Interview with Dr. Warren Willey: Better Than Steroids

Updated September 25, 2009

Bodybuilders, powerlifters, and fitness fanatics…listen up! Dr. Warren Willey has written the only book you’ll ever need on the science and practical application of dieting. It’s called Better Than Steroids. Dr. Willey has also authored What Does Your Doctor Look Like Naked.

Muscle and Brawn: Please tell us a bit about your background. When/how did you catch the weight training bug, and what were some of your early training and dieting mistakes?

Dr. Warren Willey: I was a very sickly kid with severe asthma.  I weighted a whooping 80 some pounds by the time my father bought me, for my twelfth birthday, a membership to the local gym.   His goal was to put some weight on me so he would not have to worry about my disappearance during wind storms where I grew up.

The first time I saw a Muscle and Fitness I was hooked!  I wanted to look like Lee Haney and Chris Dickerson. Being sickly and not very active in sports, I read a lot.  There was an obvious connection between nutrition and looking the way my childhood heroes looked, so set out to find a connection between my asthma and food.  It did not take long for me to find one.  From the age of 12, I realized food was a drug – a very powerful one.  If used correctly with the right amount of exercise, I could look like that AND improve my asthma at the same time.  From that time forward I have read about everything I could about nutrition.

One of the local bodybuilders at the gym I mentioned above asked me to help him with a pre-contest eating plan in exchange for bettering my lifting technique.  I took him up on it and he won his show!  The owner of the gym saw the success of this bodybuilder and asked me to work there (this is before the word “personal trainer” was being thrown around a lot – as a matter of fact, there was no personal trainer certificate at the time!) – I have done nothing since.  I teach people how to eat and exercise, even as a physician, my primary role is that of a personal trainer.

My early training mistakes where obvious!  I over trained, as almost everyone does when they first catch the bug.  I hurt myself a lot, never recovered properly and repeated that cycle over and over.  My dieting mistakes where sever restriction and calculating my food intake purely on calories.  It took a number of years to perfect macro nutrient shifting with less emphasis on calories and learning the secrets of “real eating” to gain lean mass and burn the fat.

Muscle and Brawn: Let’s talk about your book, “Better Than Steroids.” I was shocked when I read it. I thought it was going to be just another cut and paste bodybuilding book. But it was the best book I’ve read on the subject of bodybuilding dieting.

For the average lifter reading this interview, can you explain what they will learn about dieting from the book, and maybe provide a couple of things they may be currently doing wrong…

Dr. Warren Willey: Thanks for the kind endorsement. Better Than Steroids is a continually evolving reflection process.  It (hopefully) takes the reader through a variety of options to allow them to find what works best for them and their bodies.  We all fit under the human umbrella of physiology, but as anyone out there can tell you; we are all different.  What works for me, most likely will not work for you – even though we both lie under that umbrella, we have differences that will dictate success and failures.

I tell all of my clients “I have written tens of thousands of eating plans…but I have never written one for YOU!”  In other words: we need to go through the process of trial and error and find what works.  What ratio of macro-nutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) at what caloric level allows you to burn fat AND build muscle?  The only way to find that out is trying a variety of eating plans, consistently measuring your body compositions, continually changing your workout schedule, and drinking your share of water every day!  Better Than Steroids outlines this for anyone interested in a better, leaner, more muscular physique – no matter what level you are.

Muscle and Brawn: Speaking of clients, would it be possible for you to share a couple of your more amazing client body transformation success stories?

Dr. Warren Willey: Happy to – but honestly, we all have outliers that have done beyond amazing!  For example: I have a guy that went from 660 lbs to 250 lbs and built muscle while doing it – I have had skinny little guys that weight a solid 125 soaking wet go to 165 in six months, while maintaining their fat mass under 10% – the stories go on!

What I am most proud of is the hard working body builder who has been at it for years, that finally incorporates the power of food and makes drastic changes!  I am also proud of the “average guy and gal” who, when implementing what works for their bodies, makes incredible gains – gains that where completely avoiding them before we worked together.
For example:  This 40 year old, long time weight lifter that could not get his body fat down no matter what he did – Within six months dropping to 10% body fat while increasing his lean mass. (Actual Chart of % Body fat)


Or this 52 year old male bodybuilder who put on 20 lbs of lean mass while dropping his body fat to under 10% (Actual Chart of Lean Mass).


One gal I love to brag about was six months out from delivering her third child.  She was 36% body fat on a little frame and gained 80 + pounds during her pregnancy.  It was not budging!  We started her on a regimented eating plan and within eight months she was 16% body fat – and still breast feeding!
As you can see from the graphs above, it was measuring their body compositions and making changes to their eating plans based on the numbers that made all the difference.   Trial and error – find what works, and then do it until you need to change it again!

Muscle and Brawn: I want to ask you about a topic that can be controversial…bulking. Let’s say you have a typical 18 year old lifter who thinks he’s a hardgainer and can’t seem to out eat his metabolism. How would you recommend he “bulk”? And do you believe in only clean caloric intake, or “dirty” calories as well?

Dr. Warren Willey: Good Question.  First of all I would consider that a gift not a curse.  Leaner people look bigger, no matter what the scale says.  I would encourage them to do exactly the opposite of what we do for people trying to lose weight, but do it with good foods. Dirty foods, as you put it, can be utilized on occasion, but I have read plenty of studies and have been doing this long enough to tell you that the hormonal effect of dirty food is NOT what someone trying to become more muscular wants.

As this is being read by a broad audience, I will speak in generalities:  First – you MUST measure your body composition frequently so you can see what your diet and training are doing to your lean and fat mass (again…no matter what the scale says). Second – eat consistently, eat frequently, and eat a large meal before bed (One of the BIG opposites we teach people trying to lose weight).  Third – your post workout nutrition has to be perfected.  If you metabolize fast, this is the one time in your day that you can use it to your benefit!  Forth – be persistent!  Don’t get depressed because you do not look like Jay Cutler after a few months!  And finally – be persistent!

Muscle and Brawn: You bring up a very important aspect of bodybuilding that I believe is extremely underused – “getting scientific”. Far to few bodybuilders own a caliper, or log their calories. What would you say to the stubborn bodybuilder that is making lackluster fat loss and/or muscle gains, but who refuses to get “scientific”?

Dr. Warren Willey: That is simple – If I may slightly re-word a quote from Glen Beaman (Re-worded portion in italics):

“Stubbornness does have its helpful features.  You always know what you’re going to look like tomorrow”.

Muscle and Brawn: In your book, you talk about the effectiveness of the keto diet, and that it should be used only for short 7-14 day periods. Can you explain why this is a better approach for a bodybuilder then an Atkins style, long term low-carb diet?

Dr. Warren Willey: KETO runs are an excellent way to burn fat and maintain muscle, when the proportions of fat and protein are correct.  It is not a long term plan because bodybuilders need carbs to build muscle.  Carbohydrates stimulate the most powerful, growth promoting hormone in your body, Insulin.  Carbs also provide some of the energy for the enthusiastic works outs we engage in.

If your goal is pure fat loss, i.e. you are not a bodybuilder and just have to drop a few hundred pounds; it can be used for longer periods.  Bodybuilders have to have carbs included in the eating plan or risk never gaining or maintaining that hard worked for muscle mass.

Muscle and Brawn: Better Than Steroids also covers a zig-zag style diet. How long, and with what frequency can a zig-zag diet approach be run?

Dr. Warren Willey: A zig zag style diet is a great way to actually live life on!  Once you get the hang of it, you can zig zag your calories to meet your activity and schedule.  In other words, on high intensity training days, or days when you have less control of your caloric intake, make these your higher calorie days.  On days with little or no activity – make this a low calorie day.  You can also incorporate the other eating plan styles into a zig zag by alternating your macro-nutrients while doing it.  A zig zag, once perfected, is a great lifestyle eating plan.

Muscle and Brawn: What’s up next for you? And will you be writing any more books?

Dr. Warren Willey
: In-between traveling (I speak all over the country on this stuff!); I am finishing up another book that should be available by the first of the year.  It covers a lot of what I covered in and Better Than Steroids and What does Your doctor Look Like Naked?, but a lot more detail on a few of the suggestions, and a load of info on topics never addressed in a health related book.   It is directed for the general public, but there is some good info in there for the bodybuilding crowd, particularly the ones with crazy schedules (swing shifts, night work, etc.).

I have in the plans a follow up book to Better Than Steroids that gets into the nitty-gritty of the hard core bodybuilders diet including, supplements, and other ‘underground’ fat lose techniques.

I also am almost done with a direct to consumer version of my Walk In Weight Loss program ( that will allow people to write, for themselves, without any nutritional training, detailed eating plans included in Better Than Steroids right down to the gram of protein, carbs, fat, and calories.  It pulls from a data base of thousands of foods, so you can imagine the possibilities.

I also have the chance to work with people all over the world with personal consulting plans available under eConsults at my web site .  That is a lot of fun, and a lot of work, but very rewarding as we have some great success stories from on-line consults.  Between of all of that, and chasing my three kids around, I will be busy until the next time we have a chance to “talk”.  Thanks again for the opportunity, and please do not hesitate to get a hold of me, for any reason, at anytime.

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