This is Lucky 13, a rapid fire Q & A session with a training or nutrition expert who matters. It's fast, furious, and to the point.
Dr. Lowery: Warrior Nerd
Question #1: You've been dubbed a "warrior nerd." Fair enough?
Lowery: Yep. And I don't think I'm alone. Plenty of readers on T-Nation have a nerdy thirst for knowledge, even as they wrestle with that deep-lying medieval Hun that drives them toward the rusty iron.
It may sound a bit schizophrenic, but the combination can be powerful. I've spoken to a number of readers who pursue martial arts as yet another expression of their inner warrior. There is honor in these things.
Question #2: If you were appointed anti-obesity czar by the President, what kind of things would you do to truly solve the problem?
Lowery: You might think that as a nutritionist I'd say something about long-forgotten whole fruits and vegetables. I would indeed, but this still isn't our biggest problem. I'd have to first address physical inactivity. How can people live in such a way?
I'd systematically start dismantling every "modern convenience" that fosters a weak, sedentary lifestyle. This is doubly true for things that affect kids. From motorized scooters to mind-numbing television to electric hedge trimmers to moving walkways at the airport (barring ones necessary for the handicapped), I'd stop this trend toward becoming mere brains toted about by machines.
Our DNA is 40,000 to 100,000 years old (depending on your definition of "human"). It's built on survival and self-preservation, and it doesn't understand this soft, sedentary modern world of ease and surplus. Being just a little uncomfortable is the key to change.
Question #3: You've competed in bodybuilding in the past. Have you retired the posing trucks for good now?
Lowery: I competed a couple of years ago to prove some things to myself. After some half-arsed attempts in early life, I wanted to put 100% into this one coveted thing that has eluded me. After being a finalist at the NPC Mr. Midwest and a runner-up at the Mountaineer Cup, I felt rewarded for my 24 weeks of calculated effort. The self-absorption and last-minute primping that was necessary isn't my style though, and I doubt I could ask so much of my wife again.
On the flip side, I have to say it felt really good to be called forward on stage in a lineup of about twenty guys. It felt reminiscent of the old school documentaries like Pumping Iron. Did you see The Comebackwith Tom Platz? Ahh. Bodybuilding can indeed be an almost religious experience. It doesn't have to be the Cheese Festival that it so often becomes nowadays.
I doubt I'll compete again in bodybuilding, but there's a slim chance if I can find a non-cheesy natural competition. Powerlifting is equally likely, and kendo is more likely, but bodybuilding is a part of me forever.
Question #4: Super ripped and shredded vs. massive and bulky. Which do you prefer for yourself?
Lowery: At this stage in life I'd like to be ripped - if it means weighing at least 180 pounds and remaining strong. But alas, I tend toward a more thickly muscled, 12% fat, 200-pound build these days. I enjoy this look, too, however.
Question #5: If you were a Dungeons & Dragons character, what would you be?
Lowery: Actually, this isn't an "if" answer. D&D is a real part of the reason for my almost TC-esque vocabulary! I always played the wizard growing up because my brother, the Yeti, and other friends were hack-and-slash fighter types.
The Yeti loved yelling "Enough talk!" and throwing daggers at anyone who spoke to him, evil or not (a la Conan the Barbarian). And my friend John was a beer-guzzling, double sword-wielding dwarf that made the likes of Gimli (LOTR) look frail by comparison.
I personally liked the limitless acquisition of mental /magical power through intense study... and unleashing it on the unjust. (Which I did with impunity.) And since I was apparently the only one who could read, I was also the Dungeon Master, who led the whole thing.
I still geek-out with a game called "Warmachine," which is a tabletop pewter miniatures game with role-playing elements. The art and the story are awesome. Tournaments get pretty heated but I've done only one of those. Chest-beating, 110 pound men aren't pretty. But if anyone out there loves comic books and fantasy art and is looking for a recreational activity that reeks of glorified bloodshed, I highly recommend it. Just Google the name.
Hmm. Maybe Dave Barr will nerd-out with me on occasion? Then we can go attack some man-sized iron and remind ourselves that not all nerds hinge their competitiveness on little painted figurines.
Question #6: In the world of nutrition and training, tell us something you suspect but that hasn't been backed up by studies yet.
Lowery: 1) I suspect that spot reducing (body fat) is not impossible, given the right conditions.
2) I think that actual hyperplasia of myocytes (splitting or differentiating of muscle cells) does indeed add up physique-wise after fifteen years of training.
3) I think that protein isn't evil but has almost pharmaceutical effects that rival those of lipids (which is saying a lot).
4) I think that, although it's five to ten years premature, legitimate nutrition plans will eventually be designed around genomics. This is currently pretty well addressed by attempts to recreate "paleo-diets."
5) I think that working a muscle in a relatively stretched position (e.g. stiff legged deadlifts, "hit-heads," preacher curls) is superior for muscle growth.
6) I lean toward the belief that meditation slows the biomarkers of aging.
7) I suspect that the immune system is an under-addressed "back door" to physique progress.
That's enough for now.
Question #7: What's your ultimate training album?
Lowery: The singularity of this question is too tough for someone who relies on music so heavily that he stokes himself to tears with it at the squat rack. Here are a few old-school examples:
Ministry: Land of Rape and Honey
Van Halen (take your pick)
The Cult (any)
Sound Garden (early tunes like "Hands All Over" and "Outshined")
Jane's Addiction: Jane's Addiction and Nothing's Shocking
And some newer stuff:
Soilwork: Natural Born Chaos
Iced Earth: The Glorious Burden
Jane's Addiction: Strays.
I've also been known to mix-in some triumphant classical music like Mozart and Beethoven or even Conan soundtrack music. It's partly about psychological associations.
I used to squat at midnight after finishing my lousy first job and letting myself into the gym where I also worked. I was hacked-off and tired beyond belief and these old tunes saved me.
Ahh. I even get psyched when I hear Christopher Cross's Ride Like the Wind. (I've got a free seminar CD for anyone who can figure out this anomaly!)
Question #8: What's the secret of developing lifelong good nutrition habits? Why can't most people seem to do this?
Lowery: The problems surround convenience and marketers. The average person won't cook anything that takes more than ten minutes to prepare. Even thirty minutes is no longer convenient or even do-able for many of us. Society is mutating so fast that time for ourselves (diet planning, exercise, self care) will soon become absurdly absent.
Enter marketers. Instant, portable, processed food products are answering the time dilemma. We're barraged with colorful, tasty, pre-prepared fast foods.
But there are answers for those willing to think rather than be led by impulse. One answer is to plan. Plan weekly meals in advance and grocery shop accordingly. We don't need to obsess. There are solid, easy starting points. Frozen vegetables can be prepped quickly and are colorful and delicious. Some apples or a box of shredded wheat in the car can be a shield against the scent of golden fries wafting into your car as you drive around.
We need to dissociate from commercial enticements and learned destructive behaviors. Kill your TV or boycott fast food one more day each coming week. Or simply start by identifying a vulnerable time of day and correct it just once per week for a month. Then move on.
It can be done but it takes small moves. Impatience is another Western fault and can lead to overzealous behavior changes that don't last.
Question #9: If your worst enemy was on a diet to lose fat, what would you send to his house for him to eat?
Lowery: Corned beef hash and donuts for breakfast. Perhaps a quart of apple juice to wash it down. French fries and a bag of chips would make nice sides to his deep fried filet-o-fish sandwiches for lunch and dinner. He could enjoy these tasty treats with a 64 ounce cola and a dessert of cream pie.
Oh yes, he'd be looking great after two months. You see, when a competitor comes looking for advice, it's not that hard to "give him the wrong advices" as Arnold once said.
Question #10: What's the single worst bit of dietary minutia going around right now?
Lowery: I'd have to say anything that's over-emphasized in a propriety "system." So many of the basic solid dietary ideas have been taken that minutia is what's left for gurus to scrap over. Readers need to recognize that marketers must exaggerate their "reader hook" as the best approach to their dietary needs; otherwise that system or book wouldn't stand out from the glut of other diet books and services.
Tailored variety and moderation, however often they get dissed, are the boring but honest keys to long term success. A legitimate nutrition assessment that sets up monthly "baby steps" is what gets you there.
Question #11: Who's been your biggest role models?
Lowery: Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein were pretty smart fellows that affected me. I suppose I'm not alone in this, but the aspects that I admired in them may be different from the cliché responses you get when discussing these guys. My former advisor, Pete Lemon, of whom I was reading in the local university library before even setting foot on a campus, was also influential.
The warrior side of my personality always liked Tom Platz. Young bodybuilders could learn a lot from the Golden Eagle. And my Tae Kwon Do instructor of many years, Ron Cortright, taught me about honor and courage and being a stand-up person. I've also been affected by fictitious persons like Peter Parker and Conan.
I suppose I could even go on about Sun Tsu and various philosophers to impress everyone, but those influences are beyond the scope of this article.
Question #12: What female in your opinion has the "perfect body."
Lowery: My wife is the official answer. (Ehem.) But this is like the music question. I just can't narrow it down to a single image. There have been some close physical examples here in the Powerful Image section, but I intertwine intellect with physical attractiveness so much it's tough to call speaking only visually.
I realize some guys go for the vacant eyes thing, but a reflection of intelligence in the eyes of an obscenely attractive woman promises so many more possibilities. I'll refrain from the gory details of what I find physically attractive. I'm no Casanova, but if you want to know, I'll spill it over a Guinness one day.
Question #13: Why won't you just drop the academic snobbery and write a straight-up diet?
Lowery: Because I'm 51% academic snob, brother! Or at least I've been influenced by such mentors. Effective "diets" are based on fairly boring concepts. The challenge lies in the counseling and subsequent behavior change.
In other words, the theory isn't the problem, it's the practice. And I think the consumer needs to understand what to look for in applying a "diet" to himself. Emotion should be kept in check and real evidence considered. And so we're back to the academic snobbery thing.
I straddle two different worlds and the gulf between them can't be explained easily in words. As just one example, "proof" is a word that isn't used in academe yet is bantered about in commercial and public forums daily. This is one reason I'm planning to submit some articles on how to read research and recognize various levels of "evidence." Then we'll all be snooty and erudite!
Thirteen questions, thirteen answers. Out!