Jim Stoppani claims to use science when giving workout, fitness and weight loss advice. He does, but maybe not in the way you expect.
Jim Stoppani, Ph. D.
If you haven’t heard about Jim Stoppani, sorry, Dr. Jim Stoppani before, you should know that in bodybuilding circles he is an authority. Beside being very fit, he can also point at numerous TV appearances, celebrity clients, articles for fitness magazines and books he co-authored.
Furthermore he even has a real Ph. D. in exercise physiology, which is stressed whenever and wherever he appears or writes fitness articles. Sure enough he also includes long lists of scientific references in those articles.
He Uses Science. But How?
If you read what I said about why bodybuilding needs science you may come to the conclusion that nothing could keep me from applauding his angle. After all it seems that with Stoppani we have a man who properly studied what he is writing about and in his articles makes sure to point at the science that backs his words. The claim at the top his website, “using real science to design real programs for unreal results,” should have me rejoice.
Then again Dr. Oz is a real doctor, too, and that doesn’t keep him from making some, shall we say, questionable statements. It does pay to have a look at how one really uses science to back positions. Especially when those positions come in articles with dozens of references that give them an extra aura of legitimacy.
As an example for how Stoppani operates I picked an article of his I recently came across at bodybuilding.com, where he states that using a mixture of various supplements can help you lose weight. Analyzing it in its entirety would make this article very long and most of his references also aren’t available without charge, so I picked two of his claims where you can read the important papers for free: those about caffeine and capsaicin.
Let’s start with the caffeine, about which Stoppani writes the following:
When you ingest caffeine, it binds to receptors on your fat cells. Normally the nucleotide adenosine binds to these receptors, and when it does, it puts a halt on fat release from the cells. With caffeine sitting on the receptors, adenosine can’t attach, and fat release is maximized. This is particularly effective when taking caffeine before workouts, several studies have confirmed.
Receptors, nucleotide, adenosine – sounds impressive, doesn’t it? What is less impressive is that we have no idea about what “fat release is maximized” really means. Do I suddenly drop all my body fat and sit in a squishy puddle in front of my desk? Just from an extra strong cup of coffee?
We need to know how much fat is really lost thanks to caffeine and the second study in Stoppani’s references, available right here (PDF), can easily clarify this. On its page 4 we find the following figure:
The left table shows energy expenditure after ingesting no caffeine (the placebo control group) and at various different doses. We see that the biggest effect is at 30 minutes, where the 400 mg group burns about 1.28 kcal per minute and the placebo group about 1.12.
So “maximizing” fat release means a difference of 0.16 kcal / minute? That is a measly extra 9.6 kcal per hour. It also doesn’t take into account that over time the body may very well get used to the increased amount of caffeine and the effect could disappear entirely.
Capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot peppers hot, we find under the heading “fat burners”:
[Capsaicin] increases the amount of calories your body burns, thanks to its ability to raise epinephrine levels. One study from Japanese researchers found that consuming capsaicin with a meal raised calorie expenditure by more than 30 percent. A study from the University of Oklahoma likewise found that subjects who took a supplement containing both capsaicin and caffeine burned more calories during and after exercise than those who didn’t.
Once more Stoppani doesn’t give us any concrete numbers, but here we actually don’t need any. His most reliable reference concerning capsaicin is the meta-study (a review of other studies) he lists as No. 13, which has the following to say and makes things quite clear:
Collectively, the studies reviewed provide supportive evidence for roles of capsaicin and capsiate in weight management. However, the magnitude of these thermogenic and appetitive effects is small and their long-term sustainability is uncertain.
So yes, the effects exist. But that they are “small” and long-term usability “uncertain” we sure we didn’t get to read in Stoppani’s article.
Real Science, Unreal Distortions
I looked through various of Stoppani’s articles and the included references and the tune almost always is the same: the science is much less positive about the effects than what he makes it sound like. What we have here is a man who apparently had a proper education in the field he writes about, but either misunderstands the science he reads or deliberately exaggerates it.
If I was in a more dire mood I’d say he hopes that his Ph. D. shines bright enough and long lists of references look impressive enough for people to take his words for gospel and not actually bother checking the research he so freely crowns his writings with.