June 2011: Dr. Clay Hyght

by on June 24, 2011

JOHN: I am pleased to announce this month’s featured interview is with Dr. Clay Hyght. Dr. Clay as we know him, has the unique background of being in the trenches training and developing an ass kicking physique, along with an equally impressive education and deep understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

So without further ad hue, Dr. Clay please introduce yourself and tell the readers what you do, your background, and what you are most passionate about!

Clay-HyghtDR. CLAY: Hi, guys! And thanks for the nice introduction and kind words, John.

Overall, I could probably best be described as a guy who likes to learn. I’m a curious, ‘figure-things-out’ kind of person, who is equally passionate about teaching and helping other people.

Over the years I have been most passionate about learning how to improve the human physique. First, I simply wanted to figure out how to not be fat, because I was a pretty chubby kid. But my extreme curiosity about the inner workings of the body soon led to 9 1/2 years of college and a couple degrees (a BSc in Exercise Science and a Doctorate in Chiropractic). I also got some certifications along the way like CSCS, CISSN, Myofascial Release, etc.

As an athlete I started out playing typical American sports like football, soccer, and baseball, but along the way I tried BMX racing and happened to pick it up pretty quickly (partly cause I worked my butt off), and I eventually won a few titles and even turned pro.

JOHN: Now that is fascinating. One of my training partners just blew out both achilles tendons doing BMX. So does this mean you have a little bit of an insane side?

DR. CLAY: I wouldn’t say insane, exactly… more like willing to take calculated risks to achieve a good adrenaline high. 😉

But around the time I started college, I stopped racing BMX, because it had become too much like ‘work’ and wasn’t fun anymore. But since I loved, even thrived on, the challenge of competing, I decided to enter a bodybuilding show, which was a natural progression because I was already really interested in training and nutrition.

It’s safe to say I didn’t pick up bodybuilding as easily as BMX. At 5’10” I weighed in at a sleek 156 lbs in my first show and took 2nd place in the teen class…out of two people!

JOHN: At least you didn’t get 4 out of 4 like I did in my first teen show! HA!

DR. CLAY: If two more people showed up I probably would have! But I have since managed to redeem myself from that less-than-stellar initial contest outing and even won my class in the state championship, but holding my own in competitive bodybuilding beyond the regional level is a tough for me.

Thank goodness I’m self aware enough to realize that, while I’m a very good coach, I’m only a decent bodybuilder. I suspect my DNA is 1/3 athlete, 2/3 nerd.

So these days I focus more on helping others, which is really what I’m most passionate about.

Speaking of passion – I’m also passionate about checking items off my bucket list. That lets me know that I’m living my life in a fun, worthwhile way instead of merely existing.

JOHN: Ahh, the bucket list! Ok now you have to share some of things you have done with us! What is next on your list to do?

DR. CLAY: A few random bucket list items I’ve completed so far include: being in a movie, didn’t puke in gross anatomy, bungee jumped even though I’m scared of heights, learned to surf, learned to snowboard, rode down Pacific Coast Hwy 1 on a Harley, been on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine, became “Sergeant Hyght” in the Army, and went downhill mountain biking which made BMX seem safe!

Although I’m not exactly sure what will be next, some things that I’m planning to do are go on an African Safari, dive with sharks, learn kite surfing, meet the Dali Lama, complete a marathon (ironically because I hate running), ride a motorcycle from Vancouver to San Diego, compete in a boxing match, achieve my best physique yet, and become competitive again in BMX after not riding for 20 years. I know some of those may seem weird, but they are simply for my enjoyment, so they each mean something to me.

I encourage everyone to have some sort of “things you wanna do” list. It’s simple, but checking one of those items off your list is such a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment (thanks to dopamine), and it makes you want to do, see, and accomplish more!

JOHN: So let’s talk a bit about your discovery process, and how you went from a skinny teen to a state champion in bodybuilding. In term of nutrition or training, did you have any epiphanies, or did you just get better from training longer?

DR. CLAY: I had some MAJOR epiphanies along the way! Remember, I’m a nerd…a thinker. So I’m always analyzing cause and effect, thinking of ways to do things better, reading anything I can get my hands on, and picking the brains of anyone who’s had some physique success.

No doubt that my physique got better largely because I was willing to work hard on a consistent basis, year in and year out for over 20 years – THAT is, in fact, the secret to physique success – stubborn determination combined with a relentless work ethic.

But if you want to be your best, you can’t just work hard, you have to work smart. That’s why no matter the sport in which I’m involved, I study it thoroughly.

In bodybuilding, my first epiphany was that you can gain fat even if you don’t eat any dietary fat. Sounds silly now, but at the time (late 80’s) educated people thought that it was fat that made us fat. So I ate no fat…along with 30g protein and 100g of carbs six times per day, just like the pros in the magazines! I was certain I’d look like them in no time.

I did gain ~ 10 lbs before too long, but then I realized I had gained over half fat mass (which I didn’t even think was possible). So I knew at that point that people, even ‘smart adults,’ sadly don’t know that much about losing fat. So I set out to figure it out myself.

My next big epiphany, which has been my biggest & best to date, was that losing fat is primarily a matter of controlling blood sugar and it’s closely associated hormone, insulin.

Today, we (people in general) are closer to understanding and accepting that, but in 1993 talking about insulin was crazy, it just wasn’t happening. So I only shared my theories with a couple training buddies.

I’ll share one more epiphany that taught me a lesson – some time in ’94 after continuing down the insulin/glucose trail of thought, I came up with a theory and shared it with my training partner Ricky to see what he thought.

“What if we took half the calories we’re eating in terms of carbs and replace them with fat calories? (And keep protein intake the same.) This would keep blood sugar lower and more stable, which should lead to more steady energy AND less insulin secretion, thus more fat loss.” At the time this was pretty revolutionary cause this was still in the ‘fat is evil’ era.

About two years later, the late (and avant-garde) Dan Duchene came out with his book Bodyopus. In there he goes over one of his eating strategies which is eating 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbs, and 1/3 fat (in terms of calories) – or isocaloric eating as he called it.

He went on about how it works so well because it controls blood sugar and so on – just like I’d mentioned to Ricky.

On one hand I was elated, and in a way, really proud of myself for thinking outside the box and coming up with a unique (at least to me at the time) eating strategy that was simultaneously being used by an experienced, physique-coaching brainiac like Duchene. On the other hand I felt like a dummy because I didn’t trust myself and my instincts or knowledge enough to continue fine-tuning the moderate carb/moderate fat approach.

Instead, I largely abandoned the strategy because no one else was doing it…and we humans tend to follow the masses. But once Dan Duchene unknowingly approved of my way of thinking, I started to be much more confident in my knowledge and understanding.

And to this day, those two epiphanies are models by which I construct all meal plans: 1) control blood glucose/insulin 2) overall, eat moderate amounts of carbs and fat.

JOHN: That is great insight, and I love your historical perspective. I was definitely guilty of following principles with little or no merit too when I was a younger bodybuilder. I bought into mainstream group think as well. Fat is evil, sodium is bad, throw away egg yolks, and cook in oils like corn oil. I can only shake my head now. The other aspect of fat specifically that people are slow to grasp, is it’s necessity for proper hormonal function and even proper response of cells (allowing message in and out) with proper rigidity of cell structure (good balance of different fatty acid types). Can you share your thoughts on the importance of fat for health at a high level for our readers?

DR. CLAY: The first thing I’d like to point out that or remind us all of is that every cell in our body is surround by a phopholipid bilayer… notice that’s a phospholipid bilayer…lipid as in fat. That means that fat is an important part of every cell membrane.

Eat the right type of fat and those membranes will be built with the right type of fat and function optimally, letting good stuff in and bad stuff out, just like a good cell membrane should.

However, when we displace optimal dietary fat with crappy dietary fat, we end up with crappy cell membranes that don’t do their job right. And as you could imagine, the job of a phospholipid bilayer is pretty dang important.

Let’s say you’ve been elected president and you’re getting together your security team that will protect you. Do you want guys who’ve been in a couple bar fights and may or may not be able to handle more serious security issues? No, and you don’t want half-ass cellular membranes protecting your cells.

By eating ample amounts of the right fatty acids, you’re essentially laying the foundation for health and optimal functioning by building healthy, optimally functioning cell membranes, hormones, even brain tissue.

From an immediately practical or noticeable standpoint, it’s been my observation that people who consume too little fat when dieting (esp too little efa’s), tend to feel bad overall and are lethargic, foggy, moody, have serious carb/sugar cravings, etc. This is one of the main things I have to “fix” with a new client before moving forward.

Our understanding of the various fatty acids and their role is really in the early stages, so I don’t think anyone can say exactly what type and how much fat we should consume. However, I will share with you my educated guess as to what type of fatty acid intake should cover the fatty acid basics for most people.

Minimum Fatty Acid Intake Guidelines Saturated Fat:

5-10g per day*
Monounsaturated Fat: 5-10g per day**
Polyunsaturated Fat: 5-10g per day***
– DHA: 1,000mg per day****
– EPA: 1,00mg per day****

* You’re likely to get this eating your typical protein. Consider an occasional red meat meal, too, from grass-fed beef if at all possible.
** Consuming some olive or macadamia nut oil is a great way to easily get monounsaturated fat as are avocados, almonds, etc.
*** Omega-3 & Omega-6 fatty acids are both polyunsaturates, but we tend to get PLENTY of Omega-6 from food we already eat! Thus we need more Omega-3 fatty acids from fish (i.e. salmon, sardines), than from flax oil, walnuts, etc.
**** Since the general Omega-3 fatty acid (linolenic acid) has to be converted to the specific fatty acids DHA & EPA, it’s best to also consume straight DHA & EPA, which is found in some fish, but often requires supplementation (i.e concentrated fish oil capsules, etc.) to consume these higher (but probably more therapeutic) amounts of pure DHA & EPA.

JOHN: I try to keep people around 30% of their calories coming from fat, give or take a bit, depending on what they are doing with their body composition. One thing that I have noticed over and over, is that when I take too much fat out of people’s diets, they have a harder time maintaining strength and muscle size, and as you mentioned, they aren’t as with it mentally. You hit the nail on the head with that.

DR. CLAY: I suspect one day we will view dietary fat as being every bit as important as protein, even for us bodybuilders. And that day seems to be coming sooner rather than later.

JOHN: Let’s go back to your thoughts around carbs and controlling insulin. Can you share your opinion on when you need carbs or even if you need them at all?

DR. CLAY: Good question, because we don’t actually need carbs per se. They can undoubtedly be of incredible benefit if used properly, but our body is equipped (some better than others) to produce energy from other types of food (protein & fat) when carbs are lacking.

Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that carbs are fuel – they provide energy, as in glucose, faster than either protein or fat. So if or when you need energy quickly, carbs are your best bet.

Another ‘reason’ to consume carbs is due to the subsequent insulin release. Sure, insulin can blunt fat-burning and promote fat storage, but this very anabolic hormone also has a number of beneficial properties as well.

Insulin is much like dynamite, it can be used skillfully in the right amounts at the right time to produce incredibly beneficial results, or it can be haphazardly overused will ugly consequences. Dynamite isn’t good or bad…it’s just dynamite. Same for insulin.

People who want to lose fat often shun carbs and demonize insulin once they learn that insulin inhibits fat-burning. But what they don’t realize is that these effects are very much dose dependent. In other words, just because insulin is released when you eat 25g carbs or 50g carbs, does NOT mean that the effect is the same!

Low levels of insulin can get nutrients into muscle cells just fine (assuming one has normal insulin sensitivity), with none being left over as excess. So always adjust the amount, type, and timing of your carbs to get the insulin response you need.

By avoiding sledgehammer doses of insulin, you can help ensure that excess carbs are not shuttled off to be eventually be stored in fat.

JOHN: How do you typically structure carb intake. I for example like 70-80% of daily carbs to be around the training and up to 2 hour post training window. Do you spread carbs out more, or concentrate them like I do around training?

DR. CLAY: For those that are really serious, like you, I do put the bulk of their carbs para-workout (or ‘around’ their workout). Having carbs in meal 1 is also another time.

So I guess you could say there are four times you’re likely to see carbs in one of my client’s diets, post-workout, pre-workout, breakfast, 2nd post-workout meal. The other meals will either have no carbs, or they’ll have much lower amounts of carbs.

But I will admit, I’ve gotten good results dividing carbs out pretty evenly throughout the day, as well. So when in doubt, one shouldn’t hesitate keep it simple and divide carbs out evenly throughout the day.

Speaking of which, here’s a random tip/observation: for those who ‘coach’ themselves, keeping your diet approach simple is going to produce best results over time. That way you can avoid thinking and just do! Leave the elaborate, high-tech strategies to those with coaches who have experience using them.

JOHN: I would love to get your thoughts on pre and post workout supplements too in terms of pure unadulterated muscle gain. I think there are many ways to skin this cat obviously. But what are some things you have done that you felt were very effective. Also, have you tried anything that was a waste?

DR. CLAY: Let’s start with what works…fast-digesting protein and carbs. For protein, a hydrolysate will be fastest, but a whey isolate works as well. And for carbs, the patented Vitargo appears to be fastest and arguably best, but a simple (and cheap) glucose will work fine.

Are these exciting? No. Are they effective? Yes!

Hands down, the most important nutrition change I made in terms of muscle gain was to ALWAYS have at least one, if not two, fast-digesting protein + carb drinks every single time I train. This strategy alone is more effective than any other supplementation one can do, in my opinion.

But, speaking of supplements, I do often use and recommend the no-nonsense, science-proven supplements like creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA).

So here’s what one of my two typical para-workout shakes look like:
  • 25g Whey Isolate
  • 30g Maltodextrin*
  • 7g BCAA
  • 3g Creatine
  • 2g Beta-Alanine

*Those who are more ectomorphic and/or have great insulin sensitivity should probably but the carbs up to about 50g or more.

Of course I implement other things like citrulline malate, various arginine compounds, and glutamine, etc, but the above is what I consider the fundamentals upon which other stuff should be added as needed.

For example, if someone is having gastrointestinal problems, training a lot, and tending to get sick, then they would most likely benefit tremendously from glutamine, as it plays critical roles in not only muscle tissue, but also in the GI tract, and in the immune system.

I know it is human nature to chase ‘shiny objects’ that grab our attention – like the latest and greatest supplement. But the key for anyone wanting to get results out of their supplements is to always choose the proven basics like whey protein, and fast-digesting carbs. And these days it’s pretty safe to put creatine, BCAAs, and even beta-alanine in this category.

The way I look at it, never spend money on something that may or may not work, unless you have already purchased and use what we do know to work.

JOHN: Great information. Ok, one last question. Cardio for fat loss, what are your thoughts around that?

DR. CLAY: Sadness….sadness for people like me who absolutely MUST do cardio to get and/or stay relatively lean.

On a more serious note, my overall rule-of-thumb is this: the more cardio you do and the harder you do it, the faster you’ll lose fat. BUT, if you need to do more than two 60-minute sessions per day (which would, of course, be more steady state in nature like treadmill walking), then you’re not doing something right.

As a coach, I never recommend more than 120 minutes cardio per day; if the client isn’t losing fat quickly enough with that, then I consider it my fault.

Sure, hiking, trail walking, walking on the beach, bike riding on the weekend, and other stuff may last quite a few hours and that’s cool, of course. I’m talking about doing that much as a part of a regular cardio plan.

Along those lines, however, hardly ANYONE needs to worry about losing muscle doing cardio. That’s one of those things that serves no purpose other than to give one analysis paralysis…and yet one more reason why maybe they shouldn’t do cardio after all.

So, from my experience and observation, as long as we keep High Intensity Interval Training to no more than about an hour per week, and no more than about 60 minutes of walking done 10 x per week, then muscle loss will not be an issue.

Besides, who doesn’t look better having lost 10 pounds of fat, even if you did lose a couple ounces of muscle?

JOHN: Ok, agreed 100% on that. I want to thank you on behalf of the readers for your time, and insight. I look forward to doing this again sometime Dr. Clay. All the best!

DR. CLAY: Thank you John.

It has been a pleasure, and we’ll talk again!