You can say a lot of things about Dr. Eric Serrano, but you can't say he's boring. If you ever attend a symposium where Serrano is speaking, be sure to catch the show. This medical doctor and college professor always gives a lively talk filled with both science and practical observations. You may laugh or you may get pissed off, but he'll definitely make you think.
Testosterone first interviewed Dr. Serrano way back in issue #13. Well, it's high time we chat with him again.
Testosterone: Let's start with some basic questions, Dr. Serrano. How much protein does a guy need if he's training heavy for strength and size?
Dr. Eric Serrano: That's an easy answer: if you're a male, 1 to 1.5 grams per pound. The maximum would be two grams per pound if you're training extremely heavy plus doing aerobic exercise. If you're female, 0.8 grams per pound is sufficient. These recommendations are for people who aren't taking anabolic steroids, of course.
T-mag: How about for fat reduction?
ES: It's more important to manipulate fat and carbohydrate levels for body fat reduction than overall caloric intake. In fact, some people don't consume enough calories for true fat loss to occur. The above-mentioned protein ratios apply here as well.
T-mag: You always hear the casein vs. whey debate and I know that you've actually separated proteins for their predominant anabolic or anti-catabolic properties. Can you briefly explain this? What are the best protein powders on the market?
ES: First of all, I don't believe whey isolates are the best. Let me explain why. When we simplify things, we tend to destroy other things along the way. For example, going from milk to whey destroys many of the growth-support proteins.
Taking this a step further, processing whey alters the alpha-lactalbumin to beta-lactoglobulin ratio so that the latter is in greater concentration in the end product. Well, guess what, beta-lactoglobulin is the most allergenic protein of them all!
To answer the casein vs. whey question, it depends on the process. There's calcium, potassium and sodium caseinate, but I prefer to use milk protein isolate that has all the proteins together or micellar casein which seems to be a superior source. For whey, I favor whey concentrate which is cheap, pure and better quite frankly. There's a supplement called ImmunoPro which isn't cheap, but has a more favorable alpha-lactalbumin to beta-lactoglobulin ratio.
To gain size, you want proteins with both anabolic and anti-catabolic properties. Anti-catabolic proteins are rapidly absorbed and will prevent breakdown of muscle while anabolic proteins will help build muscle (e.g. red meat).
As far as I'm concerned, the best proteins on the market are Beverly International Ultra Size (which also has beef in it), Biotest Low-Carb GROW!, Champion Nutrition Met Max, ImmunoPro, MD+ Myosin, and a meal replacement powder called Micellean Bioactive Superfood from VPX which tastes pretty good, too.
One more thing regarding protein, you can snack on soy beans if you wish, but no time in a male's life should he consume a soy protein isolate!
T-mag: Okay, good info. Now, many people are looking for ways to naturally increase Testosterone levels. Any suggestions?
ES: Believe it or not, there are some studies on resistance trained athletes that show eating too much protein can actually decrease Testosterone levels, especially when fat and carb levels are low. There's a direct correlation between dietary fat (saturated and monounsaturated) and Testosterone. In general, the higher the fat intake, the higher the T levels.
Olive oil, cheese, and red meat are excellent sources. Many athletes stick to only lean cuts of meat and it's these guys in particular who can attain an erection but have a hard time keeping it! Also, a study just came out recently showing that the fruit of tribulus (not the stem or the roots) elevated LH and Testosterone levels.
T-mag: Okay, now that we know how to naturally boost T-levels, how can you naturally control dreaded cortisol levels?
ES: Well, every time you eat, you lower cortisol levels–raising insulin lowers cortisol. That's a natural response. So, the first method would be to eat frequent small meals.
There are also certain supplements that will lower cortisol levels naturally: rhodiola rosea (600 mg), panax ginseng (two studies now show it decreases cortisol levels; you need a minimum of one gram), and PS (phosphatidylserine – 400-800 mg).
Fats are also very important, particularly monounsaturated fats, but no matter who you are and what you do, the best way to decrease cortisol levels is sleeping at least eight hours a night! There's a book called Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby that illustrates this.
The process involves circadian rhythms of hormones and timing of melatonin levels. There were an incredible number of studies performed on this subject, but on average eight hours of sleep (optimal being nine) is necessary every night.
The key is not watching TV late at night. One study I recall involved placing people in a dark room and shining a little light bulb behind the knee for 20 minutes to see what would happen. The subjects' sleeping patterns changed even though they were in a dark room, and in only two weeks the melatonin levels of all the subjects was completely altered, so you know that the skin has some type of sensitivity to light.
That's why we stay up longer in the summer–there's more light. In the winter, the opposite occurs. Since there's less light, we feel more tired, stressed and depressed, and we want to go to bed earlier. It makes sense!
T-mag: You're not a fan of milk, but you don't mind other dairy products like cottage cheese or even whipping cream. Why is this? Also, what type of cottage cheese do you recommend?
ES: Let's clear up the first part. It's not that I'm not a fan of milk; I'm not a fan of pasteurizing and homogenizing milk! Heating at high temperatures for a short period of time is okay, I guess, but filtering the fat through small filters completely changes the composition of milk.
Raw milk is great but it's difficult to obtain (unless, of course, you get it straight from the breast!). Goat milk is a better choice than cow milk because it has more fat and less carbohydrates, and it tends to be a lot friendlier for people with milk allergies because the protein sources are different.
Cottage cheese is one cheese that'll actually elevate sugar and insulin levels. I'd recommend organic, high fat (the highest you could find) cottage cheese.
T-mag: Can you clear up the whole egg issue? For one, some people don't believe we digest eggs all that well and that they're a common food allergy. Others feel that since eggs are so similar to human tissue, they're easy to digest.
Then there's the issue of cooking them or not. On one side of the coin is Dr. Mercola who believes that cooking destroys some beneficial enzymes and nutrients, and that the risk of salmonella poisoning is actually quite rare. Then there's John Berardi who says cooking the eggs will increase their absorption. What are your thoughts on all this?
ES: Eggs are one of the most allergenic foods you could eat. Is there a difference between boiling, scrambling, or eating raw eggs? Yes. The more you cook eggs, the greater the free form amino acids. Eating raw eggs provides intact proteins which is more allergenic. Boiling is a step in the right direction, but scramble your eggs as much as possible.
Mercola is right in that cooking will destroy some enzymes, but it's a tradeoff where I prefer less allergies over more enzymes. I definitely agree with Berardi that cooking eggs will increase their absorption.
By the way, cholesterol and eggs isn't an issue at all. I can't believe people still suggest this to be true! Almost every hormone you have is cholesterol-based except for protein-based hormones like insulin and growth hormone. The lower your cholesterol levels after the age of 55, the higher the chance of cancer!
T-mag: Interesting! Can you discuss your "fruit hierarchy"? A little while ago, you faxed me a flowchart showing the end metabolic pathway of fructose. Although known for their high antioxidant and fiber content, why is it that fruit consumption can hamper fat loss?
ES: Don't get me wrong, I don't think fruits are bad. It's the amount of fructose in the diet we must be concerned with. Fructose (specifically high fructose corn syrup) is the number one sweetener used. It's a very metabolic, pro-oxidative pathway that's used as a glycosylated carbohydrate because the body doesn't like to do anything with it. You have to spend a lot of energy to change it to fat or glucose/glycogen so the body converts it instead to glycosylated proteins. Health-wise, this isn't desirable.
Fruits will make you fat not because they're bad for you, but primarily for the reason that people eat fruits that are "easy" like grapes or bananas – peel one and keep walking (and they have about three or four a day!) Usually, people that eat fruit don't eat proteins with them, which is another mistake. Fruits (fructose) are excellent post-workout because they are slowly metabolized; just make sure to add protein with it. Also, I don't believe in using juicers because they remove the pulp/fiber from the fruit.
It's also important to eat fruits in-season. God knows better! You should eat fruits that are in-season at that time. For instance, if it's cold outside, eat an apple; whereas, in the summer, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, etc. are in-season. Don't eat fruits that aren't naturally available. Bananas aren't in-season during the winter, yet guess what the most commonly consumed fruit is at that time? That's right, bananas!
T-mag: Can you reveal your new food pyramid? I've heard you discuss the inherent problems with the original model, and although the new proposed pyramid is a step in the right direction, it's still off. Please explain.
ES: Water should be at the bottom of the pyramid because you can die after three days without it. Tell me which food is more essential than that? Next would be proteins, preferably organic. Then comes vegetables, everything but white potatoes (sweet potatoes are fine) and corn, which is actually a grain.
The next level involves fruits and nuts together. I consider these the same in value. Cheeses follow since most aren't fermented. After this comes carbohydrates, the best sources being rice and oatmeal.
My food pyramid would include a disclaimer that reads: "Carbohydrates are activity dependent!" If you're a couch potato, then you shouldn't consume any carbohydrates, no grains or anything, and fruit only occasionally. However, if you're active, then by all means, consume those carbs.
T-mag: With all this talk about mercury toxicity, is it even safe to eat fish these days?
ES: I had a guy who was eating three cans of tuna a day. He upped it to five and his mercury levels shot from 5.2 to 47.4. That's toxic! So, you have to be careful with some fish, especially tuna, shark, and dolphin. Salmon, herring and crab are okay.
T-mag: Hmm, love that dolphin! It's getting tough to find at the grocery store these days though. Pesky environmentalists! Now, there's been a lot of talk lately about blood acidity. Explain why you believe this whole concept is faulty.
ES: The human system is so keen on controlling the pH of the blood that any change affects the body. For that reason, the body will try to fight acidity or even alkalization. I don't believe too much in this concept. I do agree, however, that certain foods will affect the pH of the blood for a short period of time, but it's nothing to worry about. The most common change in pH is secondary to a lack of oxygen. If this happens and you go too acidic, then you're in deep shit!
I have a problem with those that claim eating too much meat will make you too acidic. Let's go back to prehistoric times when there was no agriculture so there were no grains. Basically, we had to hunt to eat. We ate lots of meat and got our fiber from eating intestines not grains. In the summer, we had plenty of fruit to feed on, but what happened when winter came? It's gone! The only thing left is food that's walking around, so we had to follow this food which would migrate south.
Now, we'd stumble across other sources, like bananas for instance, which would influence nutrient intake. Our bodies, therefore, were never deficient because we'd transition between seasons. This is one of the reasons why I believe in a food rotation diet.
Anyhow, to get back to my original point, if you're going to tell me that eating meat is going to make me acidic then there were a lot of acidic people millions of years ago and we would not have survived!
T-mag: Okay, let's switch topics again. You've brought to light that the enzyme responsible to break down ALA into the active constituents DHA and EPA is deficient over the age of 35. Does that mean it's relatively worthless to take flax seed oil over that age? And if below 35, how much flax seed oil should you take?
ES: Flax seed oil is very high in polyunsaturated fats. These fats are unstable in the body because they can be easily oxidized. The enzyme responsible for breaking down ALA into DHA and EPA is lower (not deficient) after the age of 35. I just found out in a study conducted on pregnant women that taking as little as three teaspoons of flax seed oil removed all the EPA and DHA from the breast milk. Yet, when they changed to fish oil, EPA and DHA were present in the breast milk. That tells you something.
The conversion rate is only 15% from ALA to EPA/DHA so it's better to take fish oils. What are things that affect the enzyme? Caffeine (people taking thermogenics have even lower activity of that enzyme), high insulin levels (from excessive carbohydrates), low magnesium levels, and alcohol are the biggest factors.
T-mag: Now, here's a problem a lot of people have. How would you go about regenerating the adrenals after a lengthy period of stimulant abuse?
ES: If you use stimulants or thermogenics for more than twelve weeks, you kill the adrenal glands. It takes about eight weeks to recover. To regenerate them, you need to take adrenal gland supporters (Standard Process Drenamin, Metagenics Adrenogen), vitamin C (at least three grams a day), DHEA, and fish oil. In fact, the adrenal glands are 60% fat so polyunsaturated fats are important here as they'll also decrease cortisol levels. And again, sleep is crucial.
T-mag: Okay, how would you cleanse the liver after a steroid cycle which included orals?
ES: Make sure you have some liver tests (blood work) done by your physician to obtain a baseline. This is one of the few times I agree to a medium protein diet. In addition, it's important you don't smoke, drink alcohol, take Tylenol, birth control pills, or other drugs during this time.
To clean the liver, you need the right foods. Eggs are useful in this situation as the lecithin found in eggs will help. As far as supplements are concerned, liver tablets, milk thistle, glutathione, and glutamine also helps the liver. Finally, 25 to 50 grams of vitamin C taken intravenously has been shown to regenerate the liver. I use this approach in my office occasionally when I have a patient with hepatitis A, B or C and the results are incredible!
T-mag: Okay, let's give the reader an example of how you diagnose things. We'll take the thyroid for example. You've mentioned that you check TSH, T4, T3, reverse T3 and triglycerides as well as ask questions about hair loss, constipation, weakness, palpitations, and usage of carbs and caffeine. What exactly do you look for and how do you go about correcting some of these anomalies? How about boosting the thyroid gland? What would you suggest?
ES: Yes, the biggest problem I've seen in this area is that some labs return normal and you assume everything is fine so you do nothing. You must listen to the patient! If the thyroid is borderline, meaning that TSH is between 2.5 and 3.0, you can use adrenal supplementation for four weeks. If after four weeks you don't see results, then I'd recommend thyroid medication.
Armour thyroid is a natural thyroid that contains both T3 and T4. If you have someone with hyperthyroidism, then putting them on a thyroid medication may actually help to lower their levels.
T-mag: Now, since you've always impressed me with your knowledge of kinesiology and your diagnostic skills, what are some of the common weight-training injuries you see in your practice?
ES: The most common weight training injuries I see are imbalances between the frontal superficial line versus the back superficial line. Visit anatomytrains.com for more information. Hamstrings are notorious for being tight.
Also, I notice many people lacking the supporting muscles. For instance, it's common to see weak lats with strong upper traps pulling the shoulder girdle closer to the clavicle which causes impingement of the rotator cuff. Also, stress-related injuries which affect posture results in weaker muscles which are more prone to injury.
T-mag: While we're talking about injuries, any tips or supplements that'll help speed up healing?
ES: There are many supplements that will speed up healing. Research has shown that digestive enzymes will help injuries. They act as anti-inflammatories and will even help reduce cancer.
Another big one, albeit through a separate mechanism, is glucosamine and chondroitin. These are more applicable to the joint (as is collagen), whereas enzymes (specifically bromelain) will act on the tendons.
Fats are also important. Fish oils and GLA have been shown to have a potent anti-inflammatory effect. Other supplements include Vitamins C (two grams) and E (800 IU's), MSM, reishi mushroom, cat's claw, tumeric, and feverfew. The dosages used will depend on the injury.
T-mag: You focus mostly on nutrition, but you know a lot about training as well. Do you have any tips you'd like to share?
ES: First of all, the most common mistake I see is overtraining. If you're over 35 years old and do more than ten to twelve sets per body part, you're overtraining! If you do legs more than twice a week (depending on your state), you're overtraining! In a strength phase, work your legs only once a week and your total workouts should not exceed three times a week, especially if you're performing any aerobics. Always keep in mind the stress factors such as work, rest, nutrition, family, etc.
I have research that clearly demonstrates training more than three days a week elevates cortisol levels for up to four days. This is important because elevated cortisol levels will not help you build muscle! You want to have an acute "destroying" effect on the muscles and then stop it – allow them to recover and build. One of the best ways to stop this so-called destruction is to use BCAA's. BCAA's lower cortisol levels. I've been saying it for years to always ingest BCAA's pre-workout.
Another thing, you're only as strong as your weakest link. So always work on your weak muscles. One way to figure this out is to train the body unilaterally at first to see what's lagging behind. Once you know, spend more time on that particular side.
Also, remember that your grip dictates your strength. If your grip is weak, you won't be able to bench as much. The most common weakness I've seen are hamstrings while the glutes get too strong. Usually, both the lower and upper back tend to be weak leading to injury.
T-mag: Very interesting stuff. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today, Dr. Serrano.
Note: Dr. Serrano is available for paid consultations. For info, click here.