November 2010: Interview with Jackie Buell, PHD

by on November 24, 2010

JOHN: I am excited to have Jackie Buell with us for this month’s interview! Jackie, first things first. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, credentials, what you do for a living, what you are passionate about in terms of nutrition, and any other thing that you want to share with our readers?

JACKIE: I am excited to be here too! I am a farm girl from central Ohio, played a lot of sports through the years. I went to college to be an athletic trainer (ATC) and did that for the first 12 years of my professional life. I have always had a passion for nutrition and anatomy, and chose to further my education in nutrition. So now I have a PhD in nutrition and have since become an RD (LD in Ohio) and a CSSD. The CSSD is an advanced credential for sports dietitians. My primary responsibility at Ohio State is to teach a large section of an on-line basic nutrition course every quarter. I also teach a 700 level course in Nutrition in Exercise, which I truly enjoy teaching. A few years back (2004); we started a Sports Nutrition program for our intercollegiate athletes in conjunction with OSU Sports Medicine so I lead a small group of folks on campus who counsels all of our athletes as well. Currently my research lab is at the Labs in Life at our local science museum, COSI. My career has been an interesting journey and I continue to look forward to going to work most days…. I think that means you are still passionate about what you are doing. So I teach a little, I coordinate a little and I research a little, and love it.

JOHN: Hearing you talk about what you do, reminds me of that saying “If you enjoy what you do for a living, you’ll never work another day the rest of your life!”

In terms of your nutrition courses, which would you say are the most challenging for students?

JACKIE: So the two courses I teach are HN 210 Science of Nutrition (designed for non-majors as a general ed course and science exposure) and HN 705 Nutrition and Exercise. By far the hardest for students is the 210 course. First off, it is on-line, and many students make the mistake of thinking that on-line somehow means less work and easier. On-line courses take a regular commitment, and it is still a five credit hour course, meaning lots of work and reading. Secondly, those students are not typically the science types and many feel very threatened by science so this course challenges them to think about the science of their body. I don’t think 705 is hard, most of the students are in there because they want to learn more about sports nutrition, and liking of sports nutrition keeps them engaged.

JOHN: Which ones do you enjoy teaching the most? Why?

JACKIE: By far the one I love to teach is the 705! The sports nutrition stuff is my forte by choice and the students are there because they want to be and they are upper level students. Don’t get me wrong, similar to the students I enjoy the on-line environment because of the convenience, but it really is more of an organizational task than it is teaching.

JOHN: I think that it is great that you have a group designed to help athletes nutritionally. Off the top of your head, what would you say is the biggest mistake nutritionally that those coming to see you are making?

JACKIE: Our sports nutrition group is an awesome group with a lot of energy around helping the athletes. I think most athletes misunderstand the concept of energy balance or are too far off balance with it to succeed. Many of our athletes come expecting advice on what supplements to take before considering how they might improve their basic nutrition. We are a Food First philosophy.

JOHN: Ah yes, looking for the magic supplement. I totally understand that. I am so glad to hear you say Food First. Can you talk a little bit about the recommendations you give to athletes in terms of their actual food choices?

JACKIE: We try to get them to eat a variety of foods to meet their needs and with the timing we consider in their best interest to performance. So sometimes we use the plate method to talk about distribution of carb/protein/fruit and veggie in usual meals. A good example link to this method is from Farber cancer survivor website at . We do talk about portion size quite a bit to those athletes with weight-related goals. We encourage athletes to have a little carb before activity as well as an adequate recovery snack after activity. In general, our recovery snack suggestion is to have a good amount carb with a little good quality protein. As you can imagine, chocolate milk is a popular conversation for recovery. Some athletes skip meals or exclude important food groups, so we work to ensure they are thinking about those as opportunities to improve.

JOHN: Yes, chocolate milk! I remember back in the early 90’s drinking a half gallon after my workouts and people thought I was crazy! There are studies out there, very good ones, that confirm this is great post-workout.

JOHN: As a nutritionist, what are some foods that you think really deliver bang for the buck?

One of my personal favorites is grass-fed beef liver once a week, for preformed Vitamin A, Iron, all the B vitamins,etc. Very nutrient dense food, BUT many don’t like the taste! Haha.

JACKIE: Hmm, once I learned what the liver does in our body…. Not going to eat something else’s filter! I agree with your view that liver is vitamin and mineral packed, but it is also the most likely storage depot for something the animal ate that it’s body was trying to detox. I also like to remind folks that iron storage issues in the form of hemochromatosis is an example where athletes should be careful to have the right amount of a nutrient, in this case iron, instead of overloading. As a dietitian, I am careful about suggesting high doses of iron because of that risk, I leave that to the docs.

JOHN: OK, let’s see if I can change your mind on liver. I do agree with not overloading on iron. Liver is definitely a great source for usable iron. I recommend it once every 1-2 weeks for the Vitamin A mainly, as Vitamin A is showing to be invaluable in protein turnover, which is what many of my resistance training folks need, as hard as they train. Ok, I digressed, there is no debating that the liver is a filter for toxins, but there are many studies that show most all of the chemicals and toxins,etc store in fat cells, and to some degree in the nervous system. An additional measure is to get organic calves liver (calves are usually range fed, instead of grain fed and pumped full of chemicals like cows), or if the beef liver is organic, you are fine.

Dr Serrano always tells me the story of Lions, and how the pack leader gets his first pick of the prey, and it goes straight for the liver. I just always found that interesting.

JACKIE: Not going to change my mind, it is a personal preference. Lions have significant periods of starvation. though we may think we are really hungry or starving, most of us have no idea what true hunger feels like. I would eat liver if I were truly starving, I hope I am never faced with that situation.

Any fruit or vegetable has an awesome bang for its buck in natural antioxidants and fiber. I am sorry for athletes when I hear they are not a milk drinker because I think it has a lot of nutrient density, unfortunately it is one of the first foods to go for young women. When you say bang for the buck, I guess I really think it comes down to nutrient density or bang for the calories for many athletes. Obviously in looking at our obese society, we need to consider nutrient density over cost as well. If folks invested in the foods that help them eat closer to their needs, they might avoid the cost of medical bills related to heart disease and diabetes!

JOHN: Speaking of milk, I was fortunate enough to hear you speak about some of your findings in regards to bone density, and the impacts on it from certain type of training. I imagine a lack of calcium from lack of dairy would also play into this. Can you expound on that? Or expound on your findings you presented at the conference?

JACKIE: I have the privilege of occupying the Labs in Life at COSI as a working Ohio State university laboratory in a public science center. I have a current study on female runners evaluating the existence of the female athlete triad in recreational runners. The triad is composed of low energy availability, lack of menstrual cycles and low bone density. we are still collecting data but what we have seen thus far is plenty of women with lower than expected bone mass in certain skeletal sites. The total body bone mass usually looks fine, the hip looks okay, the lumbar spine a little less okay and the forearm even less okay. We have seen 54 out of 110 women with osteopenic or osteoporotic forearms. My supposition is that when we run as our only form of exercise, we might redistribute bone to the sites that need it rather than maintain the whole skeleton. We need to see how these results look when analyzed with energy balance and menstrual data but this pattern of bone is a strong finding thus far. Bottom line, those runners should be cross-training and likely including some weight training that stimulates the forearm bone mass. Again, these findings and ideas are preliminary to the final study results. You are correct in your statement about adequate calcium, we all know it is important to bone health but it is just a piece of the picture. Adequate nutrition in terms of energy balance is also important to skeletal health. It is the smallest petite women who have bone mass issues.

JOHN: I think your suppositions hold alot of merit Jackie. I am glad you mentioned this study, as our female readers, or even male readers who use running as their only exercise can learn alot from your current findings. It will be interesting to see how this study evolves. Please keep us posted on it!

How prevalent is under eating based on your experience with athletes? I see this more in the female population I work with. They just have it drilled into their psyche that they should eat low low calories, and do tons of cardiovascular exercise such as running to get into optimal condition.

JACKIE: We see more of it than we would like to see. It is hard to convince those same folks to trust their body and eat almost up to their needs instead of the starvation route. Starvation routes work in the short term but likely do some metabolic damage that affects their ability to maintain the weight loss. There is some research out there to suggest that those folks in that weight cycling behavior might also be gaining more body fat than they desire. If there is one thing I would change for young women, it would be to have them understand that dieting by significant dietary restriction is not good for our long term health or body weight. Losing weight quickly often leads to loss of muscle mass then quick re-gain of weight except that it is tough to regain that lost muscle so they end up at a higher percentage of fat.

JOHN: Yes, the results of yo-yo dieting. Funny you mention that. I have seen many pictures recently of all the “Biggest Loser” contestants, and they are actually bigger now then when they first went on the show.

Jackie I see a lot of women who compete in figure type contests, and they kill themselves to get down to low bodyfat levels, and then they balloon up and really have a difficult time getting back down afterwards. Now mind you these aren’t bodybuilders, these are women looking to get lean though, and they tend to overdue cardio, and under eat. What advice would you give to these women, on how to decrease bodyfat SAFELY!

JACKIE: I try to encourage the folks I work with to think about losing the weight slow but sure. I like to see the calories in be about 200-300 less than the approximate calories out, certainly no more than about 500 calories different. I don’t talk in calories, I talk in food groups and portion sizes and food distribution throughout the day. A huge mistake folks make is doing a relatively low calorie intake throughout the day then “back loading’ or eating too much in the evening. You want your body to have a small but regular influx of energy that comes up fairly close to the daily needs. Again nutrient timing around activity is also a part of this discussion. If a woman of about 5’3” or taller who is engaged in regular exercise and dieting trying to lean down is eating less than about 1700-1800 calories, they are not doing themselves a favor towards losing body fat. Eating too few calories in these situations will likely depress the metabolism and make losing weight even harder and more frustrating. The right amount of calories and protein as well as a mixture of activities is in their best fat loss interest.

JOHN: Agreed. I use a 200 calorie rule myself generally speaking. You touched on something that some people have a hard time grasping. They hear “all that matters is total # calories ingested throughout the day in relation to how much they burn. But you mentioned nutrient timing as being a key. I also see people just eating meals haphazardly, not on a good schedule, and overeating at night thinking “well I am still only consuming x calories.”

Can you talk a little bit about how spreading out meals and focusing on correct pre and post workout nutrition will give someone a better payoff as opposed to eating 2 meals a day, most of which is in the evening. Can you talk about the metabolic effects of both, and what is likely to occur?

JACKIE: Overeating at night is a mistake in my opinion. Our group advocates athletes eating every 3 hours or so, it is a matter of quantity. We like to see three nice meals, none huge. Breakfast is a great start and should include a variety of foods. If a person waits to eat late in the day and is eating a meal that is more like two meals, they are likely storing most of that meal. There are actually studies that show backloading the day leads to greater fat maintenance and greater insulin resistance. I try to get them to distribute those kcals. The snacks around exercise help the body prepare for a great workout and then help recover the muscle. I almost see muscle preparation and maintenance as separate from total calories and deficit for the day, even though you cannot really separate them. Keep that muscle ready by treating it consistent with adequate energy stores, but make sure to hit your little deficit for the day.

JOHN: I am also curious as to what other interesting and educational studies you have worked on recently, or even not recently. Anything that you think our readers could benefit from?

JACKIE: So for the guys that have a big waistline, in 2008 I completed a study on football linemen published in Journal of Athletic training. Of 70 Division 1,2, and 3 football linemen, almost half (34) already had the metabolic markers of metabolic syndrome. Having “metabolic syndrome” elevates your risk of heart disease and diabetes. It should be viewed as pre-heart disease, pre-diabetes. If you have three of the five markers (waist greater than 40″, HDL less than 40, TG > 150, blood glucose >100, or blood pressure >130/85), you are considered to have metabolic syndrome. The men we measured were 18-24 years old, too young for these issues! We hope to do this same study soon in younger guys. Bottom line, if your waist is greater than 40″ for a man, 35″ for a woman, you should be having regular checkups and work to bring that weight down. There are some interesting diet attitudes findings but we are not ready to share those yet.

JOHN: Ok, this is kind of an odd question; do you think visceral fat is an extremely telling marker? I see people with 40 inch waists that aren’t that fat, but their guts protrude, and are distended. It looks weird. Do you think even if they are leaner they share that same risk? I am assuming since they aren’t fat, they have visceral fat buildup around their organs? That can’t be good?

JACKIE: Not an odd question at all. There are many nice studies that show that intra-abdominal fat is the likely source of much inflammation in these folks. It is the intra-abdominal fat that is the area of concern in much of the literature today. There is actually a measure you can take on folks in a research setting that is used to mark intra-abdominal fatness using a sagittal diameter with a set of calipers. I would have to do more reading on this to see if we think there are guidelines on that to look at the general public with any accuracy.

JOHN: I have never heard of measuring technique before to measure intra-abdominal fat…very interesting!

JACKIE: Researchers think that the intra-abdominal fat makes the abdomen more firm so it does not lay down as much as if it were extra-abdominal fat. I would love to do an iDXA study to look at this too but would have to have some funding, know any big money folks wanting to look at this with me?

JOHN: I’ll check with Serrano – he might know some people.

JACKIE: We are also still collecting data in a study of dieting behaviors on resting metabolic rate and body fatness in female athletes. We will likely close the study soon and should have some findings soon. The preliminary evaluation compared the measured resting metabolic rates with common estimation equations and there are two distinct groups. Equations are fine for some athletes and way underestimate other athletes. It will be fun to evaluate that data for evidence that dieting may be what keeps the metabolism closer to the predicted number instead of revving.

We completed a study this last spring comparing our BodPod with two other BodPods on our campus and found that BodPod numbers seem highly influenced by the environmental temperature and possibly noise. Our Pod was 1.7 and 1.9% different than the other two yet our Pod was the one consistently within the manufacturer’s guidelines. Bottom line, the estimates from the BodPod can be off by as much as 2% (higher in some folks) and that we should use these measures in a soft fashion, they are not hard data. We are currently designing a study that will tease out the influence of temperature, humidity and noise in the environment.

JOHN: Do you think there is a range of bodyfat or body type that is more accurately measured in the bodpod. Here is why I ask. On 10/7 I had my bodyfat tested at the lab, and calipers had me at 4.2%, underwater had me at 6.2%, but bodpod had me at 10%?

JACKIE: I think the BodPod has some issues with folks that give off too much or little heat. The process is assumed to adiabatic. I have had the machine throw errors on women who I assume would have a very low metabolic rate. I hope to incorporate this into some studies at some point. If we take you for instance, what if eating a certain set of meals had your body really revving in terms of heat given off, that would increase the pressure in the pod to affect your volume. Answer is, no great research showing how this influences our readings.

JOHN: My wife calls me “the blast furnace” because I am always warm…hmm…once again interesting….

In your professional opinion, which method do you think produces the most accurate readings?

JACKIE: I think it is tough for someone to really do the underwater very well, but if you can do it well, that is gold standard. The BodPod and iDXA are often considered by some to be equivalent, then others think not. Skinfolds are just not predictable how good your measurement person is unless they have studied their measures against the underwater or something like that. I know very experienced folks using skinfolds who still make occasional errors as big as 6%, not okay. The BIA and near infrared methods are out in my book. I strongly prefer the DXA because it gives so much other good information such as bone density and body fat distribution (hips vs abdomen). Whatever method you choose from among underwater, bodpod or iDXA, choose one and stick with it with the same technician and same time of day and circumstances to try to take as many variables out of the error as you can.

JOHN: How does one go about getting an iDXA scan? Is it expensive? It usually depends on where you are having it. These are pretty high tech scans usually used to look at bone density so the typical cost is 200-300$ with varying levels of insurance coverage if a medical necessity. We offer this as a clinical service at COSI for body composition for 50$. We do not take any insurance or credit cards though.

JACKIE: A few of the students in my laboratory are interested in childhood obesity so we are undertaking a few taste testing studies to look at child BMI and taste preference as well as supertaster status. Interesting work and learning, but fairly new to me. Did you even know there is such a thing as a supertaster and it influences our choices?

JOHN: No I did not!! That is why I interview smart people like you – so you can teach our readers, and me, new stuff!

JACKIE: Check it out on Wikipedia (that doesn’t sound so smart eh J). The explanations they give there are similar to what you read in the research papers and it points you to Linda Bartoshuk’s work in this area.

The other recent studies were evaluation and validation of tools in the collegiate population (unpublished) and looking at estimated dietary CLA and the relationship to body fatness. We did not see an association but the study was not designed to look at that initially so our results should be taken with caution…..also not published.

JOHN: Can you tell me what foods you used to obtain the CLA. Most of the meat and dairy you would normally get it in is almost devoid due to grain feeding in cows, and pasteurization in milk?

JACKIE: We used a reference from the literature and a book chart to estimate CLA from the meat and dairy products in the study. It turned out to be a pretty weak study because it was not designed to look at this. I think we should be careful on our assumptions about how much CLA various animals have and under what feeding circumstances. If there are a lot of studies that demonstrate we can associate higher CLA with grass fed, that is fine, again, not my area of expertise but this idea needs confirmed by many studies before we accept it as legit.

JOHN: Before we wrap up, I would like for you to just type out what comes to mind immediately when I mention certain words or phrases…just tell me what comes to mind first. The last time I did this someone said “Coconut”, and I said Almond Joy! 🙂

Vitamin D deficiency – Michael Holick
Goats – great personalities
Frying cheese – are you kidding me?
Genetic potential – bone mass
Sprinters – Butch Reynolds
Tressel-ball – Jim
Barbell Squats – how deep
Good health – good habits

JOHN: Thank you so much for your time Jackie. It has been fun and an absolute privilege for us to learn from you. Keep us posted on any cool studies that come up, and I am greatly looking forward to my trip to the COSI lab!

JACKIE: Thanks for inviting me; it has been fun from my end as well!