Lucky 13 - John Berardi

13 Questions, 13 Answers, 1 T-Nation Expert

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.

In previous installments, we've talked to Chad Waterbury and Christian Thibaudeau. This time we sat down with nutrition maharishi, Dr. John Berardi. Aren't you lucky?

Question #1: You've dabbled in every aspect of lifting and sports, from bodybuilding and powerlifting to track & field, football, and rugby. What's been the most rewarding?

Dr. Berardi: I love training. But even more than training, I love competing. Lonnie Lowery and I have talked about this often – always concluding that there's something very powerful, very Testosterone-ish in getting out there and competing against a group of other men who want to defeat you as badly as you want to defeat them. So, regardless of the sport, competing is the thing that's driven me.

Yet, being a 30-something guy with a business that services clients all over the world, I now face the challenge of staying very physically active while spending a ton of time working my athletic teams and spearheading new Science Link projects. So, with my limited time for training, I now get my kicks by working out with some of my athletes, many of whom are almost a decade younger than me.

Whenever I get the chance to hit the track, run drills, or do some weightroom work with them, I take it. Last year I had to take it easy as I'd torn my ACL and PLC (simultaneously). But now that the knee is about 90% again, I'm feelin' the need for speed.

I guess the answer is this: I love any physical activities involving explosive strength, power, and agility. Regardless of the sport, get me learning new physical skills, moving explosively, and competing against other hungry competitors and I'm a happy guy.

Question #2: You get more ass than a toilet seat at Studio 54, huh?

Dr. Berardi: It's funny, Chris. Before my internship at Playboy, I was sort of reclusive around women. Sure, some chicks dug me because of this weird air of mystery I developed when I was younger. But still, I wasn't scoring much more than the average frat boy.

However, after spending a summer with Hef, getting the Playmates all into shape, things, as you might imagine, changed. There's just something, uh, I guess you'd call it instructive, about being around such a large group of hot women 24/7.

So, yes. I do get more ass than a toilet seat at Studio 54.

Question #3: If you had to pick one food to have the honor of being called a "Bodybuilding Super Food" what would it be?

Dr. Berardi: Milk. Milk is my number one pick for Bodybuilding's Super Food.

[laughing] I had you going there, didn't I? Seriously, as almost everyone here knows my feelings on milk, let me take another crack at it.

Rather than picking a favorite Bodybuilding Super Food, I'm going to pick a favorite Bodybuilding Super Recipe. It's called Dr. Johns' Chili and was created by myself and Dr. John Williams for our Gourmet Nutrition book. Here's how you make it:


4 lbs extra lean ground beef (96%)
4 cans kidney beans (15.5 oz per can), drained and rinsed
2 large onions, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
4 bell peppers – 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange, cut into 1/2-inch squares
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Two 46-fl oz bottles V8 vegetable juice, spicy hot
Cashew meal


4 tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp celery seed, 1 tsp fresh ground pepper (for a quicker version, you can use 3 packages chili seasonings mix, but it won't be quite the same!)

Cooking Instructions:

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, one pound at a time, over high heat together with the garlic and onions. If your skillet is large enough (i.e., a wok), you can brown the beef all at once to save time. On the last batch, add the spices after the beef is browned and continue frying for another couple of minutes.

Add the browned beef to a very large pot with a lid, and then add the beans, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and V8 juice. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. To make the cashew meal, process the cashews in a blender in short bursts, until a grainy meal is formed. Don't process for too long or you'll have cashew butter. Stir in the cashew meal, cover, and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Makes 10 servings

Nutritional Information, Per Serving:

Calories (k/cal) 637
Protein (g) 71
Carbohydrates (g) 53
fiber (g) 11
sugars (g) 18
Fat (g) 13
SFA (g) 4
MUFA (g) 6
PUFA (g) 2

This stuff is da bomb. I always have a big batch sitting in my fridge, ready to be heated up when I need a meal.

Question #4: Why do most dieticians come off as bloomin' idiots who are behind the times by about 15 years?

Dr. Berardi: For the same reasons many personal trainers do: most of them just don't have enough education to speak as representatives of their field.

However, before slamming dietitians, I think it's important to realize just what type of training dietitians actually get in school. In other words, let me fill you guys in on what dietitians are supposed to know and what they're not supposed to know.

First, a dietetics degree is a bachelor's level certification. That's right, to be called a dietitian you simply have to float through an undergraduate program in dietetics and then pass the American Dietetics Certification exam after graduation. So, despite the fact that dietitians often act as if they're highly educated, highly trained professionals on par with physicians, most have only got an undergrad degree, folks.

Secondly, dietetics programs are almost always based in either community nutrition or clinical nutrition. With a heavy focus on clinical nutrition, dietitians have a unique skill set – they know lots about dealing with the minimum nutritional needs of those in short-term or long-term care facilities. They also learn a lot about food itself.

However, very few have extensive training in how food interacts with the human body. I used to teach a single semester course in nutritional biochemistry to a group of dietetics students. This one semester, covering only the most basic of basics (and very little applied information), was all they ever learned on the topic.

And forget about sports nutrition or exercise science. It's the rare dietitian indeed that so much as ever cracks a sports nutrition or exercise physiology book.

So let's be fair when expecting dietitians to be the end-all, be-all source of nutrition info and, when they can't deliver this lofty expectation, criticizing the heck outta them for it. Dietitians are simply not trained extensively in the art of applied nutrition, especially sports nutrition.

However, you do have my full permission to body slam any unfortunate dietetics soul who decides to spout off on the subject of sports nutrition, trying to back up his drivel with the RD after his name. Sorry, dietitians are about as well qualified to give sports nutrition advice as I am to perform a coronary bypass operation.

Question #5: When you work with a non-athlete, regular person to help him shape up and eat right, how often so you want to beat him senseless with a big zucchini?

Dr. Berardi: Zucchini beatings are reserved for only my best clients. (Oh God, that sounded bad).

Okay, all kidding aside, about 50% of my clients are elite athletes and 50% are "regular" folks. And, to be honest, it's usually no more frustrating working with a regular guy or girl than working with an elite athlete. Truly.

You see, here's the secret to consistently getting results with all types of clients whether they're athletes or non-athletes, soccer stars, or soccer moms. Are you ready for it?

The secret is in archetypes. An archetype is what an individual, deep down inside, wants to be. It's their motivations, their drives, what turns them on (or off), their fears, and their passions. All of these things make up a person's archetype.

And the secret to getting great results with all types of clients (no zucchini beatings required) is learning how to unlock client's archetype, how to speak directly to their needs, desires, and fears so that they A) hear what you're saying, and B) allow you to help them. This is the art of counseling.

Here's the problem with most self-styled nutrition experts or even the do-good advice givers – they pride themselves on knowing the latest cutting edge nutrition information and on sharing it, unfiltered, with anyone unfortunate enough to ask anything, no matter how simple, about nutrition.

What's unfortunate is that while they either know a lot about nutrition in general or a lot about what worked for them specifically, they don't know jack about teaching or coaching the individuals they're trying to pass this info to. And I'm talking about nutrition experts, gurus, whatever you want to call them, at all levels. There are only a few that actually know how to counsel client change.

Of course, every guru, no matter how limited their coaching aptitude will have a stable of successful clients. It's very easy to work with clients who simply need the right food info. For this specific archetype, clients that are motivated, don't have food hang-ups, etc., the "expert" can be very successful by just sharing what they know about food.

However, in a vast majority of clients (T-Nation members included), the food information isn't the limiting factor. In these clients, factors such as problems with motivation, a lifetime of bad habits, a history of nutritional failure, a history of using food as a control variable, and poor social support, coaches without the ability to unlock archetypes through the art of counseling often fail miserably. These clients need more than a discussion of low glycemic carbs and omega-3 fats.

So hopefully you can now see that being a good nutrition coach means accurately assessing what your client needs and then speaking to those specific needs. Of course, eventually, all clients end up at a similar point – eating the right things at the right times. However, as different clients need to follow different paths, the best coaches know all the different paths to get them to the same end point and can walk them down those paths.

Question #6: As a nutrition expert, do you ever just grab five boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes, hide in the closet, eat them, then rock back and forth weeping uncontrollably?

Dr. Berardi: Who has time for snack cakes? I'm too busy with my other vices (see the toilet seat conversation above).

In all earnest, though, I do have my trigger foods. But I'll tell ya what, when I'm eating as much as I need to, every day, seven times a day, there's no way I could be packing away boxes of Little Debbie and her little friends.

It's only when I'm A) eating like a jerk, B) skipping meals, and then, C) when I do eat, eating crappy meals, that I start to feel really hungry – five boxes of Little Debbie hungry. At this point, I just eat all the cakes and then go make myself throw up.

Kidding, folks, kidding! Seriously, I really don't binge eat any more. I think this is a function of the fact that I don't really try to bulk up or cut down like I used to. I've pretty much figured out what I need to do to eat the same way year-round and stay between 5-10% body fat. It's only after I deprive myself of calories that I get those binge urges.

Question #7: What's the biggest or most common criticism leveled against your dietary recommendations?

Dr. Berardi: Oh, there are all sorts of criticisms leveled against my recommendations – heck, even some critics have questioned my character.

Well, I try not to judge these critics too harshly. After all, what do they have to go on? A few articles on the web? That's hardly enough to actually understand a complete set of ideas. And hardly enough to judge a person's character. But that's what the web does. It puts blurbs of info out there. Of course, this info is out of its complete context. And, just hanging out there, it begs judgment.

So I understand that criticism is a part of the web and I've learned to embrace it. After all, if I had nothing but a fawning group of devotees I'd never be able to think critically about my own work and I'd certainly not be able to make improvements in it. So I thank the critics for the criticism – especially the most salty and bitter of the critics. Although their tirades aren't supposed to be useful, I always find a way to become a better writer and practitioner with each criticism.

One particular criticism that I've built a lot on is the idea that my calorie recommendations are too high. This criticism has actually sparked a new book, Rev It Up, that'll be released in April of '06.

You see, it's true that I recommend more calories than most do. But that's because I believe there's no such thing as a stagnant metabolic set-point. Instead, metabolism chases intake. So, if you want a bigger metabolism, you need a bigger food intake. (For more on this, check out my New View of Energy Balance article.)

Suggesting that my calorie recommendations are too high is really a trivial objection. After all, inherent in my outcome-based decision making model (outlined in my Massive Eating Reloaded series) is the fact that you should always be adjusting energy intake every two weeks based on your results. If my recommendations are too high, simply make the adjustment. Not much "damage" can take place in two weeks!

Question #8: Solve the North American obesity epidemic in one short paragraph please.

Dr. Berardi: Here's a quick way to solve the obesity epidemic in one fell swoop – have the federal government tax the hell outta junk food and subsidize healthy food with those tax dollars.

Let's face it, people grab what's convenient and what's inexpensive. So, make good food convenient and inexpensive and fast food restaurants and grocery store aisles would be filled with good stuff vs. junk.

Question #9: What's the single goofiest diet or dietary belief you've ever heard?

Dr. Berardi: I can't do it, Chris... it... it... just hurts too much.

Question #10: You've lived in Canada and the U.S. Which country is better for the bodybuilder or fitness fanatic?

Dr. Berardi: Oh boy, you're setting me up aren't ya? I guess my answer depends on what type of scene you prefer. If you like access, the US has got access. In the US, it's all about resources.

Heck, in any American small town you'll likely find a handful of training facilities catering to different target markets. And this is a huge asset in getting more people working out. But, with the US abundance of resources, the fitness market is so financially driven that diversity is actually minimized. Weird, isn't it?

So you end up with a bunch shiny fitness centres and not many places for more "serious" trainees to congregate. So the serious trainees go elsewhere and you end up with a real divorce between serious exercise and recreational exercise. In the US, this gap is widening.

In Canada, on the other hand, the scene is different. It may be because Canadians are more tolerant of economic and training diversity. Or it may be because there are fewer facilities and everyone has to just "make due" with what they've got. But in the end, most training facilities in Canada have everyone from elite athletes to bodybuilders to average recreational exercisers under the same roof.

Of course, this means more interaction with individuals with different sets of goals and less of a gap between serious exercise and recreational exercise. Yet, ironically, as there are fewer folks with the same goals in one place, it creates closer-knit communities of information sharing and training support.

Of course, all this is just speculation. The big difference may simply be in attitude. In the US, the prevalent attitude is independence. And you see this in the gyms. Lots of Lone Rangers. However, in Canada, there's much more of a community attitude. You see this in the gyms also.

Question #11: If you could "fulfill the protein requirements" of any female in the world, who would it be? And don't say your current girlfriend, 'cause that's just lame.

Dr. Berardi: Just as with the "favorite food" question above, I'm gonna offer a recipe rather than a single food. (If you're going to ask about my fantasies, you'd better be ready to hear my real fantasies.)

Do you remember Braham Stoker's Dracula with Gary Oldman, Keanu Reaves, and Wynona Rider? Well, there's this one scene in which a harem of sensuous, exotic hotties (vampires, of course, but soooo hot nonetheless) are writhing with desire for Keanu's character in this huge canopy bed. While perverse, it's sexy as hell, perhaps even literally.

Well, ever since that scene, my favorite fantasies involve... Keanu Reaves.

Kidding, kidding. They involve big canopy beds filled with sensual women writhing with desire. So, for my perfect fantasy recipe, here are my ingredients:

1 Large Canopy Bed
1 Jelena Djordjevic
1 Angelina Jolie
1 Monica Bellucci
1 Keira Knightley
1 JB

The best part of this recipe? It's calorie free!

Jelena Djordjevic, recipe ingredient #2

Question #12: You're always referred to as a "nutrition expert" or "diet guru." Do those pigeonholing labels bug you?

Dr. Berardi: Not any longer. To be honest, when I was younger it did bother me. As I'm probably better trained in exercise physiology than I am in nutrition, it used to bother me that people considered me a one-trick pony.

I've actually got a few hilarious examples of guys contacting me for consulting and, after making a training suggestion, getting told to stick to what I'm good at – nutrition. Well, I come to find out that a top buddy's list of credentials is his ACE personal training certificate. Uh, that's a weekend seminar. He must have been good.

This stuff doesn't bug me any longer for two big reasons. First, whether people notice my skill set or not, it doesn't bother me. After you reach a certain age, you just stop giving a crap about what people think of you. Well, I've gotten to that age. I recognize that life is short, and I'm now doing stuff that I enjoy. Who cares about impressing others?

Secondly, I don't really think I'm being pigeonholed any longer. You know, although this might sound like bragging, I just kinda feel like there's not a whole lot left to prove. I've designed best-selling nutritional supplements, I've taught university courses at some of the top universities in the US and Canada, I've published my research in some of the best exercise science and nutrition journals, I lecture to athletes and non-athletes around the world, and I've published over 200 articles.

By early 2006 I'll have published four books, two with the biggest independent book publisher in the US, and I direct the sports nutrition programs for some of the top US and Canadian sports teams. With a resume like this, people can try pigeonhole me all they want, and they can criticize all they like. But my track record and accomplishments speak for themselves. So, like I said, now I can kick back and do only the stuff that's fun.

Question #13: What MP3s are rockin' your iPod right now?

Dr. Berardi: I'll tell ya what, I'm the king of Rhapsody. I've got tunes rockin' day and night – while I work, while I cook, while I train, while I dine, and while I fantasize about canopy beds and sexy temptresses all around. And I have custom radio stations for every occasion and activity.

When writing I usually listen to a custom classical radio station that samples from Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, Pavarotti, Bonichelli, and other similar artists. Don't doubt for a second that classical music helps you focus, think, and write creatively.

JB listens to Pavarotti. Maybe Pavarotti should listen to JB.

When chilling out on my patio, I've got a custom station that samples from Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, and other similar artists, including a little Jack Johnson thrown in for good measure (this guy's one of my new favorites). This stuff is great chillin' music.

I've also got an awesome country station (ranging from classics like Hank Williams to newer stars like Randy Travis) for when I'm feeling Texan, and some great 80's and 90's "post modern" stuff (Morrissey, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Jane's Addiction, etc.) for when I'm feeling like I haven't seen The Breakfast Club in far too long.

And when it comes to training, depending on my mood, it's either hip hop or something hard. Sometimes a combo of both. Lately I've been playing that six-song set of Jay Z and Linkin Park over and over and over again. That's probably my flavor of the month. Yet there's always room for some ballin' Tupac tracks or maybe something harder like a mix of Distrubed, Alice in Chains, or Metallica.

It all depends on my mood and on the workout. There's no question, though, music is an important part of setting my mood for whatever activity I'm about to participate in.


Thirteen questions, thirteen answers. Out!

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