Dr. John Berardi – Precision Nutrition
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Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back with another Bonus Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. It’s a special day today folks because I am as excited as a listener, as I am as the host of this show today because we have the expert of experts with us today. We have an individual who is the founder of the world’s largest online nutrition coaching company Precision Nutrition and, like I said, he is really the expert’s expert. He is a Physiologist, in the last three Olympics alone, his athletes have collected over 30 medals, 15 of which are gold.
He partners with the Nike high performance team, he works with UFC welterweight champion [Georges St. Pierre 00:45]. In addition to all of this good stuff, he is genuinely a nice man and his website and his brand, which again, you can check out at precisionnutrition.com has grown into this wonderful resource without resorting to so many of the diet and exercise gimmicks we see out there. So, I’m excited to dig in to that with him, proud to have him on the show and just thrilled to have Dr. John Berardi with us today. John how are you brother?
John: Doing awesome, thanks so much for having me. Thanks for the wonderful introduction and bio and I’m just really excited to be able to share all kinds of interesting things with the listeners today.
Jonathan: Well John, and I hope you don’t mind if I call you John, is that okay?
John: No problem.
Jonathan: Doctor John!
John: After saying what a nice guy I am, it would be really bad for me then to be like, no.
Jonathan: Well, John so you, folks you can go check out precisionnutrition.com. Obviously you are the founder of precisionnutrition.com, can you tell us a bit about your personal path and then, when Precision Nutrition got started along the lines and then also, your philosophy of – like right what you have on your website here, No gimmicks, no fads, just results from real people, we guarantee it.
John: Yeah. Well Precision Nutrition is essentially a nutrition coaching company and there’s two groups of people that we coach. One, the first is the group of people who are just interested in looking better, feeling better, performing better. You mentioned a lot of our elite athletic accolades if you will, earlier and those are all things that we are very, very proud of but the fact of the matter is that only represents about 1% of the people that we work with. So UFC champions, Olympians and professional athletes, really the other 99% are people who are just recreational exercisers. They want to look better. They want to maybe improve their blood profile, they want to feel better, they want to be able to play with their grandkids.
They want to you know be able to feel more energy in everyday life and those are the people that we work with, most. Those are the people that we’re really, proud to help and that’s just the one group. The other group is a group of fitness professionals, so this would be personal trainers, strength coaches, nutrition coaches who are interested in learning from the model that we’ve put together to deliver reproducible, consistent life changing results.
It’s kind of the motto of our company, it’s our tagline, it’s life changing, research driven nutrition coaching for everyone and we’ve created a system that, in the last 5 years, we’ve coached over 20,000 people to over 300,000 pounds of fat loss with that system and again we’re super proud of that. A lot of fitness professionals come to us to learn how we do it, so we have a certification program for them as well.
So, those are the two arms of our company. One is helping recreational exercisers achieve the most from their fitness and nutrition program and then the other is teaching that to professionals. So, professionals come to us to learn how to do that in their own practices.
Jonathan: John, tell me a bit about your personal story because obviously, and I want to unpack how this, your company has become so delightful and successful without resorting to much of what we see on the internet, in terms of online things but I think inextricably linked to that is who you are as a person and your journey through life up to where you are today. So, can you tell us about little John, not them East side boy and how you got to where you are today?
John: Yeah absolutely, you know for me, my path wasn’t the conventional path to personal trainer. I wasn’t like a real athletic guy growing up and then decided to just pivot that into a career. For me, I was actually really sickly, I was born really premature, extremely small, really, really sick, ill. I had asthma and allergies and all these problems gaining weight, growing up. So, for me athletics was sort of the furthest thing from my upbringing and you know I was sort like the typical nerdy introvert. I read books and I didn’t play many sports and stuff like that but then, when I got to high school, I figured hey, I like books and I’m really skinny and the girls didn’t seem to like me because of that, so, I was going to try and sort of figure out fitness, whether nutrition and exercise could help me. So, I spent the time reading and practicing and I found a few great mentors along the way and that actually changed everything for me.
I gained a bunch of muscle, which is what I needed to do at the time but I could’ve easily gone the other way if I had been overweight. I could lost a bunch of fat with the knowledge that I had learnt and then it just became my life’s purpose to kind of share with other people you know this sort of amazing and enlightening type of thing that happened to me which was, I was able to change something very fundamental about myself in a very positive way.
So, I decided to go to school and I did the whole academic journey. I did Pre-med undergraduate degree in Exercise Science, Masters Degree in Nutritional Biochemistry, PhD and I just, throughout the way I was coaching. So, I was a personal trainer, nutrition coach throughout the entire time and it became for me, this really, really exciting way to share with others the empowerment that I felt when I first learned how to manipulate my body for the better, the fact that the two came together, that I was being trained academically.
So, I not only had the credentials but a real deep understanding of the body and then I was coaching at the same time because I never wanted to be a professor. I always wanted to be a coach. It all sort of collets and then when I finally finished school, and I say finally because it did take a very long time. I started Precision Nutrition with my co-founder [Phil Caravaggio 06:44] and we did that in around 2000. So, we’ve been at it for 13 years, like I said, we’re really, really proud of the number of lives that we’re impacting every single year and its not been a linear progression necessarily.
I mean, we have some fits and starts and lots of learning experiences in the business realm of it, but really, what we stayed at the core is just a group of people who are really, really passionate, not only just about fitness but about coaching, about helping people, about figuring out the best ways to help people move towards what they want to move towards. That’s been the cornerstone of what we do. So, like you say internet marketing and some of the over the top stuff that happens in the industry nowadays is obviously, primarily profit driven. It’s money driven and to stay in business we need to make money, but at the same time the core of what we do, is about service and value. So, if we can serve people and we can help them achieve what, I think they want to achieve from fitness and nutrition, then I feel like the money will always come.
So, if we can stay with that at the core and at the heart of what we do, not only are we super proud of that, not only our customers really feeling like they’re getting value out of what we do, but then we can stay in business as well which is a good thing.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Well, John, it seems like that what you say is certainly true where if, the quality is there and the results are there, the recognition will ensue, almost has to ensue because people can’t help but talk about transformations in their life, even if they don’t talk about it, people see them and they see that transformation.
John, I noticed there’s some parallels a little bit in our journey and I’m curious because we preach similar philosophies and one is that, you started of skinny. You didn’t actually start off struggling to lose weight, you struggled to, if I understand correctly, to gain muscle. That was your focus.
John: Yeah. I mean, for me, when I graduated high school, I was at 5’9 and 130 pounds, so you know, barely fitting into adult sized small garments, you know what I mean? So for me, it’s not just about the vanity aspect of gaining muscle, I was fundamentally weak and sickly. I couldn’t do every day things just like a lot of people who may be overweight feel like they can’t do every day things that they should or ought to be able to do. That’s kind of how I felt, I just was at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Jonathan: John, I think that’s, I think that’s informative for me, it sounds like it was informative for you too because when you take that personal experience and then you combine it with a PhD in Biochemistry, you can see not only anecdotally with yourself but empirically in the laboratory that, for example, just eat less, exercise more. The body works like a math equation, it doesn’t bare out in the real world and it also doesn’t bare out once you look at it at a biochemical level, correct?
John: Yeah that’s right. I mean, you know in the lab we – and when I say we, I mean the scientific community knows a little bit about how this works but that’s limited and devoid of real world practical coaching experience. It can be even meaningless at times because, not only is there that issue of calories in versus calories out, how much you eat and how much you exercise and how it impacts your hormones and your metabolic rate and all that stuff but there’s also the thing that I always talk about, which is, the coaching piece, which is, how you do this stuff within the context of a real human life and this is something that I think the fitness industry misses every single day.
A lot of really keen and well meaning fitness professionals, they attend more seminars on Physiology, on Biomechanics, movement on nutrients and this is all science devoid of real life and its only when you sort of combine chain Psychology and understanding of real people and what their lives look like and how this has to fit in to the context of work, family and everything else you’ve got going on, that real change can occur.
So, you know I, the fact that I have high level academic training is awesome and it opens a lot of doors for me and I think it helps me understand the body in a unique way but I feel like that alone is insufficient to actually help any single human change their life, you know?
John: Go ahead.
Jonathan: Well and John you have a concept, the thing that makes you so powerful about your practical experience as well as your clinical experience is, you have this concept of nutritional triage, which we all love, which is basic marginal cost, marginal benefit from economics applied to lifestyle, which is, what are the smallest changes I can make.
What’s the least cost I can incur for the biggest marginal benefit but having that rooted in proven science as well as actual experience is very helpful because it seems like some of the tom foolery we see out there, there’s these tips and tricks and 100 things you can do to cut 100 calories and so, how do we differentiate nutritional triage rooted in science from these top 10 quick fix approaches?
John: Well you know, I mean, the popular words to use nowadays are like nutritional hacking or body hacking right? That seems to be the very popular thing and people are trying to look for those little tricks and tips to hack their body. It’s very interesting that that comes from a technology world, comes from computer programming world and the idea behind a hack is very interesting if you understand computer science. What hacking was, was to come up with the quickest but crappiest solution to getting a job done right? It wasn’t intended to be sustainable, software engineering is intended to be sustainable. Hacking is just trying to duct tape together a very quick solution that you expect to break, so it’s fascinating to me that so many people are gravitating towards this very interesting analogy coming from the computer world when it comes to their body. They’re trying to hack, which is, find the quickest shortcut to a positive result but at the same time what they’re doing is they’re setting themselves up for that exact solution to break.
So, when we look at nutritional triage, Precision Nutrition the idea is: what is the smallest thing that you can do today to make a positive effect on your weight loss journey, on your physiology, on your blood work, that also is sustainable. So, that’s the criteria and we’re actually doing engineering here, we’re not doing hacking. The first thing is eliminating nutritional deficiencies, so if we actually think about and look into why people feel bad, why they can’t lose weight, why all these issues come up?
The thing we see time and time again is, we see nutritional deficiencies at stake. We see things like you know vitamin and mineral deficiencies, we see fluid deficiencies, which is dehydration. We see protein deficiencies and we see deficiencies in essential fatty acids like omega-3 and the fascinating thing is, you can look to the research. There been some studies and these are really great on prison inmates where they actually would simply give them fish oil pill and a multi vitamin, and the incidents of anti-social behavior and violent behavior in the prison themselves will drop by 60%.
What they’ve done is given the same sort of combination supplements so – multi vitamin and omega-3 to school children and they see the exact same reduction in anti-social behavior, violence and they see increases in cognitive function. The thing is, the most important message here isn’t what most people would draw from that, oh, you have to supplement with vitamins and omega-3s. It’s not the bottom line because there’s nothing magical about them, really what’s at stake here, is the fact that when we’re deficient in certain things, we don’t function optimally.
Our hormones don’t work right, our brains don’t work right, we get moody and violent and anti-social. So, fixing deficiencies is the key and here’s the beauty as well within the context of a human life, it’s very easy to do that. So, that’s our first step in nutritional triage, people know the idea of triage, if there’s a whole host of problems, you have to go to the most important one first, just like an emergency room doctor would go to the person who has a limb amputated before someone with a cut on their finger right? So, we have to look to those things. So, for me, the first one is eliminating nutritional deficiencies, that’s the most important first triage step and then you can start building diet intervention around that. How do most people do it? They do the opposite, they think they have to overhaul their whole eating. I’ve got to cut out caffeine and sugar and eat more protein and less gluten and make this long impossible, unsustainable list when all they really might have to do was get a little zinc, magnesium and omega-3s and it would have kick started the process, and that’s really easy to do.
Jonathan: John, how do we – so in the spirit of this new model of bio hacking, it seems like there is a sexiness to that, there’s an immediacy to that especially to an American based culture, where it’s what is the stock price doing today? What is happening today versus more of an Eastern approach, which is the 50 year company and fixing these nutritional deficiencies, which may not be as sexy.
We talk to people, we say ensuring you’re eating non-starchy vegetables and nutrient dense proteins and until you’re doing that at sufficient volume, anything else may be a bit of a waste of time because this chain is as strong as its weakest link thing but it works incredibly well but it’s not as sexy. So, how do we bridge that sexy gap?
John: Well, we can sex it up if that’s what you want. It’s not very difficult, we can make up some nonsense about the particular nutrient being this, that and the other thing, and we’ve harvested this particular vegetable from a high top this one mountain. You know we can make all that up and that can be very compelling if you need entertainment, that’s totally fine, but the truth of the matter is, while this sounds easy, eliminating deficiencies you probably do need a little bit of guidance and supervision because how is the average person going to know if they’re deficient in zinc?
Well, you can get a blood test done or I can assess your dietary intake everyday and they’ll be some real red flags around that. I mean, when we look at nutrients for example, we could just assume because we see zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, omega-3 fats and protein are very common deficiencies, so for a lot of people, if we just targeted those. If I just had you add a couple of foods that were higher in zinc and magnesium, if we either plan to be outside in the sun for 10 minutes a day or just take a vitamin D supplement we can hack, there we go, let’s throw it in there.
We can hack that aspect of yourself but this is a different kind of hack, this is sustainable hack, because if we can fix these deficiencies, all of a sudden, things start working better and this is the amazing part. People tell me, oh yeah, but that’s not my problem, it’s my sugar cravings. What do I do about my sugar cravings? Well, here’s the interesting thing, if we get your hormones in line and we get rid of a bunch of these deficiencies, then magically sugar cravings go down. Oh… that does seem kind of sexy doesn’t it now?
So, there’s a whole sequence, chain of events here, like you said the system is strong as its weakest link and this is the weakest link for a lot of people. Now, it’s not the only place to stop right? I mean, there are other steps. The next step is to look into food amount and type, so how much you’re eating each day and what types of food that you’re eating but we don’t even look at that, we don’t even begin looking at that until we fix deficiencies.
I’ll admit, sometimes our clients are annoyed because we’ll start off with some of these things where we’re fixing deficiencies and they’re like yeah, but you’ve never told us what not to eat yet or what to eat. The idea here is that you don’t have to change your eating until we take care some of the deficiencies stuff and that seems kind of counter intuitive but it plays out over and over again and we have the largest sample of coaching clients anywhere in the world right now, and we see it over and over again.
People are anxious to change their eating and they want to make it a big project and we start off with just eliminating deficiencies and we don’t tell them what not to eat for dinner, what to eat for dinner, we kind of just fix some of these little things that we know are missing and all of a sudden, weight loss kicks off, all of a sudden they start feeling better, their skin looks better, they feel less anxious, they have less cravings and here’s the magic, the diet then starts to fix itself, then we can sort of corral it.
We can send it in the right direction by talking about the right amount of food that you eat and we’d like to talk about that without calorie counting because I think that can become sort of an obsessive thing, then we look at things like how to eat for your body type. We split up people by what’s called somatotypes so it’s whether you’re tall and thin, whether you’re sort of a more rounded in shape and structure, whether you’re more athletic looking naturally and then we sort of split up your nutrients according to that.
The last part is digging into the fine tuning stuff and that’s where we look at things like meal frequency, how often do you eat, whether you’re cycling your calories and carbs, whether you’re using workout nutrition, intermittent fasting. These are all the things that get a lot of play on the internet nowadays but we saved them towards the fine tuning part because it’s really cool when you can just focus on fixing deficiencies and you make a huge stride in progress from that simple thing.
You didn’t have to quit your job or stop spending time with your kids to figure this out.
Jonathan: John, I love it because it really gets back to that initial point you made about the spirit of bio hackers is certainly to help individuals live better and the intention is all wonderful and that’s great. The metaphor itself is an interesting one to look at because also implied in the word ‘hack’, is that the system itself is broken and it’s not really worth fixing…maybe it’s…I listen to your program manager at Microsoft, all about software.
If we know we’re not going to continue to use a certain code base or a certain system, you just put a bunch of hacks in there because we’re like the system is too far gone. Let’s just plug the holes and move on. Whereas if you believe the system itself is fundamentally sound, you just need to get it back on track. You’ll take a different approach and I think that’s what we’re talking about here. Is there is no need to do a hack or trick the system.
The system doesn’t want you to be sick, the system doesn’t want you to be over-fat. The system wants you to be healthy and fit as evidences by the dramatically lower rates of disease and obesity that preceded everyone trying to be healthy. It sounds like what you’re saying is by restoring deficiencies, things like that. We just get the system, which is intrinsically right and good back on track. So there is reason to hack it because it’s not wrong, it’s just broken and we need to fix it.
John: That’s exactly right. You said it extremely well. The body is an amazing thing and when we do the wrong stuff, we have certain outcomes. When we do the right stuff, other outcomes follow. That’s what we’re talking about here. When you use a science based approach and then a progressive approach, and by progressive I mean, the next thing builds on the last thing.
I think the fitness industry in terms of personal trainers have done this really well for years. Where when a new client comes in, they’re not going to give them the most complex exercise possible with the highest intensity on Day 1. Presumably what they’re going to do is build them up over time using, what I call progressive programs. Here’s step 1, because you don’t know how to do these complicated movements.
We chunk them up and build them up over time with a last thing building on the next thing. I see this wonderfully with my children, they’re involved in sports and gymnastics and stuff like that. How does a kid, how does a little kid go from barely being able to walk, to hold their head up without toppling to being able to do flips and aerials and stuff like that in gymnastics.
If you actually watch a child go through progression its fascinating because you see each chunk building on the last. In the nutrition world we’ve not done that, historically. It’s been “Here’s a meal plan to follow”, which is the most complex movement at the highest intensity and Day 1. Instead of doing that, it has to be building up progressively. Just like we do in every other physically aptitude setting. A little bit of progress from where you were yesterday but it’s strategic, its well designed and then you build on the next one.
Just like gymnastics, you’re not going to randomly introduce small habits, you’re going to introduce the new one that makes the most sense for the level you’re at and then you’re going to introduce one higher so it’s like climbing a staircase. Same thing has to be done here, like you say, the body can work extremely well, it just has to be taken through a proper scientifically designed progression.
Throwing random hacks at it isn’t going get us anywhere or at least in the long run. That’s really the point. I don’t know anyone who’s racing to lose a bunch of weight for the next six weeks with the hope and intention that they gain it all back with interest over the next six weeks after that.
Everyone wants to be able to sustain this, they want to be able to do something that they can build on in the long run. Unfortunately we’ve just never been taught how.
Jonathan: Well, Dr. John Berardi, this is brilliant. We’ve absolutely got to have you back on this show because we’ve…I’ve taken so many notes here, that we’ve got so much we can cover but listeners, I hope you can hear why I’m such a personal fan of John and his work over at precisionnutrition.com. Obviously science based as well this common sense based, system based long-term brilliant. John, thank you so much for joining us today, this is absolutely fabulous, can’t wait to have you back on the show.
John: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it, I’m excited to come back. I think there is lots more we can talk about. There’s lots more the listeners can get out of you and I just riffing on some of this stuff and just talking about what we’re most excited about. I look forward to it.
Jonathan: Awesome, thank you so much, John. Folks, his name is Dr. John Berardi, you can learn more about him and his wonderful company at precisionnutrition.com com and please remember, this week and every week after. Eat smarter, exercise smart, and live better. Chat with you soon.