Interview with Michael Carroll of Fit For Golf Cork

Interview with Michael Carroll of Fit For Golf Cork

  Art: Michael, delighted you agreed to be interviewed for the CityGym Blog. I know you well from our Sport and Exercise Science days but for those who aren’t familiar with you, can you give a brief outline of your background in Sport, what led you into the field of Strength and Conditioning/Physical Preparation for Athletes, your qualifications etc.?


Michael: Firstly Arthur, thanks to CityGym and yourself for asking me to contribute to your blog.

In terms of sporting background I tried a lot of different things growing up. GAA, soccer, golf, and athletics being the main ones. I went through spells of emphasising one or the other throughout my teenage years. Jack of all trades, master of none would be a pretty accurate description!

I knew from about 16 that I would be interested in working in training or coaching to some degree. I loved the process of breaking down the sport you are competing in and thinking about how you could train to try and improve it. At around this time I joined a local gym called Fitnessworx, where I ended up working after first year in college. (I am still based there). Fairly quickly I could see a link between improved strength and power in the gym and performance on the pitch, golf course, or track. I genuinely enjoyed training and used go pretty regularly before school in 5th and 6th year. I would see the trainers in Fitnessworx training people and thought it looked like it was a great environment to be in.  At around this time my older brother also started studying Sport and Exercise Science in UL. I can remember reading some of his assignments and notes and finding them really interesting and it grew from there.


BSc in Sport and Exercise Science from the University of Limerick

UKSCA accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach (ASCC)

Titleist Performance Institute level 2 Golf Fitness Professional

Art: Before we get into the Fit For Golf, I’d like you to share some of your experiences from your internship at Cressey Performance, Florida, A World Renowned Strength and Conditioning Facility. I acknowledge it was a few years ago now so the experiences maybe aren’t as fresh in your head anymore but what really stuck out for you about the place? What is it that makes them so successful and highly regarded?

Michael: In 2013 I spent 3 months interning at what is now known as Cressey Sports Performance. Three things that immediately stick out about the facility are, the culture and community feel they have in place, the huge attention to detail when it comes to coaching, and the professionalism of the staff and clients training there. It was a great place to work, the coaches were all excellent at what they did and you were dealing with extremely motivated athletes for 7 hours a day. It’s basically like a coaching boot camp. With their internship program you get thrown in at the deep end which is great as you are exposed to a huge amount of coaching. The full time staff and owners there were also always extremely helpful with any questions you might have. It wasn’t until I came home and started coaching again I realised how much more I was seeing when I was watching people.

I believe they are extremely successful because they are excellent practitioners working with very much a niche market. 90% of the athletes training there during my internship were baseball pitchers. Most Irish people who haven’t spent time in America don’t realise just how big baseball is in the US. When word spreads about the quality of service that is provided coupled with the fact you have an extremely specific market I think a business can really gather momentum. This has proved to be the case with Cresseys’ as they have opened a second gym since I came home.

Art: Ok now onto the Fit Fir Golf Cork. This was a project you started up on your own. What is it? What does it entail and who is it for? What motivated you to setup the service?

Michael: Fit For Golf is a strength and conditioning / physical preparation service for golfers. Essentially I try to help my clients increase their golf potential by giving them a better physical starting point. If somebody is in very poor physical condition and has a body that is not able to perform relatively athletically it makes the game very difficult. Most people are familiar with football or hurling teams having a coach that looks after the physical element of training. Fit For Golf does the same thing for golfers.

I am currently working with all levels of golfers from high handicaps to club professionals in both individual and group settings. The process is quite simple. Everybody’s first session is an assessment and screening which involves a chat about how their body is currently and how they think it might be hindering their golf. We also go through a physical screening to see what level and what specific areas we might need to start with. Quite often I liaise with the players golf coach (if they have one) to get some information from them in regards to what they see from a physical standpoint during the swing. The Titliest Performance Institute (TPI) screening protocols have been useful in this regard.

After we have the initial screening and assessment done and a plan of attack has been made there is a number of different training options available to the client.

Art: How important is non-specific strength training (i.e. Squats, bench presses, rows, deadlifts, chin ups, power cleans etc.) for golf performance?

Michael: General or non-specific strength is extremely important as it provides a vital base for progressing onto exercises that might have a greater transfer to the sport. If someone isn’t strong in basic movements it is unlikely they will be benefit very much from more specific exercises. One of the key determinants for club head speed (a very important playing variable) is the ability to rapidly push a lot of force into the ground through the legs. Obviously this is determined by lower body strength and power so this can be a good place to start!

The way I program training for golfers varies massively depending on their current strengths and weaknesses.  For example Arthur, imagine tomorrow that you came to me for help training your body for golf. As you are already very strong in general exercises like deadlifts, squats, single leg variations etc there would not be much point in us training to improve these. You would likely benefit more from work in lateral and rotational patterns, and from learning about the optimal sequencing used in the golf swing. On the other hand, I currently train a golfer in their 60’s, who at their best had a handicap of +2 (2 shots better than scratch). This person has seen huge benefit to their game from getting stronger on “non-specific” exercises because their baseline level of strength was so low.

Art: How important is rotation (and even anti-rotation) training for physical preparation in golfers?

Michael: Training rotation is extremely important. Once an athlete has decent basics in posture, mobility, stability, sequencing etc there are two main areas I try and get athletes stronger and more powerful in. These are vertical or ground reaction force (which is governed by lower body strength and power), and rotational force. If you can push your feet into the ground hard, and rotate hard you won’t go far wrong in terms of training power for golfers. Simple examples of these would be squat jumps, and rotational med ball throws.

In my opinion anti rotation is useful to train but I wouldn’t say it’s a necessity to train directly. In a simple, properly executed program I think the client gets enough work on stabilizing their pelvis. I usually tackle this with exercises like renegade rows, single leg deadlifts, plank variations etc.

Art: When I hear the phrase “Functional Training” I cringe and probably die a little inside as I envisage idiots doing squats on a swiss ball or simulating a punching action while holding dumbbells, but what does the phrase mean to you?

Michael: Speaking of functional training I actually wrote this answer while balancing on a bosu ball while pressing my tongue into the left side of my pallet and sucking my bellybutton to my spine J.

On a serious note though I think there is a basic misunderstanding of the terms “Functional Training” “Sports Specific Training” “Core Strength” etc. It seems a lot of coaches are completely on one side of the fence with limited critical thinking on their own part.

On one side you have the “functional strength” guru who tries to make everything as complex and gimmicky as possible, with “exercises”that often look impressive to the uneducated eye but have little merit in the program. Squatting or swinging a golf club on a swiss ball are perfect examples. Just because they are hard does not mean they are worth doing. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with people training balance or doing the odd fun game at the end of a training session as long as it’s safe and not completely ridiculous. Sometimes people lose the plot completely though and have a very poor understanding of how to breakdown a sports movement and what modes of training are likely to enhance it.

On the other hand you have “strength coaches” who believe that getting stronger in barbell lifts and chasing numbers is the holy grail. Taking everything said on t-nation as gospel is a perfect example of this.

There needs to be a balance. Athletes aren’t powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters, nor are they circus performers so they shouldn’t train like them. Analyse the movement, analyse the individual on an ongoing basis, always think of the transfer the training will provide.

To get back to the question, “Functional Training” to me means training that is fit for the purpose it is being done for. For bodybuilders this might be bicep curls, for a sprinter it may be jumping.

Art: If you could go back in time and give a younger Michael Carroll a bit of advice in relation to training or coaching, what would it be?

Michael: Without doubt I would say that most coaches concentrate way too much of their study time looking up exercises, diets, special programs etc. While learning these things is important to I think most coaches will make better long term progress if they realise that they are dealing with humans.

Study how humans learn new tasks. Ie motor learning and skill acquisition

Study how humans interact and behave. In coaching you come across a lot of personalities, if you don’t find ways to get on with someone it’s irrelevant how good your program is and you will lose business quickly.

Practice coaching in as many different settings as possible, young, elderly, elite athletes, desk jockeys, disabled, annoying clients, enjoyable clients. Get as many different perspectives as possible.

Look the part – Image and first impression are key, you need to look like you train and be able to demonstrate things, wear appropriate attire, etc. 

Arthur Interviews John Gilligan of JG Elite

 Interview with John Gilligan of JG Elite


Arthur: John, delighted you agreed to do this interview with me. I’ve known you for a good few years now but for any readers who aren’t familiar with you (or who haven’t seen you on the Sunday Game) could you fill those people as to who you are, your sporting background, education etc.?

John: Hi Arthur, great to be asked to do the interview with yourself.

Well we completed our undergrad in Sport and Exercise Science in UL together, graduating In 2014 I think.

I’m from a small village in Westmeath called Ballymore. I play hurling and football and have represented my county at senior level in both codes. As you can tell I have always had a keen interest in sport and not only GAA. My interest in sport led me to UL to study Sport Science. That’s where I developed my ‘science behind the sport’ I suppose you could say and gained a greater understanding of training concepts.


Arthur: Talk to me about JG Elite, what is it? When was it established? What is your gym’s training philosophy?

John: I opened JG Elite in January 2015 and I’m delighted to say we are still going strong and building each and every day. JG Elite is a gym in Athlone facilitating everybody whether it’s your typical GAA head, somebody trying to lose a few pounds or someone like yourself Arthur who is competing in powerlifting.

Our philosophy is very simple Arthur; Energy, Exercise, Empowerment . We create an energy and atmosphere to encourage exercise at whatever level which in turn gives back to the individual empowerment. Everybody is known in the gym and we have created a great community ethos driving each other on every single day. We pride ourselves on merging ‘Science and ‘Sweat’, where every person that comes through our door whether an elite athlete or a new to exercise novice is treated with the same Sports Science applied approach; ensuring technique, safety and development are achieved!

 Arthur: What difficulties and challenges did you face when setting up JG Elite? Any advice you might give to other young entrepreneurs keen on setting up a gym?

John: How long have you got? I won’t lie and say that I was bombarded with incentives to open my own business. It was very tough! After numerous meetings with the local enterprise board and council I decided that the best option was to kind of ‘go it alone’ I guess! What they wanted me to do to be eligible for a grant did not really fit into my plans and if I am being honest my own personal work ethic. I really believed that if I put the work in I would get the facility I had envisioned.

 The long and short of it is I saved, got a loan, and got a massive amount of help from my family who took a leap of faith in me. I got help from my family, friends and my girlfriend. We worked long hours into the night for months to get the facility ready. Those couple of months before we opened were tough but in truth I found that the most enjoyable part. We could see that the graft we were putting in ourselves was getting somewhere.

For the first 6 months I put in 80 hours a week just to get JG Elite off the ground. But that was what I knew was needed for it to be successful. We have a long road left in front of us yes; but the ground work has paid off I think!

Have I any advice for someone thinking about their own business or gym? Yes I have some advice, go DO IT YOURSELF and don’t wait for someone else to do it! It will be ridiculously tough and there are lots of days when you say to yourself‘why the hell did I do this?’ but it’s worth it!

Oh and if it is a Gym you want to open just don’t open it in Athlone against me! HA!.

 Arthur: Who exactly is JG Elite for/not for?

John: Simple answer JG Elite is for absolutely everyone!

We actually have a new Senior Fitness class on a Monday and Wednesday which aims to increase strength for functional movement in people over 65 as well as increase independence.  Our gym offers equipment for all and we have varied levels of classes and programs designed for different levels of ability.

JG Elite stands for the elite service we provide and not that you have to be Elite to be there; although I like to think everyone that leaves after a workout in here feels a little elite!

 Arthur: My goal for CityGym is to make it the home of Powerlifting for IPF and IDFPA lifters in Limerick within the next 3 years. What are your medium to long term goals for JG Elite?

John: Easy- My medium goal is to make JG Elite a household name in the Athlone and surrounding area for all your fitness goals and athletic needs. 

My long term goal is for JG Elite to be the strength and conditioning hub for all GAA teams in the midlands, including training, physiological testing and monitoring within the next 3 years.

 Arthur: How do you find managing a business whilst trying to fit in time for yourself to train, is it difficult for you to find time or how do you manage it?

John: I found it very hard last year Arthur as I was working 80 hours a week while training with Westmeath and training myself. We had a great year reaching the Leinster final last year; however this year I had to make a very difficult decision.  I could not continue to play Senior football and make JGElite the successful business that I want it to be, so I have opted out of playing with Westmeath. I wracked my brain for a long time trying to figure out if I could do both but I knew I needed to give my business the best shot I had. It has been tough on the heart as I miss it terribly but the choice had to be made!

Training myself is okay! Although, you cannot plan a full big session while you are working as you always have something to do in the gym. I find myself doing 20 minutes here and there and then doing another 20 mins a few hours later. My body seems to have responded well to it as well which is good. I had to alter my training to fit into my work schedule; it’s what everyone has to do. I suppose people think because I am in the gym full-time I must be working out every minute of the day. It doesn’t work like that. You take the 20-30 mins you have free and you use them the best you can. I think sometimes it’s harder because you feel guilty if you are training yourself in the work place because you feel like there is a million and one other things you could be doing. But it is important to take that time I think!

That is something else I would tell any young person building their business! Take time for yourself! At the beginning you have to put in the work and sacrifice things in your personal life. There will be a time though that you can fit in a life around running a business! You need that time for your own sanity and you need to be able to switch off or you will drive yourself and the people around you crazy talking about and doing work! My family and girlfriend will you tell you that is true!!!


Arthur Interviews Ed Slattery

Arthur Interviews Ed Slattery

Arthur: Ed, delighted you agreed to do this interview with me and I’m quite intrigued to hear what you have to say today. Firstly as I do with most guests I interview, if you could give a little bit of information on your own background for those who don’t already know who you are that would be great? Maybe go back to when you just left secondary school right up to where you are now (be as detailed as you like)?

Ed: Cheers Arthur and thanks for asking me to do this. I’ve been involved in strength and conditioning for about five years now having gone back to college at 23 to study in Thurles. Originally I had studied arts in Mary Immaculate with a view to being an English and History teacher and even tried my hand at studying Business in UL before realizing what I truly wanted to do and beginning down the S&C path.
While I was in college I immediately began volunteering with various coaches to learn off them. I was lucky enough to get to work with great coaches such as Damien Young with Tipperary G.A.A Academy and DJ O’Dwyer and Ross Callaghan with Munster Rugby early on and then continue working with these organisations through college. I interned with DJ with the Tipperary Minor Footballers before completing a season as S&C coach with the Tipperary Minor Hurlers. Most of my work has been with Munster Rugby where I was lead S&C with the under 18 Youths for two seasons. Working with Munster was a huge development in my career and I’ve been fortunate enough to gain experience in structuring training camps, long-term planning and even travelling overseas with Munster teams. Guys like Fergal O’ Callaghan, Gordon Brett and Cedric Unholz were key to my development while working with Munster. On finishing college I then went straight into a six month internship with the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry and simultaneously began working as S&C coach with the Irish Womens Rugby team.


Arthur: Tell me a bit about your current job in the field of strength and conditioning (S & C)? What is it you specialize in and what areas in the field of S & C are you interested in the most?

Ed: My current role is working with the Irish Womens Rugby Team. In this role I oversee the S&C work for nearly 40 players based around the country and abroad while directly handling the coaching of the Dublin based players. I then get better interaction with players when we meet for national training camps. While I don’t want to say I am specializing in any area just yet at the moment a lot of my focus is on movement and its implications on force production and injury prevention/rehabilitation. Having said that a lot of my career has focused on youth development and that is an area I still have significant passion for.


Arthur: Can you outline maybe 2 or 3 key moments in your career that you feel have made you a better S & C coach, perhaps some great piece of advice you were given or some realization you came to by yourself or in conversation with a client(“Ah-ha” moments if you like)?


Ed: Good question!! I’m not sure if I can pinpoint exact moments but recently I have had two moments of realization that stick out in my mind. Working at the Sports Surgery Clinic showed me that the process of initiating change (the how) doesn’t necessarily matter and I think its an important point. Sometimes we get hung up on having to use a certain method or specific exercise to achieve a goal when really the end result is what matters. Now that doesn’t mean to increase a players size I’m going to start using some form of GVT in season but it does mean that we can experiment with various methods and tools and as long as the end result has been achieved (without any negative implications) then the method has succeeded. An example of this maybe someone who needs to achieve quicker contact time or stiffness on mid stance when running. The method of changing this may vary from coach to coach or athlete to athlete but that’s OK as long as the end goal is achieved.

The second realization was the power of strength and conditioning to change peoples lives. Neil Welch said this to me before and initially I was skeptical and thought it sounded a bit of an exaggeration but I’ve seen it work. The dreams of working with top level professional sport can be easily romanticized but strength and conditioning may have its greatest benefit with the general population. We’ve seen how issues such as obesity and its associated problems (diabetes, back pain etc.) can negatively impact society and people lives. The “ah-ha” moment for me was seeing people who had been out of work with chronic back pain for years be able to return to work after only a short period of strength training using basic compound lifts (deadlifts, split squats etc.) instead of relying on medication and injections. Another case I witnessed was a woman who wasn’t able to pick up her newborn child without pain but strength training helped solve this. Making someone run faster or jump higher is great but in the larger scheme of things it will never be as important as allowing people hold their children and earn a living. Corny as it sounds!

Arthur: Here in CityGym we have a number of young S & C coaches learning their trade, any advice you might give to them? Perhaps something you wish someone told you early on in your own career?

Ed: I still consider myself a young S&C so not sure how much I can help here! However if I had to pick two points they would be 1) Get as much experience with experienced coaches and various environments as possible. Some coaches will completely change the way you look at things while others may simply reinforce what you already know but whether it’s a positive or negative you will always take something away. 2) would be to be confident in any situation you are in. I’ve put myself in the situation where I have sat back and let more experienced coaches take over but that doesn’t do you any favours and also doesn’t allow you to prove yourself. In any situation you only know what you know so be confident in it and don’t be afraid to put your hand up and admit to being unsure or unaware of anything you don’t know.

Arthur: You recently completed a Graduate Strength and Conditioning/Rehabilitation Coaching course in the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, Dublin (as a side note I really admire that as you’re continuing your education whilst working which is by no means easy). Tell me a little bit about that course and what you learned from it?

Ed: I spent six months in the clinic and couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone considering applying for an internship there. It is a unique place housing some of the best doctors, surgeons, physios and S&C coaches in the county under one roof. From an outside perspective they may seem to have some strange or unconventional methods but everything they do is backed up with research and the benefit of seeing injuries repetitively through large patient numbers. As an example they see around 700 ACL’s a year so you know they are experienced and are using proven results driven methods. My role was as Strength and Conditioning/Rehabilitation Coach. After a patient had completed initial assessments with the physiotherapist I would bring them through strength and power training to address any weakness/movement issues and provide the foundation necessary to prevent future re-occurrence of injury. I have outlined some important realizations I had while there above but really everyday there was a learning opportunity. The big change I would look to make in my coaching after spending time there is in the way athletes move. For instance if we want athletes to maintain a good posture, avoid anterior pelvic tilt, excessive rib flare and/or move through more of a hip/posterior dominant pattern then we have to reinforce these patterns in all our movements not just our deadlifts and squats. Being strict on a deadlift finish position but allowing poor movement in a chin up just defeats the purpose and allows the body to reinforce bad patterns.

Arthur: What does the future hold for Ed Slattery Strength and Conditioning?

Ed: The golden question! My goal for the time being is to just keep progressing and to keep learning. As I said I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great coaches so I want to keep that going and keep improving in my role.  My main focus right now is ensuring the Irish Women are in the best possible position for the Six Nations. Following that I have some ideas for my personal blog ( that I have put on hold for now that will look to combine my work in high performance with S&C for the everyday person. This will be done online and through my Facebook page (Ed Slattery Strength and Conditioning) so keep an eye out for that.

Be sure to check out Ed Slattery’s blog ( for further information about his work.

Arthur Interviews Rory Girvan of Hench

Arthur Interviews Rory

1. Arthur: For those of who aren’t familiar with you Rory, could you give a brief synopsis of you, your background and how you got to where you are today please?

Rory: At the moment I find myself in the bizarre position of being a ‘Multi-Hyphenate’ – with interests in business, performance, health and wellness.I am a 30 year old owner of several businesses in the Fitness and Wellness Industry, a Strength Coach and an Athlete from Belfast. I also do work with a local charity to help raise awareness for mental health, particularly in males.

The story of how I got to where I am today is complicated but on reflection it feels like each juncture, twist and turn lead towards my current position.I studied Biomedical Science, Sport and Exercise Science and worked in S & C and Applied Exercise Physiology in amateur and professional sport. It sounds quite convenient that I’m now Head Coach at HENCH after doing all this but the path to getting here was fairly convoluted.

In reality I've worked in over 20 jobs since I was 14, from earning £2 per hour in Jungle Jims, to making cold calls for 8 hours a day,to holding down 3 jobs to put myself though University.


2. Arthur: You run a semi-private gym in Belfast called Hench (a very similar model to CityGym). Tell me more about it and the philosophy you and the other coaches there follow?

Rory: The model we use at the moment has evolved in response to seeing what worked over the years to help normal people and athletes actually achieve their goals. We’ve tried the open gym model but found curating the culture of the gym was challenging – it takes a different type of person who puts their hand up to ask for coaching VS those the average gym member who feels they don’t require help.

 We now ‘vet’ all members and this has been one of the best decisions we’ve made. It helps to create the special atmosphere we now have; positive, motivating and fun.

 Our philosophy (copied and pasted from our site!): ‘Real fitness cannot exist without a solid foundation of raw strength, built on good health and well being.’.

 At the time of starting HENCH, Upper Body Transformations and quick fixes were the industry standard in Belfast and around the island. It is hard to believe now, but we took a bold step being the first dedicated strength focused gym on the island - but it felt right.

 Delighted to see places like CityGym thrive – the industry CANNOT have enough good quality, intelligent and compassionate coaches. The days of the Spice Boy PT spoofing his way through his ‘career’ are numbered.


3. Arthur: When you opened Hench, what was your target for 3 years down the line (i.e.approximately now), what challenges did you face in order to get Hench to where it is today?


Rory: My team and I have now exceeded all of even the loftiest goals I initially had for HENCH. Challenges are almost too innumerable to list (understatement) but with each one it strengthened us.

 The biggest challenge was risking everything to pursue our mission, whilst growing the business. Being commercially successful in the fitness industry whilst not compromising your integrity is no joke. The layman doesn’t know how to differentiate between the charlatan and those who are the authentic, so learning how to communicate this to our customers has been instrumental.


4. Arthur: You recently hit a whopping 707.5kg Powerlifting total in the Irish Powerlifting Federation’s All-Ireland Championships in the 93kg class. Firstly congratulations on that, particularly when you consider you were nursing a knee injury at the time! How do you manage to consistently keep adding to your total whilst running a business?


Rory: Thanks man! Appreciate it.

 I had set out at the start of the year to seek out the highest level of drug free competition nationally in raw powerlifting, and was fortunate enough to win the Overall Best Lifter Trophy at both the NIPF and All-Ireland Championships.

 I intend on doing the same in 2016, but will also have a crack at at my first international competition in the IPF – the Worlds in Texas. I was honoured to be selected to represent Ireland last month and can’t convey how excited I am to be a part of the team. Ireland is beyond an after thought in elite drug free powerlifting, but this will change from next year. We have a number of excellent male and females coming through – very exciting time to be competing for anyone form the island.

 As for improving despite running the businesses? I’m quite thorough when it comes to all aspects of recovery, but it’s difficult at times – especially dealing with emotional stress. Having said that, I consider it a privilege to compete- I’ve been involved in strength training for 16 years now and love having the opportunity to test myself but still feel like I’m only getting started, really feel there’s load left in the tank. I have ambitious goals for this year, and will be competing in the 83kg category for Ireland internationally.


5. Arthur: Are there any mistakes you have made in the past (in training, coaching or business) that if you could go back in time and rectify what would they be?


Rory: Good question. The answer to all three is to avoid spending time with people with self limiting beliefs. Being ambitious, positive and driven solves most things.

 Also, if you want to improve in any of those areas, seek knowledge from those who are the real deal. This will involve lots of reading, but passion will make this a breeze!


6. Arthur: What does the future hold for Rory Girvan and Hench?


Rory: For HENCH, we are continuing to improve the way we do things and the quality of the coaching we provide to our members. For me, some new ventures and new sports and hopefully more adventures!


7. Arthur: If you could give the average gym-goer 1 piece of advice, what would it be?


Rory: Make friends with people who have surmounted similar challenges to the ones you’re trying to over come. Your friends are your future.


Arthur interviews Danny Lennon from Sigma Nutrition

Arthur interviews Danny Lennon from

1. Arthur: Danny you are a big proponent of nutrition's effects on gut health. Can you tell me any typical dietary habits of the general population and/or the "health conscious" community you deem to be sub-optimal or even detrimental to one's gut health?

Danny: Yeah, well I think the first thing to point out is that the term “gut health” can include many different aspects, which individually affect health. Usually however, what most people think of is of our gut microbiome, essentially the make up of bacteria in the gut.

At the moment there is a HUGE amount of research being produced in this field. Everyday we are learning about how the bacterial species that reside with in us influence (and potentially control) our health. The make-up of our microbiome has been linked with pretty much all the major health issues you can name. Obesity, neurodegenerative disease, autoimmune issues, blood sugar regulation. It’s pretty amazing.

So with this in mind, this brings up two questions that I’m sure people (myself included) have:

1.       What is the optimal composition of gut bacteria?

2.       How do I get mine to look like that?

In relation to number 1, we just don’t know. Sure, there are some bacteria we know are pathogenic (the bad bacteria) and other species which seem to have positive benefits for health (the good bacteria). But the exact numbers, ratio and combination of these that means “optimal” we don’t know. In fact, I’d imagine there is no “optimal”.  Our microbiome is constantly changing in response to our food supply, environment, etc.

However, there are some things that we can go on that should allow us to improve gut health from the perspective of gut bacteria. First, it seems diversity is a good predictor of health, i.e. the more variety in bacterial species the better as opposed to a small number of species being dominant. Second, as I mentioned previously, some species have been shown to be either good or bad, based on what we know.

So, what do we do about it?

Look at what first might cause the make up of our gut microbioime to get “messed up”…

  • ·         Antibiotics
  • ·         Cesarean sections
  • ·         Overly cleanliness – no exposure to natural earth or excessively using disinfectants
  • ·         Diets high in refined carbohydrates/sugar and low in fibre

How regularly and intensely these have affected an individual will likely determine how much work needs to be done.

Because this answer could easily turn into an essay (trust me I can never give short answers!) I will just list a few things worth considering or looking into. Just note, I will have to leave out all the context behind these for the sake of space:

  • Include plenty of fibre in the diet. Plenty of things like chickpeas, lentils, beans, fibrous vegetables, oats, etc.
  • Get some prebiotic fibre (fibre that resists our digestion but can get into the colon where gut bacteria “feed” on it). Easy source is cooked-then-cooled potatoes or perhaps a supplement (e.g. inulin)
  •  Probiotic supplement – I like a product called Prescript Assist as it has a high number of different bacterial strains, is room temperature stable and seems very well tolerated.
  • ·Have most of your diet based on real food. You can still eat your favourite processed treats but as an overall percentage, the majority of intake should be from whole foods, with plenty of vegetables.
  • ·Get outside, get some fresh air and don’t be the crazy person who carries disinfectant around in their bag.


2. Arthur: How can people with limited time or understanding of research make more informed decisions with regards their nutrition?

Danny: This is tough because there are so many people claiming to be “experts” or have “the answer”. So I’d suggest looking out for some tell-tale signs:

If the approach sounds very extreme, it’s probably BS. Unfortunately things at the extremes sell, whilst sensible and balanced info is overlooked. Don’t go looking for the shortcut.

If the approach calls for you to use their specific, expensive supplements then that’s another red flag. I’m not saying everyone who has a product is a con man but if the whole approach is built around needing a supplement or whatever, then it’s probably bollox. You don’t need 2 meal replacement shakes from a multi-level marketing company and you don’t need to spend €25 on a bag of coffee beans.

If an approach calls for you to eat at specific times or only eat a small list of specific foods, it’s probably not necessary.

Really it comes down to a few core fundamentals. I talk to people about what I call the 5 Sigma Principles. Quite simply, most of your focus should be on:

1.       Calories – If your goal is fat loss and you are not dropping fat, despite eating decently, sleeping well and being active, you’re eating too many calories. A guru who tells you they started eating more calories, did no exercise and grew a 6 pack is a liar.

2.       Food quality – While calories (and macronutrients) will dictate body composition, food quality in general is still important. Even leaving aside the obvious health aspects to it, dieting on a reduced calorie intake is easier when a decent amount of your intake is from whole foods, especially vegetables and legumes of high fibre and low caloric density.

3.       Flexibility – Going all-or-nothing is unnecessary. I’ve written a lot over on my site about the problems that can arise with restrictive dieting. Usually (for many people at least) being “perfect” or 100% strict with “clean” eating for any length of time leads to an increased likelihood in a binge eating episode. The easiest way to counter-act this is to include some of your favourite foods regularly in your diet. Just pick portion sizes that allow you to stay within you approximate calorie target.

4.       Relationship with food – What you eat is only half the equation. Your relationship and attitude to food is massive. This is tied in with point 3 above. Enjoy your food, be mindful when eating, slow down and take your time, and don’t class foods as either “good” or “bad”.

5.       Consistency – The principle that rules them all. Being consistently good enough will ALWAYS trump being intermittently perfect.

If we always keep these 5 principles in mind, then we don’t have to get overly concerned with specific or extreme protocols. If a certain diet doesn’t fit into this framework, it’s usually a fad.


3. Arthur: Time and again I notice how the fitness or nutrition "pendulum" swings from one extreme to another and never seems to settle in the middle where the truth more than likely is. For example for years it was all about how fat was making us fat, now sugar is the demon. Or how saturated fat was the cause of heart disease, now people are putting lumps of butter in their coffee and calling it a health drink. Or a few years back, long, slow, steady state cardio was pushed as the best way to get lean, nowadays we're told if we don't collapse at the end of our "HIT" session then it was a waste of time. Can you think of any other examples to add to this list?

Danny: I totally agree and some of those are my favourite examples. I think the most interesting one to me is carbohydrate content of the diet. We’ve seen the push throughout the 70s and 80s to get people eating less fat and replacing those calories with carbohydrates. Advising the whole population to get 50-60% of their calories from carbohydrates may not have been the most prudent thing to do, especially if you have to scare people into avoiding dietary fat to do so.

But then came the resurgence of the low-carb thing. And I wrote a post called Carb Dogma is For Hipsters ( because I saw this parallel between how people jumped on a certain diet because it was cool and novel. So for example, because we had all been told to eat high-carb, low-fat when the low-carb diets started to emerge, people wanted to be against what everyone else was doing. So people loved being different to the mainstream.

But the real interesting thing was how this has taken another turn that I’ve started to notice lately. Because it seems now that everyone knows about (or has used at some point) a low-carb diet, it just ain’t hipster any more. So instead, we have people going around saying anyone who eats low-carb is an idiot.

Someone will post on their Facebook or Instagram about all the carbs they eat and still stay lean. #HighCarbForLife

But  classifying yourself as low-carb OR high-carb or whatever might be the problem.

If you are on a low-carb diet and it is genuinely working for you, then cool. But just don’t spout rubbish about carbs being the sole reason people aren’t lean. That’s silly.

Similarly, if low-carb didn’t work for you, you went back to a higher-carb intake and now you feel great, then awesome! But don’t think you need to say low-carb is for idiots. Some people will legitimately do best on a low-carb intake



4. Arthur: Do you feel the old bodybuilding rule of thumb of 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass is a good starting point for most people or are there certain populations that this may be unhealthy or counterproductive for?

Danny: Yeah,  I mean there are a number of variables that need to be considered for protein intake: lean body mass, goals, training volume, overall calorie intake, etc.

But as a rule of thumb there is some decent research that we can look to for protein intakes for people who are doing some form of training. Studies end up with different recommendations with most suggesting anywhere from 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (g/kg BW) all the way up to 2.7 g/kg BW. Ideally, we would want to base it on fat free mass (FFM) but the only good paper that puts recommendations in terms of FFM was Eric Helms’ paper, which suggested about 2.7-3.1 g/kg FFM (I think, I need to double check this).

So if we’re looking for a super simple guideline I just say to people shoot for 2 g/kg BW. It’s easy to remember and calculate. Just take your weight in kg and multiply it by 2. Easy. For many this will be a high intake to try to achieve. For less active folks, 1.5 g/kg is likely fine.

Other exceptions might be a relatively lean person in a dieting phase. For them, I’ll push it closer to 2.5 g/kg perhaps. This might help a bit more with mitigating muscle mass loss (although not proven) but mainly I do it because the higher protein intake will mean more satiety and so less hunger whilst being in a prolonged calorie deficit.

In terms of your question on unhealthy or counterproductive, there’s nothing unhealthy about a high protein intake. It doesn’t damage your kidneys or cause women to become bulky or any of that nonsense. But super high intakes can certainly be counterproductive.

As just one example, take a guy who is trying to maximize his muscle gain. He may think that going to 3+ g/kg BW is going to be a good idea. Or the higher the protein the better. But what we’ve seen in research is that the upper level seems to be a maximum of 2.7 g/kg BW. I’m not aware of any studies showing increased benefit by going above that. However, there is a downside. The higher you push protein, you obviously need to drop carbs or fat or a combo of the two. Both play important roles so dropping it in favour of more protein, especially when there is no added benefit makes no sense. Say this guy has a super high protein intake, well above those ranges I mentioned. Would he be better dropping his intake and putting those saved calories towards more carbohydrates to fuel training (and because they taste damn good)? Absolutely! So that’s just one example.


5. Arthur: I often encounter people who for whatever reason won't eat foods containing high quality "good" fats. Some people just won't eat things like fish or nuts or avocados. In these cases are there any supplements (besides fish oil) you advise people to take to prevent any adverse health effects from not getting enough EFA's?

Danny: The threshold for someone becoming deficient in EFA’s is actually a pretty low intake. It would be hard not to get enough from normal eating. Perhaps if it’s someone in the final stages of prepping for a bodybuilding show then possibly they may have an issue. But for others I’m not sure if they would be deficient.

HOWEVER, that is not to say just because you are not deficient in EFA’s that your fat intake is fine, never mind optimal. It’s well known that dropping fat intake (even to levels about that threshold for EFA deficiency) can lead to drops in both testosterone and androgen receptor density. Not good news.

Now for our bodybuilding scenario, perhaps this is justified. It’s short term, until the show and the comp is judged on physique not how you feel or your sex drive.

But for everyone else, going so low in take as to completely avoid sources of fat is completely unnecessary. My first question would be “why don’t you eat fish?”.Or peanut butter. Who the f**k doesn't like peanut butter?

So in direct response to your question, if we’re ignoring fish oils, then your probably left with evening primrose oil or borage oil or something like that I guess? Makes no sense to me but there you go!


6. Arthur: Danny as a strength coach specialising in powerlifting, bodybuilding and just general strength training, I know when I'm about to overstep my knowledge boundaries. If someone comes to me looking for Olympic weightlifting coaching or a "mobility" program or has some sort of neuromusculoskeletal injury or condition that requires a specialist in those areas, I'll refer them straight away. At what stage might you do the same with a nutrition client?

Danny: I think in scope of practice is a HUGE deal, especially when I look around the fitness industry right now. There are people giving plans/programmes that they shouldn’t be, either because they don’t know the scope of practice for their qualification or they simply don’t care.

Anytime someone oversteps their scope of practice they are doing their client a disservice.

For me, one of my priorities has been looking around for people in different areas who I believe are competent and trustworthy and then let people know that they should go to them. For example, if someone comes to me looking for help and they have a serious clinical issue they are told they must be working with a medical doctor or registered dietician. For other people who based on the symptoms they describe to me, I suspect my have a health issue to be checked out (whether that’s gut dysfunction, potential blood sugar issues, etc.) I will tell them the names of some doctors who do the necessary test and tell them to make contact.

On a more practical side, I’ve had a number of guys come to me looking for me to oversee their nutrition for contest prep. Whilst I certainly have some clear ideas what I’d do with people in this situation, and believe I’d be way more competent that many of the idiots I see online calling themselves contest prep coaches, I flat out tell people “you’re better off going to this guy” and I’ll put them in contact with someone who I know is both actively involved in bodybuilding as a coach and has experience of going through contest prep. That’s something I don’t have so it’s not right for me to oversee someone’s nutrition just to make more money when I know that there is coach who is 100% in that field who understand the process more deeply.

Plus, I think in the long-run people support someone who builds a team of people who they can refer out to. It’s one of the things Eric Helms chatted with me about when he came on the podcast. And I can’t tell you how much respect I have for that dude. He’s such a top man.


7. Arthur: Finally Danny a bit like what you say to guests on your podcast at the end of each interview, can you give one tip to our readers to improve their nutrition or lifestyle habits that will in turn boost their health/performance?

Danny: Keep the very basics in mind and don’t over complicate it. Nutrition and fitness should be used to enhance your life, not become something that consumes your every waking thought and makes to stress out.

Eat an amount that matches your goal, eat plenty of vegetables, get enough protein, prioritize sleep, be active and do something you’re passionate about every day. And most of all, don’t be a dick to people.


We would like to send a big thank you from everyone here at CityGym to Danny for taking the time to talk to Arthur and answer all of his questions. Personally, I love all of Danny's content, especially his podcast. I've left all the links below so you can check out all of his work