Interview – Susan M. Kleiner, PhD FISSN

dr-susan-kleinerSNI: How did you get interested in the science of nutrition? Was there a ‘aha’ moment or epiphany where you said to yourself, “I want to do this for the rest of my life!”?

Dr. Kleiner: Think back to the ancient year of 1979. I was interested in health and planning to go to med school. I was a vegetarian, had a huge vegetable garden at Hiram College, and loved being active. I was a performing modern dancer before deciding to go to college. I had an interview with the dean of admissions for Case Western Reserve Med school, Dr. Daniel Horrigan, who was also the dad of a good friend of mine from high school. He knew me very well. He gave me the advice that changed my life. He said exactly: “Susan, we’d love to have you in med school, but you won’t learn anything about what you are interested in. You’re interested in health; we teach people how to treat disease. Go talk to the department of nutrition.”

I quickly realized that he was exactly right, and that I really wanted to study nutrition and exercise. I wasn’t just interested in wellness, but in finding out if one could be super-well? I felt like that was what I wanted to research and practice for a long time, if not forever (I’m still not sure about forever!). I soon learned that it wasn’t really a field of study yet within nutrition science. I was fortunate to have visionary professors and mentors who let me create my own curriculum in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Sports med department. Along with perhaps 10-15 other nutrition colleagues around the country, we pioneered the field of clinical sports nutrition and research.

SNI: What are the top 3 myths that you commonly come across regarding food or diet?

Dr. Kleiner: Pertaining to food and exercise:

1. Avoiding food around exercise (pre and post) will help you burn more calories and lose more weight.
2. Carbs make you fat.
3. Water is the best sports drink.

SNI: For individuals who hate swallowing pills, what vitamin supplement would you recommend? And what are your top 3 supplements for the general fitness/health enthusiast?

Dr. Kleiner: Metagenics has a number of liquid and powdered products that very high in quality and formulation.
For foundational nutrition and gut health I recommend USANA products. Their “athlete’s guarantee” gives me confidence that the products are absolutely “clean” and my clients will not test positive for banned substances from their products.
1. Everyone should be taking a foundational vitamin/mineral/antioxidant supplement.
2. For carbohydrate supplementation I recommend Vitargo S2. It is a game-changer for fueling and recovery, and allows me to really help my clients put their food to work for them all day long.
3. DHA (and EPA) are non-negotiable. Everyone needs to supplement with marine oils.
And I’m adding fourth: probiotics. Gut health is essential to optimal performance, and probiotic supplementation is key. Feed those good bugs with 1-2 Tbsps. of ground flax seed each day, too.

SNI: One of the drawbacks of following a ‘weight loss’ diet is that many feel rather lethargic, moody, and just downright grumpy! In your book, The Good Mood Diet, you discuss the role of foods and how they affect your well-being. What foods would you recommend to make us feel great while losing weight?

Dr. Kleiner: The Good Mood Diet is a mind body book. It feeds your brain and your muscles at the same time. It takes protein to have the building blocks for neurotransmitters in the brain that effect mood, but it takes carbohydrates to maximize the movement of the amino acids into the brain. High performance fats, primarily marine oils, create a healthy brain cell membrane, required for optimal function.

I want people to enjoy food and to put it to work for them. It’s not just what you eat, but the timing and combining of what you eat that can impact your brain chemistry AND your muscle physiology. Eating a full diet, including proteins, carbs and high performance fats, at every meal (except limit fats around exercise), will best feed your brain to create optimal mood, focus and cognitive performance. This drives physical performance. It doesn’t matter how fit you are if you don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning or bringing that extra effort to your training to become a champion.

There are some key foods:

• Milk is high on my feel great foods list. It is a natural carb-protein combo, high in whey protein which is high in tryptophan (precursor to serotonin) and high in leucine (to trigger protein synthesis). Milk is also a great source of vitamin D, required for serotonin manufacture. Not to mention all the other very important vitamins and minerals.

• Eggs, especially the yolks, are critical to healthy brains and bodies. The yolk is rich in choline, required for the most abundant neurotransmitter in our body, acetylcholine. Two phospholipids found in the yolk, PS and PC, allow for the creation of channels in the brain cell membrane to allow nutrients to pass into and toxins to pass out of the brain cell. We have been dumping these down the drain without reason, and most Americans diets are deficient in choline. It’s time to add back a whole egg to your diet every day. No study has every shown that an egg yolk/day will raise blood cholesterol levels, and at least 3 studies have shown that one egg yolk/day will not raise blood cholesterol levels in healthy people.

• Fish, of course; both for the oils and the protein!

• Ground flax seed I mentioned above, to act as a prebiotic and feed the healthy probiotics in your gut.

• Dark chocolate, because it makes everyone feel great!

And of course, water, water, water!!

This information is also woven into my book for eating for strength and power: Power Eating, Third Edition. Once you get your mind well-fed, the body will follow.

SNI: And last but not least, list your Top 10 Super Foods that you think we should all eat on a regular basis.

Dr. Kleiner: Well, I’ve listed 5-6 above. I’ll add these:

Beets, chard, kale, sweet potatoes, onion, garlic, berries, grapefruit, all nuts, fresh herbs.

Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, FACN, CNS, FISSN is an international columnist and renowned speaker on the subject of High Performance Nutrition, and has consulted with professional teams, Olympians and elite athletes in all sports. She is the president and owner of High Performance Nutrition®, LLC, a consulting firm in Mercer Island, Washington, and a founding partner of Sol Elixirs, LLC. Dr. Kleiner has authored numerous academic chapters, articles and scientific manuscripts, and has penned 6 books, including The Good Mood Diet (Springboard Press, 2007), POWER EATING, 3rd Edition (Human Kinetics, 2007) and The POWERFOOD Nutrition Plan (Rodale Inc., 2006). Dr. Kleiner is a founder and fellow of the International Society for Sports Nutrition and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition. She is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine; The American Dietetic Association; The Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists Practice Group; and The National Strength and Conditioning Association. Dr. Kleiner enjoys the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest where she can ski, bike and swim all on the same day.