawberries are significant staples of the Japanese diet . Lustig’s claim also implies that the Japanese do not consume desserts or sauces that contain added sucrose. This is false as well.
Another oversimplification Lustig makes is that fructose is “ethanol without the buzz,” and that fructose is toxic to the liver. This once again helps me illustrate my point that even in the case of alcoholic beverages, their risk or benefit to health is dose-dependent. Just like his extremist treatment of fructose, Lustig bases his case on the effect of chronic isolated ethanol consumption in large doses. It’s easy to examine ethanol out of its normal context within beverages such as wine, because then you can conveniently ignore the evidence indicating its potential health benefits when consumed in moderation .
Towards the end of Lustig’s lecture, he mentions that fructose within fruit is okay because its effect is neutralized by the fiber content. To a degree, this is a valid claim. However, in building this stance, he uses sugarcane to illustrate just how fiber-dominant natural sources of fructose are, and this is the exception rather than the rule. He claimed that, “Wherever there’s fructose in nature, there’s way more fiber.” That statement is far from universally true. Drawing a few common examples from the major fruits consumed in Japan, a midsize banana contains roughly 27 total grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fructose and 3 grams of fiber. A midsize apple contains 25 total grams of carbohydrate, 12 grams of fructose and 4 grams of fiber. Two cups of strawberries contains 24 total grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fructose, and 6 grams of fiber.
I would add that fiber is only one of the numerous phytochemicals in fruit that impart health benefits. Thus, it’s not quite as simple as saying that fructose is evil, but once you take it with fiber, you’ve conquered the Dark Side.
I have a great deal of respect for Lustig’s professional accomplishments, and I share his concern for the nation’s penchant for sitting around and overconsuming food and beverages of all sorts. However, I disagree (as does the bulk of the research) with his myopic, militant focus on fructose avoidance. He’s missing the forest while barking up a single tree.
So, what’s the upper safe limit of fructose per day (all sources considered)? Again, this depends on a number of variables, not the least of which are an individual’s physical activity level and lean body mass. Currently in the literature is a liberal camp reporting that fructose intakes up to 90 grams per day have a beneficial effect on HbA(1c), and no significant effects are seen for fasting triacylglycerol or body weight with intakes up to 100 grams per day in adults . The conservative camp suggests that the safe range is much less than this; roughly 25-40 grams per day . Figuring that both sides are biased, the middle figure between the two camps is roughly 50 grams for active adults.
Although the tendency is to get hung up on the trivial minutia of an exact gram amount, it’s not possible to issue a universal number because individual circumstances vary widely (this is a concept that baffles anti-fructose absolutists). The big picture solution is in managing total caloric balance with a predominance of minimally refined foods and sufficient physical activity. Pointing the finger at fructose while dismissing dosage and context is like saying that exercise should be avoided because it makes you fat and injured by spiking your appetite and hurting your joints.
Note: for those with little tolerance for reading through over 400 comments, there’s a summary of the discussion here. .
- Economic Research Service, USDA. Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data. Updated Feb 27, 2009. [ERS/USDA]
- King DE, et al. Adherence to healthy lifestyle habits in US adults, 1988-2006. Am J Med. 2009 Ju; 122(6):528-34. [Medline]
- Melanson KJ, et al. High-fructose corn syrup, energy intake, and appetite regulation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec;88(6):1738S-1744S. [Medline]
- Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. No differences in satiety or energy intake after high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or milk preloads. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1586-94. [Medline]
- Monsivais P, Perrigue MM, Drewnowski A. Sugars and satiety: does the type of sweetener make a difference? Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):116-23. [Medline]
- Akhavan T, Anderson GH. Effects of glucose-to-fructose ratios in solutions on subjective satiety, food intake, and satiety hormones in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Nov;86(5):1354-63. [Medline]
- Spitzer L, Rodin J. Effects of fructose and glucose preloads on subsequent food intake. Appetite. 1987 Apr;8(2):135-45. [Medline]
- Rodin J, Reed D, Jamner L. Metabolic effects of fructose and glucose: implications for food intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Apr;47(4):683–9.
- Rodin J. Comparative effects of fructose, aspartame, glucose and water preloads on calorie and macronutrient intake. Am J Clin Nutr 1990;51:428–35. [Medline]
- Rodin J. Effects of pure sugar versus mixed starch fructose loads on food intake. Appetite 1991;17:213–9.[Medline]
- Moran TH. Fructose and satiety. J Nutr. 2009 Jun;139(6):1253S-1256S. Epub 2009 Apr 29. [Medline]
- Teff KL, et al. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2963-72. [Medline]
- Livesy G. Fructose ingestion: dose-dependent responses in health research. J Nutr. 2009 Jun;139(6):1246S-1252S. Epub 2009 Apr 22. [Medline]
- Dolan LC, et al. Evidence-based review on the effect of normal dietary consumption of fructose on development of hyperlipidemia and obesity in healthy, normal weight individuals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Jan;50(1):53-84. [Medline]
- Livesey G, Taylor R. Fructose consumption and consequences for glycation, plasma triacylglycerol, and body weight: meta-analyses and meta-regression models of intervention studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Nov;88(5):1419-37. [Medline]
- White JS. Straight Talk About High-Fructose Corn Syrup: What it is and What it Ain’t. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec;88(6):1716S-1721S. [Medline]
- Dyck JH, Ito K. Japan’s fruit and vegetable market. Global Trade Patterns in Fruits and Vegetables. [ERS/USDA]
- Saremi A, Arora R. The cardiovascular implications of alcohol and red wine. Am J Ther. 2008 May-Jun;15(3):265-77. [Medline]
- Sánchez-Lozada LG, et al. How safe is fructose for persons with or without diabetes? Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Nov;88(5):1189-90. [Medline]
This post is inspired by an article called Berried in hope: a scientific look at the implications of exotic fruit juice marketing, the main article in the May 2008 issue of AARR. I find this topic interesting because it’s so highly misunderstood by so many. Not to mention, big bucks are flowing through an industry that makes a lot of promises – but does it fulfill them?
Meet the competitors
Charles Shaw wine is also known colloquially as Two-Buck Chuck. As its moniker implies, Charles Shaw runs 2 to 4 bucks a bottle. It’s sold exclusively through Trader Joe’s grocery stores, which are numerous throughout the US. Despite their dirt-cheap price, the 2002 shiraz and 2005 chardonnay have topped the field in prestigious wine competitions. Although Charles Shaw is available in a variety of types of reds, I’ll refer to red wine as a general category.
MonaVie is a direct sales-based company whose namesake beverage is a blend of juices featuring the acai berry. Arguably, no other fruit has garnered acai’s level of media hype. Acai has become a household name, due in part to best-selling author Dr. Nicholas Perricone proclaiming it to be the #1 superfood. As of this posting, MonaVie is ranked #18 on Inc. Magazine’s top 5000 private companies in the US, with 2009 revenues totalling $854.9 million. This is about double the annual revenue of the entire catalog of Charles Shaw’s parent company, Bronco Wine CO. Monavie’s product line has expanded with variations of the original juice blend, but each product’s key ingredient is the acai fruit.
The primary selling point of MonaVie is the antioxidant capacity of its acai berry content. The overhyped importance of antioxidant products is a separate topic altogether. Here, we’ll focus on how strong the antioxidant claim is. On MonaVie’s website, they cite a 2006 study showing that a freeze-dried acai powder has the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of any food tested to date . Since ORAC is a measure of antioxidant effect, MonaVie proponents use this research to support the claim that the acai berry is the king of the antioxidants.
Here’s what a lot of people miss: ORAC is not the only way to assess antioxidant capacity.
A subsequent study using a more comprehensive assessment panel on 10 commonly consumed polyphenol-rich drinks yielded some interesting results . In addition to ORAC, 3 other antioxidant tests were administered: trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC), free radical scavenging capacity by 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH), and ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP). In addition to the 4 antioxidant capacity tests, they measured inhibition of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, and total polyphenol content by gallic acid equivalents (GAEs). Each of the 6 tests was equally factored into determining overall antioxidant potency. Here’s how the beverages ranked:*
- Pomegranate juice
- Red wine
- Concord grape juice
- Blueberry juice
- Blackberry juice
- Acai juice
- Cranberry juice
- Orange juice
- Iced tea (green, black, & white tea collectively)
- Apple juice
*Caution is advised against the tendency to judge foods based on a single parameter such as antioxidation. Many people will automatically perceive the above list as a good-to-bad continuum. Don’t fall into that trap; all foods have unique nutritional benefits aside from their antioxidant effects.
When acai juice was put through a more thorough battery of testing, it ended up with a humble ranking at #6, while red wine came dangerously close to the top spot held by pomegranate juice. As this study indicates, the claim that acai berry is unquestionably the most potent antioxidant is false. For those itching to cry “foul” because MonaVie wasn’t used in this study, I’ll quote the researchers who were already a step ahead of that concern:
“…the acai juices in Figure 1 and Tables 1 and 2 did not include Mona Vie, the premier acai blend, because it is a blend of acai and 18 other fruit juices. The Mona Vie data show the polyphenol and antioxidant index to be in the same range as for the acai juices reported or in the midrange for all beverages analyzed in this study.”
Chalk one up for Two-Buck Chuck.
Bang for the buck
Charles Shaw wine is famous for its low price (2-4 bucks a bottle). In contrast, MonaVie is famous for being about $40 per bottle. Imagine that, you can get 10-20 bottles of Charles Shaw for the price of 1 bottle of MonaVie. Sounds like a party. You can drink a ton of MonaVie, and the only buzz you’ll get is your phone vibrating with your accountant calling to say, “You’re KILLING me Larry!” Chalk up another point for Charles.
The obnoxiousness factor
Charles Shaw just sits quietly on the shelves before getting snatched up by customers who voluntarily seek it out. MonaVie has independent sales reps that nag you to attend a “tasting” where you’re politely obligated to become either a MonaVie distributor or simply a customer. This is multilevel marketing, where you’ll inevitably mix family and friends with business (not a good idea). Give good ol’ Chuck another point, and a final nod for the win.
- Schauss AD, et al. Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (acai). J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 1;54(22):8604-10. [Medline]
- Seeram NP, et al. Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 27;56(4):1415-22. [Medline]
AARR subscriber David Miklas created this endearing video series over the Thanksgiving weekend. Apparently the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie put him in good spirits. Note the gestures, note the comic timing. The fact that I’m talking to a jock just kills me, as does my radical tan. Many of the quotes take me down memory lane, since they were plucked from the glory days of schooling the bros on the message boards. Warning: this series is best watched under the influence of holiday cheer…enjoy.
The following is a collection of things I’ve blabbered off in message boards and elsewhere. I got the idea of posting this from the illustrious Emma-Leigh, a fellow moderator at bodybuilding.com who stuck a similar collection of my quotes at the top of the female bodybuilding forum. If you’re easily offended, please stop reading right here. If not, enjoy the tidbits…
- The majority of health nuts will spend $100′s a month on useless supplements, but won’t spend a dime on actually educating themselves on the facts about the body.
- I love it when I hear folks say that human adults weren’t meant to consume milk, much less the milk derived from a different animal species. Are you kidding me? So who gets to decide which parts of the cow we should consume? Let me get this straight–we can eat the cow’s muscles, but not the milk that laid the foundation for the growth of those same muscles? Huh? The logic is just too rock-solid for me.
- Folks who carry the torch against milk consumption typically will have some degree of allergy or digestive intolerance to it, and they take the liberty to project their personal problems onto the world around them. Go frolick in an organic wheatgrass field and spare us your self-righteous noise.
- Keep your eyes on YOU. It’s fine to get inspired by others’ physiques, but you have to set your own personal standards. People tend to fixate on their weaknesses, while at the same time obsess over the strengths of others. That’s a surefire way to stay eternally frustrated. It’s a healthier approach to acknowledge your own strengths, and use them as benchmarks by which to bring up your weaknesses. Learn to give yourself a pat on the back for the improvements you make. Keep your eyes on YOU, don’t let the achievements of others dictate your obsessions.
- March to your own beat. Everyone has advice to give, and it’s important to listen, but ultimately, you have to adapt and mold all advice to your own sensibilities. Although it’s not always easy, I try not to be inflexibly dogmatic about what I teach. In many cases, what’s known pales in comparison to the sprawling expanse of the unknown. Over time, you’ll get to know your body better than anyone else, and what some might sell as natural laws should really only be ideas or options to consider.
- Training and nutritional programs pulled from the “experts” shouldn’t always be followed to the letter, especially for advanced trainees. Beginners without a clue may need to follow a script with zero deviation, since the alternative might be tripping over their own feet. But with more advanced trainees who have a more highly developed sense of individual response, there should always be a margin for personal intervention and adjustment. The best programs out there are at best good guidelines from which to morph better stuff for the individual situation.
- Question fitness advice given to you by others. “Why” is one of the most powerful words you can put in your vocabulary. Investigating the reasoning behind the advice will often reveal that the answer is “just because”, rendering the advice anywhere from helpful, to dangerous, to just a plain waste of time and resources. I encourage my clients, students, and colleagues to question everyone’s advice, including mine. I firmly believe that the better you can sharpen your thinking, the better you can continue to sharpen your physique.
- Scientific research is not bias-free. It’s not free of financial interests. It’s not free of study design flaws, and it’s not perfect. However, it’s the best tool that we have for getting closer to understanding the way the body works, the way that nature works. As imperfect as research is, it beats the hell out of hearsay and gym dogma.
- Many folks into fitness & bodybuilding have this unproductive tendency to think in black & white extremes. They’ll scapegoat certain foods, while glorifying the magic bullets. They rarely see the integration of the various components that comprise the big picture.
- Maintenance of a given level of progress is indeed a legitimate goal. In fact, people should consciously build plateau phases into their programs. Everyone hates to hear this, but the plateau phases should get progressively longer. When you step back and think about it, isn’t the ultimate goal a plateau of sorts? It makes good sense to give your body regular practice at maintaining. Everyone is so hell-bent on perpetually pressing forward with their goals, that it actually holds them back.
- A major training mistake I’ve made in the past – one I think that we’ve all done – was to always go more by the numbers than by the feel, letting the numbers dictate the workout rather than letting the muscles do it. I was overly concerned with the quantitative awareness of load progression, rather than what one of my old training partners called finding the pump. This might be more of a bodybuilding thing than anything else, but people should work up to a point where they are indifferent towards the number stamped on the iron. This is particularly useful during maintenance phases, which are more flexible. Trainees should practice developing a sense of optimal resistance for the given goal of any set, even if you’re completely unaware of the actual weight. Blindfolded sensation-based training, so to speak.
- Don’t be overly cheap with your time off from training. Athletes’ careers are notorious for being slow-motion train wrecks. There are 3 main ways your body lets you know that you need a break: Fatigue, illness, and injury. Fatigue is a bit more insidious, manifesting itself as persistent stalls or decreases in strength or endurance. Most trainees out there wallow in fatigue most of the time, which is a damn shame. Illness and injury are the classic agents of forced layoffs. The best strategy is to stay not just one, but a few steps ahead by taking a full week off from training – I’m talking don’t even drive near the gym – about every 8th to 12th week.
- No one’s physique ever fell apart as a result of a periodic week of rest. On the other hand, there are plenty of folks whose great physiques won’t last very long, due to bad shoulders, elbows, and knees.
- Fad diets and fad diet practices should be avoided (and laughed at). Carbs will send you to hell. Sugar is worse for you than cocaine. Fat is no longer the bad guy, so now it’s time to drink a pint of fish oil after every meal. Protein is your savior, eat as much of it as you can. If it’s isolated from food and put in a pill, it’s GOTTA be better for bodybuilding. C’mon now. A mix of patience and realistic progress expectations is the best cure for the compulsion to adopt fad practices or try fad diets.
- Stop splitting hairs over the rules. The beauty of food is that, unlike drugs, its physiological effects have neither the acuteness nor the magnitude to warrant extreme micro-management, especially when it comes to nutrient timing relative to training. A half an hour difference here or there really isn’t gonna make or break your physique.
- The first law of nutrient timing is: hitting your daily macronutrient targets is FAR more important than nutrient timing.
- The second law of nutrient timing is: hitting your daily macronutrient targets is FAR more important than nutrient timing.
- The fitness & nutrition world is a breeding ground for obsessive-compulsive behavior. The irony is that many things people worry about simply have no impact on results either way, and therefore aren’t worth an ounce of concern.
- Worrying about how much fat is burned while doing cardio makes as much sense as worrying about how much muscle is built while lifting weights.
- I eat three whole eggs almost every day of the week, so as far as American Heart Association limits are concerned, I’m blowing past them like Stevie Wonder through a stop sign.
- Mother Nature winces every time a yolk hits the waste basket.
- If you have to chew it, it ain’t anabolic. [/sarcasm about postworkout nutrition]
- The better someone’s genetics are, the more of a dumbf#ck he is.
- Avoid food avoidance.
To RD or not RD – that is the question
This actually never was a question for me. I decided to major in nutrition with the intention of remaining a personal trainer. I knew a good handful of independent trainers without a degree who were making at least double the per-hour rate that most RDs made, so my frame of reference was quite different from the typical dietetics student. I figured that since ALL trainers dish out nutritional advice (and are frequently asked for nutritional advice), a nutrition degree would be the perfect way to strengthen my competitive edge in this department.
As far as I knew, I was the only undergrad dietetics student in my class without the intention to become an RD. My professors wondered what on Earth I was gonna do with my life, obviously unaware of personal training as a bona fide career. To be fair, in the early 1990′s, very few who even heard of it thought of personal training as a real job. Luckily, I never gave a damn about whether a job was real by conventional standards, as long as it paid decently for doing something that truly interested me.
I want to make it clear that for anyone with the intention of working in a clinical setting, or anything non-entrepreneurial in the realm of nutritional counseling, becoming an RD is almost essential. Employers tend to seek out the RD credential because it instantly weeds out most of the wackos and quacks. If you plan on working in a clinical facility based on mainstream medicine, there’s no question you’ll need to be an RD. Since I don’t fit any of those molds, being without the RD credential was never a limitation. I’m self-employed, working with the healthy to athletic population referred to me mainly by trainers and existing clientele. The scant minority of my clients come from doctor referrals.
Take note that California is more lenient than other states in terms of the legal repercussions of practicing medical nutrition therapy as a non-RD. But again, that’s not what I do, so I’m exempt from that concern. For further reading about nutrition credentials, Stephen Barrett has covered it here and here. For more information about becoming an RD, the American Dietetic Association has it laid out here, with an FAQ page here.
My take on sports nutrition certifications
On the subject of boosting credibility, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has targeted trainers and coaches for the promotion of their sports nutrition certification (update: the ISSN now has a certification available for those without a 4-year degree). The reason I’m reiterating the ISSN’s certification is because it’s perhaps the first certification developed by individuals who have published a significant amount of peer-reviewed primary research in the area of sports nutrition. The ISSN also has its own scientific journal dedicated to sports nutrition-related research.
There are other sports nutrition certifications out there, but their name-credibility and admission requirements are pretty low. An exception to this is the Comission on Dietetic Registration’s certification in sports dietetics (info here), for which being an RD is a prerequisite. For the record, I don’t hold any nutrition certifications, but I also am n0t gunning for acceptance by an employer or larger organization, nor do I place a lot of value in stringing letters after my name. Maintaining a sports nutrition certification is a great way to keep knowledge current, but in my case, writing AARR each month takes care of that in excess.
My take on personal training certifications
As far as personal training certifications go, the most marketable ones in my opinion are offered by the “big 3″ organizations: the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The American Council on Exercise (ACE) trails a bit behind the aforementioned in terms of prestige, but is still considered one of the frontrunners.
Though these certifications are likely to have similar quality of learning material, the Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification by the NSCA has the most marketability among sports and fitness circles. A close second would be the Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) by NASM. The reason for the CSCS’s marketable edge over these is the stricter admission requirement of a 4-year degree. Also, the PES is relatively new, whereas the CSCS has been around for a while and has racked up an extensive list of highly respected recipients. ACSM certification is generally perceived as more clinically oriented, and has thus not been as popular in sports and fitness circles as the rest.
One more certification I want to add here is the Resistance Training Specialist (RTS) developed by Tom Purvis, who formerly headed NASM but decided to start his own program and kick things up several notches. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the RTS program is the most in-depth training certification available, particularly in terms of applied biomechanics. It’s expensive, has multiple modules, and requires travel, so it’s not nearly as popular as the others. As such, it’s not as well known. This can potentially hinder its marketability to employers who are not highly informed about the available certification programs.
The initial allure and subsequent utility of an MS
Upon completing my undergrad degree in dietetics, my colleagues all filed off to internships en route to becoming RDs. Having the desire to stay competitive with them prompted my pursuit of a master’s degree in nutrition, despite my intention to remain a personal trainer. In an unplanned twist of events, this led me to switch my focus away from training. As I pounded through the degree, I gained a keen interest in the researching, writing, counseling, and teaching aspects of nutrition. It was also during this period that I began spending a lot of time online, discussing topics on fitness and bodybuilding message boards. Getting in epic debates (and winning them consistently) is what caught the attention of the forces that led to my writing career. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Having both the undergrad and graduate nutrition degrees under my belt, I saw a clear lack of sports nutrition education in the dietetics curriculum. So, I decided to teach RDs how to become better sports nutritionists. Since RDs need to receive continuing education units in order to maintain their credential, I knew I could fulfill a niche here. In addition to putting together and promoting my own courses (which was more expense than it was worth), I was invited to speak at various dietetics conferences, including a few biggies at California State University at Northridge, University of Calilfornia at Irvine and the heavily guarded FDA headquarters. Without an MS in nutrition, I would not have been given these opportunities to provide continuing education to RDs. I’ll also speculate that the combination of my training certifications with the advanced nutrition degree was marketable for lecturing to conservative dietetics audiences about the integration of nutrition and exercise.
Having built a good reputation in the fitness and dietetics communities, I was invited to speak in the corporate wellness context to the upper management of companies such as the Pfizer and Tesco. Although these speaking gigs only happen a few times per year, they pay $1000-2000 for less than 2 hours of lecture. It has crossed my mind to actively pursue a career in corporate wellness presentations because of the high pay per unit of time. However, I’d rather keep speaking engagements as occasional events rather than having a lifestyle involving a lot of dressing up and a hectic travel schedule. Sorry folks, but I’m very happy at home at the computer, close to my family, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
Writing: the final frontier (for me)
At some point back in 2006, Lyle McDonald told me that with all the knowledge I had, I needed to write a book. After some deliberating, I decided to go for it, and Girth Control was completed in early 2007. In a very ironic twist, Lyle’s mentioning of a factual mistake I made in the book (which was corrected immediately) gave me the impetus to start my research review. My aim was to create a vehicle that forced me to stay entrenched in the current research to a ridiculous degree. I will say with zero reservation that AARR is the project I’m most passionate about. It allows me to combine scientific research findings with ongoing client experience for the benefit of other fitness practitioners and serious enthusiasts. If that sounds too much like a gratuitous plug, consider it a dead-honest one.
As I mentioned earlier, I had many prodigious debates online that caught the attention of people who ended up facilitating my writing career. Alwyn Cosgrove gets credit for alerting features editor Adam Campbell about my writing mojo, and the next thing I knew, Adam offered me a regular spot in Men’s Health magazine, as well as a position as their nutrition research consultant. This led to a friendship (bro-ship?) between me and fitness editor Adam Bornstein. I’m currently writing an article for Men’s Health on fat loss supplements, and the cool thing about Men’s Health is that they don’t have any supplement sponsors that they cater to or tiptoe around when it comes to product critiques. The big print magazines pay anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar per word. Men’s Health can afford to pay the latter, since they’re the largest men’s magazine in the world.
Online article writing was another unplanned avenue that surfaced. Lou Schuler invited me to write for tmuscle.com (which then was called t-nation.com), resulting in A Musclehead’s Guide to Alcohol. In related news, my dealings with Tmuscle went south in an amusing chain of events which I’ve described here. Lou is no longer with Tmuscle, but is probably on better terms with them than I am. I’m still involved with online article writing, currently working on my third article for wannabebig.com (which is done now, here it is). My latest writing milestone was making it into the peer-reviewed literature by co-authoring a nutrient timing review with the very gracious & wise Brad Schoenfeld.
I would encourage those with a knack for writing to start by seeking contributorship to online magazines since the chances of publication aren’t as remote as they are in print mags. Clearly, there’s a demand for good content to draw site traffic. Maintaining scientific integrity might be a challenge with companies that aggressively hype marginally supported products, but legitimate alternatives are out there. Online outfits pay $250-500 per article depending on word length and notoriety of the author. This isn’t enough to pay your kids’ college tuition, but it’s great exposure, and also a good medium for observing the public’s non-vested critique of your material.
In case anyone’s interested…
Earning statistics of dietitians:
Earning statistics of trainers:
That’s a wrap!
Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of this opus. Future writing projects are in the works, and I’ll alert you to them as they materialize. Your best course of action is to get familiar with your options (many of which I provided in this series), and match your career choice with your strengths and interests. Yes, I know that’s easier said than done. Feel free to review the elements I’ve discussed, and I’ll try to address your questions the best I can. [back to part 1] [Credentials Vs. the Fitness Industry]
A little background
Picking up from part 1, it’s time to move on to nutrition. This gets a little complicated, so stick with me. In addition to being a trainer, I was also the club’s nutritionist. I eventually dropped my role as a trainer within the club (voluntarily), but continued to see outside training clients. SportsMed, a subsidiary of the Sports Club Company, contained a team of dietitians of which I was a part. I was stationed in their sister franchise, the Spectrum Club. Among the five nutritionists, I was the only one who wasn’t a registered dietitian (RD). However, the fact that I had a master’s degree in nutrition pretty much kept the dietitians from glaring at me.
On a related tangent, here’s an amusing story. Our director did a company-wide survey of what term, registered dietitian or nutritionist, should be placed on the business cards. The vast majority of people surveyed said they’d know more immediately what a nutritionist was than what an RD was. The dietitians were indignant at having to bear the “nutritionist” moniker on their cards, but it was also a sweet moment of vindication for my lack of the RD credential. More on that in the final installment, let’s look at the pros & cons of the job.
Nutritional counseling: health club employment pros & cons
Similar to being a club-employed trainer, the massive membership and built-in traffic of the gym made it easy to get business. The sales staff forwarded all new members to me, as did the trainers, so there really was no struggle to capture clients. Since there was only one nutritionist per club, I didn’t have to sweat any competition. Perhaps the biggest benefit was that I got to realize my strength in counseling and teaching. I was much more content sitting on my butt at a desk talking about nutrition rather than handing off dumbells, switching plates, and counting reps. Not to mention, none of my nutritional clients have audibly farted while straining to tell me the truth.
Again, this is a different strokes thing. Some people go into training because they’re sick to death of their desk jobs. For that kind of escape, training is great; I just had opposite interests. The rest of the benefits were the same as training – free membership, overall job predictability and convenience. I have to say that in retrospect, the benefit of starting my nutritional counseling career as an employee allowed me gain my footing and make my newbie mistakes while the company shouldered the risk.
What bugged me most about this job, funny enough, were the same things as training: dress code and pay. By now it should be pretty clear that I hate anything remotely close to a uniform. The nutrition staff was required to dress in business casual. Ugh. Our pay was approximately $20 per half-hour session. Not too bad, but then again, not too good – especially for someone who was going to support a family. After spending some time watching the company keep about 50% of what my clients paid, I decided I’d be better off keeping all of it, and absorbing the risk of being on my own. Since I knew that I could do this with training, it was time to leave and navigate my own ship with nutritional counseling.
Nutritional counseling: self-employment pros & cons
The pros, just like self-employed training, were full conceptual and operational control of the pricing, policies, and protocols. Once again, I was immediately able to charge triple the 20 bucks I made per session I made as an employee. This is about the same per-session pay rate as I made training independently, except now my sessions are 30 minutes of yapping instead 60 minutes of busting ass. Another advantage to being on my own was the prestige associated with having my own private practice. So far so good, now for the cons.
The single biggest expense facing independent practitioners is the rent for office space. A tiny office in my neck of Southern California can run you as little as $400-500 a month, whereas a little more comfy setting will cost about $700-800. I had my sights set on a large office in a health club with built-in traffic. In a cool twist of fate, I was able to secure a space in the club I was formerly employed at. They wanted $1200 a month…ouch. I took the general manager out to lunch, gave her some puppydog eyes, and negotiated my rent down to $800.
The club eventually switched management and brought in the Apex nutrition system, which was software that generated plans with the Apex supplements baked into the diets. It pissed me off that the trainers were being forced to act as nutritionists despite my presence in the club, so I approached the new manager and negotiated my $800 monthly rent down to $400. To my benefit, the Apex launch floundered and was canceled due to a lack of interest, but my rent stayed at the re-negotiated low.
My current practice
I have since been invited to move my practice into an upscale personal training facility. When I say upscale, I really mean that. A good portion of my clientele are professional athletes, successful actors, and CEOs of huge multinational corporations. The facility (Elite Fitness Plus) is owned by a friend of mine who I’ve been trying to work together with for years, and have finally gotten the chance to, and feel really blessed to be in such a great spot.
The downside? My commute one-way is 30-45 minutes. Yeah, I know some of you drive double and triple that, but one of my pet peeves, along with dress codes, is having an insipid date with traffic as part of my workday. Being self-employed puts me in control of my schedule, so a simple solution to minimizing the time and expense commuting was to cut my office days to two longer days per week instead of five regular days [UPDATE: I now work 1 day a week at the office, the rest of the time from home]. The 10-second trip from my bedroom to my desktop computer is one of the things I love about online consulting, which comprises a significant portion of my practice [UPDATE: I am no longer taking on new clients due to being overbooked].
In the final installment, I’ll discuss the remaining aspects of my career: continuing education lecturing, corporate wellness consulting, and writing books, magazine articles, and my research review. If anyone’s still at a loss of ideas for building a fitness career after reading this series, I’ll be at a loss for words (ain’t gonna happen). [see part 3]