Quick Hit Summary
In this interview, we have the privilege of talking with SuppVersity's Adel Moussa. In part I of this multi-part interview, we explore his personal background. Additionally, we tap into his knowledge of myths associated with kcal needs, how to calculate kcal/macronutrient needs, intermittent fasting as well as his thoughts on the effects of exercise induced hormone fluctuations.
Interview With Adel Moussa Series
Adel and I covered a lot of ground in our interview together. Thus, I split it up into three parts. Part I covers his personal backgound and myths associated with kcal needs, the effects of exercise induced hormone fluctuations as well as his thoughts on intermittent fasting. In Part II Adel shares his thoughts on periworkout nutrition and supplementation in general. Special attention is given to supplements such as dairy protein, creatine, caffeine, sodium bicarbonate (a.k.a. baking soda… yes, that same stuff that is found in your kitchen!), and taurine. In addition, Adel explains why he feels megadoses of fish oil and Vitamin D is way overrated. In the 3rd, and final installment of our interview together, Adel Moussa takes a philosophical approach in sharing his thoughts with us regarding the "adrenal fatigue" pandemic as well as his thoughts in regards to the Paleo diet. In addition, I share with you my "Top 5 SuppVersity Article Countdown".
Figure 1. Adel Moussa of SuppVersity. Picture reposted with permission.
In this installment of Interview with the Expert we have the privilege of speaking with my friend Adel Moussa of SuppVersity. For those of you who regularly visit our website and facebook page his name should sound familiar; I often refer to the excellent articles he writes to “supplement” (pun intended!) some of my own. You may have even caught me referring to him as "Dr." Adel Moussa on our facebook page while sharing one of his daily posts. Although he hasn't officially earned his PhD, I will occasionally call him one in a friendly joking way; however he's pretty dang close so the more appropriate official term would be Adel Moussa PhD-c (c = candidate). Yet, with his knowledge and never ending quest for even more of it, one could be easily fooled into believing that he already has already earned the official title … in more than one area of study! In fact, his actual PhD studies are in Physics… not nutrition/exercise physiology as most would probably guess based off his SuppVersity posts! Recently, Adel was gracious enough to pry himself from his academic responsibilities and share his thoughts on a variety of topics with us…
And Now To Our Interview…
Adel, on behalf of the readers here at CasePerformance, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today.
I am honestly glad you consider me “important” or “knowledgeable” enough to join the ranks of the previous interviewees.
First off, tell us a little about your background… Did you participate in any sports or have a strong interest in nutrition/exercise while growing up?
If I stick to the question literally I would have to say “no”. My passion for exercise and nutrition did actually only start to take off, when I was already 18. Yeah, I played soccer before and even tried myself as a basketball player, but with modest success. Moreover, I always hated to have a given schedule with fixed training times, at which – and I felt this was even worse – I had to do what the trainer ordered.
The consequence was that I ended up as a sedentary, computer and video games playing slacker who accumulated more body fat during puberty than he could tolerate.
The backlash came, when I was about 18 and a friend suggested we should start jogging from time to time. It was pretty hard at first and I, who have – if anything – always been a sprinter and not an endurance athlete, was huffing and puffing like crazy after only 20 minutes. By simply cutting out all junk food, I did however see almost immediate results in my physique. The control-freak in me liked it so much that I got hooked to the idea of being able to manipulate the way I looked, felt and performed by diet, training and later on, once I got more involved with resistance training, supplementation.
As mentioned in your intro, your actual PhD work is in physics. Upon reading that, I know that there will be few curious CasePerformance readers out there wondering what realm of physics your dissertation is focused on. Could you briefly share with us what you're formally studying at university?
I am working on an optical everyday phenomenon most people won’t even be aware of, because it is actually pretty unimpressive. The research probably won’t help us to solve the obesity epidemic or take us to Mars. However, it could serve as educational content for future physics students to help them understand that the mathematical formula that we use to define the observable and non-observable qualities of light are more than just abstract equations for the sake of making things complicated; they are important as they determine the way we “see” (literally) our environment. If you will, you could say that I am trying to make what a medical scientist would call a “bench to bedside” transition; yet not as it is often the case in the natural sciences to develop a new technology, but rather to help students further their understanding of the “nature of light” and its real life-relevance.
With an already busy schedule that involves your PhD work mentioned above, as well as teaching at university, what motivated you to create SuppVersity?
Actually I am not really sure. For one I was simply fed up with the “information” you find on the bazillion non- or pseudo-scientific websites, 90% of which turn out to be nothing but product advertisements with a scientific facade. [Editor’s note – Ah yes, the famous “advertorials” and similar platforms!]. In combination with my desire to learn at least one new thing every day and the drive to share my knowledge with others, this sparked the idea of creating a blog like the SuppVersity.
Do you personally have any short or long term goals with respect to your own training/nutrition plan?
I guess my current short term goal is to keep making progress in the gym, both strength and size-wise, while keeping at the same “abs still nicely visible”- body fat level I am currently at. As far as my long-term goals are concerned, my primary is to stay healthy, refrain from turning the training into an obsession and/or having it compromise my life outside the gym, so that I will be able to follow this passion of mine, for as long as possible.
Now that we know a little bit about your background, let’s shift gears and discuss nutrition & exercise research…
For those looking to lose weight, jumping on a treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc for 30-45+ minutes is a popular choice. They often cite how many kcal the machine tells them that they are burning “X” kcal above and beyond their normal daily output. Yet, they are not losing weight. What is going on here???
Fortunately, there is more and more research that debunks the fallacy of the calories in vs. calories out calculations. I know this is not the place for detailed discussions of particular studies, but I still would like to mention the Rosenkilde study which I wrote about back in August 20121. Despite identical calorie intake and 27,300kcal of additional “energy expenditure” the subjects who performed 60 min instead of just 30 min of exercise per day lost not a single pound of additional body fat compared to their counterparts in the 30 min steady state aerobic group. There simply is no other study that demonstrates the fallacy of doing endless cardio sessions and calculating the amount of calories you (believe you) have burned in such an outstanding way – in physics, this would be a candidate for “experimentum crucis” like Young’s double slit experiment in optics, for example.
I guess we all have once fallen for the same mistake. It simply appears so logical: “Calories in minus calories out equals X”, where the algebraic sign in front of the “X” (plus or minus) will tell you if you lose or gain weight. Unfortunately, the equation is much more complex than that, because neither your “calories in” nor your “calories out” are written on any nutrition label or adequately quantified by some sort of gadget. Both the amount of bioaccessible energy, which is the actual calories in, as well as the amount of energy your body will expend actually depends on a whole host of input variables and parameters:
- Efficacy of the digestive process
- Nutrient quality and composition
- Type of exercise, length of exercise, frequency of exercise
- Everyday + workout stress
- Inflammatory status of your body
- Readily available energy and stored energy reserves
And what makes it even more complicated, the effects of the parameters change with every iteration of this cycle; Diet too hard and you stagnate or even start to gain weight, despite a caloric deficit, simply because your metabolism shuts down in response to the constant decline in available energy reserves. Workout too long (and without appropriate rest) and decrease both your basal, as well as your activity dependent energy expenditure until your weight stagnates.
You see, both input and output depend on way more than any label or table can tell you and they are not independent, but influence each other. This does not mean that it would be futile to track your energy intake and adapt it according to your goals. What is however futile is to do this using kcal-tables and subtracting the time you are trampling away on whatever cardio equipment.
If you don’t want to end in an endless downward spiral that will lead you to a “one leaf of salad + 1 slice of chicken breast diet”, you better make sure to apply the emergency break in time. After all you are not simply wasting time and effort, but also putting your health at risk if you blindly rely on an equation that obviously doesn’t work.
If you have already reached that point, you will – as counterintuitive as this may sound for someone like you and me who was raised in the deeply rooted believe that “more is more and more is better” – have to do less and eat more to make progress while tweaking the aforementioned parameters in order to finally see results again.
Thanks for sharing that study with us. It definitely demonstrates some of the weaknesses of the traditional interpretation of the energy in/ energy out equation. However I know some curious CasePerformance reader out there may be now asking themselves, “Where should I start with respect to determining how many kcal and what macronutrient percentages I should be eating at in order to achieve my weight/fat loss or muscle gain goals?”
First off you got to stop believing in the “calories don’t matter” theory that has become so prevalent these days. In the end, they do matter, but not in the way the “calories in vs. calories out”- hypothesis states it. What counts is, as I already mentioned, the amount of energy you derive from the foods you eat and the amount of energy you spend. In that, there is a basic threshold, known as basal metabolic rate (BMR), that’s fundamentally necessary to supply enough energy to keep your organs from “eating themselves”. This is something you may actually be able to calculate relatively “accurately” – let me quote from a brief review I wrote for one part of the SuppVersity Athlete Triad Series.
Figure 2 Please remember these values account only for the energy you expend lying or sitting around. Also, if you don’t have enough data to use the 2nd more accurate formula, check out the additional information in the respective SuppVersity article, where I explain how you can estimate them. Image created by Adel Moussa.
For Mrs. Jane Average, who has a total body weight of 65kg and a body fat percentage of 20% on a 1.70m frame the Oshima equation would yield a basal metabolic rate of ~ 1475kcal. This is something you can actually build on. With a minimal protein intake of ~30g+ of quality protein (from real foods!) per meal and ~100g+ per day (1.5g/kg body weight), you’ll already have allocated 400kcal. A minimum of 50g of fats and 100g of carbs to keep chugging along nicely will add another 800kcals to the equation.
Unless you are willing to go “no-fat” or “no-carb”, these amounts of proteins, fats and carbs, as well as a fundamental total energy intake of 1,200kcal are something everyone, not just our Mrs. Jane Average can start out with if you are not insulin resistant, relatively lean (no 6-pack necessary), train regularly (I am not talking of going to the gym doing two one-rep maxes and heading home again) and don’t sit around 24/7, when you are not at the gym. You will then add protein, fats and carbs at a 40%:15%:45% ratio until you hit your previously calculated basal metabolic rate. Sedentary folks and people who have issues with insulin resistance or huge amounts of body fat to burn, do the same, just with a reversed carbohydrate / fat ratio.
Mrs. Average Jane from our example would have to add 120kcal from protein, 45kcal from fat and 135kcal from carbs to achieve the previously calculated ~1,500kcal. As far as the macros are concerned, this equals a baseline macronutrient intake of 130g protein, 56g of fats and 134g of carbohydrates (option: An 20g-30g protein shake directly after your strength workouts). This would be Mrs. Jane Average’s bare minimum energetic requirements on a cut.
Since even light to moderately active human beings consume an additional 50% (up to 125% highly active individuals!) of these fundamentals, Jane’s total energy expenditure should however be about ~2,250kcal/day. As mentioned before the exact total energy expenditure is hard, if not impossible to predict, because the margin between the BMR or REE and the total energy expenditure is something your body can modulate by shutting down metabolic functions / optimizing energy utilization. Therefore I would prefer you track your calorie intake in a weight stable phase for 2 weeks and take that as a baseline – specifically if you have been dieting for weight loss before!
Regardless of how you got to your “actual” energetic demands, i.e. by estimating them or tracking your food intake, you fill in the difference between this value and your BMR in a 35%, 15%, 50% protein to fat to carbs ratio (again reversing fat and carbs if you want to go low carb). Do not confuse this ratio with the previous ratio of 40%:15%:45% ratio that I mentioned when filling in the difference between baseline (1.5g/kg Pro, 50g fat, 100g CHO) to reach your RMR value. As you increase your energy expenditure between RMR to reach your TEE, we are eating more CHO than Pro to meet our needs, hence the 35:15:50 ratio. For Mrs. Average that would be 193g of protein, 83g of fat and 225g of carbs, equaling a macronutrient ratio of 39% protein, 16% fat, 45% carbs, or 33.5% protein, 27.5% fats and 38% carbs if you go by the total energy intake in kcal/day.
Remember: This is just the ratio for Mrs. Jane Average. Since it was derived in a multistep process, someone with a higher total energy expenditure will not just eat more, but also have a slightly different macro composition. So you will have to go through all the steps if you want to know yours.
When you have the total energy intake (TEE) ready and know your macros, you just start at TEE -20% for a cut and TEE +15% for a bulk. If after two weeks that doesn’t have the effect you want (I am talking about tendencies, fat loss and muscle gain take months!), you can progress downwards or upwards in 10% steps, but never pass below the BMR on a cut or a surplus of max 40% on a bulk.
Don’t forget to use a caliper and/or measuring tape for your waist and take weekly (later bi-weekly) progress pics to monitor the progress.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a topic that has gained great popularity within the past 5 years. On one hand you have those who swear by it and will even complete workouts in semi-fasted states. Others fear that fasting will A) Greatly slow down their metabolism vs. the small frequent meal patterns that purportedly keep your metabolism “revved” up all day B) Cause their muscles to cannibalize themselves and C) Find it ludicrous that one would ever want to train fasted. What’s your take on intermittent fasting and these concerns?
I am not afraid to say that my take on intermittent fasting has changed and my early euphoria with it has been fading. This does not necessarily mean that my current take is the be-all and end-all. Maybe the publication of some impressive data will have me psyched all up again or completely abandon the intermittent fasting bandwagon as just another “diet fad” – no one knows.
That said, I still believe that it is a very effective and easily applicable strategy to lose weight. With appropriate refeeds and / or enough carbohydrates in your baseline diet to fuel your workouts, I don’t see how <18h of fasting – which is actually only +6h in addition to what I would suggest everyone who is interested in metabolic and overall health should do – will “slow down your metabolism” and what not. If one's metabolism happens to slow down while intermittent fasting this is simply a result of the combination of a nutritionally imbalanced diet and the unfortunate ability to stick to excessive caloric deficits without giving in to the urge to binge from time to time.
The ease with which you can starve yourself, when you’re fasted and the consequent ignorance towards the real extent of their caloric deficit so many trainees display is also the main reason your hard-earned muscle could actually end up being cannibalized by your liver, your brain and other organs. A factor that is commonly overlooked here, also with respect to the next sub-item of your original question, is that a muscle won’t eat itself while it’s being worked out. In fact, working out has a protective effect against the fasting induced muscle loss, which occurs (just like the growth), when you lie in bed, recovering… or in this case rather “not recovering” from a workout. If you make sure you get your liver and muscle glycogen back up in the hours (not necessarily immediately) after a workout, losing muscle while working out (esp. strength training) fasted is not an issue.
All that does probably still sound very euphoric, right? True! It’s about as euphoric as the many athletes and gymrats who have lost inches of their waist following this diet strategy. The problems will however begin, when you cram a caloric surplus into a narrow feeding window. It’s not just that you are probably missing out on the protein synthetic side of things if you have only two 100g servings of protein instead of 4×50g, but it appears to be logical that the sudden overabundance of energy will also be accompanied by greater body fat gains. While this does not matter, when you are in an overall caloric deficit, because any energy that would be stored as body fat would be used in the subsequent fast again, it will stick to your frame when you only need say 90% of the stored energy during the fast. I guess I could go into more details here, but this is not an interview on intermittent fasting, right?
For many individual out there who resistance train, their primary goal is to increase muscle mass and lean out. As such, they usually participate in body building based training programs that consist of higher reps and shorter rest intervals. These workouts are usually accompanied by temporary spikes in anabolic hormones. Do you feel these temporary spikes in anabolic hormones serve any benefit to those looking to improve their physique?
As far as the importance of these exercise induced increases in testosterone and co. are concerned the tides have been turning over the course of the past 5 years or so. The increase in testosterone, though statistically significant is too short to induce any major growth effect. Moreover, the same high volume training that spikes testosterone will decrease the number of androgen receptors on the muscle4. It is therefore no wonder that scientists from the McMaster University did not observe any significant correlations between the workout-induced increases in Testosterone levels and the lean mass or strength gains in a group of 56 young men over the course of a 12-week resistance training regimen5.
As long as we are not taking about the use of performance enhancing drugs (including testosterone and its derivates), it appears as if systemic hormone levels had very little impact on the immediate workout induced growth response to a given training stimulus: Growth is triggered by intra-muscular and not endocrine signals. Aside from mTOR, Akt, a recently discovered novel form of PGC-1 α and other proteins most people know for their beneficial effects on protein synthesis, local variants of growth hormone, respectively IGF-1, as well as inflammatory signals such as interleukin-10 appear to figure as well (if you want more details, I have written about those quite extensively, here
In essence, you can think of exercise induced muscle growth like a complex symphony that’s orchestrated by many musicians and the “classic anabolic hormones” are neither the maestro nor one of the lead violins so to say. They are probably not even active members of the orchestrate, but rather stage designer, housekeeper and treasurer in personal union – if they do a suboptimal job, the orchestra won’t be able to shine.
Excellent analogy there Adel when describing the natural rise in anabolic hormones and muscle growth induced by workouts. It's like I tell people when I give presentations and/or consult with them regarding this question…. Expecting the anabolic hormone spikes induced by workouts to be the primary driver behind muscle growth is like peeing into the ocean and expecting to see the water level rise! And to be honest with you, I personally feel that where this research is of the greatest importance is in the supplement industry where manufacturers are advertising that there OTC natural products spike testosterone, HGH levels, etc by 200%. My thoughts are A) 99% of the time they have nothing to base these claims on and B) Even if they do boost them by 200%, this still won't have much of an effect as shown by the exercise based studies. Anabolic hormone injections that increase levels by >>> 200% will obviously be effective, but in terms of natural products with claims of "outrageous never before seen revolutionary muscle growth" – C'mon, who you trying to fool!
More Q&A with Adel Moussa to Follow!
Although Part I of this interview has come to a close, fear not! Realizing that no one likes to go into information overload / "my mind is about to explode" mode, we decided to break our entire interview up into 3 parts. Part II focuses in on one of Adel's specialties – Supplementation – So be sure to check back!
1 Rosenkilde M, Auerbach PL, Reichkendler MH, Ploug T, Stallknecht BM, Sjödin A. Body fat loss and compensatory mechanisms in response to different doses of aerobic exercise – a randomized controlled trial in overweight sedentary males. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2012 Aug 1.
2 Harris JA, Benedict FG. A biometric study of basal metabolism in man. Publ no 279. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1919.
3 Oshima S, Miyauchi S, Kawano H, Ishijima T, Asaka M, Taguchi M, Torii S, Higuchi M. Fat-free mass can be utilized to assess resting energy expenditure for male athletes of different body size. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2011;57(6):394-400.
4 Ratamess NA, Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Maresh CM, Vanheest JL, Sharman MJ, Rubin MR, French DN, Vescovi JD, Silvestre R, Hatfield DL, Fleck SJ, Deschenes MR. Androgen receptor content following heavy resistance exercise in men. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2005 Jan;93(1):35-42.
5 West DW, Phillips SM. Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul;112(7):2693-702.