An Interview With Dietitian & Sports Nutritionist, Christopher Mohr - All About Nutrition!

Nick Grantham, a well-respected strength coach from the UK contacted me for some pressing nutrition questions. Get answers about recovery, nutrient timing, dieting, and more right here!

Here we are again, with another interview with yours truly. Nick Grantham, a well-respected strength coach from the UK contacted me for some of he and his client's most pressing nutrition questions.

[ NG ] Chris, thank you very much for agreeing to answer some of our burning nutrition related questions. Before we get started can you tell the reader a bit about your educational and previous career background and how you ended up where you are today.

[ CM ] Thanks for having me, Nick. I've been interested in performance nutrition for years, going back to high school, actually. I took this interest and majored in nutrition at Penn State, followed by completing a dietetic internship to allow me to sit for my registration exam to be a dietitian, and a MS in nutrition at the University of Massachusetts.

While at the University of Massachusetts, I was the sports dietitian there for the 20+ varsity sports. Being interested in performance nutrition, I wanted more information about physiology and the human body, so I then went to the University of Pittsburgh for a PhD in exercise physiology. Finally, after 10 years of school, I decided it was time for a "real" job.

Now that I'm done, I am on my own and started my own company, Mohr Results, Inc, where we focus on nutrition and exercise consulting. I consult with a variety of companies, including the Discovery Health Channel, Clif Bar, Inc, Fit Fuel, Labrada Nutrition, Brandenburg Nutrition, and University of Louisville Athletics.

In addition, I write for a variety of magazines, including Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, and several others. I also recently finished up a sports nutrition textbook that will be out in February 2007, and a book I consulted on with LL Cool J called The Platinum Body, that will be out in December '06 or January '07.

And, finally, I'm in the process of getting on online coaching program together with strength coach, Eric Cressey, MS, CSCS - he's handling the exercise component and I'm on the nutrition end.

[ NG ] For me one of the most neglected areas of training is recovery - everyone focuses on what takes place in the gym and forgets that the whole point of the progressive overload principle is that you adapt to the training stimulus by recovering - if you can get out of the hole quicker then you increase the window of opportunity to present your body with the next training stimulus.

I've one question broken down into three points. From a nutritional perspective what should our readers be doing in terms of nutrition to get the most out of their strength training session:

  1. Before training,
  2. During training, and
  3. After training (can you give us some specifics - what nutrients, quantities and timing).

[ CM ] Absolutely, I agree 100% and wish more people thought like that because it can make a huge difference in terms of overall performance. People are still caught in the line of thinking that they grow in the gym and everything else just "happens" when in reality, they're merely breaking down muscle in the gym and what they do to recover will actually enhance the growth process.

Everyone says breakfast is the most important meal; well, that's a hard point to argue, as that will get you started off on the right foot, so to speak, but pre, during, and post-workout nutrition is right up there in terms of importance. Most of the initial research with recovery was initially done in terms of post workout recovery, but now we have a handful of studies showing pre and during workout nutrition are just as, if not more important.

Pre-Workout Nutrition:

The goal of pre-workout nutrition is to essentially provide the body nutrients that will be used during a workout, to prevent the muscle from "eating up" the stores it has. We know carbohydrates are the primary source of energy during workouts, so first and foremost, the beverage should be comprised primarily of carbohydrates, but also rapidly absorbed protein, or maybe even just some essential amino acids.

I prefer a carb-protein drink at this point because it also helps provide some addition fluids, which are truly the most important - if your hydration status is an issue, you can never have a great workout. Let's focus on strength athletes here because in my opinion, it would be a tad different for endurance athletes.

Most of the research for pre-workout nutrition has been with a carb:protein blend of 2:1, meaning for every 2 grams of carbohydrate, you should be consuming 1 gram of protein (e.g., if you consumed 30 grams of carbohydrates, you should have 15 grams of protein).

Again, carbohydrates provide energy for the working muscles and the protein provides amino acids that help keep the body anabolic and prevent catabolism (breakdown of muscle tissue).

During Workout Nutrition:

Next, we have during workout nutrition. The research here has actually been similar in that we want feed the body a product with a 2:1 ratio of carbs:protein (e.g., Gatorade with a scoop of whey isolate, Surge, etc).

Post Workout Nutrition:

Finally, post workout nutrition should also include both carbs and protein, anywhere from a 4:1-2:1 ratio of carbs:protein (e.g., Endurox Accelerade, Surge, Gatorade with whey protein, low-fat chocolate milk, etc). With regards to post-workout nutrition, make sure you get this drink in as quickly as possible - the sooner the better and definitely wait no longer than 60 minutes post-workout.

[ NG ] Any advice for different training sessions - what if the session is loaded in terms of metabolic demands (high intensity intervals or hypertrophy) compared to neural (sprint work, strength and power workouts).

[ CM ] I do think the advice changes a bit because you don't tap into muscle stores as much with sprint workouts or other similar high intensity intervals vs. strength or power workouts. Recovery is still important, so at this point you likely wouldn't need as many calories, but still eating some carbohydrates and protein, just less total amount.

Timing, Dieting For Weight Restricted Sports, And Nutrition Periodization

For part II of the interview I will cover nutrient timing, dieting for weight restricted sports, and nutrition periodization. A lot of great info packed in here, so check it out.

[ NG ] We adopt an individualized approach to training but in my experience (certainly in the UK) the majority of nutritionists seem to be happy to dole out a one size fits all approach when it comes to nutrition - eat more carbs and you will be fine!

This may seem a little left field but a sports coach I used to work with floated the idea that we should take into account cultural and historical differences in athletes eating habits (as well as individual training requirements). If the athlete has always grown up on a high protein/fat diet should we work around it rather than try to change it completely?

[ CM ] Yes, that is a common "complaint" about many dietitians. The key is to make sure you find a dietitian who works with athletes rather than solely owning a pair of running shoes and calling them a sports dietitian. There's a big difference. Now, carbs are certainly important and play a role in an athlete's diet (or at least should). However, depending on the type of athletes you're working with, they may need more or less, but this needs to be individualized.

To answer your last question - again, I work with people individually, so just because they grew up on a higher protein/fat diet, doesn't necessarily mean they should or shouldn't stay on that. It really depends on their goals and performance and, also, the types of high protein/high fats they're eating - quality of the diet is just as important as quantity of intake.

[ NG ] Periodization of nutrition - much the same as above - we periodize training but not nutrition. Do you think we need to modify nutritional intake at certain points of the training year (heavy strength development phase - increased protein intake, etc) - or will it take care of itself (athlete is training harder therefore will increase food intake which in turn will take care of increased demand on nutrition).

If you think it's important, what are the key aspects of nutrition that you would manipulate and at what time?

[ CM ] I think nutrition should absolutely follow training. If you're in a heavy strength development phase, for example, you need to match your intake to your output, whereas if you're in a fat loss phase, or even just a maintenance phase, your total intake and that of specific nutrients doesn't need to be as high.

Again, the example above about carbohydrates is perfect - if you're not as active, hitting the weights hard for long, grueling workouts, your intake can be lower and instead "traded in" for higher lean proteins and healthy fats. This brings us back to the point of individualizing the approach rather than a one size fits all approach.

[ NG ] I work with a lot of athletes who compete in weight category sports or events that need them to have a high power to weight ratio. What advice would you give our readers if they need to drop weight without losing lean muscle mass? How does your advice sit with the 'fat burning zone' school of thought?

[ CM ] That's always an interesting group to work with; I too work with and have worked a lot of these athletes, particularly lightweight rowers and gymnasts. You want folks to be healthy, of course, but 99% of the time, you can only talk performance with these athletes because, at least in my case, these are often collegiate athletes who are living in the moment.

With that said, you definitely need to keep their protein intake relatively high, have most of the carbs coming from veggies, along with some simple carbs around workout time, as we talked about earlier, and healthy fats within reason. All athletes should drink plenty of water all the time and I would also suggest plenty of green and black tea throughout the day.

I am not a fan of the "fat burning zone" - I believe workouts should be high intensity, interval type training, such as running sprints, hills, etc. I think steady state aerobics, particularly during this time of trying to maintain as much lean body mass as possible, should be limited.

[ NG ] Chris, the flip side is there will be some guys who need to increase their weight to take them to the top of the weight category - what in your opinion is the most effective combination of training and nutrition to increase body mass.

[ CM ] Here's when you need a load of calories, but again focusing on quality of intake---high quality carbs, meaning whole grains, and a variety of colored fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats. There's no way to pack on mass without a high calorie intake - and it's not just protein, although that's of course important as well.

I tell folks to shoot for 1 g/lb of body weight for protein intake as a general rule of thumb and also have some whole grains and healthy fats at each meal. Focus on high calorie snacks, like mixed nuts, yogurt, fruit, MRP's made with milk and fruit, etc.

In terms of training, you want to focus on multi-joint exercises, such as:

  • squats
  • deadlifts
  • chin-ups
  • pullups
  • dips
  • bench
  • etc.

Just like with fat burning workouts, I still like doing full body type workouts rather than split body part workouts. The main difference here would be the rest intervals between sets. And while I think some aerobic exercise is important, you need to limit this to allow for optimal recovery between the grueling workouts.

Never forget that nutrition is arguably the most important part of your overall training regimen; training and nutrition are like two wheels of a bike, you can't perform optimally without both working in conjunction.