Interview Conducted By Bob Kupniewski
Editor’s Note: I have read and followed Eric’s work and he is truly a trend-setter in the industry. There are some take-home messages in this interview that everyone can benefit from and I cannot find one thing here that I do not agree with. This is a must read and I look forward to working with and learning more from this brilliant individual. Be sure to check out his company to help achieve your best body ever: 3D Muscle Journey
Bob: First and foremost could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you do, your accomplishments and your credentials?
Eric: My name is Eric Helms, I got into fitness while in the Air Force during training as a leader in the Physical Conditioning program, but didn’t start weight lifting until about 3 years later in 04′. I’ve been a trainer for a decade now, I transitioned from military to private sector. I’ve worked in private studios, a commercial gym, in a high school strength and conditioning program, in a doctor’s office with high risk clientele, I’ve done in home training, I helped open a medical fitness studio and trained there, I taught exercise science, sports nutrition and coaching at Bryan College educating students to become career trainers and I am one of the 4 equal partners of 3D Muscle Journey LLC. At 3DMJ myself, Brad Loomis, Jeff Alberts, and Alberto Nunez coach recreational, amateur and professional bodybuilders, power lifters and strength athletes all over the world.
I have my BS in Fitness & Wellness and my MS in Exercise Science with a concentration in performance and injury prevention from the California University of Pennsylvania. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree with a sports nutrition based thesis in the Strength and Conditioning Department at AUT (Auckland University of Technology) in New Zealand, where I will be moving in just a few months. After my Masters there I plan to continue onto my doctorate.
I’ve had multiple personal training certifications over the years, and I’m currently certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Personal Trainer, Performance Enhancement Specialist, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. I am also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Bob: What is your generic guideline for training? Do you feel there should be a major difference between pre-contest and offseason regarding volume, frequency, and intensity? If So explain?
Eric: I don’t have a generic guideline for training. Training is something that needs to be tailored to the individual and their needs. In reference to pre contest and offseason bodybuilders, often a reduction in volume is a good approach to allow recovery. Gaining significant muscle is unlikely during prep for a natural bodybuilder, so maintenance is the focus. It takes less volume to maintain strength and size than it does to gain strength and size, and since food is limited (and largely unavailable to build new muscle), more recovery is needed.
Bob: What is your general stance on nutrition as far as macro composition in any of your clients diets? Do you differ them much between pre-contest and offseason? What different things do you utilize on your clients as far as refeeds and cheat meals go, and what are your thoughts on utilizing those in both (offseason and pre-contest)?
Eric: Like training, nutrition should be tailored to the individual and their needs. Macronutrient ranges are dictated by this also, and the ratio of carbohydrates, fat, and protein will be different based on many factors. For the most part, carbohydrates should be the predominant macronutrient as we are discussing active, training populations. Protein will also need to be higher than the average person’s or even the average athlete’s, as strength training with the goal of structural adaptation or maintenance of muscle is the focus. Fat will also need to be in balance, providing satiety, energy, and the maintenance of physiological function.
The primary difference between pre contest and offseason bodybuilding nutrition is the presence of a caloric deficit. To prepare for a contest fat loss has to occur, thus we need to be in a negative energy balance. This necessitates a reduction in the macronutrients, primarily from the main energy substrates carbohydrate and fat. However we want to avoid taking either to levels so low that performance or physiological function is degraded. Thus, an increase in activity through cardio is also a good idea. A caloric deficit, a lower level of bodyfat, cardiovascular training, and strength training each independently increase the need for dietary protein, and when compounded, will further increase protein needs. So, a bodybuilder in contest preparation mode will need higher protein than his offseason counter part.
As far as refeeds and cheat meals, I prefer the former, as cheat meals when you are very hungry and lean can definitely set one back in conditioning. A refeed however, with a target for the calories and macronutrients, allows performance to be maintained, sanity to be maintained, more lean body mass to be maintained and also provides for more consistent fat loss and less metabolic slow down.
Bob: Do you believe in Intermittent Fasting and other non-generic meal patterns? Do you have to eat a certain amount of times per day to eat and why? It seems Meal Frequency is thrown around a lot lately with a ton of different research being published on PUBmed? Your stance?
Eric: I think it is a bad idea to “believe” in anything related to nutrition or fitness. Belief is a strong thing and typically entrenches people in their opinions even when seeing evidence to the contrary. I have seen people get great results eating as little as 2 to as many as 8 times per day with varying schedules. There is no conclusive evidence either way that a low or high meal frequency makes any physiological difference. However, I have found that the meal pattern that is least mentally stressful and most conducive to the individual’s life schedule works optimally.
Bob: What are your generic guidelines of Pre/Post workout nutrition?
Eric: I don’t have generic guidelines for workout nutrition, again, this should be tailored to the individual’s need. Carbohydrate post workout for example, really is not necessary when one has adequate carbohydrate in their diet and is training in a fed state, and has no need to ensure maximal glycogen replenishment in a short time period. However, a precontest bodybuilder on a low carbohydrate diet who lifts weights first thing in the morning on a nearly empty stomach, and then does HIIT later in the day, would definitely benefit from post workout carbohydrate.
Training in a fed state enhances performance for some, but not others who may feel a bit lethargic with too much food in them. This also depends on the nutritional status of the athlete, bulking, cutting, low carb, low fat, etc. and how lean they are and how much cardio they are doing and what the volume of their weight training is. For those who consume limited calories prior to training, eating afterwards is more important.
Truly the only sweeping guideline that applies to all lifters in all phases of training, is that you would probably be best served to have a meal containing carbohydrate and protein a few hours prior to training unless you find you get lethargic, and then to consume protein afterwards. Carbohydrates are also important if you are doing 2 per day training, but not necessary if you are not. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with consuming carbs post workout or at any other time of day for that matter.
Bob: What is your stance when in a caloric surplus what do you believe in should be the minimums you should meet regarding protein, carbohydates, and fats and why? Does any macronutrient trump others as far as protein sparing?
Eric: While in a caloric surplus you don’t have to worry too much about what is protein sparing, that is something to be more concerned about in a deficit unless your macro ratios are a little wonky in the first place. But, protein is the most protein sparing macronutrient, despite the common cliche that carbs are protein sparing. They are, but of course not as much as protein itself. As far as minimums, these depend on the person, but in a caloric surplus a good generic guideline for a weight lifter would be about your bodyweight in pounds in grams of protein, so long as you have no health issues (like kidney problems), and then to have anywhere from 40-60% of your calories from carbohydrate and the rest from fat.
Bob: What is your general philosophy on food sources regardless if the individuals is in a caloric surplus or deficit, the phrase “Clean Eating” is thrown around a lot. Could you shed some light on research or any information regarding utilizing different sources in the offseason or pre-contest?
Eric: There is no research on clean eating, that phrase doesn’t mean anything truly. Depending on the bodybuilder you talk to who espouses clean eating, they may tell you that dairy is okay or not, or that red meat is okay or not, or that bread is okay or not etc etc etc. There is not a definition, “clean” loosely seems to mean healthy, but in practice clean eating leads bodybuilders towards eating such a limited variety of foods that they impact gut health and sometimes nutrient deficiencies.
Food selection should be based off of the nutrients the foods contain, not some ill defined philosophical concept that categorizes food as good or bad. Choose a majority of foods from nutritious sources, and once your nutritional needs are met, feel free to consume any discretionary calories you would like within your caloric and/or macronutrient guidelines. Lastly, consume foods that you have an easy time digesting.
Bob: What Supplements do you consider “Staples” or those that should be utilized on a daily basis? Also what supplements do you feel have their benefits in the offseason and pre-contest that should be considered or you utilize for a particular reason?
Eric: Probably the most beneficial and well researched supplement for a strength athlete is creatine monohydrate. Tried, proven, safe, and effective. 5g/workout for the average sized male trainee is appropriate inseason and offseason. Vitamin D3 is also an extremely common deficiency and a good idea for most people to take. For a contest prep bodybuilder, I would also advice a regular dosed multi vitamin, and essential fatty acids to cover nutritional bases on reduced calories. Caffeine can also be useful when energy is low, but be sure to cycle its usage or it becomes ineffective and withdrawal can be no fun.
Bob: What is your motivation and inspiration? What first got you interested in bodybuilding or nutrition?
Eric: My current motivation and inspiration is my desire to one day be competitive on the professional natural bodybuilding stage. When I fell in love with the sport I busted my ass to be a competitive amateur and last season I finally won my pro card. Now I am a small fish in a big pond and I’m very motivated looking at the pro competition because it means I will really need to overhaul my physique and make some stunning changes. Which is a challenge I am more than up to!
As far as what got me started initially, a close friend of mine went through some pretty rough trauma, and I was across the country, unable to do anything, help, or make it right in any way. I felt powerless and I needed something healthy as an outlet or I would have turned to some destructive behavior. Bodybuilding was the answer for me at the time, and it stuck!
Bob: What are your future goals? Any specific things you want to accomplish?
Eric: I want to be competitive on the pro stage, and I know that will mean probably a few more years of offseason before I compete. I also want to get my Master and eventually Elite classification in powerlifting. I am very close to Master, but Elite is a long ways off. I also want to finish my second Masters, and long term my PhD, and keep putting out quality information to help other people.
Bob: If there was one thing you could go back and change throughout your career what would it be and why? What impact do you think you could re-write in your past to improve on who you are today?
Eric: I wouldn’t change anything to be honest. The failures and mistakes are just as much a part of me as my successes are, and changing those things wouldn’t be an honest reflection of who I am. It’s important to stay humble and recognize your flaws, because we grow so much more from failure than success.
Bob: Thank you for your time and effort in this Q&A Session, if there was one last tip you could give to those who are reading/following what would it be and why?
Eric: Follow your passion. Don’t do something unless it speaks to you on a real level, and know thyself. Understand your motivations. The only barriers to success are self imposed 99% of the time, so without self awareness we won’t be able to achieve our goals.
HIRE ERIC AND 3D Muscle Journey As YOUR Coach!
Eric Helms, BS, CSCS, CPT, PES
Professional Natural Bodybuilder, Raw Powerlifter
Team 3DMJ Coach