An Interview With Sports Nutritionist, Chad Nicholls

Chad (worked with Ronnie Coleman & Mike Tyson) delves into his thoughts on sports nutrition and knowledge on how to achieve bodybuilding success. He also discusses his thoughts on the state of the sport and where its future lies.

To achieve the upper limits of our genetic ability in any sport requires a sound nutrition plan along with detailed knowledge regarding the precise ratio of foods and supplements needed to optimally perform and rebuild.

In addition, the timing, frequency, quality and quantity of the various nutrients needed to be at our best physically, are to be considered when aiming for the very top. In bodybuilding, nutrition is thought to account for between 70 and 80 percent of a competitor's success, even more as a contest approaches.

The great physiques seen onstage at any professional show reflect not only countless hours in the gym, but precisely planned eating, which by comparison plays a much greater role in refining a competitors body to perfection, providing for the paying public the breathtaking spectacle that is a contest ready pro.

In today's professional bodybuilding climate, with the quality and quantity of competition increasing exponentially, peaking just right has never been more important. For this very reason, most, if not all professionals put their dietary decisions in the expert hands of a nutrition specialist, or "guru", one who knows exactly how a bodybuilders physique ticks and who has a knowledge-based and intuitive grasp of what nutrients are needed and when to include them.

One man who many consider bodybuilding's number one nutritionist is Chad Nicholls, a former bodybuilder who has, since the mid-90s, achieved notoriety for his ability to place those he has worked with in the winner's circle.

Chad's first client, his wife Kim Chizevsky, showcased his skills along with her amazing work ethic in the best possible way, by winning the 1996 Ms. Olympia. She went on to win three more of these prestigious titles in succession, proving that Chad knew a thing or two about nutrition.

Other notable athletes Chad has worked with include a guy called Ronnie Coleman who does reasonably well for himself on the pro scene, and Marvelous Melvin Anthony, who amazed everyone at the 2006 Mr. Olympia with his vastly improved package, complete with additional size and stunning conditioning.

Chad's success rate with great champions is long and legendary and his tailored approach to mass building in the off-season, and physical refinement as a contest approaches speaks volumes for his ability to design the right program for any given individual.

With his customised and specialised approach to bodybuilding nutrition, Chad achieved the unthinkable as he guided eight-time Mr Olympia, Ronnie Coleman, to his first Olympia win in 1998. Before this show, most had placed Ronnie out of the top five.

As professional nutritional guidance has become crucial for sports performance in general, Chad has increasingly found himself working with athletes from codes other than bodybuilding. He teamed up with heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson in 1993, an alliance that resulted in the massive pugilist knocking out his opponent, Clifford "The black Rhino" Etienne, in 48 seconds of the first round.

With his solid record of guiding athletes from major sporting codes to success as exemplified by Tyson's win, and his continued involvement in sports nutrition at the pro bodybuilding level, Chad Nicholls is a man we can all learn a thing or two from. His detailed approach to his craft is illustrated by the in-depth, yet focused answers he gave me in our recent interview.

In the following discussion, Chad delves into his thoughts on sports nutrition and shares some of his sought after knowledge on how to achieve bodybuilding success. He also discusses his thoughts on the current state of the sport and where its future lies.

[ Q ] You are widely known within sports circles as an expert in the fields of nutrition and pre-competition preparation. Where does your main focus lie these days?

A: Currently, I have branched out and would title myself as a "sports nutritionist" - not just a bodybuilding contest prep coach - although I still work with many bodybuilders - pro and amateur.

What I have found during my years in the sporting industry is that bodybuilding principles (nutrition and training) apply to virtually all sports, so I am working with many different types of athletes - not just body builders - I have branched out into boxing, football, baseball, mixed martial arts, track and field - you name the sport and I've trained an athlete in that sport.

[ Q ] Can you give the readers some background on yourself? How did you establish yourself as a bodybuilding pre-competition guru?

A: Out of high school, I began training and competing. As well, in my early 20's, I became a police officer and during that time I underwent training in the areas of exercise physiology and nutrition. I enjoyed this education so much that I continued working and researching in the areas of health and fitness.

During this time, my wife, Kim Chizevsky, was an up and coming bodybuilding star. With her genetics and work ethic and my knowledge, I was able to help her become one of the most successful stars in the IFBB.

From there, the male pros saw how consistent and on-the-money Kim's conditioning was show after show and how successful she had become - they began to seek out my knowledge and contest prep services and the rest is history.

[ Q ] Why did you choose bodybuilding primarily as a sport in which to offer your services?

A: I really didn't choose bodybuilding for my career. It was a sport that I enjoyed very much and enjoyed competing in. When I began working with athletes, Kim's career really took off and she rose to the top very quickly. All the while, I exerted my efforts studying and working on the nutritional and training aspect of the sport to assist her - I really enjoyed this and just sort of fell into the career of sports nutritionist.

Fortunately, this was a career that I truly enjoyed and felt it was more than a hobby and passion rather than work. I am very lucky to have turned it into such a great career and one that I have been able to utilize in other sports.

[ Q ] What have been some highlight moments for you?

A: Obviously, Kim's first Olympia victory in Chicago, IL when she defeated Lenda Murray is one of the best memories. We had spent many years in the Chicago area when Kim and I first began competing in bodybuilding and during her early years as a pro. So it was like winning on home turf and of course, being the first Olympia win - that is always a very special feeling and memory.

However, sharing in Ronnie Coleman's first Olympia win was really awesome. I had began working with him earlier that year (prepped him for his NOC win) and bringing him to the Olympia in that kind of conditioning when no one even expected him to be in the top 5 was just incredible!

Additionally, working with Mike Tyson has been pretty interesting and I was instrumental in his training and preparation in 2003 when he knocked out Etienne in 48 seconds during round 1 - that was an awesome feeling - and the excitement and energy surrounding a pro boxing match of that calibre was unbelievable!

[ Q ] We will get to what makes a top tier bodybuilder successful soon, but first tell me about your experiences with Mike Tyson. What did you have him doing? What was he like to work with and as a person?

A: Everyone always finds it surprising when I say it, but my experience with Mike Tyson has been awesome! He was very easy to work with. I helped him get ready for the Etienne fight in 2003. He started out at about 245-250. I put him on a high protein, moderate carb diet; however, I would fluctuate his carbohydrates higher when he was sparring and when he increased his road work, then fluctuating them back down. I constantly did this all the way into the fight and it worked beautifully.

Despite all the reports you hear of Mike being difficult, I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and he had complete respect for me and was not complicated at all. We made a good team. I actually hung out with him in Vegas a couple of times at his home and the entire week in Memphis during the week of the fight and we got along great.

He was very humble, polite and a lot of fun to be around - he truly gets a bad rap - all of my experience with him has been great! Actually, he came to Vegas a few months back to the Olympia Expo so we could discuss a game plan for him and go over some business options, so we have been in contact ever since the fight and are planning on working together again.

[ Q ] As a nutrition specialist, what can a client expect from you? What services do you offer?

A: As a sports nutritionist, I offer my clients very detailed and customized programs catered specifically to the individual.

One thing that I really pride myself on and that has been instrumental in building my reputation is the fact that I am able to take the knowledge from my education and apply it to every individual situation - no two of my programs are alike because none of my athletes are exactly alike.

Though I have set theories or philosophies, I always cater the diet and training program to fit the needs of the person. As well, I always offer the answers and am able to answer my clients' questions.

When preparing a diet or training program for the athlete - I always give them the reason why they are eating a certain way or why they should take certain supplements or why they should do a certain type of workout program, etc. By being able to explain to the athletes why they do the things they do, I gain their trust and by doing so, they are more likely to stick to and follow the program and gain success.

[ Q ] Tell me more about your role as a member of the scientific advisory committee for NxLabs. As a company, what are their main goals?

A: First and foremost - I am extremely proud and excited to be part of the NxLabs family! As a member of their Scientific Advisory Board, my role is to utilize my knowledge and expertise in the fields of nutrition, health and exercise physiology to assist in the creation of cutting edge products - products that truly work and deliver the results they promise.

I have really enjoyed my time with NxLabs. They truly are a team and work together to create the best products possible - no one person is credited for a product - it is a team effort - and I really admire that. I also enjoy the fact that I truly have input and I am utilized rather than just sticking my face on a box to sell products.

So, as a company, I feel that NxLabs' goals are to utilize the best minds in the business in order to create the best products, and to be the most innovative company in the industry. As well - NxLabs truly cares about the hardcore bodybuilding athlete and in creating products that really deliver REAL results.

They are not looking to just spit out product after product whether they truly work or not. They are in the business of taking the time and effort needed to make only the best quality products possible.

[ Q ] In your view, what have been some of bodybuilding's worst training and dietary trends? What are some of the biggest mistakes people tend to make when wanting to gain size and get cut?

A: I think the worst trend has been what we have seen a lot of beginning in the late 90's and early in the new millennium - athletes who want to be big and want it now. During the late 80's and early 90's, the sport was stacked from head to toe with talent and young bodybuilders coming up the ranks that spent years on the National scene before turning pro.

However, they did things the right way - slow and steady wins the bodybuilding race when it comes to putting on quality size without wrecking your physique. Because of that many of the stars from the early 90's are still able to compete and hang with the younger athletes.

Unfortunately, many of today's young stars will burn out fast and won't have that type of staying power because they had to have their size right now - no matter what the cost. It is heartbreaking to see so many athletes with great potential throw it away because of impatience, rather than letting your body and genetics set the tone for when you should progress.

Fortunately, I think that many athletes are beginning to see the error of this trend and learning that only time and patience will grant you longevity and true success in this sport.

[ Q ] For success in bodybuilding, what is more important: training or diet? Why is this, in your view?

A: For me, this is a very simple answer - nutrition and diet are the most important aspects of being a successful bodybuilder. An athlete can train balls to the wall day in and day out in the gym - but if they do not know how to diet away the fat while keeping the muscle - they will never make it to the winner's circle. In my opinion, the diet and being able to follow and stick to it is what makes an athlete a champion.

[ Q ] What other preparation aspects are important for bodybuilding success and why?

A: Aside from the obvious aspects - diet, training and cardio - I think a lot of athletes overlook complexion and skin tone. I don't mean their faces either. I am talking about the conditioning of their skin. I understand that not everyone is blessed with perfect skin, but you can work at keeping and maintaining a healthy complexion and skin tone.

With all the great new innovations in skincare out there it is just sad to see someone with a great physique on stage ruin their overall appearance because of pitted, scarred skin or skin that is badly blemished. These athletes spend a good deal of money prepping for a show so for a little bit extra it's worth working on your skin as well.

I think this is an important aspect because smooth, clear skin just makes the muscle look that much nicer on the body, and clear skin gives the body an extra appearance of overall good health.

[ Q ] How would you help an athlete who is experiencing water retention problems leading up to a bodybuilding show?

A: Unfortunately, since everyone - no matter how similar they look on the outside - is completely different, one specific answer wouldn't be the key in solving every case of water retention. I could go on for hours on how to remedy all the different scenarios for different cases as water retention.

What I can say, however, is the key to working this type of problem out is not waiting until the last minute to seek help. As soon as you know you are having water problems, which will be evident, right off the bat, attack it immediately. By this I mean learning early on (well in advance of your show) how to read your physique.

Most athletes are in tune with themselves enough to know that certain foods, condiments, etc., can make them retain water - or that their body naturally holds water more than the average person. Whatever the situation for the water retention, procrastination isn't the best way to attack the problem.

[ Q ] How important is supplementation? What supplements do you recommend a prospective bodybuilding champion use and why?

A: I feel supplementation is extremely important to helping an athlete function and helping them to stay healthy - not just during a diet, but also all year round. Athletes, due to the extreme hours of training they go through each day, the many calories they burn and the extreme stress their bodies go through to perform at their respective sport need more supplementation than the average person. But everyone needs supplementation for his or her body to perform at peak levels day after day, year after year.

Just as important as fuelling your body with the right types of carbohydrates and proteins is being sure to replenish your body's vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It's crucial for staying healthy and running optimally.

Though there are certain staples I feel everyone should use - a solid multi-mineral, calcium, extra vitamin C and E, and essential fatty acids. As well, one could possibly add glutamine, creatine, aminos and NO products.

The list goes on and on as to what one could need to supplement. The best way to find out what an athlete's specific needs are is to have a blood screen ran. This way they will know what areas they are deficient or need extra supplementation in.

[ Q ] You have trained two great Olympia champions, your wife, Kim Chizevsky, a Four-time Ms. Olympia and Ronnie Coleman, an eight-time Olympian. Given your individualized approach, what strategies did you employ with these two athletes?

A: Both athletes had very similar traits in that they were champions in their mind as well as in their genetics and with their performance - they both wanted to be the best in the sport.

With Kim, I had the luxury of being with her during every single workout each and every day. However, she knew what she had to do and how hard she had to work to get to the top and stay on top - with her workouts and her diet.

Ronnie is the same way, though I am not with him during his workouts or diet. He has the same mindset and drive, as Kim and I trust him to do what he must to win.

It isn't that I employed different strategies with them than I did other athletes. That would be unfair to say, as it would sound as though I put more time and effort into those two athletes.

I can say that I put the same amount of time and dedication into all my athletes, as I want them all to achieve greatness. But it is the little extra things that Kim and Ronnie put into their preparation in conjunction with the programs I created for them and their genetic gifts that set them apart from the rest of the pack.

With this in mind, I didn't have to worry about Ronnie and Kim like I had to with some athletes - wondering if they were training with enough intensity, doing their cardio when they should, if they were straying off the diet - and I never had to do any emergency repair with them as I have with some that strayed off the diet.

When the going got tough it just made Kim and Ronnie work even harder. It was a challenge and they both always rose to meet that challenge head on.

[ Q ] What do you enjoy most about working with champion bodybuilders? What qualities do they have that separate them from the average competitor?

A: What primarily sets a champion bodybuilder apart from the average bodybuilder is their drive and mental toughness - performing at their best when they are under the highest amounts of stress and pressure. What also separates these top athletes from all the rest is being of the mindset that no matter how tired, hungry or burned out they may be during their preparation, they stay on track, fight and know that the winner's circle is waiting for them at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, knowing that victory is greater than any temptation they may encounter during their preparation. These are the qualities that separate a true champion from the average athlete.

I enjoy working with these athletes because as I mentioned with Kim and Ronnie everything goes as planned. You never have to worry about the amount of effort they put into their preparation because they will always give 200% of themselves. These types of athletes will follow your advice, but will never rely on you to do their work for them.

[ Q ] In your opinion, what are some of the things about modern day bodybuilding that need to change for it to gain greater public acceptance?

A: I'm glad you put it as gaining greater public acceptance, as asking what it would take to go mainstream would be a moot point. First, we have to get it out of our heads that bodybuilding needs to appeal to the mainstream because it is a sport with a cult following.

What we need to do is take a page from the WWE or the now extremely popular UFC - these are completely unorthodox sports in terms of what we consider the "norm" for athletics. Yet professional wrestling is almost as much a part of the American culture as baseball.

Additionally, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is hitting the American household in a big way. MMA is quickly becoming to the new millennium what pro wrestling was in the late 90's. If bodybuilding could capture the magic of that formula it would be on its way.

I think what needs to be changed the most is how our own industry perceives the sport and treats the athletes in it. In my position, I see and hear a lot of things and when you have some companies within our own industry bashing and degrading the very athletes that put them on the map it's no wonder that the general public won't accept the bodybuilders.

Why should they if the industry itself doesn't accept them? I think what really hurt bodybuilding was when publications started printing the sob stories of certain athletes that weren't doing well in competition, so they decided to sell their "tell all" stories for a few bucks. Before this happened, it was taboo to even hint around the word steroids. Now, that's all people equate with our sport.

I would like to see the industry start protecting its athletes. Let's get off the tell-all, running steroids into the ground articles. Sure, it's one thing to give good information so athletes aren't lead astray or get hurt. But why do we need to harp on nothing but anabolic steroids? Let's focus on the hard work and dedication of the athletes. Let's get back to the ways of the late 80's and early 90's.

As well, I'd like to see better promotion. Not just of the sport but of the stars in the sport. I remember Kim once asked why they weren't covering the women as much or why the women bodybuilders couldn't get cover shots anymore. She was actually told that they weren't in the position to promote the women and were told not to promote women bodybuilders because they didn't sell. Her response - "How do you know until you try?"

If you feed a person to the public constantly and promote them as being great and wonderful, the public will agree. I think the WWE's China proved that point. If you choose not to promote a person or choose not to promote the sport in a positive manner, the public will agree with that as well. It makes perfect sense to me.

So by making the sport the best it can be rather than trying to turn it into something it's not and by giving it better positive promotion, I really think things could turn around. But after so many years of looking at the negative side it's something that won't happen overnight.

[ Q ] Look into your crystal ball for a minute and tell me what you think is in store for future bodybuilding generations. What cutting-edge pre-contest preparation methods can we expect to see as athletes keep pushing the envelope for bigger and better gains?

A: As with all sports, bodybuilding will continue to evolve and progress and the athletes, in most cases, will get better. No matter how much you try to set limitations on muscularity, to try and stop this type of progression is actually a move backward. I mean, you wouldn't ask a track runner to run the same time meet after meet. They always work to run faster times.

Although I believe bodybuilders will continue to push the boundaries of muscularity, I also think that the competitors will work on creating a more complete physique. We have learned that creating a bigger physique while losing its aesthetic appeal isn't better.

I still feel there is a future for a 300 plus pound Mr. Olympia - one that is not just a mass monster, but aesthetic as well. That's what I see the trend moving toward - not just mass, but a blending of the best of both worlds.

Additionally, with all the new information out there regarding how the body works and how it performs (I'm constantly researching and learning more every day), it will be easier to link training, nutrition and supplementation together to help teach us how to get the most out of our bodies and how to get optimal performance each and every day. With all the new supplements coming out on the market and better equipment to train on the athletes can only get better.

This is another point that I am excited about with NxLabs. We are working to create these cutting-edge products to further the gains athletes can expect from themselves. As well, we are creating legal products that help to naturally step up the production of hormones found within the body to make the body perform above and beyond its limitations.

I'm very much looking forward to being a part of the scientific team behind some of these pioneering ideas as you never can really tell which way the trends will go, but you can help to make the trends the best possible.

[ Q ] How far can people stretch their human capabilities to progress as bodybuilders? Will there ever be a limit to what the human body can achieve in terms of muscle size?

A: I don't really think there will ever be a limit to the amount of muscle a person can put on their body if we are talking in terms of just building muscle to build muscle no matter what it looks like. The body is an amazing creation.

I've learned it has very few limitations in terms of performance and what it can do. However, I do believe there are limitations on an individual basis, as to how much muscle a person should put on their particular frame. We are always going to see the athlete that pushes the envelope above and beyond where it should be, but that's not to say this is the direction the sport should follow.

[ Q ] Thank you for your time Chad. It has been a real pleasure to interview bodybuilding's top nutritionist. Would you like to add anything?

A: Thank you for your interest and for the interview. I really appreciate it. I also want to thank NxLabs for allowing me the opportunity to join their family. I am really enjoying my time with the company and am looking forward to great things in the near future.

As well, I wanted to briefly mention to watch for a new show Kim and I are promoting on May 26, 2007 in Kansas City, Missouri. In celebration of reaching 25,000 members in just over thee years on our Muscle Mayhem Forums, Kim and I are promoting the 2007 NPC Muscle Mayhem Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Championships - at the Folly Theater in Kansas City.

We are extremely excited to promote this new event as it will be a medieval themed event and placements 1-5 in all classes will receive swords. The overall winners will receive a custom Muscle Mayhem coat of arms as well as a Superbowl style ring and payment toward expenses for National competition.

We are also thrilled that we will have National coverage in industry publications for this event as well as great entertainment. So far, 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman and Marvelous Melvin Anthony are on board to guest pose and we currently have several pros to be on hand for the event. For entries, ticket information and more details, please go to