The most interesting discussions about bodybuilding never occur at the big la dee da conferences where everyone is wearing ties and is afraid to utter an opinion without a PowerPoint presentation to back them up. No, the most interesting discussions occur later. The ties come off, adult beverages are consumed, and the walls of academic civility go down. This is always where the real fun begins.

So at the Pre-FNCE Sports Nutrition Workshop in San Antonio a few weekends ago, I decided I'd not only cover the presentations (read: mainline espresso and dutifully take notes), I'd also get together with a few of the smart cookies there and talk nutrition and current events. So I strolled down to the famous Riverwalk, imbibed a cold brew, and met with Doug Kalman, Dr. Jose Antonio, and Dr. Tim Ziegenfuss at the Hilton Palacio Del Rio.

This proved to be a great time for a roundtable interview. These brainy guys were relaxed and in a rowdy mood. This was partially because we were about to go eat large portions of Mexican food and see how many nutrition rules we could break in one cheat meal, and partially because they were all smashed on tequila.

No, no, not really. I think they were just glad to get their suits and ties off. Kalman even had on his Yankees cap and could be seen weeping gently on Ziegenfuss's shoulder when his team lost the World Series just a couple of hours later.

Before we started our roundtable I was introduced to a big, strong lookin' dude who turned out to be none other than Chris Street, former science editor at FLEX and all around smart guy. (You may remember TC's interview with him way back in issue #39.) I asked Chris to chime in on our roundtable discussion whenever he felt like it. Luckily for us, he felt like it quite a bit.

Punching the button on my trusty tape recorder, I threw out the first question.

Chris Shugart: Let's start with current events. What the hell is going on with BALCO Labs and the so-called designer steroid THG?

Chris Street: I think it was purely marketing. These guys were doping but I think Victor Conte had intentions the entire time to take THG to the marketplace. He was going to market it the same way they do the other androgen precursors.

I think all these athletes were duped. There were doping, they did want to dope, but I don't think Victor Conte is smart enough to find a real androgen that has effects. If you look at THG, if it's anabolic, it's extremely weak. It's a potent androgen, as is Gestinol and Danazol but their effects as anabolics are very questionable. This doesn't mean it doesn't work, but I think the guy's intentions were purely monetary.

Shugart: He meant to sell THG as a legal sports supplement?

Street: I think he wanted to put it out as an androgen precursor.

Doug Kalman: So you think he wanted to do a ZMA type of thing where he'd point to all these track athletes using THG?

Street: You got it.

Tim Ziegenfuss: Does this mean the ZMA study at Western Washington that showed increases in Testosterone, IGF-1, and strength.... hmmm, could it be that ZMA had other goodies in it?

[laughs all around]

Street: The only ZMA study I saw was the one they published online. From what I remember it was garbage; the study was a joke. That's the one they reference in all the Weider magazines. I think Victor Conte is very crafty. He's a marketer. His blood testing is a bunch of crap.

Shugart: Conte has said there's no proof THG is a steroid or that it has performance-enhancing effects.

Kalman: You can look at the chemical structure and see if it has the basic structure of a steroid, the cholesterol molecule, but no one knows if it has any anabolic effects because it's never been tested, not even in a petri dish. It's not an anabolic steroid; it is, however, androgenic. It's an upstream precursor to both progesterone and pregnelonone. Great, if you want to be more in touch with your female side!

Shugart: Okay, why does Conte keep popping up every time an athlete gets busted for 'roids? Remember when Marion Jones's husband, C.J. Hunter, got popped? There was Conte on TV standing beside them. I kept thinking, why the hell is the ZMA guy there?

Kalman: Conte has the ZMA track club–a whole bunch of track athletes he sponsored to wear ZMA hats and take his supplement. In turn, he could use their names on his website and in the magazines. So when C.J. Hunter tested positive for a steroid and claimed he was only taking iron pills, Conte got up there and said he was his nutritionist and said he was in fact only taking iron pills.

You look at a guy as bulky as C.J. Hunter and you know he's not iron deficient. I think he's had a steak or two in his lifetime! I think we're going to see bigger scandals within sports concerning other drugs being used. There are at least five or so other designer steroids available.

Shugart: Sounds like THG is just the tip of the iceberg then. On to what we came here for: sports nutrition. What's hot right now in this area?

Street: Tania Becht!

Ziegenfuss: Suzy Favor Hamilton!

Jose Antonio: Suzy will read this in T-mag, so I'll vote for you as well, Suzy!

[Note: Tania Becht is a fitness/figure competitor who presented at that day's workshop. Suzy Favor Hamilton, the world's top female mile runner and Nike model, also presented at the workshop. As you can see, both women had a profound affect on the men in attendance.]

Antonio: As for sports nutrition, nutrient timing is hot. When to take what, carb/protein mixes, etc.

Kalman: I agree with Joey, and I think what's growing is what type of fats to use in a diet, when to use them, and their effects on the immune system, body weight, and exercise performance. The other area that's hot is essential amino acids and how little, not how much, you can take to illicit any kind of anabolic response.

Ziegenfuss: I agree with both you guys. It's nutrient timing, it's specific types of carbohydrates, different amino acid mixtures, etc. Are there optimal ratios of branched chained amino acids and phenylalanine that can maximize muscle protein synthesis? Maybe, we just need to figure it out. Also, how does adding non-protein energy (carbohydrates) change the picture? And do you need to take it an hour before, a half hour before, immediately after, 15 to 30 minute intervals after, and so on and so on. So yes, nutrient timing is a hot topic right now.

I agree with the fat comment as well. Some of the more recent studies use a heart healthy type of fat in post-workout drinks. That may work better, if not acutely, then over the long term for insulin sensitivity.

Shugart: I've read about this too, but doesn't the fat block the insulin response?

Ziegenfuss: Exercise blocks the insulin response! The data on nutrient timing has discarded insulin as one of the major factors because you can get a greater insulin response with carbs plus protein, but that doesn't necessarily translate into greater glycogen deposition. So there's some other factors going on. It's not all insulin.

Kalman: I think the other topic that's hot in general nutrition is delivery systems. New delivery systems have improved absorption over taking something as a drink, powder, pill or capsule. So the next big thing we're going to see will be new delivery systems such as the one being used with MAG-10.

Shugart: Let's talk about carbs. The general public has gone from low fat/high carb mania to low carb mania. I think T-mag readers are ahead of the curve though and the pendulum is swinging back toward the middle. What do you guys think?

Antonio: The simplest message for carbs would be: use high glycemic carbs pre, during and post-exercise; the rest of the day consume low glycemic, high fiber carbs. Follow that general rule and you'll be fine.

Kalman: I think the general public is finally starting to learn that not all carbs are created equal. There's a difference between the carbs you get from fruits and vegetables as opposed to a slice of Wonder Bread. We're also seeing a lot of food companies coming out with low carb foods. Heinz is coming out with a low carb ketchup with only one gram of carbohydrate. Hopefully these low carb foods will taste good and not have glycerine or other sugar alcohols that cause bloating or stomach upset.

Timing of carbs is probably the biggest issue. We also need to push fiber, not just with the general population but with bodybuilders and fitness people too.

Ziegenfuss: I think some people are carb sensitive and some are not. A high carb, low fat diet clearly works for some people. Whether it's genetics or a number of other factors we don't really know. I agree with Joey about pre/during/post-exercise, high, low, whatever, eat what you want. I really think it's okay.

Like John Berardi has written, it's really the insulin index and not the glycemic index. Let's say you have a glycemic index of a food that's 85, but you only eat ten grams of carbohydrates. Who cares? The glucose load is so low you're not going to get a wicked insulin response anyway.

So you have to look at glycemic index with that bit of scrutiny. What's the total amount of glucose you're consuming? If you consume a high glycemic index food but you're only getting five, ten or fifteen grams, it really doesn't matter relative to blood sugar and insulin response.

Street: People should listen to their bodies. When you play with your carbs you're really playing with your attitude towards life, work, and family. I think it can be detrimental. If you go too low with carbs you don't feel good. Some people can handle it and some can't. There's a tremendous individual response and you really need to listen to your body. Sometimes you do need more carbs than other times.

Shugart: So carb intake should not only differ for individuals, it may even need to change for that same individual from week to week or day to day.

Street: I agree and think Joey makes a great argument for not always doing things so mathematically. People get too anal and want things to be precisely calculated, and that doesn't always work well.

Shugart: If you guys had to name one nutritional supplement everyone should be taking, what would it be? I'm thinking more of general health stuff. I'd say fish oil. What about you, Joey?

Antonio: I'd say a multi-vitamin.

Shugart: What kind? I hear about some tablet vitamins which don't break apart and absorb properly.

Antonio: I'd just say buy any good brand name multivitamin and maybe add some calcium to that.

Ziegenfuss: I have a story I have to tell here. I was at a NASCAR race and standing in line waiting to use the porta-potty. I struck up a conversation with a guy in line and when he found out I work in the supplement field he told me he works on the "other end" of that field. I asked him what he meant and he said he cleans the porta-potties and sees whole vitamins in there all the time!

Shugart: Oh, that's disgusting! But that's why I've heard of people biting their multivitamins in half – to create more surface area so they'll dissolve. Do we need to do that?

Kalman: When someone takes a calcium tablet you can actually see it when you're doing certain types of X-rays or DEXA tests. When someone is getting a test like this, it's recommended they stop taking calcium for a certain amount of time beforehand.

Ziegenfuss: You have to be careful with the Costco type brands. You're not just paying for the name with some of the more expensive vitamins. The cheaper companies are going to do things like coat their vitamins with tar to keep them together and extend the shelf life. Well, you can't digest tar! Some of these things are coated with indigestible material to keep them on the shelf longer, and that's why they sometimes come out the same way they went in!

Kalman: Here's another key point when you talk about vitamins. There are some good clinical studies that show taking a low dose of vitamins two or three times a day is better for vitamin absorption and retention compared to taking a one-a-day type of vitamin. Your body uses and retains more of the vitamins if you split the dosage. I take one called "His Essentials" that has an AM and PM formula.

Ziegenfuss: I'd also add creatine to that list of vitamins and fish oil. There's a lot of research coming out regarding the anti-disease properties of creatine and you'll see more of that in the near future. I suggest taking three to five grams of creatine per day.

Shugart: Cool. Let's talk more about what Dr. Z brought up and that's genetics and nutrition. What genetic elements are out there we have to consider?

Antonio: Some simply do better on low carbs or high fat than others. There's definitely a genetic component to how you oxidize fuel.

Kalman: Here's something else to keep in mind. Today at the workshop we heard about a few five day food studies, but it takes your body longer than that to adapt to eating a different macronutrient ratio than what it's used to. If you go from high carb to low carb, it's going to take several days for your body to glycogen deplete, then your body has to get used to the fuel. Whichever macronutrient predominates your diet is the one your body burns most at rest and during exercise.

Shugart: So if someone says, "Oh, I don't do well on low carbs," maybe they just need to give it a few more days?

Kalman: Perhaps. That's why all these seven day diet studies are bullshit. Seven days is not the real world!

Ziegenfuss: I've heard of this referred to as nutrigenomics. Your nutritional habits should be determined by your genetic make-up. I don't know if all this is 100% true, but if we all go out to eat tonight and order the same thing, two of us may feel great and the rest may be ready to fall asleep. Why do you think that is? Individual differences in biochemistry probably due, in part, to difference in how we're genetically set up.

There are some companies out there where you send them a cheek swab and they send you a report–based on your genes–of foods you should absolutely stay away from. I haven't seen a lot of data on this, but I think in the next ten years we'll be hearing more about it.

Street: What we're discussing here is the wave of the future. If you're interested in your physique, your health and your wellbeing, the molecular and genetic basis for all this is very important and people need to learn more about it.

Shugart: Okay, good info. Now, what's the average weight trainer screwing up in his diet if his primary goal is building muscle?

Ziegenfuss: Some guys are big on protein, but you ask them about their total calorie or total energy intake and they're clueless. Protein is second, total energy is first! Most also don't know about nutrient timing and don't understand how or when to get their carbs. Not to plug Surge too hard, but this supplement does take the guesswork out of it.

But yeah, most guys get enough protein, but not enough total calories to build muscle. As John Berardi and Lonnie Lowery have said many times, it's the battle of the knife and fork.

Street: I agree. Guys who want to add skeletal muscle have to eat a ton of food. It just takes a lot of food to get big. There's no way around that. Total calories is very important. I also think everyone should be eating more vegetables. Personally, I think that in order for the organism to grow efficiently, it's got to be incredibly healthy. Eating lots of green vegetables is a big part of that.

Antonio: I'd like to add that you should be eating lots of raw fish too. Sushi!

Shugart: Why raw exactly?

Antonio: It doesn't have to be raw, but sashimi sure tastes good to me! I mean when you look at a finely sliced piece of salmon and see the nice white streaks of fat, come on, isn't that just utterly appealing? Okay, if you don't like it raw, bake the dang thing!

Kalman: Most male athletes aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables either. They're afraid of the fruit because of the sugar. They think it'll add bodyfat, which is a big mistake. You need those phytonutrients and fiber. And because they live alone or never learned how to cook, most guys don't get enough vegetables, even with the advent of all these frozen bags of vegetables you can just nuke for a minute.

Tim also hit the nail on the head. If you're not getting enough total calories, it doesn't matter how much protein you're getting!

Shugart: Excellent point! Now, I'm starting to hear more people come out and say saturated fat isn't as bad as we once thought. Comments?

Antonio: I think we're moving away from the notion that saturated fat is inherently bad. We know you need some saturated fat along with the unsaturated fats. I always suggests eating beef, not just for the protein, but for the zinc and even some of the saturated fat.

Kalman: Most people worried wrongly about saturated fat because of the old association between it and higher cholesterol levels and heart disease. However, your liver only actually makes cholesterol when you're not eating. So there's a big thought process in the cardiology world that feeding cholesterol will shut down your endogenous cholesterol production.

That's why when you look at the good Atkins studies, most of those people have decreases in their total cholesterol levels. They may have a slight decrease in HDL, but they also have a decrease in LDL and a total decrease in triglycerides actually lowering their risks of heart disease. So saturated fat isn't something to be afraid of. Probably the one to be more afraid of is trans fatty acids, things you find in margarine and anything that says hydrogenated oil on it.

Street: I think if you want to get big you have to eat beef. That's absolutely true. Men and women who want to add skeletal muscle should eat lots of beef.

Shugart: Bring on the charred mammal flesh! Next topic: dairy. What's all this talk about dairy and how it bloats people or "thickens" the skin? What's up with that?

Antonio: [silence]

Street: [silence, eyes bugging out]

Kalman: [silence, slight bit of drool forming in corner of mouth]

Ziegenfuss: [nervous giggling, possible erection he clumsily tries to cover.]

[It seems that fitness hottie Tania Becht has entered the room and sat down with us.]

Shugart: [Higher brain function slowly returning to normal.] Tania, thanks for joining us! You talked about dairy today in your presentation. Since something appears to be wrong with the guys in the room, what's your take?

Tania Becht: Two to four weeks pre-contest, I cut out all dairy. It makes a big difference in my appearance. Cutting our dairy takes away the puffy, bloated appearance.

Shugart: Even cottage cheese?

Tania: Absolutely.

Ziegenfuss: Could this be a lactose maldigestion (not intolerance)?

Kalman: You could do a hydrogen breath test to see if there's actually any lactose maldigestion. To some degree I do wonder what the interaction is with the hormones in some milk verses hormone-free, organic milk.

I also want to add that while there are individual responses to food, there's a whole group of bodybuilders out there who think they can't have dairy pre-contest, and that could be based on some old myth. It's like the myth that says you can't absorb more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting. That came from Lou Ferrigno and now everyone believes it.

Shugart: Well, you know the rule. If someone bigger than you says it, it must be true! Tim, what do you think about dairy?

Ziegenfuss: While I think many people are lactose "maldigesters," you have to balance that somehow with the relatively recent info which says calcium intake from dairy can downregulate lipogenesis and up-regulate lipolysis. In other words, people who eat more dairy are leaner than people who eat less dairy.

Kalman: But all of those studies were by Dr. Michael Zemel of the University of Tennessee and were mostly sponsored by Yoplait. Zemel has, I think, five patents–two that have been passed and three that are pending on calcium and body composition regulation (use of it for body fat reduction or weight control). So I have to ask, how much is real and how much is theoretical science to support the patents and sell a lot of yogurt?

Shugart: Ooooh, the plot thickens! One more current event question: David Boston, the football player who's amazing everyone with his physique improvements. He's supposedly doing these 90 minute IV drips of minerals, eating low carb, getting trained by Charles Poliquin where they do those so-called "growth hormone producing workouts," etc. His physique is making everyone scream steroids and GH. What's your opinion?

Antonio: It's entirely possible he's just a genetic freak and he's watching his diet and training a lot harder. Now Doug will present the alternative view! [laughing]

Kalman: Yeah, expect Boston in the Olympia next year! He's 6'2" at 250 as a receiver and can still run a 4.3! That's incredible. He may be a genetic freak plus.

As for low carbs, you can low carb your way through any endurance event. Your body will adapt. There's no reason you can't low carb your way through a marathon. You do it long enough and your body will adapt to alternative fuel sources.

Shugart: What do you think, Chris?

Street: I would just like to say that there are a lot of guys in the NFL who are VERY big.

Shugart: And with that loaded response, we'll call it quits and go eat some Tex-Mex! Thanks!


At the end of the discussion, we all went to a nice Mexican restaurant and broke every damn rule in the book when it comes to healthy eating. But as Joey Antonio stressed that day in his presentation, there's nothing wrong with an occasional cheat meal, as long as you're eating healthy the rest of the time and training hard.

This seemed to be an overriding theme to the workshop and the roundtable discussion. While it's fun and sometimes very helpful to dig into the microscopic complexities of nutrition, 99% of the population could greatly improve their health and their body by simply taking care of the "big stuff": eat plenty of good protein, avoid frying and trans fats, limit sugar, get most of your simple carbs around the training session, eat more fiber and more veggies, don't fear a good steak and, most importantly, lust hard for Tania Becht and Suzy Favor-Hamilton. It's fun and healthy!

Note: For more info on sports supplements, checkout the new organization several of these guys are involved with called the ISSN, the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram