Training And Nutrition – Graduate Student Round Table Discussion

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Graduate Student Round Table Bodybuilding
A panel of six respected leaders in the fitness industry reflect on how their education choices have impacted the career paths they’ve chosen in this round table discussion.
A special thanks to Peter Fitschen for making this entire thing happen!

Can you give us a little background on your education, competition history, and current career?

Eric Helms: I was in the air force for four years, and for half that time I was trained as an Arabic linguist. This involved two years of full time schooling in language and cultural studies which gave me all of the elective credits, language classes, and cultural classes I needed for my future undergrad degree. I started lifting during the last year of my enlistment and once I’d finished, I decided that a career in linguistics was not for me. So, I became a personal trainer.

I didn’t have SAT scores as I joined the air force right out of high school, so I decided that finishing up my first two years of schooling at the local community college made the most sense. Around that time I began competing in powerlifting and natural bodybuilding as well.

I got more work as a trainer, became more involved and more successful in power lifting and bodybuilding, and in 2008 I finished my associates degree at the local community college and decided to do my bachelors degree online. My work schedule wasn’t conducive to an on-site university degree, so I did my research and attended a university with an online program I had confidence in. I went to Cal U, a school in Pennsylvania, that was ranked well and had a bachelors degree in Sports Management: Fitness and Wellness. It was designed for fitness professionals already working who wanted to further their education. It was a great fit; a blend between exercise science and fitness/sports economics, business, and marketing.

During my BS, I started 3DMuscleJourney with Jeff Alberts, Brad Loomis and Alberto Nunez. Our online coaching business continued to flourish and I also flourished with the online learning model. I went on to do my first Masters degree at Cal U in Exercise Science and after that, I wanted to do my PhD. With a flexible online business that allowed me to go anywhere, I decided on AUT in Auckland New Zealand as it has in my opinion, one of the best strength and conditioning programs in the world. Since I did my masters degree online, I hadn’t done a research based thesis. This meant I was required to do a second thesis-only Masters degree at AUT, (known as a Masters of Philosophy) before being eligible for a PhD. My thesis title was “Exploring protein and macronutrient intakes in lean bodybuilders during caloric restriction“. Completing my second masters gained me eligibility into the PhD program here at AUT, which I started officially in March. The system for graduate work in New Zealand is a little different than in the states. You finish all your course work before you ever do your first thesis (as a masters degree typically), and then you are eligible for a PhD, and the PhD has no classes it is only research. Often in the states the Masters and PhD are combined, and you take classes during the course of both. In the end since I had to do two masters degrees, my first being all course work and my second being only a research based thesis, I will end up doing the same amount of work had I pursued a on-site masters degree and a PhD in the states. So really whether you are in the US or in the UK, or somewhere else, it will be a similar process and amount of work by the time you look back on your entire graduate education.

Chris Fahs: I started studying Exercise Science at the University of Scranton earning my BS with honors in 2006. I earned my MS in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 2008 studying under Dr. Bo Ferhhall in the Exercise and Cardiovascular Research Lab. I continued working in that laboratory as the research coordinator for one year following the completion of my master’s degree. Next I moved on to the University of Oklahoma where I studied in the Neuromuscular Laboratory under Dr. Mike Bemben. I earned my PhD from OU in 2013 and have since moved to Massachusetts where I currently work as an adjunct professor in the Exercise and Sport Science Department at Fitchburg State University and I also work as an instructor at the National Personal Training Institute in Waltham, MA.

My competitive bodybuilding career began in 2008 when I was at the University of Illinois training alongside Layne Norton and Jeremy Loenneke at Gold’s Gym in Champaign IL. That year I competed in the NANBF Great Lakes Supernatural winning the men’s novice division overall followed by winning the men’s open overall at the OCB Midwest States and earning my pro card. In 2011 I competed in the IFPA Pro International placing 7th of 11 competitors in the heavyweight division. Last year (2013) I competed in the IFPA Gaspari Pro and the IFPA Yorton Cup Pro World Championships. In between bodybuilding contests, I competed in powerlifting with the Natural Athlete Strength Association (NASA) four times between 2010 and 2012. My best competition lifts include a 496 pound squat, 342 pound bench press, and 584 pound deadlift.

Layne Norton: I have a BS in Biochemistry and a PhD in Nutritional Sciences. I am an NGA & IFPA Pro Natural Bodybuilder as well as an elite level powerlifter. I currently own BioLayne LLC, a consulting company.
Layne Norton

Peter Fitschen: I am a PhD Candidate in Nutritional Science at the University of Illinois and plan to graduate with my PhD at some point in 2015. I have a BS in Biochemistry, MS in Biology with a Physiology Concentration, and am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I have been competing in natural bodybuilding since 2004.   In 2012, I won the overall and my NGA Natural Pro Card at the NGA Titan Classic and am now preparing for my first natural pro contest in 2015. In addition, I co-own Fitbody and Physique LLC, a fitness consulting company.

Ben Esgro: I have an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and a Master’s Degree in Sports Nutrition and Exercise Science from Marywood University. I also completed my Dietetic Internship (RD) through the same university (Marywood). I currently work as a nutrition and training consultant and also formulate and manufacture dietary supplements for De Novo Nutrition.

For competition, I have competed in both bodybuilding and powerlifting. I don’t really have any major powerlifting accolades but I have probably done about 10 USAPL meets in my competitive history. For bodybuilding, I have competed in NABBA, OCB, and USBF. I have a few class wins in OCB but I am only qualified to compete as a pro in USBF having won their NEPA Natural show in 2012.

Mike Zourdos: I am original from Potomac, Maryland, and began my undergraduate degree in the Fall of 2003 at Marietta College (Marietta, OH.) when I was 17yrs. I entered Marietta focusing solely on playing soccer, which I did play NCAA collegiate soccer for 4 seasons and captained the squad in my final 2. Even though I graduated in 3.5 years (Dec. ’06) with a B.S. in Exercise Science I was a mediocre student at best. I began my Master’s in Applied Health Physiology immediately (Jan. 2007) at Salisbury University (Salisbury, MD.) where I served as the Graduate Assistant strength and conditioning coach until graduation (Spring 2008). I returned to my high school (The Bullis School, Potomac, MD.) in the summer of 2008 to serve as strength and conditioning coach before beginning my Ph.D. at 22 years old at THE Florida State University where I graduated at 26 years old in the May of 2012.

As far as competition history I compete as raw powerlifter in the only real powerlifting federation in the United States, which is the USAPL. Highlights include qualifying for the Arnold Classic Raw Challenge in 2013 and squatting 230kg. (507lbs.) at a body weight of 79kg. Additionally, between 2007-2009 I completed 5 marathons. My apologies for this, I was young and confused at the time and experimented with endurance exercise.

Currently, I am an Assistant Professor in Exercise Science at Florida Atlantic University. I have wonderful colleagues, students, and an amazing research lab we call the FAU Muscle Lab as well as a biochemistry lab to do all analysis. I love going to my ‘job’ or as my wife says, ‘you go play with your friends.’ And to that I say, ‘yes, yes I do, and it’s awesome.’

What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree in nutrition or exercise?

Eric Helms: When I fell in love with lifting and competing, it was the same time that I became a personal trainer. So, the science and practice of coaching and training strength and physique athletes became as much a passion of mine as being an athlete myself. As much as I approached my training and nutrition with a borderline obsessive mindset, I did the same with my schooling.
Eric Helms

I truly love and am intrigued by the science behind the practice of these sports so once I’d committed to being a trainer and an athlete it was a natural decision.

Chris Fahs: Towards the end of my time as an undergraduate I realized that there was so much more to learn about Exercise Science than I currently knew and needed to further my education. At that time I was just starting to understand the research process and I wanted to go further into that realm, exploring things for myself. I wish I could say I had a clear plan of exactly what I wanted to do after I finished graduate school but that point but really all I knew is that I really loved the subject matter and wanted to learn more. I was very unsure of where to pursue a graduate degree but thankfully my undergraduate mentor, Dr. Ron Deitrick, was extremely helpful in guiding me.

Layne Norton: Quite frankly, when I was a year away from graduating with my BS in biochem I simply felt like I didn’t know anything and wanted to learn more.

Peter Fitschen: While I was working on my BS in biochemistry for my undergrad, I was enjoying my coursework, but I wanted to get into something more related to exercise or nutrition. I also felt like I did not know enough, even though I was nearing the end of my bachelors program. This led me to begin working on my Masters; however, even while working on my MS in biology with a physiology concentration, which was more applied and related to my interest in bodybuilding,

I felt like the more I learned, the more I didn’t know.

As I neared the end of my master’s program, I felt that there was still a lot out there for me to learn. As a result, I decided to enter a PhD program to learn more about the science of nutrition and exercise and am now 4 yrs into working on my PhD in nutritional science at the University of Illinois.

Ben Esgro: When I finished undergrad I wasn’t satisfied with the extent of my knowledge, I basically felt like I knew less than when I started. I love to learn and refine my knowledge on physiology and science in general so it was a very natural decision to continue my education.
Ben Esgro

Mike Zourdos: I original started college as a broadcast journalism major since I was a huge sports fan. However, with little interest in class when I wasn’t at soccer practice I was always training, thanks to having a great high school strength coach (Coach Billy Miller) who got me started. While training one day a faculty member at Marietta College said, ‘Mike why don’t you major in exercise science’. Well, back in 2003 schooling in exercise science was not nearly as popular as it is now so I had no idea what it was. But, I looked into that evening and the next day I went to see my advisor and we started the process to change majors.

Regarding graduate school, I pursued a Master’s because I honestly, did not know exactly what career path to take at the time and all I wanted was to continue to be an athlete, and getting set up as a graduate assistant strength coach seemed like a great way to continue to achieve this.

I went onto pursue a Ph.D. because I simply did not feel that I knew enough science following my Master’s degree. Instead of understanding the mechanisms behind physiological adaptations; I would respond with generic answers to questions and that is simply not enough. So, I saw Layne Norton pioneering our field at the time and thought I could research my own interests as well. So, I have to thank Layne for setting the stage for people like myself who wanted to also research training.

What was your daily schedule like while in graduate school and how did you balance this schedule with your training and competitions?

Eric Helms: I was teaching 30 hours a week at a private college for personal trainers while coaching 3DMJ athletes during my first Masters degree. Probably in total I was working 50-60 hours a week, and then spending probably another 15-20 hours a week on my coursework. Additionally I was training 5 days a week for 1-2 hours each session and doing 5-6 hours of cardio a week as I was dieting for the 2011 season. I competed and won my pro card while doing my first masters degree and I also did multiple power lifting meets. It was a very tight schedule to say the least! The main reason I was working so much was that I was saving up to make the trip and transition to New Zealand.

Once I started my second Masters here in New Zealand, I decided I wasn’t going to compete in bodybuilding while studying. So, I’ve just been sticking to powerlifting and Olympic lifting and training to improve my physique for my eventual pro debut.

Contest prep was a pressure I could handle while studying, but an experience I decided I didn’t want to repeat.

I didn’t want my research or my overall life and personal relationships to suffer, and I also need plenty of time to develop a pro caliber physique. So, the decision to step away from bodybuilding competition for the time being was an easy one. That said, the transition to New Zealand was very expensive, so I was working full time with my 3DMJ athletes during my second masters degree here in New Zealand which was a stressful task. Fortunately, for my PhD I applied for and was granted a generous scholarship. This has allowed me to cut back my coaching hours so that I can devote more time to my PhD studies over the next three years.

Chris Fahs: Generally, I treated graduate school like a traditional job devoting most of my day to that job but still making sure I had a balanced life outside of school. For me there was no “typical” day because with research being a large part of my graduate work, the hours varied quite a bit. I usually was at school/the lab during the day, went to go train afterward, and then read or did work from home in the evening as needed. However, with research, many days were very different; sometimes lab work took place in the early morning hours or later in the evening.
Chris Fahs

This really taught me to be flexible with my training schedule and has helped me now adjust to unexpected events

. I was fortunate that both of graduate mentors believed in a work/life balance and that I had quite a bit of freedom to make my own schedule as long as I was being productive. I never found that training interfered with my graduate work at all – I always made both a priority and I feel that they often complemented one another. In fact, I was able to combine my bodybuilding preparation with my graduate school work as I was the test subject in a peer-reviewed published case study documenting the physiological changes that occurred with my body during bodybuilding contest preparation and recovery. However, there are many times when graduate work must take priory over competing and during the semesters of my comprehensive exams and my dissertation I choose not to compete in bodybuilding. Competing in powerlifting was less of an issue since the competitions were local and the preparation did not involve the same degree of overall fatigue that the rigors of bodybuilding preparation did.

Layne Norton: Wake up, answer emails for my business then head to lab. Work in lab for a good 6-10 hours, or class if I had it that particular day. Would head to the gym after & train for a few hours. Then I’d eat dinner and watch a bit of TV with my wife. I’d answer emails & work on client plans before bed or read scientific journals/write papers. I’d also often go back into lab late at night if I needed to check on an assay or blot that was running.

Peter Fitschen: I had a somewhat unique experience in that I did my MS at a smaller university and am working on my PhD at a larger university. During my MS, I was the only graduate student in my lab. Much of the lab research schedule was based upon when I wanted to do things as long as I was getting them done. Although I was teaching 3-4 sections of general biology lab and taking my own coursework, I always had the flexibility to make my own schedule for the most part which made fitting in workouts relatively easy.
Peter Fitschen

During my PhD I have not had to teach; however, I am in a well-funded larger lab with several other grad students. As a result, I generally have spent less time in class or teaching class during my PhD, but significantly more time in the lab working on research, writing papers, and doing all of the behind the scenes paperwork/organizational tasks. My schedule is a bit less flexible than it was during my masters; however, I still manage to get my workouts in and have successfully prepped for and won a show and my natural pro card while working on my PhD.

At this point, I am done with class and have already passed both my qualifying exam and prelim so my typical daily schedule is based around what I have to do for research that day. A typical day consists of answering client emails first thing in the morning, working in the lab throughout the day, going to the gym at night, and then going home to answer client emails, write client plans, and/or skype with clients. It also isn’t uncommon for me to need to go to the lab on weekends. This was especially true during the earlier stages of my PhD when I was balancing class with research. There are also many days I need to be to the lab by 5am due to the type of studies our lab is doing and the population we are working with.

The main thing I would emphasize to someone when trying to be a successful graduate student and prep for a contest at the same time is that time management is key. I know before each day starts what time of day I will be in the gym and have trained anywhere from as early as 5am to as late as 9-10pm to fit my workouts into my schedule. Planning ahead and being organized with your time is the key to success.

Ben Esgro: Hectic. I was working full time for WIC (a government funded nutrition service for women, infants and children), a full time student, doing some side consulting, and running all facets of the supplement business. I suppose it showed me what is possible to squeeze into a 24 hour period when you really want something… As for training, I always found a way to make it happen. I started buying gym equipment and built a garage gym at first, then moved it into my basement as this allowed me to train conveniently without having to leave home and to do it on my own time. If you really want it you make it happen, if you don’t you make excuses. As for competitions, I never really prioritize that, once I decide I am going to start a prep for a show or meet I just commit and make it work.   For bodybuilding specifically I typically only compete once every 5 years or so.

Mike Zourdos: There were always long days, which usually involved beginning training around 5 or 5:30am. After that I would either head to the lab to collect data on whichever study was going on that semester and be there for most of the day until heading home to write and in my first 2 years study for classes. The biggest thing is that there is always writing to do and when moving into my 3rd year and start of my 4th year, everything is on you. Therefore, you have to write and collect dissertation data without somebody setting a schedule for you; meaning you can be as lazy or as hard working as you want to be. But, if I was lazy, I would not have asked to participate in this roundtable since I never would have graduated.

I competed in 3 powerlifting meets and 2 marathons during my Ph.D. This was a very important time for my lifting (mostly because Matt Gary taught me how to lift weights), but honestly meets were not that important. I actually paid for and entered 2 meets that I never went to because when the date came I had to work on my prospectus or preliminary examination or had to be in the lab collecting data. We always have to keep our priorities in order and put real life first. I could have gone to those meets, but it probably would have delayed my graduation.

You should never put competing in powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc. above your graduate school requirements, and if you do, then you probably shouldn’t be in graduate school.

Competing is not real life and it really isn’t that important. Compete for yourself and realize that if you do not take care of real life first then it is completely meaningless and empty, even if you technically do well in that competition. I always say, if all powerlifting meets were abolished tomorrow my training would not change. I train because I enjoy it. I would rather be good at real life first and then compete 2nd.

What are the most important things you learned in graduate school that you were not aware of prior to starting your graduate studies?

Eric Helms: Honestly, I didn’t learn how to learn until graduate school. Adults don’t learn like children. We are not sponges to auditory information like kids learning language and social norms, we truly have to take a hands on approach to learning. I taught, coached, and competed while doing my first masters degree simultaneously. While this was too stressful and something I wouldn’t repeat now, it was also the most productive learning experience of my life! I learned theory, I then taught that theory to others (others who thought in a very different way than I), I applied that theory to myself, and then I applied that theory to my clients. I got to see many aspects of the information I learned. Not only did I learn a theoretical understanding of the knowledge but an experiential understanding of the knowledge. Reading and going to lectures is such an incredibly inefficient way of learning by itself, and I truly credit my knowledge-base to having a holistic, experiential approach to learning and keeping things as “applied” as possible.

Chris Fahs: The most important thing I learned in graduate school is how much you can learn by reading peer-reviewed research articles and that there are still many things we don’t know about science. As an undergraduate I knew I had more to learn and I assumed the best place to find all the answers would be in textbooks.

At that point I was naïve to where the information in the text books actually came from.

In graduate school I soon realized how many new studies are coming out every day and that reading peer-reviewed journal articles is the best way to really learn about a topic in depth. By reading research articles I also realized that there are still a lot of unanswered questions out there and there is still much more research to be completed. So looking back, I realize what you learn in most classes gives you a good foundation in the field but to really go deeper into an area involves keeping up with the latest peer-reviewed journal articles.

Layne Norton: The importance of persistence, diligence, and attention to detail.
Layne Norton

Peter Fitschen: Prior to starting graduate school, I knew it was going to be a lot of work and I knew it was going to be difficult, but the one thing I was not prepared for was the sheer amount of paperwork and hoop jumping required to conduct the type of clinical research I am doing for my dissertation. At times it has felt like I spent more time doing paperwork than actually doing research that may benefit someone. Through trial and error, I have learned how to navigate all of this red tape, but to be honest it is all of this hoop jumping that has made me realize that conducting primary research is not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I have a lot of respect for those who do primary research at a large university for a career and I will always keep up on reading new research that comes out because I love keeping up on the science. However, I just know that I will not be happy dealing with all of the hoops for the rest of my life.

Ben Esgro: What proper research is and how to find it. I also began to learn how to critique and understand it, which typically starts a never ending cycle of searching and reading more research. I had a fantastic Exercise Physiology professor, Dr. James Smoliga, who really pushed me to be better and encouraged my inquisitive nature, he was probably the single most impactful professor I had in graduate school.

Mike Zourdos: It’s hard to narrow it just one, but I learned that every single moment matters. What I mean is, there are so many moments where you can decide to do some work one day (study, collect data, read papers, write, etc.) and it is very easy to say no because in that moment nobody will know the difference. However, looking back there are many moments which I now realize if I did not choose to put work in on my own time, I simply would not have graduated.   I hope that doesn’t sound ridiculous, but think at a pivotal point in your career and the choices you made and then hopefully it makes sense. Oh and also, I started powerlifting and got involved in the USAPL and watched other lifts and I learned that I was weak really weak.

If you could go back and change one thing about your education and graduate experience what would it be?

Eric Helms: That I would pay more attention in my stats classes! I took stats in high school, then took it again in junior college, then once again in my first masters degree, but the information never stuck. It didn’t stick because I couldn’t see how it applied, but once I actually had to do my own research….wow. I had a huge gap in my knowledge and ability because of my poor retention of statistics. I am leaps and bounds better now, but I wished I’d paid more attention in the past!

Also, while I loved the online learning I did, if I could go back in time I would have done my undergrad or my first masters degree on-site. Reason being, I didn’t have any lab experience. So, when it came time to do my first experiment for my masters degree I faced a steep learning curve. The online approach is great if that works for your schedule and learning style, and also if you don’t necessarily plan on doing a research based degree later in life…but if you do plan to do a PhD or Masters down the line with a research component, you’ll want lab experience.

Chris Fahs: I wouldn’t change anything. I learned a tremendous amount, made some great friends, met my wife, and enjoyed the experience of graduate school. I have to give a lot of credit to the people I was around in school for making it such a good experience.
Chris Fahs

Layne Norton: Stop complaining so much and enjoy the grind.

Peter Fitschen: I don’t know if I would necessarily change anything. Grad school has had its ups and downs for me over the years. Honestly, for me it has not been the “greatest time of my life” as you hear many say, but as a result I have learned a great deal about not only the science, but also how hard I can be pushed and keep going. Despite not enjoying the process at times, I have had a lot of valuable experiences that I can take with me moving forward and I really wouldn’t want to change that.

Ben Esgro: I really can’t say I realistically have any regrets. I suppose one thing I would have liked more experience with would be lab techniques like HPLC and mass spec. I am intrigued by mechanistic stuff and organic/biochem. so those are the only things I would have wanted more of…. but that could be a whole other graduate degree entirely (don’t think I haven’t thought about it).

Mike Zourdos: I honestly would not change anything. I believe that everything serves its purpose in all aspects of life. For example, if you currently understand training but previously your training program was terrible and you did that for 5 years; well that previous 5 years is one of the reasons that you understand things now. So, I wouldn’t change anything, everything serves its purpose.

I will say that I started my Master’s at 21 and Ph.D. at 22, in other words, I was a little punk disrespectful kid. So, looking back I could have been a little more but I wouldn’t change it, being young served its purpose too.

What types of jobs are available for someone with your degree?

Eric Helms: The most obvious one is a professor or teacher. Getting a graduate degree in any area opens up possibilities of teaching in that area of study. Additionally, in the sports science, exercise science and nutrition realms, there are applied or practice-based positions. Obviously some degrees have very clear career outcomes, like getting an RD, or completing a degree in physical or physio therapy, or completing a degree as an athletic trainer. However, getting a PhD or MS in the general fields of exercise, sports science or nutrition has less obvious outcomes.

Sports science and strength and conditioning are probably appreciated and utilized to different degrees and in different ways around the globe. While there are a ton of strength and conditioning jobs in the states and abroad, I would say you see more jobs as a sports scientist in Australia and New Zealand than in the states. An S&C coach role is an option for anyone who did a lot of study of resistance training and athletic conditioning in the course of their degree. A role as a sports scientist, who performs monitoring and testing of athletes, is also an option for anyone who had experience with quantitative sports science testing during their degree (force plates, linear position transducers, timing lights, radar guns, anthropometry, video analysis etc). However, I have seen more sports scientist roles outside of the states than I have in the states.

Finally, one can also work for themselves as a coach, consultant or trainer in whatever area you’re educated in. I personally enjoy being involved in both the theory and application, so I will of course continue to coach but I’ll probably keep myself involved in teaching and research to some degree.
Eric Helms

Chris Fahs: With a PhD in Exercise Physiology the most common career is to go into academia – teaching and doing research in some combination. I can’t think of anyone I have met with PhD in Exercise Physiology who is not affiliated with an academic institution.

Layne Norton: Whatever they want to make of it. You don’t have to fit in a box that society has picked out for you. If someone asks you a question regarding a topic, then if it’s important enough, they are more than likely willing to pay for an answer. This is the crux of what I do as a job. People only care about skill level. Grad school does not ensure a job. But going through a graduate program typically allows you to acquire skills that are very useful and sought after. Focus on skill and excellence. People don’t care about your degree if you don’t have skill and aren’t good at what you do.

Peter Fitschen: The main careers someone graduating from my program goes into are either teaching/doing research at a larger more research focused university, teaching at a smaller teaching focused university, working in industry, or working for the government. However, just because you have a PhD in a certain area does not mean you have to do any specific job. If you get a degree in something you enjoy and you find a way to make money using the skills you learned along the way, there are literally endless possibilities.

Ben Esgro: In the nutrition field without an RD it can be pretty scarce. With an RD you are qualified to work in medical nutrition, research, foodservice, or community nutrition amongst nearly any other entrepreneurial nutrition career. I would wholeheartedly recommend committing to doing a dietetic internship to anyone looking to pursue an education in nutrition. You may not appreciate it while you are doing it, but I can personally say what I learned during my internship has benefitted me in all of the jobs I currently work.
Ben Esgro

Mike Zourdos: The possibilities are endless. With a Master’s in exercise physiology you could be a strength and conditioning coach or training consultant through so many different avenues, or an instructor at a University. With a Dietetics Master’s you could take the Registered Dietitian examine and there are many jobs for R.D.s

With a Ph.D. the most common path is to become a professor at a University, as I have done. But you could become a research associate in industry or have your own consulting-type business in your expertise

Is there any other advice you would give a young bodybuilder or powerlifter looking to pursue a graduate degree related to nutrition or exercise?

Eric Helms: I would say the biggest piece of advice I can give, is follow your passion. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen drop out of degrees or end up hating and quitting the job they got after they finished their degree when they followed a degree for financial reasons. Passion will always see you through, don’t do a degree purely to get a job. If you don’t have passion for what you are studying and you can’t appreciate the journey and are primarily focused on the outcome it won’t go well. Having passion will help you build your confidence, it will make your degree engaging and fun and you will be more connected to it. Most importantly having passion for what you are studying will put you in a position to get a job that is also engaging, fun and that you are connected to. Or, it will help you figure out a way to create your own career or business in that field which you find engaging. So, unless you actually love making money…and I don’t mean love the idea of being rich or want to be rich…I mean actually love the process of making money, then don’t pursue a degree only for the purpose of getting a job or making money by studying something like business, economics or marketing. Like I said, if you love the experience and process of business versus just the idea of being rich or having money, then go for it…but if you don’t, it will probably not end well. I’ve always put my everything into what I was passionate about, and I never quit once I found out what that was. Without fail when I do that, it’s always turned out as I’d planned or even better.

Chris Fahs: There are two things that come to mind that I see as very importation to a good graduate school experience. The first is to make sure it is what you want to do. Graduate school can be a grind at times and if you are not really interested in the field you are in, it probably won’t be an enjoyable experience. Be prepared to be completely immersed in the subject matter – you will likely be teaching at some level, doing some type of research, and also taking classes. If you have the motivation to want to be there, then the work it takes to get through won’t really seem like work. The second thing is to make sure you find a program that fits you. For me, that meant having a reasonable and supportive advisor who is interested in the same area I am and also having colleagues that I enjoyed working with. It is likely that you will actually be working more closely with other graduate students than your advisor so the relationship you have with the other students is very important. To start the search process I would talk to as many people as you know in the field about what programs they think are good or bad. Next, I would visit any program you are interested in and talk not just to the faculty but also the other students who will give you the truth about what it is like at the school. If there is a program you are interested in but it is far away, don’t hesitate to pursue it. Moving across the county for school may seem overwhelming, but graduate school is not forever. There are always some good things and some not so good things about every place you live. If you think it is the right graduate program for you, then go for it and make the most out of the situation. You’ll never know who you’ll meet and what impact that experience may have on you later in life.

Layne Norton: Do something you love because grad school is a grind. It will suck at times, it will be a grind, and at times it may feel like it crushes your soul. If you don’t love your work then you will not finish it.

Love what you do and never quit. It will be worth it.

Peter FitschenFind something you are passionate about and go for it. When I was an undergrad, I wanted to be a pharmacist because they made a lot of money and I was good at chemistry. However, after working in a pharmacy and seeing what a pharmacist did from day to day, I knew I wouldn’t be happy. Instead, I received my MS in biology with a physiology concentration, got my CSCS, and am now working on my PhD in nutritional science. Bodybuilding, nutrition, exercise, supplements, etc. are things I am passionate about. Throughout my teaching opportunities during my graduate experience and more recently through starting my own business,
Peter Fitschen

I’ve discovered that teaching people about nutrition and exercise and helping others reach their fitness goals is something I am passionate about and find very rewarding.

One the other hand, I have met several people throughout this process who are very passionate about conducting research and through my interaction with them it is very obvious to me that actually conducting primary research as a full-time long-term career is not something I am passionate about. I am currently ~1yr from graduating with my PhD. I don’t know for sure what I will ending up doing after graduation, but one big lesson I have learned is that if you find something you are passionate about it will all work out.

Ben Esgro: Don’t get lost in being a bodybuilder or powerlifter. They are superficial and transient goals. Don’t get me wrong, it is and should be important to look good and be strong, but if everything else takes a back seat to those goals then you will likely be in for a disappointing future. Focus on sustainable goals that will continue to give you lifelong returns, humility, and intrigue. The stage or platform will always be there if you choose to utilize it. The jobs solely dedicated to looking good on stage or being strong afford you will pale in comparison to having a solid education and being a well rounded human.

Mike Zourdos: Yes, when you begin your graduate degree, be humble. Realize that you have no knowledge at that point. Not some knowledge or a little knowledge, but when you begin you have absolutely no knowledge. This means you understand that you can learn an infinite amount of knowledge from your mentors and just the process in general. If you understand this you will succeed and gain the respect of everyone.

Lastly, when you go to grad school, especially if you are a researcher, please set out to learn more skills and answer more questions than are just related to bodybuilding/powerlifting training. Yes, this is our interest in much of our daily lives, but this is not the primary interest of almost all Universities. Further, there is much more out there to analyze in grad school, so do not get lost just in this type of research.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate. Oh and Metallica, that’s it just Metallica. Keep it Constitutional everyone.

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  • typical reader

    as part of all the mass of users who always read but never comment I decided to write something and thank you, this article can do a lot of good things for this industry in the long future

    • Thanks “Typical Reader” for the kind words. I hoped this article would resonate with at-least a small portion of our audience.