Testosterone has undoubtedly the best group of contributors on the planet. They're like a professional sports team representing the upper echelon of all the guys that ever stepped onto the playing field. Through years of education, experimentation, and practical experience, they've risen to the top of their respective fields. When you're playing on an amazing team like that, it's hard to really stand out. But just as with athletes, some do stand out and eventually make the all-star team. John Berardi is one of those guys.
In over thirty articles and columns he's written so far for T-mag, John has literally revolutionized the way most of us think about nutrition. Not only that, but the guy knows more than a thing or two about training and supplementation as well. If you were to go back and spend several days reading all those articles, you'd be left with your head spinning like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. To prevent a split pea soup spewing tragedy such as that, we've put together this little summary of the Big Book of Berardi.
John has made a lot of great contributions to the fields of bodybuilding and athletic performance, but a couple of them really stand out. Let's start with those:
Massive Eating/Don't Diet
"If you're not growing, it's probably your diet, not your training, that's holding you back." – JB
Two related problems have always plagued bodybuilders: 1) how to get big without getting fat and 2) how to get lean without losing a lot of muscle. John solves both problems with a diet plan called "Massive Eating" that's proving to be remarkably effective.
The secret behind this diet plan revolves around how you combine macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs) in each meal. No, this isn't one of those goofy food-combining fads that were popular several years ago; you know, don't mix soft fruits with beans or your head will explode. These are recommendations based on hard science and real world results.
Here are the Cliff's Notes to the diet:
Eat protein in every meal and eat about six meals a day.
Don't eat meals high in carbs alone.
Don't eat fat and carbs together in substantial amounts.
In some meals, eat protein with carbs, but very little fat (less than 5 grams).
In other meals, eat protein with fat, but very little carbs (less than 10 grams).
What's the purpose of all this? Basically, you're manipulating your natural hormonal levels, including insulin. Insulin is a two-faced beast. It's needed at the right times to shuttle nutrients into muscle cells, but chronic insulin elevation will cause the muscles to become insulin resistant and refuse to take up nutrients. Then adipose tissue takes over and you end up with the belly of a woman nine months pregnant with Shaq's twins. Not pretty.
By separating carbs and fats in meals, you're not allowing simultaneous high blood levels of carbs, fat and insulin. And although there are certainly other systems of the body that contribute to gaining body fat, it's this area that most people in today's fast food world need to work on.
So the P + F (protein plus fat) meals keep insulin under control and allow you to get in some healthy fats. The P + C (protein plus carb) meals allow the body to become very anabolic, taking up all those carbs and amino acids into the muscle cells for protein and glycogen synthesis. And since there's no excess fat in these meals for the fat cells, fat gain is minimized even if you're eating a boatload of calories. Basically this diet allows you to eat a large amount of healthy carbohydrates and fats in the same day without worrying about whether they'll destroy your hard-earned physique.
Finally, John has emphasized the supreme importance of good food choices when using this meal plan. While we take it for granted that T-mag readers will know enough to stay away from garbage foods like hot dogs and cookies, some simply don't. And as a result they sabotage their efforts on this plan, and every other meal plan for that matter.
The following is a brief list of healthy food choices. "His Buffness," as John likes to be called, specifies that if the bulk of your diet doesn't consist of these foods, you're falling short of your mark for health and body composition. And yes, within each macronutrient category, the food choices appear in order of importance (i.e. just because you eat bread doesn't mean that you can skip the veggies and fruit).
Protein – Eggs, dairy sources including cottage cheese and plain yogurt, lean meat sources including salmon, tuna, chicken, beef; protein powders such as milk protein isolates and whey/casein blends.
Carbohydrates – Vegetables (all types), mixed beans, fruit, oatmeal, whole grain breads.
Fats – Fish oil (in salmon or as a salmon or isolated EPA/DHA supplement), flax oil, mixed nuts (no peanuts), olive oil.
What exactly will eating the Massive Eating way do? Well, for one, you'll be able to eat more than you think and still reach your goal, whether it's muscle gain or fat loss. Most people are shocked when they see John's daily calorie recommendations. This eating plan will also allow you to beat the bodybuilder blues and add a lot of muscle without having to dig out your "fat pants" from the back of the closet. Besides a whole lot of chewing, the diet is relatively painless and quite healthy. You're not deprived of any macronutrient so you won't be having many cravings when dieting down.
Speaking of dieting down, John's fat loss version of Massive Eating is called the "Don't Diet" diet. Basically, it's just a reduced calorie version of Massive Eating. Feedback on this diet has been very good, although a few people do need to keep the calories a bit lower than John suggests. Still, they're getting great results. Massive Eating/Don't Diet is a homerun.
Want the details? Checkout these links:
Massive Eating Part I and Part II
Appetite for Construction, issue #167 (Don't Diet details)
Post Workout Nutrition for the New Millenium
We've known for a while that you should consume protein and carbs right after training to help you build muscle. Just a couple of years ago, we took care of this by drinking an MRP right after we hit the weights. Better than nothing, of course, but today we know exactly what the body needs to maximize the effects of weight training and much of that info comes from soon-to-be Doctor Berardi. More than that, John has dug deep into the latest research and shown us how powerful the right nutrients at the right time can be. What he's found is so shocking it makes you wonder how we ever got along without this info.
During training and the first few hours after training, the body is totally F.U.B.A.R. (you military types will know what F.U.B.A.R. means; for all you non-military types, it means "screwed up beyond all recognition," only the first word is a synonym of screwed). Glycogen stores are low, protein breakdown is increased, and muscle protein balance is negative. Failure to get the body quickly into recovery mode will lead to slow gains, excessive muscle soreness and fatigue, poor performance, and ultimately overtraining. On top of all that, girls won't talk to you. It's really quite sad.
What John has figured out is how to put a stop to all these nasty side effects of hard training and maximize all the benefits. The solution lies in what nutrients you consume around training time. The ideal drink would contain a special blend of high GI, easily digested carbs (a 50/50 blend of glucose and maltodextrin), an easily digested and assimilated protein source like hydrolyzed whey, and branched chain amino acids. Creatine can also be added if you respond well to it.
This anabolic/anti-catabolic cocktail would maximize post-workout glycogen synthesis, stop protein breakdown and jack up protein synthesis – everything you need to get bigger and stronger faster. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?
When John introduced most of this info to T-mag readers, the buzzword was post-workout nutrition. But he's also discovered that pre-workout nutrition is just as important. This doesn't have to be complicated though. The same thing that works for post-workout works for pre-workout, so all you have to do is split your specialized drink into two servings. You can also sip the first serving during training then toss back the second serving right after.
Okay, so this is great for muscle building, but will a high GI drink around training time slow fat loss? John basically answers "no" to this question. It doesn't impair the hormonal response to exercise either. In fact, such a drink may improve your ability to lose fat in the long run. See paper issue #6 of T-mag for more info.
The only potential problem with such a formula – besides sourcing top quality ingredients and getting the specific formula right – was that this potent combination tasted like sweaty buttcrack! That's what TC tells me at least. Personally, I wouldn't know what sweaty buttcrack tastes like. (Yeah, yeah, there goes my raise.) Luckily, John teamed up with Biotest and formulated their Surge product, which contains everything he recommends based on his research and, thank God, tastes like liquid angel food cake.
What about those supplements that provide only free form amino acids during the post-workout period? According to John, they're inferior to products that provide protein, carbs and aminos like Biotest Surge, and we agree.
The science behind all this stuff can be complex, but if you want all the details, check out these articles out:
Solving The Post-Workout Puzzle – Part 1 and 2
Precision Nutrition for 2002 and Beyond
The Rest of the Best
Besides his two blockbuster contributions above, John has provided tons of info in his popular "Appetite for Construction" column, our "Gang of Five" column, and on the T-mag Forum. It would be tough to get all that info into one article, but here are a few of the coolest things we've picked up:
Diets higher in protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat – as well as total fat content – tend to maintain higher T levels. John wouldn't recommend eating large amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol, but what he does recommend for maximizing T levels during a growth phase is eating a diet consisting of about 30% of the calories from fat. Of this fat, about 30% should come from saturates and cholesterol. If you're training hard, the cardio protective effects of the training and the 70% good fats (fish, flax, and olive) will far outweigh any negatives of moderate amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet.
John's a big proponent of supplementing with fish oils that are high in DHA and EPA. These omega-3 fatty acids can lead to losses of body fat, a nutrient partitioning effect shifted toward growth of lean tissues and loss of fat tissues, and increased insulin sensitivity. You'll get all this in addition to the healthy heart and blood vessels that you'll have. Fish oil rules.
Alcohol and T-Levels
Alcohol is the single best legal Testosterone suppressor known to mankind. Aspirin, marijuana, and most painkillers will do the same in one way or another. See the Big T Part II article for the details on that little party pooper bit of info.
So-called "free" meals aren't a good idea and can derail your progress. If you're going to eat a cheat meal anyway, here's how to minimize the damage:
Cheat meals should only be planned during periods of the year when you're trying to gain mass. Super skinny guys can have one per week, but others should only have maybe one every two weeks.
Don't have cheat days or meals while you're trying to lose weight. That "stoking the metabolic fire" excuse is bunk. One meal won't upregulate your sluggish dieter's metabolism.
Training on pig-out day will help reduce the damage. Ideally, you'd perform a glycogen-depleting workout a few hours before the meal (30-60 minutes of cardio or a 15-30 minute bout of high-intensity interval training.) Then, after your cheat meal and once you can button your pants up again, hit another cardio session if it's an "off" day or do a weight-training session if it's scheduled for that day.
Consume a low GI/high fiber carbohydrate meal a few hours before your big feast. This will help control the glucose and insulin responses to your gluttonous meal as well as keeping high triglyceride levels at bay. It might also prevent you from eating yourself into a bloated stupor.
Once you've done the damage, don't eat again that same day until you start to feel hungry or at least wait until you don't feel painfully full any longer. You probably won't get your usual six meals a day when one of them is a cheat meal, so don't worry about it.
On the following day after a ridiculous binge, get right back on your regular diet. Don't try to eat less or try to "diet" the binge off. It doesn't work and just screws you up even more for days to come. You may not feel much like eating the next day. Eat anyway. You may feel bloated. Eat anyway.
Taking stimulants like MD6 and thyroid enhancers like T2 or T2-PRO during the day of the big feast may fire up the metabolism. In addition, taking mild diuretics may keep the excess water off. Over the counter "fat blockers" like chitosan, however, don't work.
For more info, read John's "Damage Control" article here.
Bedtime meals or meals in the middle of the night should be high in casein. You could include some whey, but since casein is more slowly digested and absorbed into the blood, it should make up the bulk of the protein in these meals. This will help to ensure a better blood amino acid profile throughout the night. Cottage cheese blended with some Low Carb Grow! would be a good example of this type of meal.
Post-workout meals should contain whey protein hydrolysate as the only protein source. Since this is the most rapidly and efficiently absorbed protein source, it will quickly supply muscles with much needed amino acids for recovery.
"Normal" meals should be high in protein, but can consist of any darn source you want. If you're on a regular eating schedule (every 2-3 hours) as you very well should be, then it really doesn't matter where the protein comes from.
At what times during the day should you eat certain types of meals? Here's John's opinion on that common question:
Protein and fat meals should be consumed in the hours before weight training. John believes that carbohydrate meals should not be consumed too closely to weight training workouts. If eaten about 30 to 90 minutes before exercise, such meals can cause immediate hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia and this can lead to a rebound hypoglycemia (decreased blood glucose) about 30 minutes later. With this drop in blood glucose, exercise performance may be impaired at the peripheral (muscle) or the central (brain) level. Such meals may leave you feeling lethargic (like eating a high-carbohydrate meal for lunch) and affect your training intensity and mental outlook.
Protein and carbohydrate meals should be eaten within the six-hour period following training. Basically, John believes that during the six hours following training, the body is most efficient at utilizing dietary protein and carbohydrates for muscle protein synthesis and muscle glycogen resynthesis. The combined hyperinsulinemia and hyperaminoacidemia seen with these types of meal combinations can lead to enhanced muscle gains and recovery when the body is best able to handle this influx of nutrients and insulin. Your last meal of the day however, should be lower in carbs.
Protein and fat meals should be consumed from six hours after training until the next training session. After the six-hour time point discussed above, insulin sensitivity and glycogen resynthesis potential may decline, especially if a good amount of muscle damage was accomplished. At this time, hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia can lead to glucose tolerance, increased fat storage, and a high propensity to block fat mobilization.
Drinking a protein shake in the middle of the night (like when you get up to pee) may aide in helping you rapidly gain muscle. Avoid excess carbs in this shake however so that fat will be used as the primary source of fuel.
If you weight train in the morning soon after waking up, it's best not to do it on an empty stomach. The ideal pre-workout "meal" would be a specially formulated drink like Biotest Surge plus an additional 33 to 40 grams of carbohydrate above that already in Surge. (Gatorade or any carb powder will work.) After training, have another serving or half a serving of Surge. An hour after that, eat your first solid meal containing protein and moderate to high levels of carbs with very little fat.
The old "a calorie is a calorie" saying is a myth. It's a misstatement because the body reacts much differently given the macronutrient profile of the calorie source.
One of the biggest determinants of your muscle to fat loss ratio (when dieting) and your muscle to fat gain ratio (when bulking up) is your initial level of body fatness. Let's break that down:
Those who are quite fat can be more restrictive and/or severe with their diets since they'll lose the fat preferentially over muscle. In fact, they can lose up to four pounds a week with no problem. Those who are already quite lean and are just trying to get leaner can't be as restrictive or they'll lose too much muscle. As you diet and get leaner, you should adjust your calorie deficit so that it's actually smaller. So if you start a diet eating 1000 calories below maintenance, as you get leaner, your daily deficit should decrease to 500 calories per day.
Lean individuals gain less fat and more muscle when overfeeding when compared to their fatter counterparts. A person who's already too fat can gain up to four pounds of fat for every one pound of muscle gained on a mass phase.
To sum up, it's better to cut before you bulk because if you're already "bulky" you'll gain more fat that you expected while trying to add mass. If you're already lean, don't go crazy with the calorie restriction when trying to get totally shredded. If you're fat and are trying to lose weight, you can be very restrictive (at least at first) without risking much muscle loss.
When trying to drop fat, John prefers to lower carb intake slowly and never go really low. For example, over an eight-week diet, he may personally lower carbs from 500 to 200 grams per day.
Generally speaking, John doesn't like super low carb diets. Ketogenic diets work for some but others tend to gain fat very quickly when they come off. If a person stays in a ketogenic state too long the body will "forget" how to process carbs and it will take a while to "remember." Also, keto diets decrease insulin sensitivity. The likelihood of gaining fat due to this insulin resistance is high, plus you'll look really bloated coming off as your body rehydrates or even hyperhydrates. Oh yeah, and you'll also feel like crap on a long-term keto diet.
Here's how to minimize all that:
Taper off the ketogenic diet slowly over a six-week period.
Use 600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) per day, lots of fish oils (at least 6g of DHA and EPA), glucosol (colosolic acid) at about 50 mg per day, and inzitol (d-pintol) at about 50 mg per day.
Do your cardio. This helps increase insulin sensitivity and improve carbohydrate tolerance. Do 30-minute cardio sessions, four times per week.
Athletes training for pure strength and power should probably do no cardio at all since cardiovascular exercise can interfere with strength development. Bodybuilders, recreational trainees and other types of athletes should all do their cardio.
John believes in doing cardio for getting leaner and for getting bigger. Since cardio can increase glucose and amino acid uptake in muscle and liver cells, then it can be anabolic from a nutrient partitioning viewpoint. Cardio also leads to increased muscular uptake of nutrients for hours after exercise.
For getting bigger, perform about 15 minutes of cardio at about 60 to 70% of your HR max (which is 220 minus your age). On your non-weight training days perform 30 minutes of cardio at 60 to 70% of your HR max. This should not be done in the morning on an empty stomach but sometime during the day, about two hours after a meal.
For getting leaner, you'd perform about 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at 60 to 70% of your HR max after your weight training workouts. On your non-weight training days perform 30 minutes of cardio at 60 to 70% of your HR max. This time, the cardio should be done in the morning on an empty stomach.
It's a myth that drinking a lot of water during meals will impair digestion. John notes that it's quite the opposite. It's also a myth that snacking between meals "ruins" the digestive quality of the larger meals. If anything, it enhances the digestive process.
A big eatin', hard trainin' bodybuilder needs at least a gallon of water a day, depending on bodyweight and climate.
John's Random Words O' Wisdom
Consistency, not novelty is the secret to uncommon results. Only those too impatient to follow simple, rational, and balanced eating and training programs will choose fringe eating and training methods. And these are the people who won't be in the gym twelve months from now.
To succeed in weight lifting, do shorter workouts than the magazines want you to, train heavier than your muscles want you to, do more reps than your mind wants you to, and eat more food than your stomach wants you to. As John says, "Getting big is a battle and my weapon is a fork."
This article is close to 4000 words long and we've really only scratched the surface of what JB has to offer. But hopefully this has been a nice summary to those already familiar with John's ideas and a good intro for those just starting to pay attention to this whole diet thing.
John has made a huge impact in this area and just think, the kid ain't even hit the ripe old age of 30 yet! In the years to come, John is definitely the one to watch when it comes cutting edge nutritional science.