Theory has a lot to answer for; it is often the root cause for huge differences in opinion between human beings. The fitness industry is certainly not immune to this scenario, in fact it is probably one of the industries which is ridden with this problem. Opinions are rife, some backed with science, some backed with limited science (BS studies which are about as relevant as the company’s products who back the studies!!) and some backed with nothing more than decades of repetition (‘broscience’ is the term I believe.) If science can be used to illustrate a point beyond reasonable doubt then we must use it, the problem is science is sometimes unable to conclusively prove/disprove something.
Today’s guest, Ben Coomber, is one of the country’s leading sport’s nutritionists and after spending a handful of minutes chatting with him I can see why. It is extremely refreshing to listen to somebody branded as an ‘expert’ who has not only the credentials, but the experience and ‘real life’ know how to back that claim up. Within 10 minutes of talking Ben had already plucked several misconceptions and quite frankly, utter nonsense claims out of the air with proper, informed scientific knowledge making references to relevant studies where needed. It became apparent this was going to be fun, at FitMag we love learning from the best.
Enough said, let’s get into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the interview and start quizzing Ben.
Thank you for joining us Ben, we really appreciate you giving your time to chat with us!
My pleasure, I am looking forward to this!
To get our readers familiar, can you give us some background history on your experience, protocols and school of thought?
Sure! My background is nutrition, I love it, and I’d like to think I am pretty well informed on the subject, particularly in relation to optimising human health, physical performance and body composition. I am a huge advocator of the underlying theories of metabolic typing (something I studied in-depth at University, and conducted my own study on this very subject) and I learnt a lot from reading Paul Chek’s stuff in the early years. I don’t follow or practice MT per se anymore, but the underlying point that everyone is an individual and requires an individual approach is of great importance and needs to be understood by everyone looking to be successful in the nutrition and fitness industry. Great! Can you give us an insight into the nature of your own study and the outcome? I took 40 people, gave half of them a diet following the government’s Eatwell plate (high in carbohydrate, low in fat, low to moderate in protein) and the other 20 had a modified version of the paleo diet based on their genetic predisposition to macronutrients (it materialised that 80% of the participants needed a diet that was largely lower in carbs, high protein, high fat).
The outcome was that approximately 80% of the participants worked better with the latter diet plan, and thus suggesting in the UK a larger proportion of the population work better with a higher protein, higher fat diet rather than that of carbohydrates. The people who were able to utilise the carbohyhdrates more effectively were mostly split between ectomorphs and mesomorophs, thus suggesting their naturally gifted insulin sensitivity worked in their favour.
Very interesting. It is certainly worth noting that neither group's calories were controlled, right?
Absolutely. Calories were not controlled at all in the study. We wanted to see the food do the talking and gave no guideline for calories at all, which made the results even more surprising, showing there is more to health and weight than calories.
Presumably based on your background you are a believer in hormone control?
I am a massive believer in this. You can count all the calories you want, if somebody’s hormones are not working in the right way then they will struggle to progress, period.
Let’s talk insulin, a hot topic among the fitness community. What is your stance on this and the importance of insulin control for fat loss and body recomposition?
It is crucial in this context. Some will say otherwise, but I find that these are the individuals who have never had to worry about their own hormonal profile, the minority of people. I would call them the more genetically gifted hormonally. There is a great saying, and I forget who it is by, but it roughly goes like this; “the man who struggles with his health and for answers becomes a nutritionist, the man who sees his body adapt and grow regardless becomes a strength coach”. This isn’t a concrete rule of course, but it definitely lies in context for me, who knows, I may have become a strength coach if I didn’t have to constantly look for answers as to why things were never black and white throughout my journey. For the larger population of people insulin control is very relevant and influential on health, body composition and recovery. To ignore it would be foolish.
For people who do need to concern themselves with insulin control, when would it be better (generally) to eat carbohydrates during the day, or does it not matter?
It does indeed make a difference when you eat carbohydrates because your insulin sensitivity/resistance changes throughout the day. Post-workout provides a window whereby the muscles become a ‘carb sponge’ due to up-regulation of GLUT4 transporter molecules, which makes it the ideal time to ingest carbohydrates, generally faster digesting ones. Call it a window of opportunity to recover before the hormones return back to normal baseline function. The rest of the time, and for the majority of people, carbohydrates should come from vegetables and fruit, starches should be consumed in direct correlation to training volume and body composition goals.
Can you explain in more detail, why?
Of course. GLUT-4, properly known as ‘glucose transporter type 4’ is an insulin regulating hormone. It ‘up regulates’ insulin which in turn means the absorption of glucose is much more efficient, meaning that it will go to the muscle cell, not the fat cells. Insulin is a storage hormone, so if you spike it (carbohydrate intake) at the wrong time of the day it will make the body more likely to store rather than burn. Fat gain for anyone not following so far. This is relevant to those who are insulin resistant, and I would suggest at least 75% of us are. The ones who aren’t (insulin resistant) are ‘genetically gifted’, or at least genetically stronger in my experience. This scenario can in fact cause problems because these people believe their diet can work for everyone, which is certainly not the case. I repeat, individuality is key. Carbohydrates at the correct time of the day (PWO for example) can help speed up recovery and they will also help sustain healthy thyroid function and metabolism. If your thyroid activity becomes suppressed burning body fat can be hard. This is why nutrient timing is so important and to deny that would be plain ignorant, for most people.
Right. So why fats?
For the carb sensitive amongst us we can get our energy from healthy fats. There are several reasons doing this can be very beneficial. Eating fat turns on fat oxidation, the turnover and burning of fat, allowing the body to generate energy via the LPL pathway. There are many mechanisms, but ultimately to burn fat you have to eat fat. Remember that folks.
In relation to your business, Body Type Nutrition – how do you go about designing a client’s profile and essentially transforming them?
There are two forms I ask them to fill out, one addresses their genetic profile, their habits in terms of eating, psychological tendencies towards foods, natural feeding pattern, cravings for food types, natural inclination towards food types etc. The other is a detailed info document, what they want to achieve, why, how, access to equipment and resources, financial limitations to food and supplementation, training history etc. Both forms give me the complete picture and outline what I am dealing with. I then request 3 photos, front side and back in minimal clothing, which in essence is my one to one meeting with someone, allowing me to look at fat distribution, their body type, skin pigmentation, water retention, skin and fat quality, muscle development, and thus identify any potential hormonal issues. You can tell a lot about what is going in on the inside by what the outside is telling you. This is an essential process for me regardless of how shy or self-conscious the client is in minimal clothing. This is also a process of self-realisation, this is where you are at now, accept it, and now lets move on in a positive direction of change. Positive long term change must start with acceptance of the current situation. Once I know the client’s goals, financial/time constraints and timescale I then work to design the perfect individualised program for that person. Everything is bespoke, I’ll repeat, everyone is an individual and needs that attention in their program. That program then lands on their doorstep in hard copy. No PDF or emailed program, a proper, sexy, personalised nutrition program delivered direct to their door.
What protocols, if any, do you generally stand by and why?
Generally gluten free is something I stick by; the gluten we eat today is very different to that of 100 years ago for example. About 70-80% of my clients on are on a gluten free diet purely due to presented symptomology or because we have found out that he/she does better without it. Dairy free and wheat free are also two other common approaches I use. Many people have intolerances to these said food groups and no matter how hard you work, if you are battling with an intolerance it will really hamper your progress. A lot of the time, I will start them off on a similar diet to that of paleo for the first 30 days to monitor their progress and reactions to foods. I will then build on this depending on tolerances to food groups. If you can handle gluten, fine, if you can handle dairy, fine, but we always start from basics and build up, especially if there are underlying issues presenting themselves. I want to identify as many potential issues right from the get go, otherwise I am just slowing down their progress and short changing results to getting them super energised, healthy and lean.
Moving on to training, for fat loss what would your approach be?
Pretty similar to Charles Poliquin’s German Body Composition Training.
3 resistance sessions a week, 3 supersets per workout with a rep range of 8-10 per set with 40 seconds between supersets, for 5 sets, so 15 working sets per workout.
I would also include 2 HIIT workouts a week, maybe a sprint workout and a kettlebell session for example. Plenty of walking in the great outdoors and a weekly jog is something I would also encourage; I feel it is a very healthy habit to develop, especially outdoors. Essentially embracing as many types of ‘movement’ is really important. Many people just have a sheer lack of movement, so regardless, move more, and if that movement is outdoors then bonus.
And for overall body recomposition – muscle growth & fat loss?
I am a fan of Layne Norton’s PHAT training model for this goal, strength & power to start the week with hypertrophy orientated training towards the end and any HIIT thrown on top at the end.
In relation to supplements, for fat loss which are your top picks?
3-4 cups of green tea a day
High quality fish oil
L-carnitine (if fasting or low carb)
And for muscle growth?
L-Glutamine (high volume or endurance athletes only, otherwise it’s wasted money)
Adaptogen blends when cycling high volume in and peaking
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Ben, this has been an education for us all – thank you so much. Once again, my pleasure. I hope some of my words today will help the FitMag readers and ultimately explain to them why I recommend certain protocols.
Ben Coomber is a performance nutritionist (BSc, CISSN), coach, presenter and writer. Ben coaches people largely via the internet over at www.bodytypenutrition.co.uk including MMA’s Ross Pearson, Strongman’s Jack Lovett and anyone else looking to be awesome. Ben runs an academy for personal trainers to advance their skills in nutrition and stay up to date with the research, teaches all round the UK with his seminar series, appears on radio, writes for major publications like Men’s Fitness and The Telegraph, and runs a knowledge bomb packed podcast on iTunes: ‘Ben Coomber Radio”. You can follow Ben on Facebook, just search for ‘Ben Coomber’, add him on twitter: @bencoomber subscribe to the podcast or hop over to www.bencoomber.com and find out more.