in: Fitness, Health & Fitness, Podcast

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast #71: Engineering the Alpha with John Romaniello

In this episode I talk to fitness expert, bodybuilder, and business consultant John Romaniello about his book Man 2.0: Engineering the AlphaIf you haven’t already, check out the guest post John wrote for us last year on the Hero’s Journey.

Show Highlights:

  • How John went from the chubby 8th grader who’d rather play Dungeons and Dragons than sports, to being on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advisory board (John still plays D&D too!).
  • How John defines “alpha” in his book, Man 2.o.
  • How Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey can help you become a better man.
  • Why hormone optimization is so important to your fitness and health.
  • How intermittent fasting can help you get leaner AND stronger.
  • How eating 14,000 calories of ice cream in one sitting can help you lose fat.
  • Ways to increase testosterone.
  • Why being dogmatic when it comes to fitness is stupid.
  • And much more!

Just so you know, John uses some salty language in this podcast. So it’s not a good choice for listening to with your kids, or if you don’t like profanity yourself.

Engineering the Alpha by Arnold Schwarzenegger, book cover.

Read the Transcript

Brett: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. So, what does Joseph Campbell’s archetype of the Hero’s Journey had to do with getting in better shape or for that matter becoming a better man overall. How can skipping a few meals increase your testosterone? What does it mean to be the alpha male? Well, our guest today is here to answer to those questions his name is John Romaniello and he is a health and fitness expert who has written pretty much every single major fitness publication website out there. He is the head of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Fitness Advisory Board and he recently published a book last year published a book called Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha. And today we are going to talk about all sort of stuff to great fascinating conversation. We are going to talk about testosterone optimizing all your hormones, the Hero’s Journey. We are going to talk about how to reduce stress. We are going to talk about comic book heroes. This is the phone conversation, I think you can get a lot of it. And just so, you know, heads up there is some big boiling each year so if you usually listen to the podcast with your 10-year-old son you might not want to do that this time and if you are at the office or some public place you’ll probably want to put on some headphones. Let’s do this.

Alright, John Romaniello, welcome to the show.

John: Thank you so much for having me man, I am really happy to be here.

Brett: Yeah, I’m glad to have you here. For listeners who aren’t aware of you, you know who you are, let’s do a little bit of background about yourself. You are a fitness expert written for a whole bunch of the big fitness magazines, and but you described yourself as a nerd and in fact you wrote a post, a guest post for us about a year ago about the Hero’s Journey and you really gig out, it was awesome. And, you know, when you are growing up you described yourself as kind of the chubby eight grade kid who’d rather read than exercise or play sports. So, how did you get started in health and fitness? How do you make that jump from nerd to health, I guess you are still a nerd, but how do you get start in health and fitness?

John: Yeah, you don’t have to stop being a nerd you just take on other mantle as well like deep under this muscular therapist beats the heart of like Sheldon Cooper. I am just, you know, like covered in disguised of muscle. As to how it happens, I mean it just like many people I just had a moment where I realized that I didn’t want to live my life the way I was living what alcoholics called a moment of clarity. I just sort of look in the mirror and realized that the person I was seeing wasn’t really the outward manifestation of who I thought I was internally. And you know there is lot of interesting research that’s been conduction over the past 20 years but most over the past 10 that shows that in general we typical perceived heavy people, you know, people who are bordering obesity I was just what I would call chubby or thick but speaking very generally we generally perceived people who are heavy to be less intelligent, less motivated and I think a lot of that applies to self even with no excess to that information, even not knowing that. If you just look at yourself in the mirror and you compare yourself to other people or just feel like you are out of shape you typically don’t feel great about it and a lot of that is just sort of the brain-washing that comes with being in our culture but I think there is some evolutionary hole over there as well in terms of not being fit enough or capable enough to provide or to be in a position where you could defend yourself. And for whatever reason that happen for me when I was toward the end of my freshman year of college and I looked at this picture that had been taken of maybe six or seven months prior and I was like Jesus, you know, you don’t see it because it happens everyday you don’t really realized it and I realized this picture I was super chubby and then I looked in the mirror and I was like oh, shit it’s actually worst now. So, I decided to make a change, I decided that I want to be person inside to match person outside. And you know a big part of that you mentioned my nerdery, I think the big part of that has always who I wanted to look like has always come from nerdy sources. I, you know, always wanted to look like Batman or Superman or even Spiderman who is a bit more gangly but still you know pretty visibly jag. And growing up I played Dungeons & Dragons and I got to pretend to be all of these heroes who can do all of those things. And then, one day I thought there is no reason that I can’t with some work actually do that myself and that’s how it started for me. I am being again a nerdy bookstore sort of guy someone who had always sought great value and sought comfort in books. My impulse wasn’t to go into the gym and just come out swinging. My impulse instead was to read as much as I could about health and fitness and then come up with a game plan and apply it which I discovered now having word with thousands of clients over the years. That is sort of the opposite of what most people in particular most man do. Typically speaking most man like to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to health and fitness and I was, I guess, fortunate enough to be in the other camp but I have learnt is that I think that there are two types of people in the gym. There are the people who do a lot of research on the internet and then start and then there are the people who start and do a lot of research later and this, I guess, is a good sound bite or at least actionable tip. What I have found is that the people who just are willing to get started and take action, even if they are doing things that aren’t correct in terms of what fitness professionals believed as the right course of action, those people are still more likely to get result because an imperfect plan executed with perfect intensity is by far superior to a perfect plan not executed at all because you are too busy trying to perfect the plan.

Brett: So, it’s all about you know it’s better to be action oriented and then go back and correct later on.

John: Exactly. For me it was the other way, it worked out well. I went through this crazy body transformation, I was 19 years old. I went from being as chubby kid to this ripped guy in about six or eight weeks. I went from having a 35-inch waist to like a 28-inch waist over the course at that time. I lose a lot of weight very, very quickly because it turns out I had pretty good body building or fitness genetics. And then, you know my life change in a lot of ways, I was more successful with women after fashion but it was great for my confidence not only that I like the way I look, I like the way people reacted to the way I looked and it was such a positive experience for me for the most part that I thought how can I help other people this. And at the time I was in school majoring in psychology and biology but I just decided let me train for a while and then it turned into this business that just kept growing and I started writing for magazines and now, it’s I think 12 or 13 years later and I guess maybe one day I will a real job but for now I am very happy to write books about fitness and general self-improvement but you know fitness is now it’s a very small part of what I do. It’s sort of the face of everything on the outside but now I get to function in the capacity of the business consultant an angel investor, social media guy and an advisor for all of these companies. So, we all started with fitness but, you know, I sort of look at Arnold as my role model, he was the guy who started with body building and has gone into everything else.

Brett: Yeah.

John: So, I to have ––I have a lot of iron in the fire and I like to be involved in lot of different aspect so, it’s been fun.

Brett: Yeah, fitness laid the foundation for all of that, though.

John: Exactly.

Brett: Yeah. Let’s talk about this kind of the nerd, brawn thing here a bit. So, like there’s this common misconception I feel like amongst a lot man that if you are in the fitness you are suppose to be like this kind of dolty bro that just cares about doing bicep curls and the squat rack or whatever and you break them all. I have noticed just kind of rubbing the shoulders with guys who are in the fitness business, they are also extremely smart and capable intellectually. Has strength training and fitness improved your intellect, you think?

John: Yeah, I think so. I mean just a quick comment on the industry writ large. I think that there are just so many, not even just super you know, just aggressively intelligent, hyper intelligent people in the industry and there sort of have to be. One of the complaints that we hear a lot in the fitness industry is that anyone can you know have a decent body and start a block and called themselves an expert if they are decent at marketing. But the cream really does tend to rise to the top and so you see so many of these guys being so successful and building these massive empires simply because they are good. So you do have to be really knowledgeable and I think that there are so much of that sort of misconception that just held over from, you know, maybe a decade back. I really think that the industry values intelligence, it’s an industry that looks to the smartest people in the world or the smartest people in the field to be the leaders and it’s really only the people on the outside who think that it’s the meathead sort of leading a way because those people on the periphery those meatheads they tend to be pretty loud. But as to the original question, I think that for me one of the reasons that I have been so successful is because I straddle a couple of different world and in particular I play off a lot of misconception. You know, you see a guy like me who has done some fitness modeling, who did some body building you know a good looking Jack dude you generally you are going to think. You know again, the public perception is to see guy like who looks like me and think he is a meathead, he is an idiot, he is vain then I start talking about comic books and my you know life long obsession with dragons and all of a sudden those things are sort of turn down their head a bit and I think that ––you know I’ve talked about this in a lot of other interviews so for people who are hearing for umpteen time I apologize for the redundancy but I really do believe that cultivating the economy in any business is one of the great things that make things successful and that’s really what works for me and it has worked for so many those other professionals that mentioned. There is the super smart guys that can brow out and do bunch of bicep curls but they can also teach you about biomechanics.

Brett: Alright. So let’s talk about your most recent book. Came out, I guess, last year, right?

John: Yeah, right just a year ago now.

Brett: Yeah, so it’s Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha, there’s a lot I want to talk about, there is a lot of great stuff in here but let’s start off with this ––it’s called Engineering the Alpha, what does Alpha mean to you? Because I feel like the whole Alpha male thing gets thrown around so much by so many different groups of people that it’s almost lost its meaning because it means, it could mean anything you wanted to mean, but what does it mean to you?

John: Yeah, so I think that what we are trying to do ‘we’ being my co-author Adam Bornstein and I, if you guys are interested in Adam’s super smart guy So, what we are trying to do is sort of stake our claim on that word and sort of rested from the control of the–– there are less scrupulous aspects of manhood. I think that particularly in the seduction community or the pickup artist community that word gets tossed around in a very positive way and a very negative way because there are people who are successful in that world and are successful with women who view themselves as alpha and there are people who are still sort of climbing up the rungs and trying to be successful with women and because they are on successful they hate people that are just as a matter of course, this is the one of the unfortunate little burst of human nature. So, you know it can mean a lot of different things but really what we wanted to do is just put our stamp on it and for me what it is to be an alpha is not to go around talking about yourself as an alpha it’s just someone who is consistently dedicated to self-improvement. You know Engineering the Alpha sounded better than Engineering the attitude of consistent self-improvement but so, that’s really what it is. So, we get some plug and push back on the alpha male thing but we are not talking about being an ‘A’ model because for us that’s sort of limiting right. To be the alpha male of a group simple means that you are the best or the highest member of a particular group of guys or people or anyone else so in order to quantify value you have to compare yourself and rank above other people so, it’s comparative analysis about you and what we looked at is more of an intrinsic values. So, rather than looking at extrinsic motivators in terms of a packing order I am really concerned with how I ranked today versus how I was last year, have I become a better man over the past 12 months. I would like to think that I am a better writer today than I was the day that book was published in April of 2013 and I hopefully think that I am a better business person than I was a year ago and a better man and that’s really the goal for to constantly get better to try and create some sort of objective guidelines for self-analysis and from there have a way to quantify progress. You mentioned my article in the Hero’s Journey earlier and we will talk that a bit but a big part for me, a big part of it is looking at each individuals change and undergoing in my life and pushing it through the lengths of the Hero’s Journey and using that as a way to sort of assess development and what the next thing I need to do is.

Brett: Let’s talk a little more about quantifying progress because something I am always interested in doing and for a lot things there are somethings that are really easy to quantify your progress on like you know if you are been just getting better, if you are making more money you sort of things you haven’t like that naturally have a number 2 but how do you quantify sort of those fuzzy things like general well-being or am I able to manage stress better or am I ––do I feeling more…how do you quantify that so you know that you’re progressing?

John: Well, a big part of it for me–– and you guys have written about this quite a lot. The only way to be aware of these things is to record them, right, so journaling is really, really great for me. It just sort of waiting it down and going over my day realizing most of the situations I have been in at this point are just sort of variations of other situations that I have been in. And, you know, so like any stressful business situation has it’s own unique set of problems but ultimately every single stressful business situation you ever be in is going to affect you the same way because you know how you as a person, as a man react to business stress is going to be unchanging unless you specifically address that. So, I think that a big part of it for me is every single time I am going to end ––which again just talk business for a moment.

Brett: Sure.

John: Every time I am going to enter into a huge business undertaking which for me is either I am releasing a new product or new book or I am starting a new company, what I do is I looked at my journal for you know like the three weeks, the three-week period that I might have been doing that during the last one, the last launch and I just see how I was handling things and try to be better and I got to see that like the thing that consistently stresses me out is the fact that I am always scrambling last minute in this launches.

Brett: Yeah.

John: And the reason for that is because I don’t prepare I just leave too many things to the last minute. And one of that is because it’s I am prosternare, so the way that I handle that how I get better at being a business man is I delegate things that other people can do and I focus only on doing the things that only I can do. And that just means that by the time the launch was around we have 50% to 70% more shit done than if I had done it myself and waited till the last minute. So, just like looking at the fact that you know going over those three or four launches that I did in 2012 leading up to engineering the alpha I would say well, these were the problems there so now I will eliminate those. By a matter, of course, because there were simply fewer things stressing me out, my stressed level decrease but I also tried to look at how I handle stress during that time and for me it’s a matter of like trying to you know just let more things role off my shoulders. I am the type of person who is–– there is lot of cumulative for stress for me as opposed to acute stress so, I just need to keep my overall stress level down like if, you know, I am kind of person who will very much.. like there will be one tiny straw that breaks the camel’s back as opposed to other people who can partly mentalize their stresses very well and I have gotten a lot better at that. And for me if there is this one business thing upsetting me I will just sort of look at it in the grand scheme of life and you know what okay, the site crash but there is literally nothing I can do about that. I am not a tech guy. I called my tech guy, I said hey, the site crashed get it back up when you can. And now, I am kind of capable of just like laughing it off because in the end what’s it really going to affect you know maybe we will make a few thousands less dollars because the site was down for three hours but if my business hinge on making 3,000 or 4,000 dollars and I wouldn’t be in good spot.

Brett: Yeah.

John: So, I just you know I just sort of control the things I can control and just get rid of the rest.

Brett: Yeah, we will talk about ––I think you might get into stress, eliminating stress as far as you know later on we talk about hormone optimization but let’s talk about yes, go back to the Hero’s Journey right so, what I loved about the book is you sort of frame everything with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. How does understanding that the Hero’s Journey helped man become better man or it means getting in better shape or improving their romantic life or improving their business life, what is about the Hero’s Journey that can help man become better man?

John: Well, I think that if you understand it and apply it to any change or any stressful situation in your life it’s very clear what you need to do, right. So, if you look at the Hero’s Journey whether used Campbell’s original 17th stage model or the more abbreviated Vogler model that’s 12 steps, I like to look at it and think where am I on this circular journey, where am I on this path. Because most of the time the problems in life are caused because we don’t know how to react, because there are so much uncertainty. And once you know where you are on that cycle it’s for me really just about focusing on getting to the next step. So, the first step is you know the called to ––or being in the ordinary world that your everyday thing and then there is called to adventure which maybe you’ve gotten fired from a job, maybe about a new job, maybe you are getting into a relationship or in a case of this book maybe you want to start a fitness journey. For whatever reason you have had as I described it earlier that moment of clarity, you have see a picture, you have this reunion coming up, it’s a wedding whatever it is there is what Campbell calls an insight event. There is something that makes you walk to do the thing that you want to do. And then most people that’s, it stops there, they don’t know what to do but if you look at the Hero’s Journey stage 3, depending on which model you look at, it’s very, very clear what you need to do. Stage 3 is meeting with the mentor. The only thing you should be focusing on is finding a mentor whether in the fitness, it could be the book that I wrote or any book because that is written by someone who knows more than you, that’s your mentor, whomever the author of that book is that’s the mentor. Maybe it’s finding a coach, maybe it’s joining cross fit, maybe it’s a hiring a nutritionist. Whatever it is you do, the only thing you should focus on is a mentor, that’s stage 3. Once you’ve done that you are going to go through a period of reluctance and that’s typically refusal of the call. Many people do that, they you know where I go out, they hired the trainer and then I don’t know if I can do this, I am nervous and you just have to find some way to overcome refusal of the call and fitness. Normally, accountability is enough. When people hired a trainer they have financial accountability, you have to show for that session because you are paying that guy a $ 150 an hour. And so, that usually get you over the hump of refusal of the call. So, just like looking at those two steps alone that’s it, all you need to do if you are in one of those earlier stages is focused on getting to the next stage then you know the path of you know going through test, trails and analyzed as long as and it’s allies enemies test. As long as you know that those are coming you could be more prepared. If you look at things through the lens of the Hero’s Journey in terms of fitness you think okay, I found this mentor, I gotten through this refusal of the call now, I am crossing the first threshold, it’s mean I am actually committing to this journey so, after that be test, analyzed an enemies which means I am going to get invited to parties. I am going to have people who are going to say oh, just have a one beer or just have one bite of whatever and then I am also going to have people who are just like hey man, you are doing a great job and for me I have found that letting my clients know that those things will happen in advance and giving them specific instructions for how to handle each one of those events they are immediately going to be more successful and all of that comes from the Hero’s Journey. And so, you know the same thing can apply to, you know, going through a relationship. You know I was a career bachelor before I met my wife and I loved that lifestyle but I loved being a single guy in New York city and just going out and being with the bunch of women you know dating a bunch of women you know having the occasional 6 to 12 months relationship and then going back to juggling six women that was I enjoyed living my life and then I met my wife. So again, being a bachelor is my ordinary world then I met my wife that’s the inciting event and then initially I was a little bit afraid of like it could mean to be in a relationship with someone whom I knew, I wanted something real with… so that was refusal call and so then I met with the mentor and I had dinner with John Brody who is one of my early fitness mentors, he runs a site called Precision Nutrition. John was one of the greatest coaches in the world but John had also been a bachelor. He had also been a career bachelor and then eventually got married and has two wonderful kids now. And so, John and I had a long conversation over dinner and that conversation sort of gave me some insight and helped me understand that maybe you know I was ready and maybe I could take these steps. And so, then the crossing the first threshold was when we got involved in that relationship and then there are tests, there are always women from your past coming and you know like messaging you what’s going on, or are you in town tonight. There is always going to be test, the universe test you that’s like you know I actually, I started writing this blog post that it begins with let me introduce you to the universe, he is addict and because the universe will test you, as soon as you are in a happy relationship like women are going to start coming at you because that’s the nature of it, right. And I think that anything worth having is worth being tested for. You know, I deserved those test, I deserved that hardship of like needing to grow from that type of refusal because that proved to me that I was worthy of this relationship and then there are the allies right, the people in your life who are so excited for you to take the step and then there are the enemies who are saying you really think you can do this, can you keep this scrap, can you be with one women forever like you know all of these different things these people and the most insidious thing is that those are people that you loved in both cases. You are allies and your enemies are people that you loved. It could you know even be your own mother who is just like I don’t really like this girl you know, that didn’t happen with me thank you that’s one of the reasons I knew by the way is one of the few women my mother like but you know that happens with lot of my friends, they are dating this women, they fall in love and then some member of their family you know they are putting poison in their ear, if I may quote Shakespeare, and that’s hard. So, all of the aspects of the Hero’s Journey, every step applies to every major change you are making in your life. I can cannibalize anything from getting hired to getting fired to going to college you know going through a divorce or finding the one you love or the fitness. And for me whenever I don’t know what to do in my life I just sit down, I draw a circle and I plod out the Hero’s Journey and I figure out where I am. And from there all I need to do, right is get to the next step and then that just becomes a question of how to do that, how do I get to the next step, where am I now?

Brett: That’s awesome stuff. And so, I guess that when I was just thinking as I was listening to you the Hero’s of Journey can happen to you more than once.

John: Yeah, I mean in general you are going through you know your main lifecycle of Hero’s Journey but I think at any given time we are all going through you know one to three individual cycles and a lot of them you know overlapped. You know, you could be going through this new cycle of starting a business while at the same time going through the cycle of you know getting a divorce or whatever else and I think that’s …you know you go through so many throughout your life. Every major change is a microcycle or the macrocycle of your life long hero’s journey to become the best person of yourself and live a life worthy of song and memory.

Brett: That’s awesome, that’s so great like some like a deep psychology Yang-Yin stuff right there I loved it. So, let’s into the nitty-gritty about your health and fitness philosophy because it’s unique in the industry, I think. You put a lot of emphasis on hormone optimization that’s one of the keys to get into the best shape of your life. Are there specific hormones that we should be focusing on to optimize our health and how do you optimize hormone I mean because it’s such a weird I think alchemy almost, right I mean…

John: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. Hopefully aren’t too fellows to embark and involve but …so big part of it, right is what gets measured gets managed. So, the first thing is that I really do recommend that people go and get some sort of hormonal profile done. You can do this at most laboratories, most doctors will run a blood test. In particular I say that every man who is over the age of like 16 should get a testosterone to get their testosterone levels check and do it properly every two to three years. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms of low testosterone it’s important to get it tested because it establishes a baseline and if you do that and then get it tested years later and it’s significantly lower then at least you can identify the problems or maybe one of the sources of those problems. A good company that you can look at is wellness and they do all sorts of like really, really in-depth hormonal profile that your micronutrients in your blood and everything. So, there is no hormone that isn’t important but on the larger scale in terms of the ones that we can manipulate with changes to our behavior there is testosterone, insulin, growth hormone, estrogen obviously is part of the next and then there is all these hormones are related to those other ones like ghrelin and cortisol is another big one. So, those are the ones we want to look at.

Brett: Let’s talk a little bit about some of things you can do to modify or optimize your hormone and you talked ––one of the big keys you talk about in the book is intermittent fasting. For the listeners who aren’t aware what intermittent fasting is, can you explain what it is and talk about what sort of the effects it has on hormones?

John: Sure. So, intermittent fasting or IF is a system of alternating structures of eating and not eating, periods of fasting when you are not eating at all with period that we call the feeding when you are “allowed to eat,” so there is a few different ways to do this. The most popular of which is 16/8 intermittent fasting also known as the LeanGains method. As far as I know devised but certainly popularized by Swedish trainer nutrition expert Martin Barkin who you guys can learn about over Martin is a very smart guy and certainly one of the godfathers of the fasting movement along with Brett Pilon who wrote a great book called Eat Stop Eat. And so, I have learnt a lot from all of these guys and I loved to throw them as much light as I can whenever I have the opportunity so, check all those guys out. But fasting is good for various types of health related things but in terms of your physique, in terms of your hormones the fact is that when you are fasting you are going to be minimizing insulin production because you are not eating and insulin is produced not necessarily in direct concert with but certainly as a consequence of feeding regardless of what you are eating. So we all know that eating carbohydrates causes an insulin spike but it also been shown that eating fat by itself or protein by itself or protein and fat together can also caused insulin production. And so, by concentrating your food intake into this smaller period you minimize insulin production instead of, let’s say, the traditional building model of eating six meals per day. You are you know creating those insulin spikes six times but here you might only be doing it two or three because you are eating all of your meals in that eight-hour window. Fasting also tends to increase growth hormones so, right off the bed you are decreasing insulin and increasing growth hormone and that’s going to have some profound physiological affects just in terms of the ease with which you can make changes to your body in terms of fat lose and muscle gain. It’s not a magic bullet, it’s not like flipping a switch and all of a sudden you know you can eat the same things as you are eating and you have radical shift in body composition and at the same time it’s not completely necessary thing you know, body builders have been getting shredded on six meals a day for as long as there have been body bar so, you know it’s not necessary it just it’s something that is going to give you a little bit more leverage. It also helps in terms of livability. I think we can agree that eating three meals per day is easier and more convenient than eating six meals per day, certainly cheaper if you are eating different meals every time or just a lot less time consuming if you are preparing them. But there are those hormonal affects and that’s huge particularly because there is a lot of what we called hormonal interplay, right and one of the things that we look at is the relationship between insulin and testosterone and the better your insulin sensitivity is the more you are going to see the affects of higher testosterone even at lower levels like sex drive for example. And another thing is that insulin resistance is just a terrible thing in terms of the way that affects your body. You are looking fat, you are more at risk for heart disease and cancer and prolong insulin resistance can even be shown to create some physiological erectile dysfunction so, you know just because it’s a matter of blood not getting to the penis so it’s you know it’s serious issue. We talked a lot of about stuff in the book that people you know think it is funny or just being bros talking about sex drive but you know if one day you woke up and your dick didn’t work because you have been eating donuts everyday for the past six years, you would be pretty upset about it. So, you know, it’s really not something that happens overnight, none of these things are but they happen in a fairly minute period of time relative to the standard of your life and that’s why we find out we can have some pretty profound affects over the course of the 16 weeks in the program and we have had guys who have double their testosterone levels in as little as six weeks so, it’s pretty alarming how quickly it can happen.

Brett: That’s awesome. So, I guess, kind of a general intermittent fasting schedule I mean one could like you eat your last meal at 7 o’clock…

John: Yeah.

Brett: And then you would wait 16 hours.

John: Yeah, and then wait 16 hours and eat again in the morning. So, you know a lot of people eat their first meal at 2:00 pm and their last meal at 10:00 pm or you know if that’s too late for you, if you would like to go bed early you can, you know, you can eat at 12 am whatever it’s good for you.

Brett: Awesome. Let’s talk about kind of it’s related it’s like cheat day and cheat meals because there is that post of you have so I am saying about river monster which is a goal of mine, my family and I, we go to Vermont a lot.

John: Oh, yeah.

Brett: And I want to pound river monster one of these days.

John: I have actually only ever been to Vermont once and it was specifically to go to Ben & Jerry’s.

Brett: Yeah.

John: So, river monster for anyone who does not know is a Ben & Jerry’s confection that is made up of something like 20 strips of ice cream, 3 brownish, 3 cookies like 2 bananas, a bunch of toppings it’s pretty crazy. I have eaten it three times now. Once was with my buddy Tim Ferriss for his book before I was chef, we actually have a chapter were…so, river monster meant to be shared obviously between six and eight sane human beings but Tim and I each decided to eat one by ourselves and Tim vomited, I did not I would like to say.

Brett: So, what role does that have in like hormonal, what does that do?

John: Well, eating river monster is crazy. It’s got 14,000 calories and well so, I am big believer in cheat meals and cheat day. The reason to have cheat meals is for the up regulation of a hormone called leptin so, very, very briefly hormonal talk right here. Leptin is known as the anti-starvation hormone, it comes from the Greek lactose meaning thin and leptin is a master hormone that controls production of other heat hormone in particular thyroid hormones T3 and T4 and thereby it more or less regulates your metabolism particularly with regard to how quickly you can burn fat. Leptin is produces in your fat cells and the production of leptin is also related to your overall calorie intake which means this ––when you are on a diet hopefully you will lose fat so leptin levels drop, you are also going to be eating less calories that’s how you losing the fat in the first place. So, leptin drop even further and after a couple of weeks your leptin levels have dropped to the point where it’s down regulated your T3 and T4 production which is why it’s hard to lose weight. This is the reason that many people when they start a diet lose 20 pounds in the first month and then second month they lose 2, one of the reasons is that leptin levels have dropped to the point where now they send off some evolutionary distress signals and it seems to the you know physiological machinery that we are in the famine state and that metabolism has to slow to preserve the fat stores in the muscle. Enter the cheat day, also known by a science types as a strategic overfeed. Having a cheat day bumps leptin levels up because you are getting this huge caloric access all at once. So, instead of eating you know 2,000 calories a day or maybe even less when you are dieting you go out and eat 6,000, 8,000 or if you are stupid 14,000 calories of ice cream in day and that sort of brings you down from being a DFCON 4 down to DEFCON 1and you are still in…your body knows that you are still dieting you know a lot of evidence to say that cheat days are not necessarily as affective as we’d like them to be but they do seem to work. At the very least they don’t slow fat lose down, they almost always seem to increase fat lose provided that people are dieting hard enough during a week to make the cheat day worth it and then it’s also a nice you know like reprieve from the stress of being under dietary lock and key. So again, I did mentioned that the only work under certain conditions you have to be fairly lean you know and the leaner you are the more often you could cheat. Back when I was dieting for body building show when I was 22, I did cheat day once every five days up until I was about eight weeks out or yeah, eight weeks out from the show and then I stopped cheating all together. You also need to be eating in a pretty restrictive caloric deficit during the week if you are going to cheat on like Sunday you can’t be you know if your basal metabolic rate requires you to eat 2,200 calories per day to maintain. Eating 2,000 per day and then having a cheat day on Sunday isn’t going to work, your diet needs to be more restrictive on that. That make sense?

Brett: That makes perfect. So, if you are just starting now like if you are still like 40 or 50 pounds overweight on the cheat days.

John: Yeah, wait until you have loss–– I mean really the main thing that I would say is wait until the rate of fat loss slows consistently and considerably and then have a cheat meal and see if that affect things. I mean weight again and then once you are you know 20 pounds, 25 pounds away from your goal a weekly cheat day might be something you want to look into. In terms of cheat meals versus cheat days it all depends how restrictive you are doing the week. Some people like to be very, very, very restrictive during the week and then blow it out on a Sunday like I do. You know I don’t mind you know eating 800 calories below maintenance six days a week if I get to destroy it on Sunday that works for me I am a pretty extreme guy. But other people you know they will eat 300 or 400 calories below and they will cheat meals once every two weeks that’s fine for them. So, it really depends on the type of lifestyle you live in, how miserable you want to be.

Brett: Got it. Here is a question that just came to mind. Is there a difference on how intermittent fasting affects men and women?

John: Yeah, actually––so there is a couple of articles last year that basically people came out and said intermittent fasting is bad for women. I think intermittent fasting is bad for some people. I think anyone who has unfortunately struggle with an eating disorder is going to be someone who is more prone to having some sort of psychological, a negative psychological response to not eating. Particularly if you’ve struggle with anorexia like that’s not a good idea. In terms of the actual you know apples-to-apples comparison of how it affects men to women I mean I think there are lot of it has to do with the sizing things right, like humming bird need to eat more often because there are tiny and heart beats more because they are tiny. So I think that women probably can fast for 14 hours instead of 16 hours and not being such a crazy caloric deficit and then they will be perfectly fine. And again it depends on the women you know my wife fast every day, I fast every day neither one of us see any sort of, anything negative but I have known guys who have had pretty serious reactions to fasting and I have known women so, I think that those arguments are founded in logic. I actually wrote a Facebook post addressing one of them and this article was written by someone on T Nation and it was I think I mean I think it might been 1,200 words long and there were at least nine logical followers see in the way that the argument was presented. And you know that’s a problem for me you know that’s the issue I take. You know if you don’t like intermittent fasting and you don’t think it’s good for women just say I don’t right commended to my clients, don’t make some sort of ridiculously structured impassion argument because it’s bullshit, it’s the problem. You know it just like if you are going to argue know the rules upon which argument functions.

Brett: Yeah, besides the nutrition intermittent fasting what are some other like important aspects of hormone optimization?

John: Huge one is sleep. I can’t trust this enough and I such like a double-edged sword because I feel like this is super important I need to tell people about it but then I am not like no one is going to be listen to me anyway. Seriously Brett, so there is a couple of studies. The first of which was the study that found we are sleeping about on average 75 to 90 minutes less or fewer than we were 10 years ago. Which I think it’s pretty interesting, on average we are sleeping up to an hour-and-a-half less than we were 10 years ago. I mean I asked why that is, Brett your guess would be as good as mine.

Brett: Yeah.

John: But I think that we are all just you know there is more to do, we are on our phone all the time. So here is the really terrible downside of that. There was another study and this one maybe Harvard I’d have to check our notes but it showed that sleeping six hours per night or less for as little as two weeks can lower testosterone level by as much as 15%. So, here is something to consider. One of the like arbitrary numbers that we spoke off because it seems to be true is that for man after the age of 30 your testosterone levels would drop about 1% per year going forward, right. So that mean that by sleeping six hours a night or less for two weeks your ageing your body 15 years in terms of testosterone production, that’s a bad idea.

Brett: Yeah.

John: So, right off the bed you could see just fantastically and fundamentally important it is to get good sleep, to get the enough sleep is huge you know and it’s hard because you need it the most you know when you are in your mid-20s because you are functioning like a beast and you are going through life and at this like break-neck pace but at the same time that’s when you want to feel like you are invincible and that’s the tendency right, we don’t take care of ourselves during that time then we screw ourselves you know for the future. So it’s something that I say with a lot of hope but you know the foresight unfortunate guys aren’t going to listen to the extent that they should.

Brett: What about the stress optimization or managing stress?

John: Yeah, so that’s huge so there is a hormone called cortisol it affects you in all sorts of interesting ways. It is a stress hormone and it’s cyclical. The more stressed out you are the more cortisol you will have and the more cortisol you have the more prone to feeling stressed you are. Sort of like you know being drunk. You know like that the more alcohol in your system the drunker you are but the drunker you are like more bad decision you make. These is the deleterious for a number of reasons. It’s been shown that it can lead to the accumulation of the type of belly fat that is linked to many types of cancers in man so that sounds terrible. And then also it just you know all sorts of other negative effects of stress, hair loss and you know thought of suicide and all these other things.

Brett: It also lowers testosterone, right?

John: Yes, cortisol can lowered testosterone but in particular it will it seems to be negatively–– they are sort of in relationship between cortisol and growth hormone but growth hormone does act sort of potentiated testosterone. So it seems that even if your testosterone levels unaffected you might feel like you have low test.

Brett: Okay, got it. So I guess meditation or just kind of being stoic towards life is an important strategy for hormone optimization?

John: The first saying again is sleep that’s our first line of defense. The more you sleep the better your growth hormone will be, the less cortisol you have. But yeah, I mean I think that some guys are superior in meditation I think that it work for a lot of people but there are people who are just a little bit too pragmatic to really buy into meditation and I happened to me one of them. Let me qualify by saying I do believe it works but I also just –– for me it still little bit too woo-woo you know I can do it and its very, very hard for me to meditate for even 10 to 15 minutes but it doesn’t seem to have the same affect for me as it does for other people where you know when I came out of this meditation even if I managed to get it 90% right which I am probably capable of doing 1 every 10 time I try. I don’t come out with this feeling of dispassionate calm that I have in general. Instead I am just like ––I don’t know may be there are too many negative association for it.

Brett: So what you do?

John: For me I mean a big part of it is just writing. You know I know what works for me in terms like whatever bothering me I just write about it in the most ridiculous way that I can because I really think that life is sort of one big joke. You know it’s so ridiculous like when I was –– and this is we were getting into dark territory here but the shooting in a Isla Vista affected all of us I think, right and you know Rodger, Elliot Rodger, I don’t even like to say is name and throw in props but you know it just the affected me put in negatively because he was the press kid who just you know like imagine that your whole life is so terrible because you just not getting any pussy that you are like well, the only reactions is to kill people. And to me it’s so dark and awful that the only thing I can do is laugh about it and just write about and talk about it in the most ridiculous way and that seems to help me get through it. Because when I think about it things like that like misogyny, people say that there is nothing funny about it but it’s not funny but it laughable to me. It is so incredibly laughable that anyone could really think that there was a fundamental different in the quality of the human being base on their genitals like that’s, or their race so I can even put myself in the mindset of someone who believe that like the fact that people are still racist. To me when I hear stories about real racism it almost feels like it’s made up because there is no possible way anyone could be crazy enough to believe that. And so I just like outright in my journal about how ridiculous it is that people could still live in these world about you know where color matters, for example. And for me just taking you know 30 or 40 minutes to write a ridiculous story about that or just you know write out my thought and that really helps me and I think you know that’s a form of moving meditation for me.

Brett: So you kind of take sort of like a catch-22 like that character you’re sharing in the novel like you just sort of laugh at the absurdity of war, right?

John: Yes, exactly right and you know there is nothing else you can do. You know unfortunately we can’t–– there is no cure for just people gone off the deep end it seems and that sucks you know but yeah, the absurdity of it all yeah so, that for me helps. But I also, you know, I throw myself into my work and I throw myself into exercise and that’s really help with me and honestly a big one for my anytime I am super stressed out with work, I stop working and I go to the poker table. So, I have been playing pokers since I am 20 years old, I really like it. I have made a lot of money doing it and it was something that I did it at least semi-professionally in my mid-20s where I was supplementing my income by 3000 or 4000 or 5000 per month playing poker and there is something for me which is so incredibly freeing to just be at a table and just focus on the cards and living in this world were the only nine people that exist are you and the eight other guys at the table and the only thing you are going to do now is focus on playing these cards to the best of your ability and to me that is infinitely more relaxing and satisfying than meditation. And interestingly I know a lot of professional poker players and they say the thing that helps them is working out and then I know a lot of people another a lot of poker players who said that meditating is what it keeps them balance so they can play. So, I think it’s really the takeaway is find whatever it is that allows you to feel completely isolated and untethered and just like you know for some people it’s meditating, for other people it’s poker, for some people it’s training. You know I don’t know and it’s been different things for me at different times of my life.

Brett: Yeah, so yeah experiment, right?

John: Absolutely, I mean that’s the key right, that’s why we are here to figure out it works.

Brett: Alright. So, let’s talk a little bit about strength training because that’s an important part of hormone optimization because a lot of people don’t realized that whenever you exercise your body releases a whole bunch of hormones. What’s your philosophy towards strength training, is it just like what works for you or what gets you moving or is there something that you recommend I mean what’s your approach to fitness and strength training?

John: Yeah, I mean how do you just still ––you know 12 years of training and experimenting and writing into and then answer for that. It all depends where people are right. Like my philosophy for me is not the same as my philosophy from my clients. If I have someone who has never trained before they have historically had a hard time building the habit of exercise then my philosophy is let’s just pick the thing you hate the least or you enjoy the most and let’s just do that because that is for whatever reason what feels okay to you and that is going to keep you coming back and building that habit is going to be most important. For you know a guy who comes to me and he wants to compete in body building, my philosophy is going to be you know half of my training philosophy is going to be entirely different than a woman who wants to get in shape for her wedding. So, for me my philosophy isn’t necessarily what works for you because I think you can make just about anything work for you although there will be something that are just you know that maybe you respond better to genetically. It’s about like what’s your goal and how can we get you there. You know, there is a lot of people who would come on this show and they are just like oh, it’s crossfit I just ––yeah, crossfit it’s my philosophy. And then there is other people who would come on and say well, I hate crossfit, it’s terrible. The crux of what you enjoy the most or hate the least and what’s going to be most effective for getting for getting you toward your goal wherever those two lines meet on the graph is what you should be focusing on and if you are someone like me that’s going to change all the time because I am always chasing different goals. You know historically most of my goals have been static or strength related. You know I wanted to deadlift 600 pounds so, I did it. I trained specifically for that or I wanted to compete in body building so I trained specifically for that but if I got it into my head that I wanted to compete in crossfit games I would obviously train very, very differently than I would for body building. So, yeah, I mean…

Brett: So, you are not dogmatic basically.

John: Yeah, I mean I’m like Bruce Lee, I’m all about being water so, yeah I don’t have a strong tied anyone training methodology because I just don’t care enough. I just think when people get so upset about it like that’s nuts.

Brett: Yeah. You had that post a bit like kettlebells, right?

John: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Brett: You have to do kettlebells it is superior to any type of exercise ever and it’s like I have kettlebells, I like kettlebells but you know they can only do so much.

John: Right, like if I wanted to deadlift 600 pounds I wouldn’t be training with kettlebells.

Brett: Yeah.

John: It’s not you know maybe I would do kettlebell swings as a supplementary exercise but you know I am not going to be like well I need to find 200, 300 pounds kettlebell that’s not what I would do. Yeah, so I really fight pretty hard against dogmatism because I think it really hurts the industry and that’s any industry by the way. Yeah, it just not good you know it creates camps which people like because they like to feel part of a tribe.

Brett: Yeah.

John: But it also like it fractures and segments the distribution of information and I think progress and I think that’s something to be abort.

Brett: Yeah, it makes you stupid too.

John: Sure.

Brett: Because I remember like for a while a several years ago, I was like really big I am just like the 5×5 you know strong list and that’s all I did and I was like yeah, this is where it’s at, it’s about compound list and their grade be like they can’t point like I wasn’t making any progress.

John: Right.

Brett: And so I had like re-evaluation it’s like maybe I should do something else and like I started doing like this basic you know supplemental lifts like I brought back the bicep curl, I started using machines and what’s crazy is like I started making progress again. And so now, I mean in this place where I am just like I am always changing depending like you said depending on what my goals are and that is always changing.

John: Right. I mean nothing annoys more than when some you know some kid goes on the internet and he asked a forum or Facebook page and they are like I want big arms because he is a kid and he wants to look good at the beach.

Brett: Yeah.

John: What should I do and you know a bunch of people come back with them well, you need to do 5/3/1 don’t worry about biceps curls you just need to do–– you know your arms are going to grow from benching and they are doing pull-ups. Okay, they will but also do some bicep curls like there is nothing, there is you know like they are awesome, they are fun, it’s easy, it’s convenient and you are going to get a pump and feel good and you are going to go back to the gym because you got a good pump and it felt good like discouraging people from doing things they want to do because you don’t agree with it, I think it’s pretty stupid.

Brett: Alright. So, let’s talk about that kid who just starting out right, I know there is probably a lot of people who are listening who are sort of sees the veterans in the fitness world but there is lot of people who they want to get start on that Hero’s Journey to become in more fit. I mean what’s one or two or three whatever you want to do like what are the things that they can today like start off with today that can kept them going on that?

John: Master or few body weight exercises would be great you know like really do a push-up correctly and you know don’t let your hip sat, don’t have your ass in the air. Make sure you are protracting the shoulder at the top of the movement. You know it seems like a pretty simple movement but there is a lot of little hitches that a lot of people get wrong because they’re never taught how to do it. So, I think if you master the ones––the body weight squat, the pull-up, the push-up and the plank if you just really mastered those and there are so many ways to figure that out I mean you can hire a coach or you could just read a lot of really, really quality information from the right people on the internet, if you mastered those and did you know six sats of six raps for each of them every day for a week and then you know maybe started messing with the volume after that you would start to see pretty good results. And another is like sprint that’s you know like stretch make sure you are hydrated and femoral and take care of your soft tissue, don’t just like go out and just like go 0 to 60 like Rocky on the beach you know do some warm-up sats and sprint. I think that you know people are always asking me like if you could only do one exercise…

Brett: Yeah.

John: I hate this question.

Brett: What would it be?

John: If you are on the desert island what would you do squat or deadlifts. If I can only do one exercise and I was in a desert island it would probably be swimming. I hate swimming but I recognized when it’s useful but yeah, I mean if you are really came down to it like if I could only do one thing it would sprinting. Build a great physiques sprinting and having good form doing it and you are also going to stay lean you know versus you know my favorite weight training exercise is certainly the deadlift and if I can only do one way training exercise it would be that but I think that there are like there would be complications there from only deadlifting for the rest of your life. You know after you mastered some body weight movements, mastered some compound movements and the few isolation movements of your choice if you want big shoulders throw in some lateral raises, if you want big arms throw in some bicep curls, if you want a big chest throw in some flyes or something you know it just like whatever it is but…

Brett: Yeah.

John: Though it should be in addition to not in leu of the overhead press or push-press, the squat, the deadlift, the benchpress, the bend over or cable wire or something. You know I think that like that’s the huge part of it.

Brett: Awesome, alright so, let’s we have been going out for a long time, it’s been a great conversation. But let’s end with this I mean what do you are working on right now and where can people find out more about your work?

John: Sure. I am working on a bunch of different things at the moment which I think it’s really terribly idea that something I will get better at hopefully and just work on one thing. I am trying to figure out the next phase of what I am going to be doing you know, I sort of want a transition Roman fitness systems into more of a magazine styles site than a single person blog as much as I like writing about fitness I sort of aim at the point where I don’t write often because I sort of said what I had to say like there is every now and again, I get a good idea and I write about it but the blog mostly sits fairly dormant so I would like to use it as a launching pad and turn it into something like T Nation was for me back in the day where I can you know I have all these attention and so much traffic, I would like to be able to publish other authors and start going guest post. So, toward the end of the summer or late in 2014, I am going to be transitioning there and function more as sometime writer and an editor which will free me up to do some other things. I really, I want to tell stories Brett and so I have started kicking around the idea. I have three ideas for individual novels so I really like to start working on those at some point. But before I do anything else the big thing for me is I want to write a book that really touches on what we talked about which is the Hero’s Journey as applied to life, I think it’s a great model for self-development but it’s also really effective keys for problems solving and I think that although ––there was a book released fairly recently called Mythology and Personal Development, I think it’s all yeah, Pathway To Bliss. Mythology and personal development it was actually put together from a number of Joseph Campbell’s lectures but other than that I don’t think that anyone has written a book that applies that heroes journey to personal development and I really think I can do that fairly well and I think that book needs to be written so, you know it’s basically like a philosophy and self help book which means that it will either sale a million copies or six and I am happy to roll the dice on that one because I really just want to write it so, I have started outlining that and then I want to write stories and I want to write screenplays man, that’s the main thing. Books and movies, I just want to tell stories for the rest of my life.

Brett: That’s cool man. So, where can people find you at?

John: Sure, it’s afford any of the fitness stuff or @JohnRomaniello on just about any social media so, there is lot of fun stuff on Twitter and Facebook. If you follow me on Instagram, I want to let you know you will only see pictures of my dogs that’s’ all that’s there so don’t, if you want fitness stuff that’s not the place.

Brett: Don’t go there?

John: Yeah, yeah, it just dog but they are cute dogs so you should follow me on Instagram if you like Bulldogs.

Brett: Okay, if you are feeling down, you want to see a cute dog make you feel better.

John: Yeah, that’s exactly the place to go.

Brett: Awesome. Well, John Romaniello thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

John: Thank you so much for having me Brett and thank you to everyone for listening.

Brett: Our guest today is John Romaniello. John is the author of the book Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha, you can find that on and bookstores everywhere and also check out more of John’s work at

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