Chris Talley is a sports nutritionist who specializes in the unique requirements of ultra-elite athletic performance. He has more than 22 years of experience in the fields of nutritional science and exercise physiology, and has been exposed to information and processes that are unheard of in the civilian nutritional arena. Mr. Talley’s career began as an Aerospace Physiologist, performing nutritional research in changes to protein metabolism and bone density due to exposure to microgravity environments. After 8 years in this highly technical field, Chris found a unique civilian application for the information he had uncovered. Many of the nutritional interventions that help preserve muscle mass and bone density in space also INCREASE muscle mass and bone density on Earth. This held serious implications for the field of athletic performance. In 2001, Chris founded Precision Food Works, Inc (PFW). PFW is a high-tech, software-driven nutritional company that scientifically evaluates each individual, then (utilizing proprietary software) plans, prepares, and delivers customized meals on a daily basis. In addition to overseeing his rapidly expanding nutritional service, Chris has utilized this same process to perform nutritional programming for elite athletes worldwide. His clientele include 3 NBA MVPs, 2 NFL MVPs, 2 MLB Cy Young award winners and 3 MVPs, world record holders in 4 Olympic track and field events, 2 Heisman trophy winners, and a host of other household-name athletes.
Here are my 5 questions with Chris Talley about Sports Nutrition and his answers:
1) I am a believer in Muir’s Law (which is: “when one tries to pick out anything by itself we find it attached to everything else in the universe”). This “law” seems to hold true for nutrition, as was discussed in a recent NY Times article. With that in mind, what do you believe to be the role of supplementation in the diet (especially with regards to ergogenic aids)?
I believe supplementation plays a role only after “the basics” have been addressed. Eating a wholesome and healthy diet will carry you surprisingly far in athletic competition. Sure, throwing a few top-notch supplements at someone who is already well-nourished can put the icing on the cake, but I would aim for getting “health” covered before looking elsewhere. Your body needs “the basics” to make a lot of the precursors, hormones, and 2nd messengers required to maximize performance. I see A LOT of athletes that eat HORRIBLY, and then try to patch it up with some over-the-counter ergogenic aids. It never benefits them in the long run when they go that route, though the placebo effect may carry them for a little bit.
2a) There has been a lot of recent hype about prohormones and DHEA, but not much credible research to indicate that there is an effective nutriceutical aid… so far the tried and true combo of creatine and whey supplementation still seem to be the best. Is there anything exciting and/or new out there that has potential?
Most of the prohormones are banned by the sanctioning bodies in any type of athletic competition, so I’ll leave that out of this conversation. For non-athletes, a good blood work-up will tell you where your current testosterone and estrogen levels are. My current way of doing things with athletes is much different than it was 10 years ago. It used to be that you would just hit someone up with an assortment of state-of-the-art supplements and hope that something in there would help. Because nutritional blood work-ups are now well under the $1,000 mark, I’m finding that identifying any underlying deficiencies is much more efficient, effective, and less expensive than just taking every supplement in the nutrition store. It’s not going to do you a whole lot of good taking an assortment of supplements if you are missing some key neurotransmitter precursors, essential fatty acids, or simple vitamins and/or minerals. I’ve recently seen an athlete go from “fairly competitive” to “absolutely on fire!” simply by getting back to full nutritional status based upon nutritional blood work…and that was without taking ANY ergogenic aid!
2b) Is there anything exciting and/or new regarding how one can lower their myostatin levels?
Antisense technology is going to be the answer here, though I’m not sure what the repercussions will be. It’s a brave new world once you start changing the way genes are permitted to express themselves! Ovita Limited owns the patent to the bovine version of the myostatin gene (and antisense control of it), but Isis Pharmaceuticals is by far the leader in the antisense field (and owns most of the key patents related to it), so remember that name a few years from now. They are the only ones who have figured out how to effectively deliver the antisense oligonucleotides to their target. Antisense therapies are incredibly powerful and elegant solutions if/when their time comes.
3) Some compelling research has shown that there is a link between dairy intake and weight management, and some researchers make the leap that this is due to CLA. What are your thoughts on CLA and the compound’s purported benefits?
I’m not entirely convinced that the dairy/weight loss connection is due to CLA. There’s a fair amount of support that adequate dietary calcium plays an important role in weight loss, so that may have something to do with it. Sticking to the CLA question, there is a fair amount of support that CLA helps prevent cancer and heart disease. When it comes to weight loss…yes, I have seen a number of studies supporting its benefit. Empirically, I have not seen anyone taking it lose body fat any faster than those who were not taking it. Of slight concern is the fact that some people seem to develop temporary insulin resistance after taking CLA for a couple of months. This seems to correct itself once they stop taking it, but it may be a bigger concern if someone is borderline diabetic.
4) This question is personal. I am a caffeine addict. I use it as both an ergogenic aid and a mental stimulant. Actually, it is safe to say I abuse it. Practically undisputed are its benefits in endurance events and the fact that it crosses the blood brain barrier increasing neurotransmitter release (which allows for more intense anaerobic workouts leading to improved adaptation). However, the user also risks many of the same side effects as other stimulants. When and where do you believe that caffeine has a role in the diet of an athlete?
A lot of people swear by caffeine to keep them going throughout the day. I suggest that my athletes stay away from it because of the side effects. Caffeine can increase the production of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin). Since SHBG binds to testosterone, it can decrease FREE testosterone (the form of testosterone that is responsible for the well-known action of testosterone) to the point that it affects the anabolic state that many athletes are looking for. I usually tell my athletes not to have more than 2 cups of coffee a day, as that’s a low enough dose that testosterone is not affected in any substantial way. For the average person, having a cup of coffee or the equivalent amount of caffeine before exercise can improve endurance a bit — and for those looking for it, possibly speed weight loss.
5) What are your favorite overlooked supplements?
Pyruvate is a great one for any extreme endurance athlete or those looking to lose weight, though you have to combine it with DHA (dihydroxyacetone…not the essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid) to get the most benefit. Most pyruvate products on the market these days have DHA added already. Dosage will vary according to gastrointestinal tolerance, but 1 gram per 10lbs of body weight is a good average starting point. Make sure to spread the intake out over the entire day, as too much at once will cause digestive issues. Take it before meals and before exercise for best results.
I’m becoming a big fan of Beta Alanine for athletes, even though this one has been known about for about a 100 years. It’s especially great for vegetarians (or those that don’t eat a whole lot of meat). Dosing is dependent on the person, as you want to take enough to get a benefit without getting “the tingles” in your fingers. I’ve found the dose most athletes can tolerate ranges from 2 – 5 grams per day. It’s best taken a few times a day to reduce the side effects.