If You Are What You Eat, Where Can You Find Guidance You Trust?

Hi folks!

I was recently paid the compliment of being asked the following question:

Anonymous is asking me if he can try using some kind of nutritional supplement as he wants to keep up an exercise and weight-training program through the spring and summer.  Can you suggest anything or any good resources for researching what would be best for him?  I don’t want to let him waste money on something that’s not worthwhile and I also want to be sure whatever he uses is healthy/safe/sound.

Or do you think it’s a bad idea in general, for someone his age? (He will be 16 soon. Weighs about 115 lbs and is about 5 ft 7 in tall).”

My response went as follows:

“Well now, there is a thorny question. It is a long journey to find the best food for you, personally. There have been and there will continue to be lots of fads out there. The best advice I can give is to become educated and self-aware. But before that, make sure that you have a balanced diet, including plenty of vegetables, fruit, and healthy protein (that is another tricky one). To become aware of your eating habits there is really only one way to go, keep a diary of what you eat for a full week, and then analyze the information by using on line software. This will tell you how many calories were in the banana, how much fat, protein, carbohydrate, and some will tell you the amount of minerals (e.g. potassium which is high in bananas, apparently!), vitamins, trace elements, and so forth. Then, one thing you cannot get from the web is what is good or not good for your body. So! As you keep your daily record of food intake make notes of whether you feel bad the next day, have low energy or alternatively feel particularly good during this time. You may find that avocados don’t agree with you, whilst being great for almost anyone else.

The answers are (1) education, (2) self-awareness, and (3) learning from 1 and 2, until you find what really works for you. There are no easy shortcuts for the right answer.

Hope that helps!

I was immediately asked to provide some links to the online nutritional analysis software, which caused me to think, “what a great subject for a post to my athlete blog!”

As Deb and I recently had a lovely dinner, cooked by Jack (also the photographer), I thought that I would start with a picture of the meal that Ke and Jack kindly provided. Ke being my very last post-doc (mathematician and great person) and Jack being Ke’s partner (and computer wiz):

Deb, Ke and Kevin in front of a lovely meal prepared by Jack. Is it healthy? I wonder? I thought so!

Jack's lovely meal of eggplant, chicken gizzards and hearts, squash, shrimp, duck, and rice (not shown). Yum! Yummy!

Understanding food from different cultures is a great place to start, or as an Englishman I would still be eating over-boiled cabbage with over-boiled potatoes and almost-burned beef, but I would still be eating regular helpings of steak and kidney pie and Christmas cake with marzipan and icing and lots of nostalgia food (yum again!).

When considering nutrition, it is important to realize that we are all individuals, whilst research studies generate average data for sub-populations of people. It is possible that none of the members of these study groups may be anything like us personally, especially if we are not a Government Standard Issue 70 Kg Man, for instance. Who are you going to trust with this question? There are no easy answers, but there is a not so easy but good answer, which I’ll come to below.

As far as individual variation is concerned, I’m a severe hyperlipidemic with resting triglycerides (triacylglycerol or TAG) at over 2000 mg/dL and high density lipoproteins (HDL; ‘good’ cholesterol) levels of less than 20 mg/dL in a resting, non-exercised, average dietary state. Upon discovering my interesting metabolic anomaly in my own laboratory in the late 70s, just by chance whilst studying platelet function, I immediately consulted a cardiologist, who turned out to be obese so I left his office rapidly. Then I researched the question on the web, started on fish oils that helped, then tried a statin, which helped a lot but only for a little while. But then I discovered that statins are muscle toxins, when my great friend Roger Brown rushed into my office to show me an example of such a muscle lesion under the microscope, so I rapidly let that idea go. I don’t think that athlete and muscle toxin go together well! Then I started Ironman training and my lipids, if I am in heavy training (15-25 hours/week) and on a careful diet, become normal, i.e. come to lie within the generally accepted, healthy, statistical range (TAG <100; HDL>40). So I fixed that problem by changing my life-style, and here I am at 67 years of age with apparently fairly healthy blood vessels, atherosclerosis-wise, and working my way towards my Hawaii Ironman qualification dream. So! What about you?

I would recommend that you make a small investment and consult a nutritionist. I did, and she sent me down the path of knowing what I was eating by the simple process of record keeping. Or, just do the record keeping yourself and do your research as best you can on the Internet. I don’t know what your metabolic status might be, and if you are only sixteen years old you have a lot to learn. However, if you learn (a) to be aware of your body, and (b) to take responsibility for it, you won’t go far wrong! Finally, if you really want to understand nutrition and make informed choices you need to study Biochemistry, a lovely subject, which is most accessible through Harper’s Biochemistry and will cost you less than a good meal out whilst providing endless hours of reading pleasure and a fuller understanding of how your body works.

Great reading for all, I think

-k Your Medical Mind

PS Here are a few useful nutrition links for you to explore. There are many, many more:

LiveStrong (my favorite, just mouse over the site to find many great links); Self Nutrition Data (comes with lots of calculators, but lots of advertisements, too!); The Four Hour Body; Use this at your own risk, but Tim Ferriss is full of great ideas; Chez Ollie; Discovery Health; Chez Ollie; Nourish Interactive;


  1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful response to my inquiry! You’ve given us a lot of good stuff to consider and try to implement….. Two things in particular I want to ask by way of follow-up….

    My son (remember he is just shy of 16) has been asking specifically about using something called “creatine,” and while I don’t know much about it, I’m concerned about something that is said to deliver an extreme amount of a particular substance, even when it is supposedly a beneficial substance that occurs naturally in food (meat, I guess?) and in the human body. So that’s one thing we’re discussing. I told my son that I wanted him to ask our family doctor about it — he is very up-to-date and wholistic, is an athlete himself and has several athletic boys of his own. And we’ve been asking other people too, and finding out that different people have had differing experiences with it — effective/not effective, side effects/no side effects, etc.

    The other thing we have discussed is whey protein or other protein powder, in shakes, with or without raw eggs (local/organic, from free-range-pastured chickens). I sometimes read articles from Dr. Mercola and he recommends protein shakes with (good) raw eggs and a little coconut oil, etc., in the morning AFTER working out/exercising. He also says that he recommends using whey for a while and then switching to a hypo-allergenic vegan protein (like pea protein) for a while — alternating between the two, because some people (most people?) find that over time the whey disagrees with them somehow. (don’t remember the details…)

    Here is a link to an article he posted about kids and breakfast — scroll down a long ways to get to the part about his own breakfast shake recipe!


    Sometimes it’s hard to know how much to trust the specific recommendations of someone who makes most of their fortune selling the products they are writing about in their articles! But when I read his articles, they do seem to make sense and to be researched in great detail….

    So…. If I can impose on your time just a little bit more — I wanted to throw out these two specific subjects/questions for your reactions. (The creatine and the protein powder/shakes w/ or w/out raw eggs….)

    Thanks again, so much — we really appreciate the info & advice.

    • Rick Brown says

      First, I would like to thank Kevin for an inspirational post. Knowledge is power in more ways than just educational purposes. Our bodies are vastly different and developing a routine/diet must be done on an individual level to gain maximum benefit. My diet, my routine, whilst works for me, isn’t necessarily the best for you or the guy sitting next to me at the gym. I often use ORM to develop a new routine or critique my diet. The post is very straight-forward and accurate in terms of enlightening others to “know themselves”.

      Secondly, I would like to address the comment left by Lisa. At 16 years old, your son has a lot of growing to do. Taking what Kevin and I said about individual awareness, take heed to the fact that opinions by others are merely that, opinions. There are known affects/side affects of everything, if taken improperly. I would like to hit on each of the two substances you mentioned (creatine and protein) from my perspective. Keep in mind I am a 23 year old United States Marine who workout everyday and adheres to a protein based diet. Also, keep in mind that just because this works for me, doesn’t mean it’s the correct way or by any means accurate.

      There are 3 main types of Creatine that an individual can get to increase muscle mass. 1. Creatine Monohydrate 2. Creatine Citrate 3. Creatine Phosphate.

      Each of these have there proposed ups and downs. I will first go over what the types are and then the claimed pro’s and con’s.

      Monohydrate: It is considered the most common of all creatines. When a creatine molecule is mixed with water, it becomes creatine monohydrate. The composition of creatine monohydrate is almost always 88% creatine with 12% of water. In other words, 880 mg of creatine is present in every gram of creatine monohydrate. These days, creatine monohydrate is micronized and consumed.

      However, creatine monohydrate has its own disadvantages.

      •It is found to be not so effective when studied on the molecular level.
      •There is no penetration into the muscle cell. (controversial)
      •Since it is hydrophilic, there is no penetration in the lipid layers.
      •It is dependent on other nutrients for energy transportation.
      •There is no efficient transportation through lipid since it’s semilipopholic.
      •Creatine bloating is one of its major side effects.

      Citrate: Creatine mixed with Citric Acid to create a more water soluable shake. Claimed to be same effectiveness as Monohydrate but it costs more. Citrate has disadvantages much to the same as Monohydrate plus one extra. Since Citrate has a mix of Citric Acid the actual level of Creatine in the shake goes from 88% (Monohydrate) to 40% (Citrate). So it is also claimed to be less effective but more costly.

      Phosphate: Remember that in order for creatine to be effective it needs to bond with a phosphate group and become Creatine Phosphate. For this reason, you may think that directly taking Creatine Phosphate would be better than just taking Creatine Monohydrate. The fact is – taking a creatine phosphate supplement has never been shown to be more effective than just taking creatine monohydrate. Creatine Phosphate has only 62.3% creatine and 37.7% phosphate. This means that 1 gram only produces 623 milligrams of creatine. In addition, creatine phosphate is more expensive than creatine monohydrate.

      Recap: There are actually 7 types of Creatine. But the other 4 are uncommon, hard to get, or really expensive (so not used by majority). Your local GNC will have the first 3 and sell more of the Monohydrate as it is most popular (and cheapest).

      Pro’s of Creatine:
      -Stronger Muscles
      -Bigger Muscles (water)

      Con’s of Creatine:
      – Heavier Muscles (if your son is in a weight class sport, this will make him heavier)
      -Strength increase only affects short 1RM bursts of energy. Not sufficient for prolonged strength.
      -Cost (anything that costs money is a con)

      There is my thoughts on Creatine. I personally do not use Creatine, not because I am scared, or the cost but I would rather increase muscle mass the proper, organic way. (I of course, use pre-workout supplements)


      Here is my thought on protein. I am an avid fish lover and have studied fish growth for a long time. I have noticed that when feeding my fish a higher protein food, they reach maturation size faster and usually are bigger by the time full maturation comes. I have taken this concept and applied it to my diet and to my workout routine. 1g of protein per lb of body weight. I weigh 175, so I ingest 175g of protein per day. This helps with increasing muscle mass. One thing to remember is that protein if not coupled with a workout regiment, turns to fat. So, whey shakes or pea shakes (in your case) will have the same effect.

      What this boils down to is knowing exactly what your son wants to do. Does he want to get shredded, huge or cardiovascularly fit? Knowing this will give you your first idea of what direction to head. By the sounds of it, Creatine and Protein shakes are indicative of someone who is trying to get huge (ie: bigger muscles, higher weight, etc…)

      Again, be knowledgeable, study all avenues of approach and don’t be scared to vary up a diet/routine to better suit your son. Your son knows his body more than anyone else ever will. Good Luck

      • Kevin Morgan says

        Hi Rick,
        Thanks for a great comment. I agree, your body knows best. I find it tells me what I need if I listen carefully.
        Very much appreciated.
        Kevin (Old Dog!)

  2. “my very last post-doc” – does that make sense? Is there a post-doc?
    The link to the Four Hour Body doesn’t go to the Four hour body website; it goes to the Four hour work week/four hour body page. Is that what you wanted?

    I love the nutrition sites. I’m going to use them myself.

  3. As a senior citizen, my body now wants more vegetarian type foods, if that’s what oatmeal, fruits, beans & rice, lentils, sweet potatoes, roasted veggies,huge green salads etc., label me as vegetarian. I still add some protein via chicken and salmon, although that’s pricey. This is what my body wants now, which is vastly different than when I was a teenager. Definitely you have to try things, figure out what works for you at that age. I’d love to see a link to Healthy Happy Librarian added. Thanks.

  4. Thanks Marsha, I’ll see if I can track it down. -kevin

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.