IIFYM Interviews Dr. Joe Klemczewski, Ph.D. – Founder: The Diet Doc, LLC, Team Klemczewski Perfect Peaking Program, ALPHA Mag: The Evolution of Fitness, The Shadow Foundation, LLC
IIFYM: For those of our readers that are not familiar with you and your work, will you please tell us about yourself and your credentials?
Dr. Joe: I’ll go all the way back to my earliest health and training inclinations. I grew up in a family that didn’t value nutrition, fitness, or health in any way, but once I had enough self-awareness to realize I wanted a different sort of life, I took off rapidly in a different direction. By the time I was 12 years old I was buying Muscle & Fitness and lifting weights daily. When I was 15 I set a goal to compete in my first contest by 21 and turn pro by 30.
Now, I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany(1). Along the way to achieving those physique goals, I became a physical therapist and specialized in orthopedics while working on a masters degree in health, a doctorate in nutrition, then later another doctorate in health education, and finally a master of fine arts in creative and professional writing.
After physical therapy school, I became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the NSCA and not too long ago achieved certification with the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Backing up to those early boyhood years, when changing my body was important to me for all the great pubescent girls-on-the-playground reasons, I was befriended by a budding jock who convinced me to join him on the football, basketball, and baseball teams. My pudgy little frame got stronger and with him as our lead lefty on the mound and me behind the plate, we won three city championships and dominated the all-star team.
I mention those experiences because they were formative and I hope everyone who embraces an intentionally active life realizes the impact we can have on kids if we keep our eyes open. An astute reader might be able to draw a straight line from the 12-year-old Joe to the father of four, social science writer, founder of a child-health non-profit, and rabble-rousing fitness industry pioneer.
(1) Anchorman quote courtesy of Apatow Productions and DreamWorks Pictures; please don’t sue me.
IIFYM: I have heard you referred to as the Godfather of peaking. How did this start? What were competitive bodybuilders doing before you put together your current peaking protocol?
Dr. Joe: In the late ‘90s, there were no personal trainers, no coaches, and the only information available for contest nutrition was this-is-how-Mr. Olympia-eats articles. Once I began competing, I hounded top competitors for their protocols and found little difference. Grad school had nothing to do with bodybuilding nutrition, but I rapidly saw the gaps between the muscle mag lore and renal physiology.
It was apparent that there wasn’t much being done correctly, and even before competitors were dying on stage, it was obvious that some of the practices were dangerous.
I was no different than anyone else—always wondering why I looked so much better the week before the show and the day after. I started experimenting.
Once I became a pro with the WNBF, the editor of Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness magazine (Steve Downs) asked me to write an article. That turned into almost 15 years of steady writing. By then I owned a fitness facility and was doing plenty of nutrition work with clients.
I had an idea to advertise myself as a “Contest Peaking Specialist” since my methods were contrary to the norm. My clients were winning shows, feeling better, and creating new standards for contest conditioning.
This is going to sound archaic to some readers, but that was when the internet was in its infancy, there was no such thing as a smartphone, and I was the first person to do contest prep as a formal program. One of my early clients was a teenager named Layne Norton—a guy who grew up in my town, Evansville, Indiana.
From that point through today, our staff has helped clients win almost 400 pro cards, more than 100 pro titles, and especially through Layne’s influence, the industry has spawned gazillions of contest coaches. The entire industry is less than a generation old and all started with a small, one-third page ad titled “Contest Peaking Specialist.”
Words, phrases, and concepts like peak week—and even counting macros—originated from those early articles. The need to deliver content for monthly features and columns pushed me to form what has become a foundation of practice for contest prep.
IIFYM: Layne was actually my first contest prep coach. We actually did an IIFYM interview with him a few months go. Our readers can see it here: IIFYM Interview – Layne Norton
He is a great guy! In fact, it was one of Layne’s video blogs that inspired me to add the fiber setting to the IIFYM Macro Calculator. As we do this interview, IIFYM is getting about 16k unique visitors per day. Most of which are going to that calculator! It is a great tool to start with but has limitations, which is why we offer customized macro packages for our clients. There are lots of things that a calculator simply cannot do.
So on the issue of limitations, what do you think are some of the most overlooked aspects of IIFYM or macro dieting?
Dr. Joe: Even in our Diet Doc licensed program curriculum, we constantly talk about the need for both structure and flexibility. Whether you’re a world champion or a 65-year-old grandmother, no one wants to stick to a rigid diet.
Those who try to eat the same meals in the same amounts at the same time every day rarely succeed.
Back when I was in pursuit of my own professional stage career climb a trainer helped me with nutrition. Per the norm, it was an exchange list of foods copied from Flex magazine—a rigid diet. I asked him if I could substitute peas for green beans.
“Because they have starch—more carbs than green beans.”
“So, what if I reduce my carbs from another starch source so I can make it fit?”
“Hmm…why would you want to do that?”
“Because I like peas.”
I calculated the amount of protein, carbs, and fat he was suggesting that I eat from the “servings” of his approved list of foods. I turned that rigid meal list into a daily budget of macronutrients and found that I could eat anything I wanted—if it fit—a concept I found valuable as a poor college student.
Ramen noodles, animal crackers, and anything else I wanted to eat worked just fine. I began using that method for clients and, of course, some hated it because it made them work. They had to look up what was in food to eat it, but as soon as they said it was too difficult, they also complained that they hated eating the same foods every day.
I stuck with it and have published three or four books and designed an entire weight-loss system (licensed through our Diet Doc program operators around the world using the concept of letting people enjoy the flexibility of eating foods they want. The backbone of this website was created around a simple idea that a person is smart enough to budget their own food. IIFYM began with a bowl of peas. I’ll have my accountant contact you for past-due royalties.
What people sometimes miss is that this isn’t an excuse to eat a bunch of shit all day. Certainly some gray-area food can be eaten, and even an indulgence here and there, but eating healthy and obtaining results should always stay at the center.
IIFYM: What are your thoughts on body types dictating our macronutrient ratios? Will an ectomorph do better on a different ratio than an endomorph for example?
Dr. Joe: The short answer is that I have almost 20 years of articles written on the topic. They can be found at thedietdoc.com and through the document section of our Team Klemczewski Facebook group. I’ll abbreviate the long answer: yes body type, or somatotype, should dictate how someone eats.
The metabolic process is different for each person. It’s a continuum. Most people can’t define themselves as purely a meso-, ecto-, or endo-morph, but it’s first a matter of speed. Metabolism is the rate at which you burn calories. If you use energy faster, you need more food. The details come into play with goals.
IIFYM: You once told me about your low protein experiment; when you did an entire prep eating only half of a gram of protein per pound of lean mass. I am sure our readers would love to hear more about your results.
Dr. Joe: My first master’s degree program was very clinical—nutrition’s role in disease processes, different ways of eating, and general principles. I did my thesis as a 6-month self-case study on vegetarianism and set out to prove that bodybuilders need more protein.
I thought that by eating just the recommended daily allowance (I have no idea why I decided to do it as a vegetarian—probably just the influence of other classes) I would prove that we, the elite, smart, progressive bodybuilders, would show my dumb professors how wrong they were.
In 6 months I lost 15 pounds, but no lean body mass. Later I repeated a similar self-study but carried it out for a year. As I closed in on 10, 11, 12 months, I felt substantial decreases in energy, my strength and lean body mass started to suffer, and I ended the experiment. Bringing protein back up toward about .75 grams per pound of lean body mass, and adding animal protein back into my diet, was euphoric—I surged back to life.
Lessons learned: you can survive on less protein, but for the long haul, someone as active as we are does need more.
Not as much as some think—a lot of great research has been done since then and continues—but there are optimal ranges of protein intake and there are many good ways to get the job done, eating animals or not.
IIFYM: Ok, well let me ask this then. What is the lowest amount of protein you would consider, um… muscle sparing while in prep?
Dr. Joe: .75 grams per pound of lean body mass.
IIFYM: And as a follow up to that question, would shifting calories from reduced protein into carbs (while maintaining the same caloric deficit) yield better results since carbs are anabolic but only slightly as thermogenic as protein?
Dr. Joe: The caveat with my statement that carbs are more anabolic and metabolic than protein is the term “more.” Carbs are more anabolic and metabolic than protein once minimum protein requirements are met, versus more protein in that context.
That’s why I like to use at least a little protein buffer when dieting; when not dieting I would suggest lower protein levels. But, yes, when saving calories from protein, I would put them back in the form of carbs versus fat. Fat has the least thermic potential and if your goal is to lose body fat, you have to utilize for cholesterol-derived hormones.
IIFYM: My logic tells me that if we reduce protein, and increase carbs we should still preserve muscle while cutting, but also stay a bit more satiated due to the extra carbohydrates (not to mention the increase in metabolic support) I am just not sure how the energy balance would work out in the end. Any thoughts?
Dr. Joe: Precisely. It’s a mistake to think protein makes you fuller. Alone, it doesn’t. You can have a 32-oz steak in your stomach and with blood sugar low, be starving. You are absolutely right that carbs will control satiety much more.
IIFYM: Speaking of carbs, one of the most common email questions I get on IIFYM.com is about sugar consumption. With Flexible Dieting, we don’t track sugar specifically, but we do have a fiber target to hit. What are your thoughts on sugar consumption during contest prep? Is there a limit as to how much of our carbohydrate intake should be from sugar?
Dr. Joe: I think some sugar can be helpful—particularly pre-workout. Eating too much fiber is at least as bad as consuming too much sugar. The difficulty regarding sugar is when it’s too concentrated. If you eat a ton of sugar in one meal and save little starch for other times of the day, you’re going to feel the effects.
Also, when you diet, you’re usually on the edge of a physical or mental catastrophe. You can’t ride the fine line of a literal controlled starvation consuming a lot of simple carbs without expecting massive vacillations in blood sugar. You’ll find yourself on a binge cycle from hell. I found it best when dieting to keep sugar to an absolute minimum.
You need enough fiber to keep the plumbing working, but misapplication of this need is why so many competitors moan about being bloated and in pain, especially when turning toward low-carb bread products or simply eating too much vegetables.
IIFYM: Misapplication? Yeah.. I know a few bodybuilders that are big fans of misapplication. Even a few coaches that somehow keep dehydrating their clients by cutting out water a day or two before a show!
I once heard you say that “water follows solutes”, and to look our best on show day, we should drink more water to get fuller and dryer. This is the approach I follow and I am dumbfounded as to why more coaches don’t get this simple principle. Can you please explain what you mean when you say that water follows solutes and what this means for bodybuilders during peak week?
Dr. Joe: The perception that water is what makes you look soft is silly—but I understand. If you don’t know why a drought happens, you think the gods are angry. If a sailor doesn’t come back, you think he fell off the edge of the planet. If you find a parking space, you think God loves you. The problem humans have always had connecting dots is that we connect only the ones we know exist. Most of us don’t know enough.
Water flows through your body, through cells, through your veins (muscle is 65 to 75% water, blood is 97% water…). It is directed by other mediums, such as minerals (the cellular sodium/potassium “pump”) and largely with carbohydrates.
Stored glycogen holds 3 times its weight in water. When you eat too much carb, glucose is present in larger amounts outside the muscle cell and water follows—you look spilled over. If you have the proper amount of glycogen in your muscle, and you’ve timed training and the ingestion of carbs correctly, glucose is heading into your muscle when you want and water follows- you get full, separated, striated muscle. If you’re overcharged, you’re soft and squishy—water followed the solute (carbs in this case) outside the muscle cell.
The second half of that mistake is to cut water. You can still be spilled over even if dehydrated, but now you’ll compound the problem by being small and flat with saggy skin. So, if your goal is to be small, flat, and saggy with less muscle separation and no vascularity or ability to get a muscle pump, then conventional peaking is for you: deplete carbs, then overload, and finally stop drinking. Bingo—now you’ll look your worst on contest day. But, don’t worry; the next day you’ll look amazing and want to give it another shot.
If you want to be your best on contest day, use an educated, experienced coach who can help you work within your genetic framework to make it predictable and consistent.
(Hint: Oh, oh, oh… pick me, pick me, pick me!)
IIFYM: Sure, I get that. Consuming sugar while in prep can throw a good many competitors over the edge. I know I have been there before. But let’s take the mood and binge temptation variables out of the equation and focus on pure fat loss.
Do you see a difference between someone that is eating carbs from brown rice and sugar-free oatmeal from MyOatmeal.com (for example) compared to an over the top IIFYM’er that is working candy or regular cola into their macros? From your years of experience, would one end up leaner at the end of prep if all other variables were equal?
Dr. Joe: Similar to the sweet spot you’ll find in meal timing and frequency, this is another continuum answer. Those who don’t eat any sugar, but get too much carb from fibrous sources, I find, lose much slower. Those who use just the amount of fiber necessary for GI motility, and then use the rest in the form of starch and sugar, lose faster and they have better satiety. Studies to exist that show the more sugar you consume, the slower the fat loss, presumably due to the higher circulating insulin levels.
That’s where you can’t take IIFYM too far and eat all sugar or junk. Ironically, our new book, The Diet Doc: 50 Days to Your Best Body Life! discusses meal planning in depth and I outline which meals are best to contain starch, sugar, and fiber. Use sugar wisely and moderately, but there is a place for it. I won’t break out the old food pyramid on you; I trust that readers have at least a secondary goal of being healthy as well as looking their best.
IIFYM: Do cheat meals have a place in dieting or are refeeds better for IIFYM dieting?
Dr. Joe: I prefer control and specificity. I just answered an inquiry from a kid who laid out his diet for me (it was fine—almost too sparse) but it included a cheat meal that was “massive”—his word. His email to me was to question why he wasn’t losing body fat. Some people can get away with that lack of control, most of us can’t.
Any meal or bad day can be recovered from, but when a time-sensitive goal is on the line, I’m going to make sure I give myself the best chance; that would include objectivity. General weight loss and health goals are no different. There’s a reason why 98% of people who lose weight regain it.
IIFYM: Give us an example of what your macros are while in contest prep and off season.
Dr. Joe: I have a slow met rate, but as with anyone, it varies with body composition. My best competing happened at 150 pounds and my lowest caloric levels (being that far under my metabolic set point), would be 1,800ish. During an off-season with an extra 20 (or sometimes 40—oops) pounds, I could get up to 2,500 – 2,750 calories.
For the last 8 years, having retired from competition, I eat far more flexibly but am likely around 2,000 – 2,250 calories. My protein is never more than around 125 grams per day, sometimes less; fat and carbs are pretty moderate.
When I do splurge it’s never a volume game—if I get a Dairy Queen Blizzard, it’s a mini. If I eat junk food, it’s a packet of Reese’s pre-workout. If I go through a drive-through, it’s a burger, no cheese, no mayo, no fries. My weight has been in the mid-150s for 8 years since retiring.
IIFYM: Any plans of getting on stage again?
Dr. Joe: No f****ing way. You guys are crazy. I loved the pursuit as a teen and as a pro—the value on every level was instrumental in my life, but I’m glad those days are over. Kidding aside, I’m back in the gym doing what I loved as a 12-year-old, training as hard as ever, but not for an audience.
IIFYM: I can see why you’d rather be spending your days coaching rather than competing!!
Can you please tell us about The Diet Doc program? How long have you been doing it? How many coaches do you have under your name? How do you select the talent?
Dr. Joe: Ten years ago I was speaking at a fitness camp. A gym owner from West Virginia, Steve Dodd, was in attendance. After one of my lectures he told me that he had spent years going to the Joe Weider Muscle Camps and trying to pull the best fitness and nutrition information back to his members, but couldn’t get anything to work There wasn’t a nutrition system/program that would lead his clients and members to sustainable results.
He spoke almost the exact same words to me that Layne Norton did a decade earlier. He asked, “How can I do what you do?” We spoke for some time after that and he convinced me to franchise my methods.
That wasn’t an easy task, but I began creating a curriculum that could be used. Ten years later that has turned into books, podcasts, webinars, a magazine, and a robust training program for Diet Doc program owners to become the leader in their area. We help people become an expert nutrition consultant in their city. We have helped more than 50 begin around the world and it’s our top priority.
Our biggest revenue earners make over six figures with the nutrition program alone.
Many of our Diet Doc program owners are trainers and competitors—meeting us through that side of the industry—so we also developed our Perfect Peaking Program into a sub-licensed division of The Diet Doc so we have a tier of exclusive Team Klemczewski Directors and Coaches, all supported by us personally. Our reach and level of support with clients is both wider and deeper than ever.
IIFYM: I understand that you have an assistant that is quite an asset. Can you tell us more about Kori and her roll at The Diet Doc?
Dr. Joe: Through the years I have hired and helped develop dozens of professional staff members. Kori hired me when she was working toward pro status in figure competition. We ended up winning pro cards in figure, fit body, and bodybuilding and she went on to win pro titles and place in the top 5 at Worlds every time she stepped on that stage. Early in that process I was looking for more support staff and she convinced me that I needed her skills as a licensed mental health therapist and I agreed.
She’s very persuasive like that—so persuasive that as I’ve shifted our business model to work more with our license owners and create further resources, she has carved out an irreplaceable role. Every professional I have ever hired received one job description: make yourself indispensable to the company. We can shift tasks, we can rearrange emphasis, but in business nothing is ever stagnant. I don’t need good role players; I need great players who can fill any role.
Kori is finishing her PhD in health psychology and behavioral medicine, her business acumen has developed into a sharp asset (one of my nicknames for her is Peyton), and her human resource skills are…indispensable.
Kori was never my assistant; she was our Wellness Director. Please don’t call her that; it makes for a very bad day for me—ha! Now she’s a partner in the company and is heading up the opening of our second national office in San Diego.
IIFYM: What exactly is the Perfect Peaking program I have been hearing about lately?
Dr. Joe: That makes me laugh—my non-marketing plan has worked too well. Since the early days when we forged the industry, we stayed away from certain parts of the market because we knew the demographic that we wanted. We like hard-working, smart clients who can appreciate the partnership that has to occur. Obviously staying hidden has worked!
But, the success we’ve created with clients, and now our team of Diet Doc/Team K program owners, is increasing visibility and there is a whole new generation that doesn’t know the history of the industry.
Our peaking program remains the same at its core. Of course it is based on concrete physiological science, but it’s also high-service, high-communication, and high-customization. The community we’ve built is second to none. I say it often: our clients are the smartest, hardest-working, most-authentic people around. I love it.
Rapid fire questions:
These questions come from the IIFYM facebook community at www.facebook.com/groups/iifym
IIFYM Facebook Page: Is there a major difference short term or long, between two diets that that are complete in micronutrients, vs ones which are not, but are supplemented with a multivitamin?
Dr. Joe: I’m not going to pretend that I’ve done a literature review on vitamins, but I can tell you where I fall in the controversy. The AMA reversed their position, stating that it is prudent to supplement with a multivitamin because studies show the average American diet is woefully inadequate in the essentials. There are issues with toxicity—both in dose and contamination—but if you choose carefully, you can find trustworthy supplements. I absolutely do.
IIFYM Facebook Page: What are your thoughts on meal timing while in contest prep?
Dr. Joe: The Science of Meal Formatting (a 5,000-word article series on the Team Klemczewski Facebook group). Meal timing can be helpful—I think crucial—but just like IIFYM, there can be flexibility.
There has to be. I prioritize pre- and post-workout meals, you need protein in 3 or 4 meals per day (more if you like), you have to eat carbs in enough meals to keep your metabolism from being pathologically suppressed, and you have to live a normal, practical life. Studies show very little difference between 2 and 8 meals per day in terms of weight loss, but you’ll find what works best for you.
IIFYM Facebook Page: What are your thoughts on refeeds early in one’s diet? Are refeeds an advanced technique better suited for contest prep?
Dr. Joe: I like food intake to be low enough to tap into body fat stores definitively. I want to see progress every week. I coined a phrase called Metabolic Positioning to describe where you can achieve the best, most consistent fat loss, but still not cross the line into unnecessary catabolism and metabolic suppression. For some people, a weekly increase in food is helpful, for some two per week is necessary. It depends on metabolic capacity, how fast one is dieting, and the context of what phase of dieting they’re in at that time.
IIFYM Facebook Page: What is more important, hitting your daily macros or your weekly average?
Dr. Joe: Daily, without question. I’m sure there is a study somewhere that would prove that you can lose just as well with a weekly average, but in real life it’s about how many times it can be repeated. If you overeat one or two days and then purge or fast to make up for it, you’re not going to last long. Stay consistent with a good plan that is tailored for you, monitored, and managed by a professional.
IIFYM Facebook Page: What is the least amount of protein you would suggest a natural bodybuilder consume while in prep?
Dr. Joe: I hate dogmatic answers, but would say .75 grams per pound of lean body mass is adequate, 1 gram per pound gives you a nice buffer, 1.25 grams isn’t out of bounds, 1.5 grams will make supplement companies love you, and any more just isn’t helpful.
Actually, we crossed the not-helpful line around 1 to 1.25 grams per pound of lean body mass. Once you reach the threshold of need, you’re wasting calories that could be spent on the much more anabolic and metabolic properties of carbs.
IIFYM Facebook Page: What is your favorite cheat meal?
Dr. Joe: Combining every one of the MyOatmeal.com’s 842-trillion flavors into a horse trough in front of a 100” flat screen and watching the entire Deadwood series. But if I don’t have 3 full days, then I’d have to say pizza is tough to beat.
IIFYM: Is there anything else you have for us?
Dr. Joe: Thanks, Anthony, for the opportunity to introduce myself to your community, and thanks for promoting sound information in the industry—I applaud all you’re doing, Anthony. Thanks!