How to use nutrition to maximize conditioning (With Dr. Mike Roussell)

conditioning nutrition

For many coaches, nutrition is a topic that can be the source of a lot of frustration.

We know it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle, but with all the (often conflicting) information out there, it’s hard to know what legitimately works for improving health and performance, and what’s bullshit.

Today, I’m excited to have one of the world’s top nutrition experts—Dr. Mike Roussell—with us to talk about how to use nutrition to maximize conditioning.

Dr. Mike has a PhD in Nutrition and spends his time consulting with people from many different walks of life, helping them optimize nutrition for their goals.

From everyday people looking to lose weight and get healthier to athletes—including professional basketball players and high-level MMA fighters—looking to take their performance to the next level, Dr. Mike has worked with them all. He’s even helped Hollywood movie stars get ready for action films.

What I like about Dr. Mike is that he has academic clout and the real-world, in the trenches experience to back it up—that’s rare.

In other words, when it comes to nutrition, Dr. Mike is the guy you want to turn to.

Today, Dr. Mike is going to share some of his top strategies for using nutrition to maximize conditioning and performance.

Meet Dr. Mike Roussell (not your typical nutrition ‘expert’)

Dr. Mike Roussell and Protein

Hey everyone, this is Dr. Mike Roussell. Like the heading above suggests, I’m not what you might think of when the term “nutrition expert” comes to mind.

First of all, I have a degree in Biochemistry from Hobart College, and as Joel mentioned, I also hold a PhD in Nutrition from Pennsylvania State University.

To make a long story short, after getting into med school, I decided that medicine was not a good path for me. I wanted to focus more on nutrition and less on the “bureaucracy” of health.

Through all of these unique experiences, and really through what’s become my life’s work, I’ve seen one thing about nutrition remain constant: your nutrition can be the thing that propels your health and performance to the next level; or, it can be a “chink” in your armor, the thing that holds you back from optimal well-being and peak performance.

Nutrition (or what I like to call your “fueling strategy”) is the foundation that your performance will stand on. It will allow you to fuel yourself and actually do what you’re trying to do at the highest level possible.

If your body is lacking the essential nutrients it needs to meet the metabolic demands of the exercise you are performing, you won’t be able to perform at a high level.

The second side of this is that by optimizing your fueling strategy, you can create a more durable environment for your body to work from.

Nutrition plays an important role in stress management, as well as augmenting recovery.

Having your nutrition dialed in can either help mitigate the stressors and recovery “debts” you’ve created from the wear and tear of normal life and competition, or it can contribute to them.

This is when proper nutrition stands out and makes a big difference.

The question I want to help you answer today is: “How can I use nutrition to get the most out of my conditioning programs and improve performance?”

Let’s get started!

The top mistakes people make with nutrition for conditioning (2 things even some of the ‘experts’ are dead wrong about)

Before we get to all the good stuff, we need to take a step back and talk about some of the common mistakes people make with their nutrition when it comes to conditioning.

With nutrition, the truth is out there. The problem is, if you pick up a book (or ten) from the nutrition section in Barnes & Noble, that “truth” will be hard to find. And that’s a brick-and-mortar bookstore where shelves are stocked with stuff written by published authors

Just think about how difficult it is to find quality information on the internet, where a search for “nutrition for conditioning” returns over 38-million results in less than half a second.

With all of that information floating around, there’s bound to be a hefty dose of misinformation out there as well, which leads to people making a lot of mistakes with their nutrition.

When it comes to the top mistakes I see people make with their own nutrition (or the mistakes coaches/trainers make with their athletes and clients) to prepare for and optimize performance during conditioning workouts and competition, two things rise to the top of the list.

Mistake #1: Carbohydrate loading.

The concept of “carb loading” isn’t anything new. In fact, many nutrition “experts” will support the idea of taking in lots of carbohydrates before you exercise — even up to three days before intense exercise.

The thinking is, by hyper-saturating your muscles with carbs, your body will have more energy to burn during exercise in the form of glycogen, your body’s most readily available source of energy.

Sounds great in theory, right? I agree. But there are two major things wrong with this approach.

First, the research shows it just doesn’t work. By eating a bunch of extra carbs the few days leading up to a competition, or right before you perform an intense conditioning workout, you may hyper-saturate your muscles with carbohydrates, but that’s not going to lead to increased performance.

Second, drastically changing up your fueling strategy before working out or engaging in competition is a sure way to negatively affect performance.

More often than not, changing the amount and types of foods you consume before exercise or competition messes up your body’s normal eating and digestion process, leading to gastrointestinal distress and digestive problems.

Bottom line: carb loading is an old-school method handed out by people who haven’t evaluated the latest research, and who haven’t taken into account the practical issues drastically changing your food intake can have on your body.

That’s not to say that carbs aren’t important—or that you shouldn’t utilize specific fueling strategies to prepare for intense training or competition—but the idea that you can and should just eat a bunch of carbs is far from optimal (and don’t worry, I’ll share specific strategies that are more effective here in just a bit).

Mistake #2: Trying to go on an ultra low-carb diet.

conditioning nutrition
On the opposite end of the spectrum of carb loading, you have ultra low-carb diets that are popular right now. Even elite athletes like LeBron James are said to have followed a “Ketogenic” diet approach, where little or no carbs are consumed.

But through research and personal experience working with a wide array of people to improve health, fitness, and performance, I’ve found that ultra low carb (or even “no carb”) diets may be effective for fat loss, but are far from optimal.

Let me explain.

Anytime you vastly restrict intake of a particular food group—like carbs—you create the opportunity to drop calories low enough to induce fat loss. At the core, fat loss is a numbers game of calories in vs. calories out (this is simplifying things a bit, but you get the idea).

By removing carbs, many people see a spike in fat loss (at least initially). But there are two problems with ultra low-carb diets.

First, overall, I see low-carb diets being too restrictive, leading to low compliance levels. Even if you have an effective strategy, it won’t matter if you can’t stick with it long term.

Second, just because something is “effective” for fat loss, doesn’t mean it’s optimal for performance, or even health.

The whole idea behind the low-carb/Keto Diet is that by removing carbs you can force your body to use fat as a fuel source, thus making it more efficient for fat loss and performance.

The only problem is, the belief that you need to be eating an almost ketogenic diet to use fat as a fuel source during aerobic activity is absolutely false.

It’s true that training your body to use fat as fuel is part of an effective nutritional approach for getting the most out of your conditioning programs, maximizing performance, and even improving body composition, but you don’t have to completely remove carbs in order to accomplish this.

In fact, the research is pretty clear, for optimal performance—carbs are crucial.

This is why many people who use the low-carb approach end up feeling worn down, spaced-out and often see their strength and performance decrease, even if they are losing fat.

So we don’t want to completely eliminate a food group that is a crucial fuel source for our bodies during conditioning and endurance performance. There’s a better way to utilize fat as fuel than completely removing carbs involving something I call “metabolic flexibility,” and in a minute, I’ll explain this concept further.

My top 3 nutrition strategies for maximizing conditioning

We’ve looked at some of the common mistakes people make with nutrition for conditioning, now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of how we can give our bodies the fuel it needs to get an extra edge in our performance and maximize conditioning.

To fuel your body for a conditioning workout or endurance competition, there are a few basic principles you need to cover.

Don’t let the word “basic” here fool you. Getting these things right is crucial if you want to put yourself in a position to use nutrition to your advantage.

Strategy #1: Train for increased “metabolic flexibility.”

Your body can run off carbohydrates or fat.

In order to use nutrition to maximize conditioning, we need to train our bodies to become “metabolically flexible”, which is really just a fancy way of describing the ability to switch from using carbohydrates as fuel, to using fat as fuel, and then back to carbohydrates (or any combination of this switching).

Why is this important?

Because being able to utilize different fuel sources is key for performing at a high level, even as fatigue sets in. (Plus, being unable to switch between fuel sources is predictive of weight gain and regain.)

Someone with metabolic inflexibility is inefficient at utilizing different sources of fuel throughout exercise, which means they are more likely to “gas out”, hit a wall (whatever you want to call it) more quickly and often see a drastic reduction in performance as a workout or competition progresses.

At this point, the question you should be asking is: “How do I increase metabolic flexibility?” The top two ways to increase metabolic flexibility are:

  • Exercise under a variety of conditions. If you or your clients/athletes are used to training a few hours after a meal, try training within 15-20 minutes of a meal. If workouts are typically done in a “fed” state, try working out fasted every now and then. This doesn’t have to be incredibly complicated. The idea is to switch things up from time to time in order to force the body to adapt and perform in a variety of situations.
  • Eat a carbohydrate-restricted diet. Notice I didn’t say “eliminate carbs.” But by limiting the amount of carbohydrates you consume, it will force your body to rely more on fats as a fuel source, thus increasing your metabolic flexibility. Defining what a carb “restricted” diet looks like can be highly individual based on body composition and the specific demands of exercise, but as a general rule, when conditioning workouts are being performed regularly, at least one meal per day should supply some high-quality carbohydrates.

The idea here is that by helping your body become more metabolically flexible, we can train the body to be more efficient at utilizing all available fuel sources and adapt to different situations—or less than ideal situations—and still perform well.

That’s the goal.

Strategy #2: Develop a fueling strategy that fits with the type of conditioning you’ll be doing (and your goals).

metabolic flexibility with conditioning nutrition

Your body will have different kinds of “fuel demands” based on the type of exercise you perform.

High-intensity training is more carbohydrate dependent because it necessitates the use of readily available fuel fast.

Aerobic or endurance activity, on the other hand, is going to require more of the metabolic flexibility discussed above, so that your body can switch back and forth between fuel sources to maintain performance over a longer duration.

So in terms of fueling your body for high-intensity training, ensuring you have an ample supply of carbohydrates before and even during exercise will be important.

This can be accomplished by ensuring you consume a meal a few hours prior to exercise containing a serving or two of high-quality, minimally-processed carbohydrates and then swishing a carb-rich drink in your mouth and spitting it out during your actual training session or competition.

(Of course, you could just actually drink a carb-rich liquid, but research has shown that simply swishing it in your mouth and spitting it out can still provide the benefits of actually consuming carbohydrates for performance. It may seem small, but avoiding the digestive stress and “waterlogged” feeling that can accompany drinking a lot of liquid, you may be able to maintain a higher level of performance.)

In terms of low-intensity endurance/aerobic training, you have to ask yourself, what’s the goal?

Are you training for a specific sport or event? Or, are you doing it for overall health and to develop the aerobic side of health and conditioning?

If peak performance is the goal, you’ll take a more aggressive fueling approach that focuses on maximizing performance without worrying too much about minimizing caloric intake purely for the sake of body composition.

But if your main goal is improved body composition, you’re better off teaching your body to use fat as a primary source by “under-fueling”.

The main thing you want to take away here is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to nutrition for conditioning.

It all comes down to identifying what type of exercise you will be performing and finding a way to utilize nutrition in a way that meets the demands of that type of training while taking your goals into account.

Strategy #3: Pay attention to how you’re performing and recovering.

Typically, people pay far more attention to how they can fuel their bodies in preparation for their workout or competition than they do to utilize nutrition to optimize recovery after the training is completed.

Not always, but most of the time. When developing a nutrition plan to maximize conditioning, the key is to pay attention to both performance and recovery so that you know where to make adjustments if needed.

Obviously, this can take some time and observation to really nail down, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

More than anything, as coaches, regularly utilizing questions—both when you start working with a client/athlete and as you continue to work them—will be important to monitor how nutrition is affecting performance and recovery.

Questions you want to ask during an initial assessment and on an ongoing basis are things like:

  • What’s their overall pre-exercise and post-conditioning fuel strategy?
  • Are they just focusing on preparation for their workout/competition, or are they paying equal attention to emphasizing recovery?
  • How does the nutrition strategy being used fit in with the intensity and duration of their exercise?

Of course, you can use these in your own training to, if improving personal health and performance is your primary goal here.

These are just some ideas to get started.

The big takeaway here is that in order to use nutrition to maximize conditioning, it’s important to continually monitor both performance and recovery so that you can make adjustments as needed.

3 (little-known) supplements for maximizing conditioning around the training session

supplementing conditioning nutrition

Depending on who you ask, supplements are either glorified as the “holy grail” of health and performance, or they’re slighted as useless. I tend to think both of those options are incomplete.

If your overall nutritional approach is lackluster, sorry, but no supplement can make up for that.

On the other hand, if you’re taking care of the foundations of good nutrition, adding a few specific supplements to your fueling strategy can be the thing that pushes your health and performance from good to great.

Problem is, when it comes to supplements, most people are recommending the same-old things, or worse, getting caught up in the hype (and unsubstantiated claims) of the latest “miracle supplement.”

In order to get the most out of the supplements, that quite honestly, can play a significant role in enhancing performance during conditioning workouts, we need to look at which supplements can be utilized to address the metabolic demands of this type of exercise in the most efficient, convenient and accessible way possible.

From a metabolic standpoint, what our body needs to perform optimally and at the highest level possible during conditioning, is:

  • Optimal hydration and nutrient delivery to the muscular system
  • A steady flow of carbohydrates to provide an ample supply of easily accessible fuel
  • Increased blood flow

Here are three little-known supplements that address each of the metabolic demands of exercise listed above that can help maximize your conditioning sessions:

Creatine. Creatine often gets a bad rap, usually because of the myth that creatine supplementation leads to cramping—which is completely false. Research has shown that creatine does not cause dehydration or lead to cramping.

What creatine is going to do is hyper-volumize your muscle cells and draw water into them so that they’re more hydrated, while also driving more nutrients. Taking 5g daily will saturate your muscles and help you stay hydrated during conditioning sessions and competition. As an added benefit, creatine will help you regenerate ATP faster during high-intensity exercise, allowing you to maintain a higher power output, longer.

UCAN. This carb-based supplement allows you fuel yourself before and during training sessions without causing a significant rise in blood sugar or stimulation of insulin. This is a great option for controlling overall calories for body composition by providing the fuel you need to for long-duration or intense conditioning sessions without contributing significantly to overall calorie intake.

BeetElite. Blood flow to your muscles is really the life source of helping someone with their conditioning. The goal is to get more nutrient-rich blood to the muscles. The best way to do this is by using a supplement that is high in nitrates like BeetElite, which is going to increase vasodilation and allow more blood flow to your muscles.

Again, should these supplements be the foundation of your nutrition program? Probably not.

But utilizing these supplements in addition to a sound nutritional approach overall will give you an extra edge in maximizing performance and conditioning.

The goal when designing a fueling strategy for yourself or the clients and athletes you work with is to figure where some “gaps” might be, and then begin to address areas that may be holding you back from achieving your goals and performing your best.

By avoiding the common mistakes we’ve discussed today, implementing the strategies outlined, and using the recommended supplements to fill the gaps and provide a little extra edge, you can begin to write and coach more complete programs that utilize nutrition to maximize conditioning.

Learn to coach nutrition to maximize conditioning so that you can write more effective, complete programs

coaching conditioning nutrition

Last week, I made the official announcement that registration for the BioForce Certified Conditioning Coach Course will be opening up again February 26th for a limited time.

Along with that announcement came the news that, new for 2018, I’ve brought in some top-experts in movement, mental performance and nutrition to contribute new modules and make the Course better than ever.

Dr. Mike is one of the experts I’ve brought on board to help sift through all the information out there about nutrition and figure out what will actually help your athletes and clients (and even yourself) maximize conditioning and get better results.

As Dr. Mike outlined today, if you’re working off of an outdated nutrition approach, or worse, if you’re not doing anything specific with nutrition to maximize health and performance with your conditioning programs, the clients and athletes you work with are missing out.

That’s why I’m excited to have Dr. Mike contribute to the all-new BioForce Certified Conditioning Coach Course for 2018.

There’s going to be a brand new module covering nutrition for conditioning that builds on what you learned today and is chock-full of strategies, tools, and resources you can use to feel more confident in your ability to weave nutrition into your conditioning programs to improve performance, ramp up recovery, and ultimately, be even more effective.

To learn more about this complete self-study system—and to save over $200—join the special Insider’s List below. Spots are first come, first served.


  1. Hi all,
    Always heard that creatine won’t help in endurance events… Now, since I train for triathlon, I would definitely be happy with those cited benefits: “saturate your muscles and help you stay hydrated during conditioning sessions and competition. As an added benefit, creatine will help you regenerate ATP faster during high-intensity exercise, allowing you to maintain a higher power output, longer.”…
    Maybe I have to be worried about the added body weight due to water retention though ?
    Thanks for the great article.

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