Shelby Starnes, a brand new addition to Team Elite Fitness Systems, is one of Justin Harris’/Troponin Nutrition’s premier nutritionists. Since joining Troponin in 2005, Shelby has helped hundreds of athletes dial in their training, nutrition, and supplementation. He has also been involved in powerlifting and bodybuilding for over ten years, competing and placing very respectably in both. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wayne State University and has written numerous articles on sports nutrition.

In Shelby’s first regional bodybuilding competition, he won the overall title in the novice division and took second place in the open middleweight class, qualifying himself for national level competition. Since then he’s competed twice at the NPC Junior Nationals, placing fifth in 2006 and sixth in 2007.

A lot of people – even those who are capable of maintaining serious dietary discipline – have problems with eating a proper breakfast in the morning. As much as I try to stay on track in this regard, I work long hours at a stressful job and I often find myself scrambling in the morning just to make it to work on time. This doesn’t give me much time to prepare an optimal breakfast. What would you suggest for this in terms of food choices, tips and tricks to make things more efficient?

I start off every morning with a blender shake consisting of dry oatmeal, a protein powder blend, and on my low and medium days, some healthy fats. The amounts of each will vary depending on whether it’s a high, medium or low carb day, but it’s pretty much always that shake.

I actually prepare the shake “dry” at night. I put all the ingredients in a Tupperware container so that in the morning I just have to put some ice and water in the blender, dump in the contents of the container and blend for about thirty seconds. This way, I can prepare and consume my first meal of the day in just a few minutes.

Let’s say you’re “stranded on a desert island” and could only take/afford/carry three supplements to last you for the rest of your competitive life as a powerlifter, bodybuilder or athlete. What would they be, and why?

Who else is on this desert island with me? Depending on how hot she is, the answer might be Viagra, Cialis and…oh, sorry…I digress.

I’d go with creatine, branch-chain amino acids and a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement.

Creatine and BCAAs are “hallmark” supplements that have been around for years and have been studied and “proved” extensively in the scientific literature to aid in strength and recovery. The multi is just good common sense, and insurance to ensure that all your bases are covered.

What are your thoughts on eating before bedtime? You obviously use a carb cycling approach and this probably depends on what kind of day we’re talking about – high, medium or low – but what are some general rules for doing this? Also, what are your thoughts on ZMA?

I don’t have any of my clients limit their eating in the evenings, but I usually taper their carbs as the day progresses. The only exception is if they are training at night, in which case they would still have carbohydrates in their post-workout meal. I typically recommend a meal of lean protein – the slower the digesting, the better, to keep a steady flow of amino acids throughout the night – green vegetables, and a small amount of healthy fat as the last meal of the day.

I have no problem with this meal being consumed right before going to bed. In fact, for many of my clients, I also recommend a “nighttime protein shake” that they sip on before bed and when they wake up at night.

As for ZMA, it’s not something I personally take or even recommend, but many have reported good results from it. My advice would be to try it out if you think it might help you. You can always drop it if you don’t notice anything.

Assuming the athletes in question are already in a highly trained state – i.e., not trying to burn excess fat – what are the main differences between the nutritional plans of strength athletes and endurance athletes?

My diets for powerlifters and bodybuilders are actually fairly similar, assuming you’re not talking about a pre-contest bodybuilder who’s more concerned about cosmetic appearance than performance. In the “off-season,” though, they’re pretty much the same. They both need a healthy, balanced diet with adequate protein, carbohydrates and fat – with the amounts of each dependent on factors such as size, age, sex, workload, immediate goals, etc.

For an endurance athlete, calories in general will need to be a bit higher – adjusted for bodyweight – with a higher percentage coming from carbohydrates and fat. Again, though, exact amounts will vary based on a number of situational variables.

If someone can’t access of afford proper supplementation – especially specialized products like Waxy Maize and Anatrop – what are some adjustments that can be made to substitute or compensate?

Supplements aren’t going to “make or break” your progress with regard to dieting. Phenomenal results can be achieved with just the “normal foods” that can be found in any grocery store. The key is setting up the diet properly – meal composition, timing, etc – and being CONSISTENT with it for the long haul.

Do you recommend avoiding gluten? Why or why not?

I would only avoid it if you had an allergy to it, or if it’s highly processed.

What’s your opinion of Udo’s 3, 6, 9 Blend? (Question submitted by UFC fighter Roger Huerta and his strength coach, Justin Hagan, who’ve experienced positive results with it).

Udo’s is a great blend and a convenient way to get a good mix of healthy fats into your diet. It’s a bit pricey, but you get what you pay for.

What about cottage cheese in a carb cycling plan?

I’m not a huge fan of any dairy products save for fat-free/lactose-free whey and caseinate powders, but a bit of fat-free cottage cheese isn’t going to be a “deal breaker” for most dieters, assuming they handle it well.

What’s your take on fasted cardio in the mornings?

There are different schools of thought on this topic. I'm of the opinion that morning cardio should be done on an empty stomach to optimize fat-burning. When you eat prior, you end up using what you just ate for fuel, rather than stored bodyfat.

Some say this is too catabolic, and cardio should never be done on an empty stomach, but my experience tells me otherwise.

What types of intervals/cardio do you recommend for fat loss?

I like to vary my cardio, using a mix of high intensity intervals along with some more steady-state, moderate intensity cardio.

For the high intensity intervals, I usually do a brief warm-up (5 min) followed by a prescribed amount of 1-minute intervals (usually 12-20), each interval being a 15-second sprint (as hard/fast as you can go) followed by 45 seconds at about 50% intensity. Then I'll either do a cool-down and be done, or I'll go straight into maybe 15-20 minutes of moderate intensity cardio.

For the intervals I usually prefer using a recumbent bike as you can push very hard without fear of falling off the machine.

For the moderate intensity cardio, I usually prefer incline, hands-free treadmill, or the stepmill.

If you're a powerlifter or strongman, you could also look into using these methods with the Prowler or a sled.

Any parting thoughts?

There are no “secrets” to dieting.

Sure, there are strategies and principles that can definitely speed your progress and results, but nothing will ever take the place of hard work over time. To excel in any sport takes years of training, and to optimize that training, it needs to be supported by years of sound nutritional habits.