Joseph Agu on the Nutrition Challenges of Elite Athletes

Joseph Agu talks about the challenges he faced working as sports nutritionist to the British Athletics Team, and how those lessons apply to us regular trainees.

3 Key Points

  1. Even elite athletes often fail to focus on basic nutrition.
  2. Protein intake varies based on the individual but is best given as an absolute recommended intake.
  3. As some simple guidelines to give your loved ones interested in making some positive changes this new year: First, positively change your food environment (fewer sweets around the house). Second, increase your lean protein sources at each meal. Third, increase your vegetable intake. The energy deficit is a by-product of your food environment. As a fourth item, realize there is no magic bullet.

Show Notes

  • How does Joseph describe what he does? Joseph usually describes himself as a nutritionist who works with a variety of trainees from the general population to Olympic athletes. [1:00]
  • How do people find Joseph online? Fit-Pro-Development. [4:45]

  • How does Joseph find working with such diverse trainees? The majority of people Joseph works with are the general gym goers that compete in cross-fit, powerlifting, and bodybuilding competitions. The focus for Joseph tends to be on strength-power athletes. [5:30]

  • What’s the secret behind Joseph’s nutrition program? The reality is that most athletes have relatively normal nutrition when compared to the rest of the population, according to Joseph. The athletes tend to under-consume protein, micronutrients, and overall calories. Joseph focuses on getting athletes to get the basics correct. Joseph mentions some of the supplements, like creatine, which he uses for specific athletes. Joseph thinks that British athletes tend not to use steroids. [8:45]

  • Is it really just about focusing on basic nutrition? Andy and Joseph both agree that the majority of the fitness industry will have you believe there is a secret. However, Joseph works with elite athletes and he focuses on getting their basic nutrition right. [13:00]

  • How does Joseph get athletes to care? The most useful tool is getting showing someone else with positive results. Joseph also mentions showing clients hard data. He also would spend time with clients during and after training to provide small bits of nutrition information, show an interest in their sport, and build trust. Joseph mentions there is a big challenge to switch the focus from supplements to food. Elite athletes and the average gym-goer tend to put supplements on a pedestal before food. Andy mentions not giving away services for free because there needs to be buy-in. [14:00]

  • Did Joseph do any classroom lessons? Joseph would do classes but he would be mindful of not boring the athletes with the mechanisms and research. Instead, he would use practical examples using other athletes that he has worked with in the past. [21:00]

  • What was Joseph’s happiest moment working with Team Great Britain? His favorite moment is when the athlete wins a gold medal and send a text message expressing their thanks. Specifically, Joseph enjoyed working with Adam Gemili who is the only British athlete to run under 10 seconds for the 100 meter and under 20 seconds for the 200 meter. [24:00]

  • Does nutrition play a role in injury prevention? Joseph mentions current research on protein intake with tissue repair and deficiencies. Joseph talks about how keeping the fluids moving in your throat on an airplane can help reduce the chances of catching an airborne illness. [27:00]

  • What is the food availability like in Japan? It is pretty similar to Great Britain. However, the US has the highest standard and it’s cheap, according to Andy. Fruits and vegetables in Japan can be pretty expensive. [29:45]

  • Does Andy work with a lot of clients in Japan? Andy does run the Japan site but his clients are English speaking and mostly outside of Japan. [31:00]

  • Does Andy struggle with how different the language is from English? On the contrary, Andy sees the value in what he’s helped to bring to the Japanese market. He also mentions how his friend circle has grown with some of the most influential and educated people in the industry. [33:00]

  • What if I am interested in learning more but I am not ready for a University course? Andy mentions the resources he has available on his website as a good first step.  [36:30]

  • What does Joseph have to say on the recent HMB and Keto studies? Joseph feels like it is pretty safe to call out the issues around these recent studies. Joseph mentions you can’t fool the experts, but it is easier to fool other in the fitness industry. Joseph’s Letter on Facebook. [34:00]

  • What if I am interested to learn more about the HMB and Keto studies? Check out the podcast with Menno Henselmans. [46:30]

  • What is Joseph’s interest in protein? Protein is a big topic and is often on the top of Joseph’s reading pile. [47:00]

  • What are Joseph’s thoughts on the diminishing returns when increasing protein within commonly accepted ranges? If someone is in energy balance and consuming more than 2.2g/kg of protein/body weight, there is likely no advantage (unless they are relying on protein from plant-based sources). In a deficit, there is an increased value of your protein intake because protein synthesis is a demanding activity. It is clear that 1.8g/kg of protein/body weight is not enough, but as the amount of protein intake increases, there are diminishing returns. [48:30]

  • Is there a difference in protein requirements between men and women? Joseph mentions how an absolute amount of protein is more relevant than a relative amount of protein. 120g – 250g of protein, per day, would be a good range for most people. [53:15]

  • What does Joseph think about eating your protein based on your height? Andy clarifies that if someone was 6 feet tall, they would be 183cm, thus would eat 183g of protein. Joseph thinks it is a good measure, assuming you are not extremely tall or short. [55:00]

  • What about a real-world example of protein intake with food? Joseph mentions that a deck and a half of cards would be about 30g – 40g of protein from a lean meat source. Joseph mentions splitting up meals over three to five meals with equal protein feedings. [57:00]

  • How do things change during a cutting phase? Meal frequency seems to matter less when you are trying to retain muscle mass over gaining. Ultimately, you need to do what you can adhere to. When Joseph is cutting, he tends to have fewer meals because it is more satisfying to eat larger amounts of calories at once. [1:01:00]

  • How does Joseph eat? Joseph talks about normally eating two meals and supplementing with shakes. He also mentions that he is largely inactive outside of the gym, spending a large amount of time in front of a computer. [1:04:00]

  • What’s Joseph’s advice to the general population? First, positively change your food environment (fewer sweets around the house). Second, increase your lean protein sources at each meal. Third, increase your vegetable intake. The energy deficit is a by-product of your food environment. As a fourth item, realize there is no magic bullet. [1:07:00]

Show Links

Thank you for listening! – Andy

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Andy Morgan

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