After a short hiatus from the Dietitian Spotlight series, this week we are back with a bang interviewing Joey Gochnour, BS, BS, MEd, RDN, LD, NASM-CPT, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer and CEO of Nutrition and Fitness Professional, LLC.

Joey, first tell us a little about what you currently do and what path you took to get there.

As of September 2014, I work part time with my business and part time with the RecSports department of UT Austin and contract with UT System. My business specializes in nutrition and fitness interventions for weight loss and body composition improvement, sports nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, vegetarian and vegan nutrition, as well as strength, flexibility, balance, and agility training. Often these interventions include counseling, coaching, meal planning, exercise consultations, personal training, assessments, motivation, and accountability services.  We also offer free educational article content and videos on our website. I completed two bachelor’s degrees in nutritional sciences and kinesiology with a minor in Spanish at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park. I went to graduate school to pursue a master’s of education in kinesiology: clinical exercise physiology as well as to complete the additional dietetics coursework and internship to sit for the RD exam, which was an additional 2 years of work after already having a nutrition degree. UT does not have an MS/RD program, so it took me 4 years to do a separate master’s and RD. During graduate school, I worked as a tutor for athletes at UT, a TA for the nutrition department in multiple courses, as a sports nutrition intern with UT Athletics, and as a personal trainer with RecSports. Nutrition and Fitness Professional, LLC is new as of February 2014, but I’ve been with RecSports for over two years and have been able to build a clientele.

What’s a typical “day in the life” like?

I work by scheduled client appointments, so some days I will be working most of my hours personal training on campus while other days I have nutrition/training clients I drive to throughout the city.  I try to wake up at the same time each day to maximize work efficiency and use any free time to add to my free article library, go grocery shopping, do chores, email, scheduling and make sure I stay active myself.

What does staying active mean to you?

I lift heavy about once a week or so for each movement, bike to and from the gym for clients and for my UT System contract, and either swim, run, or do playground gymnastics (parallel bars).  Some days I’ll run the stairs and ramps at the parking garage next to my place if I’m short on time.  I am active 5-6 days a week for workouts and don’t consider the biking to work as counting for exercise the day, but I do consider it staying active.

What got you interested in nutrition?

The side of the Cheerios box had The Food Guide Pyramid, which was like two meal planning tools ago (before MyPlate and MyPyramid). I remember my PE teacher telling me to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day, so I had 5 large carrots a day in 6th grade and turned myself orange, literally (you can do that). I probably have some OCD tendencies 🙂 My grandfather had heart valve replacement surgery and was put on a heart healthy diet around the same time. Additionally, I began swimming year round competitively and noticed how much more food I had to eat to maintain growth while having energy for practices. When I was 15 I read Walter Willet’s Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy and corresponded with him via email. I saw my swimming performance suffer when I ate fewer calories by switching to all whole grains after reading his book. It taught me the importance of individualization with nutrition messages. In college, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to major in kinesiology or nutrition and initially went with kinesiology, but after retiring from swimming after walking on the varsity team at Penn State, I decided to pick up another major in nutritional sciences and a minor in Spanish.

What’s the most challenging or least rewarding part of your job?

Working with scheduling clients’ schedules in blocks of time for maximizing productive time during other periods of time among other administrative tasks.

Do you follow any certain diet?

I eat frugally and cook mostly lacto-vegetarian at home, but I do not follow any certain diet. If I go out to eat I eat meat since it is convenient and something different. I am usually aware of calorie content and hunger cues and try to eat balanced for my needs that day/week/month.

Do you take any supplements?

A multivitamin, fish oil unless I eat fish that day, and vitamin D in the winter if I do not get much sun.

What’s been your most memorable meal?

When I was around 8, a certain restaurant– which has probably cleaned up its act since so I won’t name names (but my folks won’t eat there ever again–I’m more forgiving having done foodservice rotations), a cricket jumped out of my friend’s salad and the light fixture broke over our table and poured water onto the table (it was pouring rain outside, but this was inside). It was definitely a memorable meal!

What diet company or nutrition big-name or personality do you think is the most detrimental to the public?

I don’t like to bash entire companies since they often have multiple product lines but I’d have to say GNC since it retails untested-for-quality supplements with adulterated contents in one in four containers while they have a sales clerk “nutritionist” touting the perks of the supplement in a way that makes you like him. I think it is a very dishonest business model and unfair to uneducated consumers. Supplement research isn’t as strong as people think it is anyway. There is often a very small sample size, questionable funding for the research, and many confounding factors undisclosed.


Is it calories in vs. calories out for weight loss or is there a bigger picture?

Yes, it is calories in vs calories out. BMR (basal metabolic rate) doesn’t stay steady though during weight loss or excessive energy restriction for a variety of reasons that aren’t too evident yet. We also don’t know enough about when and how BMR changes. We can control calories in and do exercise, but we can’t control how the body adjusts its furnace as much naturally. Last, not everyone does the exact same amount of activities of daily living, exercise, or adaptation to exercise everyday. Even if you do the same exercise, you adapt to it so that it requires less energy of you through nervous system coordination, upregulation of production of energy pathway enzyme mRNA or reduced degradation, etc. Additionally, there are polymorphisms in enzymes where the same enzyme in one person can be more or less efficient than someone else’s. Finally, exercise isn’t a good way to lose weight anyways, if this is the underlying question. They had a good meta-analysis of this in the 90s that has been revisited a number of times. You can’t exercise off weight. That’s not the purpose of exercise. So I guess the long answer is that it is more complicated, but calories in vs calories out still holds true. The body has a number of mechanisms to slow weight loss. It is also hard to get good reports from clients all the time for social reasons, not scientific ones.

Would you recommend someone who wanted to lose weight to avoid exercise? Do you think exercise is detrimental for weight loss?

I think intense resistance exercise is detrimental to weight loss but not for lowering body fat percentage, which can be done by increasing lean mass in relatively lean people already but not as much obese people, whose lean mass increases would not be as significant of a percentage of body mass yet. Intense exercise stimulates gains in lean mass by causing more breakdown of muscle tissue, which must be repaired and supercompensated for. To see the number go down on the scale though, yes, intense exercise will slow the weight loss progress, especially for already lean people.  For people who are overweight and out of shape, what may be considered intense for them may not be enough breakdown to slow the weight loss progress signficantly yet. I think light to moderate aerobic exercise can help create a caloric deficit without as much muscle breakdown, assuming you don’t do it for excessive amounts of time. Light to moderate exercise can also decrease glycogen stores, allowing you more carbs than you would get normally during weight loss to replace glycogen stores. The focus would be on efficient, easy movement. However, no, I would not encourage avoidance of exercise altogether for a beginner and overweight/obese person. I’d encourage learning the movements for resistance training, working on balance, and working on light to moderate aerobic exercise. I have seen an individual who was overweight/obese and in shape (still agile, athletic, could lift tons of weight in large volumes) have trouble losing weight because he was working out so much at 2 times a day using weights, which stimulated his appetite. I gave him the advice to focus on strength training (lift heavy but not in large volumes) and then recovering and reducing calories. He lost the weight. So I stand by this.

What are your thoughts on genetically-modified foods? Do you feel strongly one way or another?

I’m fine with GMO food.  I don’t feel super strong one way or the other, but I do think that it is a lot of fear and lack of evidence for a controlled trial.  But guess what, Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was genetically modifying food (pea plants) in the 1800s. Additionally, farmers have known that cross breeding desirable traits in animals has worked for centuries before that.  My grandfather, Paul Ruth, taught agriculture for his entire teaching career and is 87 years old and thinks it is ok, and I believe him.

What would you like to accomplish (can be career or non-career related) in the next 5 years?

Establishing my business more is my career goal. I want to be able to tumble better (ie round-off, back handspring, Arabian).

Check out Joey in action!:

There’s been talk that becoming an RD may require a masters degree in the future. Do you think an MS should be required?

Considering that pharmacy and physical therapy require doctorates, a master’s should be a minimum in terms of esteem of the profession by the public. Further education has taught me how to think outside the box more as well as how to read studies more critically. That said, I don’t think it will pay off in terms of higher paying jobs since many hospitals do not want to hire a master’s degree for an entry level when they could just hire someone cheaper (until they have to). I don’t think the master’s should be required to be an MS with a research thesis or in nutrition though. MPH, MA, or MEd (like mine) would all be fine and a way to specialize in related areas, and they may not offer or require a thesis track when you can do a pertinent internship or report. I think a dietitian who has a counseling background such as a social work master’s would be the bomb for counseling.

Thank you Joey for being part of the Spotlight Series and showing us how versatile an RD/RDN career can be!

Be sure to connect with Joey!