Today I want to share with you the first part of an interview I did with John Meadows.
John is a brilliant Bodybuilding and Nutrition coach working with all types of athletes from all over the world and he is a guy that I really look up to in the industry (even through our fields are slightly different). He has competed many times himself, each time stepping on stage with amazing condition that has become his trade mark for himself and his clients.
I had chance to chat with him on a whole range of topics from his own career to health, workout nutrition and loads of other topics.
You can find more about John on his website HERE.
Here is what he had to say.
Mike: Hi John, can just tell people a bit about yourself really if they are not familiar on your work on T-Nation.com and with the website itself mountaindog.com. Tell us a bit about yourself and your unique approach to nutrition where a lot of people differ with being more health-based.
John: I’ve been around a long time and I had a corporate job for a long time. I left that job a couple of years ago. People have really just started to hear about me in the last four to five years outside of hardcore bodybuilding but the truth is, I’ve been around since the 90’s from a high level competitive perspective. I was just one of those guys that would compete once a year and then I would disappear just because of my work responsibilities. I didn’t really have time for much else. I started in this industry when I was back early in my teenage years. I actually started competing when I was 13 years old, which is pretty silly when I think back about it. I see these kids now that are 13 years old and I think wow, I was in a body-building show when I was that age. That just seems crazy.
Mike: Yeah, you were a kid yourself.
John: I used to be just a super sponge with this stuff. I remember when I was 13 years old, I remember watching the 1985 Mr. Olympia and I could tell you the placings. It was Haney, Beckles, Gaspari, Makkawy, Mike Christian, Barry de May, Tom Platz, Sergio Oliva, Bob Parris and Frank Richard. That was the top ten. I remember I watched them on my VHS player. I recorded it. Obviously, I watched it over and over and over and I was really inspired. I wanted to look like those guys. I didn’t really know what it took. I would just save up money and if I didn’t have the money, I would go to the store and sit on the floor in the aisle and read the magazines. I really enjoyed it.
I kept training. I was in a lot of sports in high school. I ran track. I played football. I was in wrestling up to a certain point. I gave that up because I didn’t like rolling around on the mat with another sweaty guy. It just lost its appeal to me after a while. I continued into my teenage years. I went to college. I continued to compete. When I was 19 years old, I won my first really good title. I’ll never forget that. I was in college and I didn’t have any money. The guy that was helping me worked for John Parillo. I’m not sure if you are familiar with John Parillo. He was a really, really big name. He is still around. He was a really big name back then in the industry. He is the guy that really brought on the whole fascia stretching stuff. Whether you agree with it or not, he’s the guy that brought that up.
John’s guy had a connection with a food market, so he would bring me boxes of tuna and essentially what I ate for my first contest was tuna, bags of lettuce and an occasional sweet potato.
Mike: Well balanced…
John: (Laughs) Yeah, well balanced. I’m lucky I didn’t die! It was brutal. It was the worst contest diet. It was absolutely brutal. I remember in between every single class at college I went to sleep. I would just go back to my room and sleep. I was so tired. I ended up winning the show and I was ridiculously lean but not having money made those choices pretty simple for me. I didn’t have the luxury of having filets or all the other things I eat now. I had to keep it really, really simple. Then, of course, when the show was over, I made the classic mistake that everybody else makes. I remember saving some money and going down fast food row here and going from burger joint to burger joint to pizza joint. I don’t even know if I saved money for it. I probably used my credit card. I probably maxed out my credit card in one night.
I remember gaining 30-35 pounds in two days, which is just a ridiculously stupid thing. A lot of the things that I do now are a result of the mistakes that I’ve made along the way. I look at all of the mistakes I’ve made and I try to learn from them and I try to incorporate that into my plans so that other people don’t make those same, dumb mistakes. I continued to complete through my 20’s and here I am. I am 41 now. The last three contests I’ve done, I’ve gotten second place on all three of them. I keep just barely just missing that pro card. That’s okay, it just pushes you to get better.
Here I am now. Like I said three or four years ago I really started getting my views out there. I started thinking a lot more about my philosophies and trying to tie it together. In terms of nutrition, I was in a situation where I got really sick in 2005 and I almost died from a vascular disease I had in my large intestine and that forced me to take a really deep look at the digestive system. I had some time in the hospital and then when I got out of the hospital, it was six months actually before I ended up going back to work because of various issues I kept having. I spent a lot of time just going back to the drawing board and trying to re-learn nutrition. Were my methods good, bad or whatever? I found a lot of holes in my way of thinking. I tried to educate myself.
I was one of those guys that wouldn’t eat fat. I thought cholesterol and an egg yolk was bad for you. I was exactly one of those guys. I’m embarrassed to say it but I was. I also probably had a superman complex where I felt I could go out and pig out on fast food, eat a ton, and really the way to get big was to just shove as many calories in you as you could at no regard for digestion. I do agree that sometimes you have to go on calorie overload and your metabolism wants that. That was just my philosophy in general. I just wanted to shove hamburgers and French fries down and have caloric excess and then grow. That might have something to do to with digestive stress (laughs).
In terms of training, training is what I really, really enjoy. It’s the same story. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve trained in a lot of different techniques. I’ve trained under some extremely smart people. I’ve had some great coaches. The things that I think work really well now, a lot of them are not typical. You take training sequence, sequence of your exercises. I never hear anybody talk about that. In my opinion, that should be one of the biggest cornerstones or foundations of your training routine. There are certain exercises that you could do at certain points of time that are advantageous and the big thing is I look at this now, now that I’m in my 40’s from a longevity perspective. How am I going to be able to train hard for a long period of time without injuring myself? It’s a big deal. I can tell you that if I go into the gym and I do what a lot of these people say, which is to bench press first, squat first, then lift first, I can tell you that I start pulling things and I start suffering injuries.
It’s not a matter of training scared. It’s a matter of training intelligently. If you are a power lifter, you are concerned about getting the weight from point A to point B, if you are a bodybuilder, you are concerned about placing tension on a muscle period. I find that for example, if you do a bench press second or third, you’re not going to be as strong because you are going to be a little fatigued, but your muscles are going to get the tension. Your tendon and ligaments aren’t going to take the beating. I have a lot of people, they hear about my routines and how hard they are and how brutal they are but then they tell me, “Oh, my God, my joints feel better than they have ever felt. My joints feel awesome.”
That’s music to my ears because that’s one of my goals is to keep people healthy. There are a lot of things about training too I just really enjoy, I really like talking about. That’s just one example. I know that’s a very long-winded answer to your question.
Mike: No, no it leads us really next to some more stuff. One of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you, obviously, the majority of the people who read this site are combat athletes mostly. They are just grapplers, wrestlers etc. One of the things that is very neglected I think in the sport overall is health. You mentioned before, I know you are very big on getting your blood checked regularly, your cholesterol, triglycerides and everything like that. Many people ignore it completely in combat sports as a whole. I was hoping to get a bit of your uptake on what is the minimum that people should be looking at, say every six months, every 12 months to be getting checked so they are keeping within that healthy bracket? They love the sport, exactly the same as body builders and want to be doing it for as long as possible and this is the thing that no one is getting checked. It’s one of the things I think is really going to come around and bite them in the ass later on. I was hoping to get a bit of your view on the minimum people should be keeping an eye on this as they are going through the training.
John: Absolutely, I typically like to have people get their labs done every six months. Some of the things we are looking for, when I hear the term cholesterol, let me just give you my perspective on cholesterol. I will put a disclaimer out here and say that I’m not a doctor, I’m not an expert but I am entitled to my opinion so here is my opinion. My opinion is that the total cholesterol is a pretty meaningless number. I followed a lot of Uffe Ravnskov’s work. He wrote The Cholesterol Myths and I have followed some other people too, Malcolm Kendrick and some other pretty smart people but based on what I’ve read with people with an IQ that is 10,000 times higher than mine, that total cholesterol number doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot.
People get worried about anything that goes over 200. There is actually a lot of data out there that shows “lower total cholesterol” people have a higher mortality rate than people with higher cholesterol, particularly with older women. There is a direct correlation as their cholesterol numbers lower, they are at more risk. Anyway, I don’t really put too much into that. Then you get into HDL and LDL, lipoproteins. That’s another really, really gray area right now. The traditional thinking has always been that a high HDL is good and I think there probably is something to that, if you look at what it is measuring. LDL is the one that is really, really tricky because we have heard a lot of different things. We have heard that really you have to look at the particle size, these small particles are more dangerous and can get lodged in your arteries and the larger, more buoyant, fluffy particles are like beach balls. They just bounce around. They don’t really do any damage.
There is a school of thought that says particle size is very important and you can get that checked in your labs. Not every lab place will do that but it’s very easy to get done here. I have all my people get it done. Then you’ve got another part of this, another school of thought that is the LDL oxidized or not? You can check somebody’s antioxidant status and you want somebody’s antioxidant status to be good because they are probably going to oxidize less cholesterol. There are actually some pretty cool studies out there with vitamin E. A couple of years ago, I heard about Red Palm Oil. It’s one of these tropical oils, like Coconut Oil that people were really scared of for a while, “Oh my God, all the saturated fat” but Red Palm Oil has a really unique blend of vitamin E. It has all the tocotrienol, tocopherol and it has all those things. If you go out to Pub Med and you type in Red Palm Oil and LDL oxidation, you will see some real cool studies that show a reduction in oxidation.
There is a lot of gray area. I’m not sure that I would worry too much about LDL still at this point. The thing that I have always been taught was that the ratios I look at are a little different than most people. What I have always been taught is that your HDL needs to be high and your triglycerides need to be low. Those are the two factors that you really want to look at. Triglycerides, to me, seem like a really big deal. The nice thing about triglycerides is you can control it very easily with your diet, specifically with your carbohydrate intake. You lower your carbs a little bit, clean them up and you will see your triglycerides will lower.
Of course, you’ve always got genetic issues where no matter what people do they are going to be at risk. I’m not addressing that but generally speaking what I like to see is lower triglycerides and higher HDL. If you get those two things in order, I’m not going to promise you that you will live to be 100 but seems like the odds stack up in your favor in terms of longevity. I also tell people to not freak out and worry about this stuff constantly because you know what the worst thing in life is in terms of killing you? Stress. It really is.
We’re built to handle bouts of stress. We’ve got this fight or flight thing that we have that handles that pretty well, but what we are not meant to handle is these constant low-grade levels of stress. Does my wife love me anymore? Am I going to be able to make my house payment this weekend? Should I go bail my kid out of jail?
To me, that’s what does more damage to people than anything. The number one thing I tell people is if you want to improve your health, first of all let’s start figuring out ways to reduce your stress. As silly as that sounds, it makes a big difference to me.
Mike: Talking about stress and things like that, which management is a big thing, again, it’s a neglected thing for everybody I think when reducing stress and just relaxing really and not taking ourselves too seriously. One of the things I read about or it was on one of your podcasts back when you were lowering your own cholesterol and taking a closer look at your own blood is about how much you improved your own blood work. One of the things you talked about was how previously you had a very low fat diet but then now you have a good quality fat at the right time in your client’s diet and your own. One of the things I would like to talk about that obviously is how it helps reduce inflammation in the body that you brought up previously. You mentioned briefly exercise selection and sequence, which helped me. I recently had shoulder surgery, so any kind of overhead pressing but when I sequenced it, it helps me out tremendously, so thank you.
Everyone in the UK is still scared of high fats. We are not quite scared of carbs yet. We are still scared of high fat. I’m sure that’s coming over not being scared of carbs next year maybe. At the moment, we are still scared of fat. Can you give us a brief overview of why that’s a bad thing? Why shouldn’t people be scared of fat, especially people who put high loads on their joints and tendons and a lot of injury and strain, how that’s going to help them out?
John: The first thing I would say is that any extreme diet is silly. Any diet that doesn’t let you eat any carbs or any fat is silly. Eventually it will lead to long-term issues for most people. In terms of fat, people have this idea that I am eating tons and tons of fat. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily true. I’m just not scared of it. I don’t avoid it. I eat an egg. I don’t eat an egg white, you know? If you look at an egg yolk and all the nutrition that is in an egg yolk, why would you ever throw that away? I think there is a tie in here with fat and cholesterol because a lot of foods that are high in cholesterol like an egg yolk also have more fat. People lump those together.
Here is what I would say. We had this movement toward polyunsaturated fats and to get rid of all other fats. It did not help long term health at all. People had just as much cancer. They had just as many issues as they did before. It helped none. I think I saw recently where even margarine they were going to stop making it here or something.
Years back it was like, “Don’t eat butter, eat margarine”, which is silly that you would think that butter is bad. Anyway, in terms of the facts, if you look at a cell membrane, a cell membrane needs a balance of saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. You have signals going in and out of your cell that if there is too much saturated fat and the cell is too rigid. The signals have a harder time making it through. Think of it this way, if you are eating too much saturated fat; this is a very simplistic explanation but I think it’s kind of funny. If you had too much, you would be stuck. You would be like rigamortis. You just would be stuck, right?
John: On the other end of that, if you don’t eat any saturated fat and it’s all polyunsaturated, your cell membranes are probably too fluid and then you would be like the blob. Remember the blob?
Mike: (laughs) Yeah.
John: Mushy everywhere. You need a blend, first of all, just at the cellular level for signals to go in and out appropriately. Then you look at your joints. Your joints have a lot of saturated fat in them. People say, “Oh well, your body can make saturated fat out of carbohydrates.” That’s true but it’s never a good idea to just power down carbohydrates, in the hopes that your body is going to make the right amount of saturated fat. It’s kind of like people say, “Well, I’m not going to eat any cholesterol. If my body needs it, it will make cholesterol. My liver will produce a little more cholesterol.” That’s true up to a point, but there’s nothing wrong with giving your body the raw material it needs instead of pushing it into some kind of self-protective mechanism where it has to compensate for it.
In terms of fat, saturated fats, there are a lot of good folks out there that have written a lot of good things about saturated fat. I really like, there is a lady named Mary Enig. She was writing for the Weston A. Price Foundation. She wrote a book called Know Your Fats. I thought for your listeners out there, they might want to grab that book. That was my introduction to fats and I really liked it. I really liked it. To me, it seemed non-biased. It was a very, very good reading. She is a sweet little old lady but in terms of who I like, she is probably the person I like to read the most when it comes to facts.
Can you overdo saturated fats? Yeah, of course you can. You can probably worsen your insulin sensitivity if you go overboard with it but to be scared of fat when it has so many basic functions. I didn’t even talk about the hormonal piece of this. Cholesterol is the backbone of many different hormones. We have this tie with cholesterol and fat usually in food. I see a lot of people on these low fat diets that have hormonal issues, particularly women. It’s very common. You are not giving your body what it needs. I would also say I think you mentioned inflammation. When all these polyunsaturated fats started hitting their peak in popularity, corn oil, soy bean oil and all this stuff, people’s inflammation levels started rising just because of the high Omega Six concentration in all those oils.
Your body needs a balance of Omega Three and Omega Six and if it gets out of balance, if you take the raw material for Omega Six and Omega Three, for instance Omega Three, flax seed oil for instance and alpha Linolenic acid, it needs to go through a conversion process. Omega Six is the same way. It needs to go through a conversion process before it reaches its end stage. There is an enzyme that helps with that process. Omega Three and Omega Six share the same enzyme to help this process. It’s early on in the process. If you monopolize it and you have a ton of Omega Six in your body, which has been pretty standard in our diets, you compromise the body’s ability to keep this in balance.
If you do blood work on these people, you will see a high C-reactive protein level that detects inflammation. That’s another good one; by the way, to have looked at every six months is your C-reactive protein levels. The right kind of fats can keep that in balance. You get fish oil. I tell people just to get fish oil so they are getting the end product. As you get older, your body isn’t quite as good at converting the raw material to the end product. In terms of saturated fat, man saturated fat; I like Coconut Oil and people are like, “Oh, that’s all saturated fat.” I think it’s about 92% saturated fat but it has a ton of medium chain triglycerides in it. It has a fat in it called lauric acid, which is extremely powerful. It is very good for your immune system. It is actually in mother’s breast milk. It is one of the reasons why when babies drink their mother’s breast milk, it’s why their immune systems are strengthened.
That’s one of the things that helps anyway. Years ago and I haven’t looked at this lately but years ago, they were looking at it anyway to treat HIV. It’s very antiviral, very antimicrobial, very good fat and people say, “You don’t want that, its empty calories.” Its empty calories, do you understand the health benefit of this? When somebody says that I just write them off as being even more silly than I am. Monounsaturated fats, we talked about HDL triglyceride ratio. There seems to be a relationship with monounsaturated fats and your HDL, avocado and things like that. I think you need all those things. In terms of percentage of fat in your diet, it probably varies but anywhere from 20-40% I think on training days when for example, your athletes are training really hard and your guy is training really hard, they need more carbohydrates for energy, in my opinion. They want carbohydrates that are going to turn into fuel and just drive you.
You can only have so many calories. In those days, I might have a little lower fat, maybe 25% of their calories will come from fat because a high percentage are coming from carbs to drive activity, but on days they are not training, they don’t need as many carbs, that’s when I would drive their fat up. You are determining what they eat on their activity levels and not just some random percentage or random numbers. It’s based on what they are actually doing. You are supporting their body and you are keeping it healthy at the same time. Can you imagine your guys trying to have good workouts on no carbs?
Mike: You wouldn’t believe how many people try!
John: How long do you think they can make it into a high-intensity workout?
Mike: Not long but it’s crazy how many people are still trying it to keep the weight down, especially the fat count and things like that. They are trying to cut weight and coming to me with low carb diet and saying ‘I’m training and it feels terrible, I’m feeling run down, I can’t sleep’. Look how many carbs you are taking it. It’s ridiculous. It still happens unfortunately.
John: Yeah and what’s crazy is to be the best at what you do, be the best football player, to be the best track and field athlete, MMA fighter, you have to be able to train hard. If you are not training hard, you are not going to fight or play to your potential. You can’t take your body; think about those old Rocky movies. You can’t take your body to a whole other level when you don’t feel good, when you feel like crap. You know? You just can’t push yourself to that level. I believe in never compromising your training. I believe your training should always be as best possible and you need to support it with nutrition. If you’re trying to lose weight, look at other times of the day. If you are training in the afternoon, yeah, maybe go lower carb earlier in the day. If you are training in the morning, maybe go a little bit lower carb in the evenings.
Don’t sacrifice the quality of your training. I’ve never seen an athlete reach their full potential when they just can’t train worth a crap, unless they are just a completely genetic freak, which I don’t think we should ever use as an example to determine what we are doing.
That's it from John for the first part of the interview!
The second half will be posted next week!
Don't forget you can read more about John on his SITE.