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Interview with the Expert: Dr. Jose Antonio

Quick Hit Summary

In this "Interview with the Expert" we have the privilege of talking exercise, nutrition and supplement research with Jose Antonio, PhD, FNSCA, FISSN, CSCS. In our discussion, Dr. Antonio shares with us his background, the "dangers" faced by researchers interested in supplements as recent as the late 1990's/early 2000's, and the events that led to the formation of the International Society of Sports Nutritionist (ISSN). Additionally, Dr. Antonio touches popular idiotic notions still held by many today such as "supplement sponsored studies are shady", "the nutraceutical field is an unregulated, out of control industry" and more!

About Dr. Jose Antonio

Figure 1. Don't let Dr. Jose Antonio's impressive academic resume fool you. He's not some some white coat research stiff; This guy knows how to have a good time! Image used with permission.

In this installment of Interview with the Expert with the Expert we have the privilege of talking exercise, nutrition and supplement research with Jose Antonio, PhD, FNSCA, FISSN, CSCS. For anyone who has followed sports nutrition and supplementation during the past 15 years, his name needs no introduction; Dr. Antonio is a legend within the sports nutrition and supplements field, contributing to over 50 peer-reviewed publications as well as writing/editing 14 books. In fact, one of his studies, The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males, was discussed in a previous CP article. Additionally, Dr. Antonio is the CEO and one of the co-founders of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), whose annual conference I attended earlier this summer (I refer you to Part I and Part II of my 2013 ISSN conference write-ups).

As you can tell, some pretty impressive accomplishments that I know you're itching to hear more about; thus, let's get straight to our interview with Dr. Jose Antonio!

Dr. Antonio, 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.

Thank you Sean.

First off, tell us a little about your background…

What led you to getting into this field – Did you participate in any sports or have a strong interest in nutrition/exercise while growing up?

What got me interested in this field (nutrition/exercise) initially was that one of my uncles was a bodybuilder and martial arts instructor (karate). I loved the martial arts as a kid and worked out religiously as a young boy all the way up until I started college. My hero was Bruce Lee. I wanted to be like Bruce! But just as there is only one Michael Jordan, there is only one Bruce Lee. Besides, Bruce Lee’s biggest contribution was in how he thought. Not in whether he could fight…anyhow, enough of the digressing.

Having watched my uncle consume supplements (Weider was a big brand back then!), it fascinated me how nutrition played such a big role in exercise training (both in bodybuilding and the martial arts). Once I got to college though, I ‘quit’ the martial arts (it gets tiring getting beat up…LOL), focused on school and really just did any kind of exercise (running, lifting, etc)… So I have always loved to work out; I’ve always viewed my body as the best experiment. Let’s face it. The only sample size that matters is yours, right? Lately, my exercise passion is outrigger paddling; I’ve been doing that fairly regularly for the past 6 years or so. If you love the beach, ocean, the sun, and working out, then there’s no better way to do that than to paddle out in the ocean. And South Florida is great for that! Second only to Hawaii :-)

If it isn't giving away too much info to your outrigger competitors, can you share with us what supplements you have found to work best for you from a performance and health standpoint?

Figure 2. Outrigger paddling; One of Dr. Antonio's passions. Image used with permission.

My supplementation is fairly straightforward. I consume about 2 grams of fish oil daily; 1500 mg glucosamine; take a multivitamin. And post-workout, I drink a protein shake (30-40 grams of protein) with about 5 grams of creatine added. Oh, and I do take one baby aspirin daily.

As far as my strategy pre, during and post race, I will load up on the caffeine pre race (about 300-400 mg). During the race I’ll drink pretty much any type of sports drink. I have even used coca cola (which I must say works just as well as other sports drinks) during a race. Post race, I try to get in about 20 g of protein. My appetite is pretty much shot so I usually wait a couple hours to eat a normal meal.

I think most people would be surprised to know that you your PhD studies focused on skeletal muscle plasticity, rather than a more direct sports nutrition area of focus. What led to this decision?

True. Unless you’re a full-fledged science nerd, most individuals would not know that my PhD studies focused on the cellular mechanisms governing skeletal muscle hypertrophy and hyperplasia. Back when I started grad school, sports nutrition / supplementation as a field of study for all intents and purposes, did NOT exist. And what little there was, involved academics bashing supplements. The culture in academia basically sucked eggs when it came to studying sports nutrition. Many of the academic leaders of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Dietetics Association (ADA), which during the past year was renamed the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), were so dogmatic in their anti-supplement stance that it stifled an open and honest debate. God forbid you were a student who wanted to do research in sports nutrition. You’d be blackballed by your professors. Thus, I made a pragmatic decision to do my dissertation on skeletal muscle plasticity (which is a subject I love) even though ultimately I wanted to study sports nutrition. Let’s face it; you can’t make money talking about satellite cell proliferation now can you? :-)

Let me tell you a little story about the zeitgeist of the time… Dr. Jeff Stout and I gave a talk at the ACSM meeting about 12 years ago. He covered the history of sports nutrition and I gave an evidence-based talk on various supplements such as creatine, ribose, protein and I believe vitamin C. In my opinion, I gave what I consider a blasé talk. However, after we were done, the audience (half of them anyway) verbally accosted us. They could not believe we gave a talk on supplements. Supplements and the supplement industry was full of snake oil, etc. At first I was shocked. Science is supposed to be open to debate, right? That’s how bad ideas are parceled out and good ideas win over. I guess not at ACSM. Some of these individuals were so vehemently anti-supplement that a bottle of Xanax wouldn't have calmed them down. And to top it off, a fight almost broke out in the audience between a bodybuilder (who loved our talk) and a squirrely scientist (who was just being polemical). If we had more time, I’d tell you how that ended. :-)

But it gets worse; that very same night, Dr. Stout and I were at a cocktail party. We ran into the President of ACSM. She heard about the verbal fireworks at our talk. Her advice to us was to "never do any work in supplements or sports nutrition if you want to have a career…That includes doing research." Mmm…so apparently using the scientific method to investigate a topic as benign as dietary supplementation was a no-no if you wanted to have a productive career. Come on. That’s like asking Lindsay Lohan to stay out of jail. Or as my favorite libertarian journalist John Stossel would say, “Give me a F’in Break!” Ok, I added the F’in.

When/why did you start to redirect your research focus back towards sports nutrition rather than stay solely within the field of skeletal muscle plasticity?

It wasn’t until after I completed my post-doc (which was in androgen physiology) that I shifted gears towards studying sports nutrition; the Tribulus paper you alluded to earlier was one of my earliest studies. Part of the reason I loved the sports nutrition / supplement field was because so many academics were afraid of it. And I had been taking supplements for ages. Intuitively, it just made sense to take a supplement. Nonetheless, there are so many horror stories I could tell about the treatment I received in academia as it relates to sports nutrition. Looking back, it’s funny (and absurd) how narrow-minded and downright moronic some folks (esp. clinicians) are when it comes to sports nutrition. Anyhow, let’s fast forward a bit or else I’ll lose my train of thought. There were two ‘tipping points’ in my career that I believe left a permanent (and I believe positive) footprint on the sports nutrition industry (academic and business).

The first was when my good friend (Dr Jeff Stout now a professor at Univ of Central FL) and I published what many consider their favorite text ever written on the topic. The title of the book was Sports Supplements
(published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins in 2001). Nobody, until that book was published, was willing to ‘own’ the term ‘supplements.’ If you don’t get the marketing lingo, don’t worry. Basically, we were the first to dive head first into the category and embrace it. I wanted to word ‘supplements’ to be indelibly associated with our names. Why? Because unless you do something that is different than the ‘crowd,’ then you’ll always just be the ‘crowd.’

Since that book, there has been an utter proliferation of great sports nutrition books (textbooks and consumer books); there has been an utter proliferation of undergraduate and graduate programs in sports nutrition. And now it is cool, acceptable, awesome, etc to do sports nutrition research. Fifteen years ago, some would consider it academic suicide to do research in the field. My how things change. In fact, my super good friend Abbie Smith PhD (faculty at UNC) and I just published a new book: Sports Nutrition and Performance Enhancing Supplements . It’s an awesome book! I swear. :-)

The second tipping point was the formation of the first academic non profit dedicated solely to sports nutrition. The ISSN – International Society of Sports Nutrition

Turning our focus to sports the ISSN & the nutraceutical industry …

Figure 3 The ISSN. Image used with permission.

As aforementioned in your bio, you were a co-founder of the ISSN , the preeminent sports nutrition organization today. Can you share with us what led to you founding this organization?

I wish we had more time, because it’s a long and somewhat funny story. Really, we should just grab a beer, watch MMA fights and then I can tell you a lot of crazy stories.

But the gist of it was that many of us felt that all of the major academic organizations did a piss-poor job in promoting the science of sports nutrition. And piss-poor is an insult to piss-poor. It was just bad. It would be like asking a Parisian runway model for weight gain advice. This is going back to the 1980s and 1990s. So a small group of us met at a sushi bar in San Francisco during an ACSM conference. It was me, Doug Kalman PhD RD (who now works at Miami Research Associates), Rick Kreider PhD (who now works at Texas A & M), Susan Kleiner PhD RD (author of Power Eating), and Anthony Almada (an original founder of EAS and owner of GENR8). We basically drank beer, ate sushi, and came to the inevitable conclusion that we should start our own academic society.

We didn’t want to call it ASSN (American Association of Sports Nutrition) because it looks too much like ASS. So we settled on what we now know and love as the ISSN. That was 11 years ago! Much of the heavy lifting was done by me and Doug. Also, Rick was instrumental in starting our peer-reviewed journal, the JISSN. The one thing that makes the ISSN conference so different than other science meetings is that we are actually a fun group. No boring bow-tie types allowed. In fact, we’ll cut your tie if you wear it (just kidding).

Figure 4. Following a great day of sports nutrition presentations, members of the ISSN conference hit up the night life. Image used with permission.

Many supplement research studies are sponsored by nutraceutical companies. As such, the results and conclusions drawn by the researchers are viewed by many as, for lack of better words, "shady" and should be "taken with a grain of salt?" What are your thoughts on supplement sponsored studies?

The notion that studies funded by private companies are “shady” is just plain moronic. It’s not even a cogent argument. It’s a silly characterization. Unless one can prove that a scientist is fabricating data, then it’s another false accusation. Typically the folks who make this assertion have never done a piece of research in their life. They wouldn’t know the difference between the Life Cycle and the Krebs Cycle. But hey, with the internet, everyone is a frickin’ expert.

As they say on the hit TV series CSI, “just follow the data.” I mean come on. The data is the data. Besides, if supplement companies don’t fund these studies, who will? Exactly. Nobody.

I just love these internet gurus who bitch and moan about the pitfalls of some of these studies yet never once will they do a study themselves, nor will they fund one. Typical Monday-morning quarterbacking. It’s easy to be a critic; it’s hard to actually do something productive. Would you rather be Quentin Tarantino, a guy who produces, directs, and acts in movies? Or would you rather be another Siskel and Ebert, and critique those who produce, direct, and act in movies. If you answered the former, then go to the head of the class. Anybody can be a critic. But it takes a lot more hard work to actually contribute something novel or important to a field, any field.

The nutraceutical field often gets a bad wrap in the press as being an "out of control", unregulated and reckless industry that can't be trusted by the consumer. Is there a degree of accuracy in these reports or another case of media sensationalism?

As with any field, there are liars, thieves, and fools. Are there more in this industry than any other? Heck if I know. I don’t work in other industries. Though I do notice that many politicians fall into one of those three categories. Heck, the guy from New York is taking pictures of his package and Tweeting it. WTF. Is he insane? With a name like Weiner…oh never mind.

Nonetheless, having worked in the industry, I can attest that it is heavily regulated. I am not a fan of big government. The notion that somehow the government needs to be MORE intrusive boggles my mind. Ask yourself, what does the government do well? Anything? Ok, fight wars. Anything else? Exactly. It f’s up everything. What consumers need to do is be smart. Stick with the big name brands, not some internet company run by a teenager with pimples on his back and the IQ of a goat.

When it comes to supplementation and/or sports nutrition, are there any myths that you still routinely hear that blow your mind?

Oh boy…where does one start…mmm…Here are some stupid myths:

  • High protein diets are bad for you or your kidneys.
  • Creatine causes cramps.
  • The supplement industry isn’t regulated.
  • Androgens cause ‘roid rage. (Though technically not sports nutrition, it’s a silly myth).
  • Caffeine dehydrates you.
  • All you need is a balanced diet; that way you’ll never need to supplement.

Sheesh…the list goes on and on. Useful idiots everywhere.

Do you have any final thoughts or advice that you can share with us here at CasePerformance?

First of all, thank you for putting up with my sarcasm. I’m actually quite the laid-back chill science nerd. Hopefully I will see you and your fans at the ISSN conference next year in Clearwater Beach FL; that’s June 20-21, 2014. Check out our conference link on the ISSN webpage for this and other upcoming events.

And a little bit of advice: Find a niche. And make sure it is hard, real hard. Don’t take the easy route. The harder it is, the less competition you’ll have. That’s why you see so few rocket scientists and brain surgeons. The sh@# is hard.

Start a new brand; fund some research; do research (real research, not cheesy before and after's in your garage); give seminars to folks who are smarter than you. Be a doer not someone who critiques the doer.

What sarcasm?! Just kidding – it was well enjoyed on our end. Thus, on behalf of the CasePerformance community, I would like to thank you for joining us here today. I know that answering these questions takes time. Additionally, keep up the great work promoting the science of supplements. Hopefully, over time it will minimize the damage done by "useful idiots everywhere" ;-) ! Last but certainly not least, for those wondering, where can they follow your work as well as that of the ISSN?

Here are a few cool websites for you:


Sports Nutrition Insider


The ISSN Facebook page

Additionally you can follow me on Twitter: @drjoseantonio

I would have to agree; some fine sports nutrition websites. Thanks for the recommendations. I would personally like to add one to the list, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), which unlike most journals is free open access.

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Written on August 26, 2013 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: August 28, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.