Sunday, 2 March 2014

Interview with Bradley Grunner, RD

Hey Guys,

Today I am lucky enough to talk with RD Bradley Grunner. Here is what he had to say!

1.    Hi Brad, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Can you tell me a little about yourself and what you do?

I am a registered dietician with an undergraduate degree in nutrition and a master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology, both completed at Long Island University-Post. My thesis mentor was Dr. Douglas Kalman RD, someone who has been highly involved in sports nutrition for some time and co-founded the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) I completed a dietetic internship at Stony Brook University.  I have been doing some form of exercise and concerned with my diet for quite some time. I am 34 years old now, and if I remember correctly, I became interested in food and health and started to like the look of a muscular body at around twelve years old. The first bodybuilding book I came across was Supercuts; it was sitting in my uncle’s old room at my grandmother’s house and it was one amongst a bunch of other old muscle books he apparently didn’t take with him when he moved out. I vividly remember looking at pictures of old time, 70’s and 80’s bodybuilders like Robbie Robinson, Cory Everson, Matthew Mendenhall, Mike Christian, Andreas Cahling, Frank Zane, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Casey Viator, Mike Mentzer, Lee Labrada, and others, and just being totally blown away; I couldn’t believe what these people looked like and wondered what it took to look like them. Ever since then I’ve been a huge bodybuilding fan and gym buff. As we know, competitive bodybuilding, ESPECIALLY while one has a full time job involves enormous sacrifice and a rigid lifestyle and is a luxury; throughout my life I was never in the position to compete, but I really would like to step onstage just once, for personal reward and fun, sometime in the near future (not getting any younger here).

2.    A current opinion (not mine) in the fitness industry of RDs is that they use out dated information. Would you say that this is accurate across the board?

It is not accurate across the board at all! RD’s, like other professionals should be judged on an individual basis. Sure, some cling to the RDA’s, Dietary Guidelines, and the Food Guide Pyramid, but many do not, and there are many who are involved with sports nutrition and fitness. Take a look at the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), which was co-founded by RD’s and has many members that are RD’s who are involved in bodybuilding and other fitness endeavours. Prolific Dieticians that come to mind who have made contributions and work in sports nutrition are Dr. Lonnie Lowery, Marie Spano, Dr. Jeffrey Volek, Cassandra Forstyhe, and Ryan Andrews. Colette Nelson, who has competed at the Olympia, and Chris Tuttle don’t seem to be shabby with nutrition for body composition either.

And for that matter, I would like to touch upon what RD’s actually are taught in school. It amazes me when some people who don’t know me personally are quick to say something like, “Yeah, you’re an RD but you don’t know…” Let’s get something clear here: dieticians don’t just spend hours upon hours in school and go through a dietetic internship harping on the Pyramid and RDA’s. So the next time someone feels free to comment on how unskilled, unknowledgeable, and antiquated RD’s are, perhaps they can take a look at the following list of courses others and I have taken. It’s a lengthy list, and certainly not complete (I don’t remember everyone I’ve taken for my undergrad and masters degrees and they vary amongst programs), but it drives home my point:

  • ·      Chemistry
  • ·      Organic chemistry
  • ·      Preparatory math
  • ·      Microbiology
  • ·      Anatomy and physiology
  • ·      Energy and exercise
  • ·      Contemporary nutrition
  • ·      Basic nutrition
  • ·      Research methodology
  • ·      Foodservice management
  • ·      Food technology
  • ·      Food science
  • ·      Medical nutrition therapy
  • ·      Biostatistics
  • ·      Sports nutrition
  • ·      Exercise physiology
  • ·      Weight control
  • ·      Trends, challenges, and issues
  • ·      Community nutrition
  • ·      Nutrition metabolism

A dietetic internship always involves clinical and foodservice rotations in a hospital and nursing home and usually has rotations in community nutrition and outpatient counselling and perhaps an elective rotation in nutrition entrepreneurship, sports nutrition, or renal nutrition.

I do not say all this to be pedantic, but again, people should realize our education before being quick to judge how much we know or what we are capable of.  As I said, some RD’s don’t have a knack or interest in sports nutrition or physique transformation. Likewise, fitness professionals can recognize that they’re not education or cut out for what an RD does. Fortunately, I had great professors who are very open-minded and progressive. Come to think of it, I don’t remember much time being spent studying the Pyramid and the RDA’s and many different medical nutrition therapy and diet strategies—including ketogenic and low-carbohydrate diets, Paleo, and carb loading and all that other jazz—was covered in courses that allowed that. My thesis dealt with the effects of low carb-high fat versus high carb-low fat diets on endurance performance. I even wrote a brief review for Daniel Duchaine’s Bodyopus diet when a professor assigned us to review a non-academic diet book.

3.    Do you think that your love of Bodybuilding has aided you in your career, and if so, in what ways?

My love of bodybuilding has helped me in managing the nutrition of those with body composition and fitness goals, people I’ve recently started to help on an individual, private basis. Bodybuilders have always been at the forefront of exercise, drug use, and nutrition to manipulate body composition, not doctors and not dieticians, something that health professionals and dieticians should recognize before they scoff at and simply label them as “meat heads” who just simply tell everyone they deal with to eat loads of protein. I learned a great deal about nutrition before I went to college, thanks to bodybuilding authors like Dan Duchaine, Chris Aceto, Will Brink, Greg Zulak, and Ron Harris. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: academic accolades have little or nothing to do with developing competence for sports and bodybuilding nutrition. If I have it correct (someone can correct me if I’m wrong), people like Shelby Starnes, Chad Nicholls, Scott Abel, Dave Palumbo, Fakri Mubarak, although some might have related education, do not have degrees in nutrition. It takes ingenuity, and either you have a knack for it, or you don’t. Many RD’s and healthcare professionals do not.

On the other hand, my love for bodybuilding has NOT helped me in my “day job” as a dietician in hospitals and nursing and rehabilitation homes (more nursing homes are going the rehab route). And this relates to the issue of fitness professionals, athletes, and bodybuilders not having the slightest clue of what a dietician does all day at the two places that employ them the most: nursing homes and hospitals. When people ask me what I do at work, I usually sarcastically respond, “I fill out forms”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my day job as a clinical dietician at a nursing home, but I am not writing individualized diets according to specific macronutrient needs while there. A clinical dietician writes diet orders for therapeutic needs, such as “no concentrated sweets”, “2 gram sodium”, “renal”, “consistent carbs”, “low fat-low cholesterol”, or “no added salt”, and specific fluid restrictions, usually 1,000 to 1,500 millilitres and swallowing and chewing ability (determined by a speech pathologist): regular, blenderized, pureed, or chopped consistency foods and thin, nectar-thick, or honey-thick liquids. Orders for tube feeding (enteral nutrition) and intravenous feeding (parenteral nutrition) are also written. Other duties for the day include attending meetings with administrators, healthcare staff, and family members; educating residents on their specific diets; meal rounds; Minimum Data Set (MDS) entries (information for billing insurance companies and Medicaid and Medicare); using foodservice software; and writing calorie counts for resident’s with unintended weight loss and malnutrition and initial, quarterly, and annual nutrition assessments.

If an RD is employed by a facility as foodservice director, they are responsible for managing food inventory, equipment, purchasing, meal production, labour scheduling, and payroll.

RD’s work in other settings, such as community programs, such as Women, Infants, Children (WIC) and God’s Love We Deliver; public relations firms; food manufacturing companies (I worked at a small one briefly); schools; and dialysis centres. A few work in fitness oriented full time positions, but the majority involved in sports nutrition are self-employed.  So, as you can see, generally speaking, personal fitness has little to do with the typical job of an RD. It humours me when fitness professionals hold RD’s accountable for personal fitness and a stellar physique when neither of these has anything to do with competence in job duties. What also humours me are complaints that most foodservice directors in hospitals and nursing homes don’t serve up the most pristine, physique- and health-conscious diets to patients and residents or supplements better than Ensure and Glucerna. If only we had the manpower, time, space, and MONEY to prepare hundreds of pounds of home-style mashed potatoes rather than instant, organic items, and supplements like Met-Rx RTD’s rather than Ensure; not sure how an administrator or owner would feel about that either!

4.    You have been vocal in the past on your opinions of ‘Fitness Professionals’ and coaches (whether they be for nutrition, training etc). Do you think that we as an industry are going the wrong way?

I have been vocal about some fitness professionals. I am not saying I’m some rugged veteran of this whole thing, but I’ve been following this stuff for a long time. As a friend of mine, WNBF professionalbodybuilder and nutritionist Stu Yellin, has repeatedly said, most people make fitness and bodybuilding to either be easier than it really is or more complicated than it really is. There are many out there who I believe promote either nutty or overly advanced strategies for the masses, when the most of the masses do not need such approaches or are simply unable to use them. Some of the greatest powerlifters and bodybuilders followed the simplest approaches. Granted many of us cannot stick with simple approaches forever—not all of us are Ed Coan, Ronnie Coleman, Kirk Karwoski, or Dorian Yates and make progress with the same routine for 15 years—but I think such simplicity does show something. I know some people who hired coaches that gave them programs that were clearly too advanced or contraindicated for them. I guess we can use the word “gimmicky” to describe some fitness professionals.

Then there are the You Tube pros, many of whom do not offer anything useful to us or people but simply make videos of them ridiculing others, exposing dirty secrets about them, or judging if others are natural or not. I love entertainment, including silly entertainment myself, but really, is that cool—defaming others?

I believe a fitness professional’s role is to first and foremost help people, and yeah, perhaps provide some entertainment but I don’t think that’s cool. Also, I’ve noticed many fitness professionals just love—LOVE—to bash other people with some being VERY debased in doing so.

There is also a new breed of fitness professionals who cross over into life coaching. This is not really a bad thing, but I believe many haven’t experienced much life at all. As someone else once wrote, if you spent a certain amount of time being a fitness professional, then that’s what you know; there are other professionals out there who, so to speak, see and deal with life on an everyday basis: healthcare workers, police officers, lawyers, teachers, firemen, military people, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with offering some life guidance and perhaps I’m jaded, but at this point, I don’t need people in their late 20’s and late teens bragging to me about how perfect their life is or about how they are some type of rogue who beat the system because they are self-employed and that the rest of us are 9-to-5 suckers.

With that said, I believe the fitness industry is going in the right direction. With the advent of the Internet, the fitness industry has offered so much to people that it could not before. Furthermore, there are some great people in it who really do love to help others and are very good at it and great companies offering great products.

5.    You briefly touched on supplement companies. We all know that there are a lot of bogus companies with less than stellar ethics out there. However there is a trend when it comes to authors (fitness professionals) and how the companies either indorse their work while they agree with that company ('product X is by far the best out there, I've added 100 pounds of pure muscle etc etc) but then are dropped from the face of the earth when they stop product pushing. Do you have an opinion on this specifically and how important do you feel that it is for trainees to understand principles rather than the methods of certain authors?

I think there are some companies out there putting out some great products. Perhaps you mean some of them are “bogus” because they make outrageous claims, use ridiculous before-and-after photos, and are staffed by cutthroat, unethical, and overly opportunistic people. Yes, such companies do exist, but I would not say those sorts of people or characteristics are unique to the nutritional supplement industry. Let’s put it this way, although there are some great people all sorts of industries, whenever there is a great deal of money to be made, certain types of people will be attracted, and unfortunately these are people who will do almost anything to make a buck. This sort of thing exists in healthcare too, and I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes! Don’t think there aren’t cutthroats in nearly all or all fields!

However, I am not surprised when a company drops an author when she or he stops endorsing their products, whether silly claims are made or not. After all, if a company hires an author, athlete, or bodybuilder, he or she is supposed to be a spokesperson for that company.

I think it is enormously important for trainees to understand principles rather than just blindly follow the methods of one or only a few authors. One of the reasons I like Christian Thibaudeau’s articles so much is that he focuses more on principles than methods and leaves it up to his readers to incorporate them into their programs. Without understanding principles, it’s difficult to manage one’s own training. Not everyone wants a personal coach or needs one, and some can’t afford one. After all, even if you have a personal coach, isn’t it good to understand what he or she is doing for you or possibly suggest a change in programing if you need one? And do you want to rely on someone else always or forever? It goes without saying that we should figure out what programs, exercise, and types of diets our bodies respond best to rather than blindly following programs.

6.    As I personally deal with mainly sports athletes over physique athletes, all the plans that I do have to be different. There seems to be a trend of some (not all) coaches using a very similar plan for all clients. Is this lazy or simply a case of repeating what works?

These are cases of laziness and cases of repeating what works. In the cases of laziness, the coach most likely wants to make a lot of money in a short amount of time. And a way to do that is to save time by giving many clients the same or similar programs, regardless of their personal situations or limitations. Also, a coach might simply not want to be inconvenienced with having to use brainpower and creativity or recognize one’s own situation because of his beliefs or rigidity. Say, for example a coach believes frequent eating (4 to 6 meals per day) is superior to infrequent eating (2 or 3 meals per day). Even though people have had success with infrequent eating, this one coach believes frequent eating is best and does not recognize that some people simply can’t frequently eat with their schedules and prescribes a diet involving frequent eating for someone who has expressed frequent eating is impractical for his or her lifestyle.

With that said, I believe in the case of beginners, things can be kept simple and they can make great gains on tried-and-true or so-called “cookie cutter” programs with some tailoring.

7.    Stu Yellin has told me that you have some great opinions on modern bodybuilding and the types of people that it seems to attract. I would love to hear your take on this as well?

Before I go ahead with this answer, I want to make it clear that I, like everyone else, am not perfect and am simply describing things as I see them. I believe that bodybuilding and other fitness endeavours (Crossfit for example) attract two sorts of people. The first sort are those that have a pretty balanced life or perhaps are pretty competent at what most would call “requirements of life”—you know, finding a mate, socializing, excelling in school or a trade or maybe a hobby or two, family life, etc.—and simply love training and/or competing. That is, fitness is sort of like an icing on the cake and it’s practiced in a healthy way. These people usually don’t exhibit any personality or mood disorder or peculiar behaviour.

Then there is the second sort, the sort that I admittedly used to be like—the sort that… well… How does one put this? The sort that turned to the gym because they have or had a hard time with controlling, dealing with, or excelling at everything else in life! And what can a person control best or at least fairly well: eating and training habits. It’s far more difficult to deal with other people or less predictable things—attract the opposite sex, excel in school or a job, develop a social life—than it is to control one’s diet or training. Anyone who gives this a fair shake, even with the most abysmal genetics, will see at least SOME gains. For this latter group of people, fitness pretty much hijacks their every fibre of being and all or nearly all of their validation in life comes from their appearance and gym accomplishments, never pondering the idea that one day they might not be able to train with such fervour—whether that be from illness, life circumstances, raising a family, and so on—and that they just might have to find something else just as meaningful to them one day. This latter group also exhibits peculiar and narcissistic behaviour and in some cases downright mean behaviour and exceptionally fragile egos. Taking seemingly endless amounts of “selfies”; relentlessly bashing others; all sorts of attention whoring; crass, New Age-style mantras (e.g., “I did it because I can; I did it because no one thought I could… blah, blah, blah); obnoxious social media posts, and the like are common practices in this disaffected group. 

I think that if anyone wants to take bodybuilding serious, whether for a hobby or lifestyle or serious competitive endeavour, they should initially size themselves up and think if they can take this to a high level or not, and that being a high level in which they can be compensated for such accomplishment which is probably the case for something like less than a dozen IFBB pros at any given point in time. Aside from that, one can use their highly developed bodies to promote oneself as a nutritionist or trainer. Other people can treat it as a rather serious and highly involved hobby. I think people can make this lifestyle work within the context of “real life” if they keep a healthy perspective on things and understand that it is important to cultivate a career, social life, and relationships and if they have to make a concession for urgent and important matters sometimes. Don’t worry: your muscles won’t fall off because you missed a workout here and there for dates, family matters, emergencies, accidents, and so on, nor will you all of the sudden become obese or atrophy because your diet got thrown off during holidays or that time you were stuck at work because of a snowstorm.

Stay fit, stay healthy!

Thanks for that Brad, was a pleasure chatting with you!

Keep an eye out for Brads site coming soon!

Stay healthy,


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