10 Things you need to know BEFORE hiring a Personal Trainer

A good friend of mine from decades gone by shot me an email from California a few weeks ago. A mutual friend from the same era was about to turn 50, is desperately overweight, and a group of his friends are chipping in on a Personal Trainer for him … Any recommendations?

As it turns out, all of the folks in the industry I did once know in the Bay Area were either no longer in the industry, or had moved. So, I really didn’t have a recommendation. But I had plenty of suggestions about how to get started, and quickly realized that finding the right trainer isn’t entirely straightforward. In fact, it was downright complicated, confusing, and ‘noisy.

So, here then are my top 10 Tips for Finding the Right Personal Trainer.

  1. There is no licensing requirement in most states. Unlike chiropractors, nutritional consultants, and massage therapists, Personal Training does not require licensing.It’s been suggested that states require licensing for the entire 25 years I’ve been in the industry, but it never seems to find any traction. In fact, you don’t need a degree, nor do you really even need a certification to operate as a Personal Trainer. You yourself, in fact, could call yourself a Personal Trainer and no one with any authority could force you to drop the declaration. While some trainers do have degrees from 4 year programs in exercise science related fields, and it does in fact make them better trainers, some trainers get along just fine with practical experience and energy. Simply recognize that without formal kinesiology and physiology training, you do assume higher risk of injury.
  2. That said, most Personal Trainers will at the least boast certifications. And what a mess! You’ll see ACE, AFPT, NSCA, ASCM, and UBYA along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others. It’s a verifiable alphabet soup out there, and unless you’re actually in the industry, you really wouldn’t know the difference between a B6T from CYA and an Advanced Certification from NTSE.  I’ve personally completed a few myself, see them regularly on trainer credentials, and even I get confused! Some certifications, like NSCA an ASCM are very technical and difficult to obtain. Others are web based and can be completed with just a few hours on the internet! And even then, authenticating the certificate will be a challenge. So, you’ll need to do some research and don’t be shy about directly requesting a copy of your potential trainer’s certification. If certifications are all your trainer carries for credentials (unlike an actual degree), be sure to go online and look at the curricula. Oh, and be sure to ask about the currency of their CPR certification.
  3. Nutritional Education is normally not part of most programs. In fact, even the degreed programs for kinesiology and physiology are light on nutritional education. And trainers will be all over the map on nutritional advice. Be extremely cautious if your trainer-to-be spends a lot of time pitching supplements. First, many states prohibit the ‘prescription’ of diet unless you are a licensed nutritionist. But a lot of trainers make significantly more profit from pushing and selling supplements than they do from training. If you find your trainer recommending more than a single supplement per day, or a month’s supply of pre and post workout supplementation, your best bet is to simply walk away.
  4. Training women is much different than training men. I’ve run into a lot of male bodybuilders over the years who make Personal Training their profession. Highly accomplished themselves, a lot of these guys know a great deal about training young male athletes, and are quite good at it. But it takes an entirely different type of training, and an entirely different style of personal interaction to work with women, children, seniors, or special needs clients. Training an athletic, healthy 20 -something is much, much, much different than training a 50 something woman who hasn’t done much exercise in the past 20 years! Make sure that the trainer you interview has experience and positive results with someone just like you!
  5. Personal and Professional Boundaries vary significantly. Dating your personal trainer is completely unprofessional.  I had a trainer on staff a few years ago who came in with a fresh haircut. He looked good with it, and I told him so! He responded that he “…had just learned that most personal training clients fantasize about their trainer, and that if our clients were going to fantasize about him he at least wanted to look good!” Honestly, I can’t confirm the statistic. And I don’t know why clients sometimes tell us some of the things they tell us … we’re really not psychologists! But with regular, close contact, and regular (sometimes overly) personal conversations, the illusion of a friendship sometimes surfaces. However, if your Personal Trainer is a true professional, dating … and even casual fraternization … is completely over the line. A true Personal Training Professional begins and ends his relationship with you with your training session. Directly ask your personal training candidate what her policy is on dating clients.
  6. Scheduling issues are likely to exist. Anyone who’s worth training with is going to be busy enough to be at least slightly unavailable to train you at your preferred time. At least initially. Wedging mutually acceptable training appointments into the 1st few weeks of training is an awkward, but sometimes necessary way to get started. Over time, however, things eventually converge to at least mostly acceptable for the client. As you might expect though, before and after work hot spots will always be on the schedule. Be sure to check your would be trainer’s schedule for the next few weeks before writing your check.
  7. Turnover is extremely high in this industry. Due primarily to the lack of parental guidance mentioned above, Personal Training is an extremely high turnover industry. One statistic recently showed an average trainer turnover of about 6 months. Because, like you, I need to get out of my office to exercise, I personally see this kind of turnover all the time at the big boxes where I exercise. Very few trainers work independently these days. Most are employed by and paid through their fitness facility. When they leave, any unused sessions they still owe you will likely get brokered to other trainers in the facility. This could be good (perhaps even great!), or bad, but you need to ask about turnover and session transferability should your training candidate move on. And what if the trainer you hire simply doesn’t work for you? Personality friction sometimes exists. If a few sessions go poorly, can your unused sessions be trained by a colleague? Or sister facility across town?
  8. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone who promises you that you’ll lose 25# in the next 25 days is selling snake oil. Oh, it can in fact be done, but it won’t be safe, and it won’t be permanent. If your ultimate objective is to incorporate safe, permanent, positive changes into your life, be sure that your trainer understands that. Be sure that you’re clear about your goals, and don’t let your don’t let your trainer change them into dreams. In fact, one of the most unfortunate consequences of how most trainers are now employed is that those that do well in the big box gyms do so primarily because they can sell better than other trainers. And one of the reasons for why turnover is as high as it is is because thousands of highly skilled, enthusiastic, would-be exercise professionals are horrible at selling. It is truly tragic that schools are churning out skilled exercise professionals, and the 1st thing their employer asks them to do is become a salesperson! So, if it starts to feel like you’re being ‘sold’ something from your potential trainer, chances are that she’s better at selling than she might be at training. If you’re not answering a lot of questions, but are instead listening to a lot of promises, you’re talking to the wrong person.
  9. Do the research. I like to compare hiring a trainer to hiring an orthodontist. If you don’t have teenagers, this won’t make complete sense, but a trainer, like an orthodontist is someone who …
  1. You will see very frequently and need to at least like a little bit;
  2. Needs to have acceptable availability with your schedule;
  3. Is reasonably easy to get to several times per week. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic for 40 minutes just getting to your trainer. You’ll be late frequently, and you’ll also come to dread the event, which will eventually reduce your attendance, which makes reaching your goals nearly impossible; and, finally …
  4. Needs to have proven results for patients with your specific background and goals

So, be sure to ask for and call several references. Make sure that those references are like you. Ask them about scheduling, results, nutritional advice, and socialization policies. Ask, as well about basic things like personal hygiene. Are they always cleanly shaven, with fresh breath, and without body odor? This might seem like it’s getting a bit too personal, but I can assure you, you don’t want a trainer in your face with bad breath or body odor. And very, very few people will actually volunteer that her trainer has BO unless you specifically ask them.

  1. Find out who the boss is. Who do you turn to if your trainer crosses that personal/professional boundary? To whom is your potential trainer eventually accountable? What is the background of the guy/gal in charge? How long has he or she been in business? And what about their professional network: what professional and business associations do they belong to? What is their presence in the community like? What is their wellness sphere of influence like? Do they work with and have strong relationships with other wellness professionals in massage therapy, chiropractic care and nutrition. A quick google of the boss’ name can give you a lot of information!

Five Fantastic Fitness Tips for Tired Summer Training

Fantastic Five Fitness Tips for Tired Summer Training

 Vacations. Guests. Long out of town weekends. Road Trips. And just plain lazy summer days all contribute to reduced summer exercise frequency. Oh, I know, many of you are doing extra cardio outside. But, I also know that a lot of you aren’t!Even in my studios where we rant and rave, and beg and plead with our clients to get attendance up to where it needs to be to make progress, attendance is down. Maybe it really is the economy. If that’s the case now is in fact the BEST time to pick up your exercise volume …to look and feel healthier, increase your productivity, reduce stress, sleep better, and on and on.

Here then, are my Favorite Five Fitness tips for Fixing Flat Summer Programs

1. Get a Grip!

Changing how you grasp a bar can dramatically alter the kinetics of a resistance exercise, and create exciting new interest in upper body pushing and pulling exercises. I also frequently find that people with joint ailments (the rotator cuff in the shoulder in particular) can avoid impingement and discomfort by experimenting with grip adjustments.
Alter the width of where you grasp a bar, the rotation of your wrists (palms up or down), or change the bar entirely. A Traditional grip is palms facing down when your hands are extended on a plane in front of your eyes. Change your routine by continuing to use a traditional bar grip, but vary the distance of where your hands grasp the bar to recruit additional or different muscle fiber groups. Two or three inches narrower or wider are usually sufficient. Try varied grip widths for chest, triceps, and shoulder presses to effectively train muscle groups on range of motion boundaries not normally recruited with a ‘monotonous’ grip position.

Try using a reverse grip for lat pull downs, seated pulley rows, supported T bar rows, and single arm movements of the same. Selecting a different bar or cable attachment can also introduce variety into an otherwise mundane program. Experiment with straight, cambered , EZ curl, V-shaped, and rope attachments for arm exercises. Choose between straight, cambered, wide grip lat, wide grip cambered, and bent lat bars for back & traps.

Use your modified grip (or bar choice) consistently for a minimum of 2 to 4 weeks, then try another one! But don’t switch more frequently than that: the initial adoptions from a varied grip will be neurological; the muscle strength & fiber growth you’re looking for occurs only after primary neurological adoptions are complete, so don’t switch too often!

One Critical piece of advice here: if you are unsure of the proper movement, or the safety of the exercise, DO consult with a fitness expert before experimenting. Modifying grip and bar choice changes joint rotations that can be unsafe for the uneducated.

2. Be Promiscuous

Hey, it’s OK … it’s just a workout! But you’d be surprised and amazed with how much fun, exciting, and refreshing training with a new partner or trainer can be! And effective! Here’s bonus a tip for you: training with a partner or trainer is one of the true key elements to reaching heath and fitness goals you never before thought possible. Knowing that someone is expecting you to show up for a workout – someone who will hold you personally accountable for making it to that fitness appointment dramatically improves the likelihood that you will actually show up! Having someone help you with a few forced reps, and assist with some negative repetitions not only increases the safety of your workout, but it increases intensity as well.

If you’ve been with a partner or trainer for more than 6 months, try making a change for a while. If you like your partner current partner/trainer, try forming a small club of ‘workout buddies” and rotate through the group periodically. Not only will you make new friends, but you’ll grow if only through a handful of favorite tips, tricks, and techniques we’ve all collected over time. More likely, however, is that you’ll also change the tempo, repetition rate, sequence of exercises, and content of your split routines. All of this puts your body at a high state of ‘nervousness’ which encourages neurological adaptations required for increased muscle group recruitment. Especially with today’s hectic schedules, you can never have too many workout buddies, and some of the best workouts I’ve ever had have been ‘reunion’ workouts with former partners from high school and college.

Finally, I strongly recommend AGAINST training with your significant other. Your workout needs to be free from the baggage and agenda from that relationship if you truly want results.

3. Know and Feel your Pain

Herb Brooks was right: “…you must grow through pain.” Realize, first, however, that not all pain is good!

Being able to understand, recognized, and differentiate good pain from bad pain is a key element in making consistent progress towards your fitness goals. The burning sensation felt from fully exhausted muscle groups is due to the accumulation of a waste product known as lactic acid. Excessive lactic acid buildup is also responsible for muscle soreness after your workout. Generally speaking, it is a good pain giving you reassurance that you’ve recruited otherwise inactive muscle groups and have trained them to momentary exhaustion. Even so, training muscle groups to exhaustion with high intensity exercises should be moderated to avoid over training.

Plan to train to train each body part to complete exhaustion (and feel the burn that comes with it) no more than once per week, and less so after age 40. The burning feedback from lactic acid is much different from that which you feel when joints, tendons, and ligaments are strained. Especially as you hit the mid years of your life, not all pain is equal, so learn to differentiate the good from bad. Pursue active rest to reduce lactic acid buildup,but completely rest when you have an injury. If in doubt, check with a trusted personal trainer.

4. Have a Ball!

A medicine ball, that is. They’re inexpensive (less than $20 each), and can introduce new fun into an otherwise tiring routine! Did you know that medicine balls have been used in in physical therapy since 1000 BC! Sizes and shapes vary from 1 Kg to 11KG, but all medicine balls will be soft enough to bounce on a firm surface (like a wall or floor). Indeed, it’s ability to absorb impact is what makes a ball a medicine ball. Most balls with come with brief instruction guides for things to try. A few of my favorites are:

  1. Walking diagonal lunges with a gentle hand to hand shot-put-like overhead toss (glutes deltoids, balance);
  2. Explosive seated overhead throw and catch against a flat wall (lats, abs),
  3. Sit-up and overhead throw to partner (abs, lats);
  4. Explosive squat position basketball chest pass against a wall (gluts, delts, tris); and
  5. Russian Twist – balance on your butt with feet lifted off the floor and rotate ball in a twisting motion (abs, obliques);

And if you think training with a medicine ball is for wusses, try a few single arm supported dumbbell rows: support yourself in a plank-like position atop of the ball with one fully extended arm while grasping a very light dumbbell in the other. Balance on the ball with the extended arm while knocking out a few single arm dumbbell rows. You’ll train Tris, Delts, Pecs, Core, Traps, and Lumbar with just this one exercise.

5. Get Roped!

One of the most effective cable attachments ever invented is the rope attachment. Part of what makes it so effective is that the flexibility of the rope allows the exercise range of motion to follow a more natural joint motion than any fixed bar ever could. Use the rope attachment for:

  1. Split triceps pushdowns from a pull down pulley
  2. Single Arm triceps pushdowns … try grabbing both rope ends, or just one;
  3. Split biceps curls from a seated row pulley
  4. Single Arm biceps curls
  5. Seated Crunches from a pull down machine

Unfortunately, rope attachment ‘evolutions’ have actually reduced it’s effectiveness in some ways. Back in the 70s we simply threaded heavyweight marine mooring through the eyelet of the cable buckle. While crude, it required that you both: 1) establish a firm grip on each end; AND 2) manage balance between the ends of the rope. Today’s rope attachments normally have huge knots on each end and a fixed buckle in the middle. While still effective in providing quality and gentle joint kinetics, the grip and balance benefits of a free, unknotted rope have been forgotten. Not to worry though … just thread a hand towel through the attachment buckle for a similar enough effect!

One thing to note with most ropes, however: unlike it’s metallic cousins, ropes will absorb and hold moisture from your gym brethren, so be sure to wash your hands immediately after your workout to leave the fungus at the gym!

Preventing Osteoporosis With Your Long Slow Cardio Event

Prevent Osteoporosis with Your Long Duration Low Intensity Cardio Workout

Osteoporosis is a bone degenerating disease that leads to potentially dangerous (even deadly) bone fractures. Commonly discussed as a risk area for aging women, if you’re thinking that this problem is just for the girls, think again! Recent research at the University of Wisconsin shows, that while…

“While a 50-year-old woman faces a lifetime risk of 50% for an osteoporotic fracture, anywhere from one in eight to one in four 50-year-old men face that risk.”

Further, the complication and death rates for men are higher than for women.

But wouldn’t you know it … one of the best ways to avoid osteoporosis is to maintain a regular resistance program! If you’re not regularly exercising, we can certainly help you with that.Additionally, now that we’re basking in 15+ hours of daylight, your long slow cardio event can help there too!

Because if you’re following my prescribed cardiovascular programming recommendations your weekly cardio efforts will include:

  1. One short duration, high intensity event (SDHI)
  2. Two moderate duration, moderate intensity events (MDMD)
  3. One long duration, low intensity event (LDLI)
Sundays, early mornings, and late evenings are perfect times to get out and complete that Long Duration, Low Intensity (LDLI) event.

But just what, exactly, is Long Duration? And Low Intensity?

Generally, you’ll want the long duration, low exercise event to be measured in hours,preferably closer to 2 or 3. But it shouldn’t feel exhausting.

You’ll want to pick up your heart rate just a bit, but not so much that you’re really challenging your circulatory or respiratory systems. The increased blood flow provides much needed nutrient rich blood to your muscles, bones, and joints.

Under the stress of more intense exercise (resistance or cardio), muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments all get damaged a bit. This is by design, as the rebuilding/recovery that follows makes them stronger, longer, or leaner.

It also increases bone density, which is why it’s particularly effective in avoiding osteoporosis.

Additionally, conversion of energy sources to energy produces a toxic waste product called lactic acid during exercise. The more intense you exercise, the more lactic acid you produce. This waste product is the primary reason why you may feel sore after resistance exercise: your body doesn’t like the lactic acid hanging around muscle groups. Stretching can help help eliminate lactic acid buildup, but we mostly depend on the circulatory system to flush it out.

Your LDLI then, provides an important niche role in assisting with your recovery: upside nutrition for your recovering tissues, and increased blood flow to remove lactic acid waste product.

If you have a heart rate monitor we can tell you exactly what range to be in for this exercise.Or …

But before you start thinking “... hey, I’ll just do that daily then …” ,do recognize that this only has practical value within a comprehensive program that includes prescribed resistance training as well as more intense bouts of cardio work. It’s part of the puzzle, but a lost puzzle piece by itself.

Exactly what you do for your Weekly LDLI will depend enormously on your current fitness level, but here are a few suggestions.

Walk. The lakes, the rivers, and the bridges all have excellent separation from traffic. And the intensity of a brisk walk is exactly in the right range for LDLI exercise. Again, check this handy tip from RealAge to gauge intensity.

Nordic Walk. If you want to do even than better than just walking, start nordic walking. Long popular with the skiers for summertime training, nordic walking has a leg up on just plain walking in that with the use of hiking poles you:

  • Engage your entire body in the exercise
  • Improve Core Strength and Stability (lower back and abdominals)
  • Increase Shoulder and Arm muscular endurance
  • Improve the safety and stability of your walk, especially for geriatrics

… thereby burning an additional 45% more calories than with walking alone!!!

You can stick to the urban trails, or get onto the many city and county park hiking trails (Hennepin County Parks, Ramsey County Parks). You can get your hiking poles at REI, or one of the many area cross county shops: Finn Sisu in St. Paul, or Gear West in Long Lake.

Ride your Bike. Check out my Cycling to Work Tips Sheet! 

Are you Fooducated?

I took Fooducate for a test drive today.

At first glance, this app absolutely rocks! 

It’s free (Android and iPhone), and is an absolute must have for anyone who’s in doubt about how to read ingredients lists or understand nutrition labels.

Unlike NuVal, which I briefly reviewed a few weeks ago, Fooducate requires you to scan the bar code of the grocery item.  NuVal simply displays a single 2 digit number between 1 and 100 on the actual shelf display label.

But if your shopping list is on your phone anyway, as mine is, it’s pretty easy to point at and click a picture of the item.  It works the same way that RedLaser does in presenting a rectangular area for the bar code.   In both cases the barcode image is sent to the magical server which presents results.

What’s presented in Fooducate appears to be a highly accurate, quick and easy way for consumers to judge a product’s health value.

Upon scanning you get:

  • an overall letter grade for the product
  • calories per serving
  • number of fooducate user ‘likes’
  •    red exlamation points where the product fails (GMOs, refined flours, additives, etc).
  • food points (which I have not investigated)
If you want more info, you can also get:
  • a complete nutrition label with Green Check marks for where the product gained points
  • alternatives for similar products that could be a healthier choice for you

In short, Fooducate is simple, elegant, fast, and helpful on the front end, yet with sufficient depth to be sophisticated, detailed and analytical when you drill down into a food product.

I tested it on a few of what I consider to be trap products that appear to be entirely healthy from the product’s description and packaging, but tend to be less healthy than expected (like Wheat Thins).   Fooducate definitely passed the sniff test with Wheat Thins  finding the saturated oils, additives and sugars. 
Fooducate only failed to find a couple of highly specialized deli items in my recent trip to Kowalski’s.   In those cases, Fooducate gave me the option of sending 3 pictures back to them: package front; ingredients; and nutrition label.   Bravo Fooducate – get the consumer to do some free work!

A country divided

The fundamental difference between NuVal and Fooducate is philosophical:

NuVal digests a food’s content in an effort to relieve the consumer from thinking much about whether it’s cart-worthy or not.

Fooducate analyzes and grades out a product as well, but believes that that’s just part of the picture.  You need or might want to see the actual data behind how they arrived at it.

This gives Fooducate a HUGE leg up on NuVal.

I don’t believe a single number (or letter grade) can accurately quantify a food’s value.  Nor can a single number adequately allow a consumer to assemble a healthy diet: an yam’s NuVal 85 is no better and no worse than tofu’s NuVal 100.  It depends on the individual and what else is in the cart. 


In working with clients on diet for nearly 30 years now, there isn’t much doubt that they truly do want to be informed and educated: Fooducated.

What’s missing?

What I’d like to see next with Fooducate is a cumulative shopping trip cart analysis. 
Once scanned items are added to the cart, what else should go in there to balance the diet.  For example, are you short on protein or Vitamin K?
Indeed,  did you forget milk!?

Get More Help

Just what the heck is Interval Training?

Interval Training 101

Chatting with the young at heart at yesterday’s open hockey game I found myself in a spirited conversation about heart rate zone and interval training.  

  • Everybody wanted to know: 

What’s the best heart rate target?  

What’s the best heart rate zone to exercise in?  And .. 

How long should I remain in a heart rate zone? 

Answers to these questions vary individual to individual and goal to goal as much as the conservative right differs from the liberal left in this country!   Who you are, what your objectives are, and what your fitness and exercise position is are just a few of the first questions to ask to design a healthy, comprehensive heart rate zone training plan, and heart rate zone training workout

I’ll have many more helpful hints on cardiovascular training in the heart healthy month of February, but hope that this introduction helps to reduce overloading of the term Interval Training. 

Most folks get their 1st taste of interval training with cardiovascular exercise.    

In fact, one of the most commonly used and basic interval programs is the hard/easy cycle.

Walkers frequently become runners with interval training without even knowing it!  They walk for a bit, run for a bit, and then walk for a bit more.  In the process complete their 1st interval workout!

An interval is quite simply: a distinct period of exercise followed by a distinct period of recovery.

The aspiring runner who runs until ‘very tired’, then rests ‘until feeling better’ is interval training every bit as much as the athlete who sprints for 30 seconds and then walks for 2 minutes.

Four specific things create an Interval of training:

  1. The Intensity of an Exercise Effort
  2. The Duration of an Exercise Effort
  3. The Intensity of the subsequent Recovery Period
  4. The Duration of the subsequent Recovery Period

Fitness professionals, athletic trainers, and coaches prescribe interval training to accomplish highly specific goals.  For athletes who depend on explosiveness and quickness, much emphasis is placed on short duration high intensity efforts to develop burst and power … those required during competition.

Similarly, endurance athletes commonly use lower intensity intervals with long (and sometimes really long) durations, perhaps with very short recovery periods to develop cardiovascular efficiencies… again, as is required during extended competition.

Unfortunately, athletes and exercisers who exclusively limit their training in this way actually miss out on multiple beneficial exercises askew to their niche.   

Here’s why:

For one, interval training, is hardly restricted to cardiovascular exercise!   In fact, you might legitimately argue that straight set resistance (weight lifting) programs were actually the original seeds of interval training!  A Straight Set does quite handily satisfies all 4 of the above interval requirements: lift a weight until failure; then recover for 2 minutes.

Secondly, narrowly focused cardiovascular intervals actually fail to cover all of the zones within a comprehensive heart healthy exercise program.

More educated athletes do do some form of cross training these days to supplement their sports specific activities, but runners who simply run run run, and cyclists who just ride ride ride are not only prone to overuse injuries, but also cheat themselves of the benefits of a more balanced exercise program.

For the average forty/fifty something simply looking to look and feel better, interval training  has significant relevance.

Non only does interval training play a part in a comprehensive cardiovascular program, but they can be a key element in resistance training as well!

Straight sets are hardly the degree to which interval training can be applied to resistance training!  In programming for muscular endurance and body fat reduction,  low resistance, high repetition, longer duration INTERVALS  are a highly effective and extremely efficient resistance training interval.

And the list goes on.

Looking for more help with interval or heart rate zone training?

 Just register and get a Free copy of my Heart Rate Zone Training to Look and Feel Fantastic whitepaper!

Or browse the Exercise Section of my blog.

Or, get the whole scoop in by new ebook How To Be Healthy! 

A Protein Supplement Primer

Atkins, Zone, South Beach, and Weight Watchers. Pick Your Diet-of-the-week Diet you’ll inevitably be discussing Protein.

It’s a Hot Topic!

  • But how much protein do you really need?  And why?
  • With what is it best consumed?
  • And, if in the form of a supplement, what’s the difference between a good protein supplement and a good waste of money?

Protein: The Building Block for Healthy Bodies

Proteins are the basic building block for lean body mass. Protein is the primary material making up all soft tissue in your body, and makes up your DNA, enzymes, and hormones. Proteins, quite simply are not only a hot topic for weight loss, but are a required nutrient for lean body mass development, and is an absolutely necessity to live!

But everyone’s protein needs are different. Exercising adults have a higher protein requirement than sedentary adults. Even the kind of exercise you’re performing matters: some runners actually need less protein than someone working on core strength and functional fitness.

The safest, most accurate way to ensure that your protein intake is appropriate is to work with a licensed nutritionist or fitness expert to better understand your individual needs. However, a practical guideline to follow is that if you are resistance training 3 or more days per week, you require between .75 and 1.0 grams of protein per pound of desirable body weight each day. This translates into 125g for a 150# person.

And that can be a lot of protein for a lot of people! Put into perspective, a typical 8 oz chicken breast is approximately 30 grams. A cup of steel cut oats oatmeal 18 grams. A cup of cottage cheese  (at left) 10g.  If you simply had those 3 foods alone for dinner, breakfast, and lunch, you would have consumed 68 grams of protein … just barely half of your protein needs for the day.

So,the challenge becomes how to get sufficient protein into your diet without picking up a lot of extra calories that sometimes come from lower grade protein sources.

As a result, some form of protein supplementation will be appropriate for a lot of us.

To be clear, supplementation should be exactly that … supplemental to your food intake, not a food staple. A perfect diet includes 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. When working with supplements, a good rule of thumb to follow is to consume no more than one supplement per day. If you’re using supplements for more than one snack or meal per day, you’re treating it as food, and that’s not practical, healthy, or sustainable over the long term. It isn’t necessarily that the protein is bad for you (though it will be extra calories); it’s those last few ingredients listed on the package you need to be concerned about.


For a lot of us on the move, a protein shake on a busy morning, or a protein bar between afternoon appointments can be a lot healthier than most alternatives AND still contributes to the daily protein target.

Protein Supplementation

In looking at protein supplements, however, the options can be overwhelming and confusing. You will find products based on soy proteins, whey proteins, casein proteins, and proprietary blends. So, a few notes are in order …

Not all proteins are created equal

From a chemical perspective, proteins are combinations of 22 known amino acids (“aminos” for short). 9 of these Amino Acids are considered essential … they are required to live, and can only be found within food sources; the other 13 are considered non-essential and can be manufactured by the body (from the essential aminos).

When looking for a supplemental protein, the two most significant things to consider are:

  1. How many of the key amino acids are present; and
  2. How easily can your body absorb them.

Amino Acids

Food source and food source alone drives amino acid content … how many of the essential aminos your protein supplement contains depends entirely on where it came from!

Remember Little Miss Muffet? You know, the girl who sat on her tuffet eating her curds & whey?  Indeed, the curd (solids) and whey (liquids) derived from whole milk are the exact food products from which Casein (think ‘curd’) and Whey Proteins are derived. And they’re the top product in this space!

From an amino acid content perspective, whey proteins have long been recognized as the king of proteins … boasting not only a high quantity of amino acids, but the best collection as well.

Topping the list of essential amino acids found in whey proteins are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), PhenylalanineTryptophanArginine,Glutamine, and Proline. This chemical collection contributes to or regulates everything from muscle recovery to immune system performance to sex drive to anxiety control to skin appearance.

Are we there yet?

Almost.  But don’t throw out your casein or soy based products just yet! While whey proteins are top dog, even they don’t contain ALL 9 essential amino acids. You’ll need to get those from other sources like soy or casein. As a result, you will frequently see something like “proprietary protein blend” on many supplement labels.

As long as whey protein is listed as either the 1st or 2nd ingredient in the blend, you can be sure that your money is being well spent. And if you see both whey and soy, you should have a complete set of amino acids.

Biological Value and Adsorption

The other thing to consider when evaluating protein products is how effectively your body handles the protein … something known as Biological Value (BV).

BV, as it turns out, is entirely dependent upon protein preparation techniques: when manufacturers take good care of the amino acid molecule during preparation you’re body will adsorb the protein more quickly and more effectively.

The most expensive and best quality proteins are derived from a process that produces Protein isolates: chemical ion exchange techniques preserve the structure of the protein best, ensuring high quality and efficient adsorption. Ultra filtered or micro filtered products are also high quality proteins (though 2nd tier), but protein concentrates and hydrolyzed proteinsare cheaply produced and to be avoided.

Therefore, things like “whey protein isolate,”, “casein isolate,”, and “soy isolate” will be your highest quality protein sources, and the ingredients you should look for when selecting a protein supplement.

Lastly, don’t forget that high protein intakes places additional demands on your digestive system, so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day!

Does NuVal have Genuine Value?

What’s the Value of NuVal?

A local story on NuVal caught my eye a few weeks ago.

Lund’s & Byerly’s were to be rolling out NuVal  in an effort to help consumers more easily evaluate the nutritional value of grocery items.

As the counter-top display (at left) reads, the idea is that …  “The higher the NuVal Score, the better the nutrition.” 

I was curious, so I swung by Byerly’s for a peek.

At the moment, only about 15,000 of Byerly’s 40,000 products are NuVal labeled, so this is a first and partial impression.    What is not partial, is my first impression.     At first glance, I’m entirely unimpressed.

The architects of NuVal have the very noble, but entirely unachievable intention of…

“cutting through the nutrition clutter…”

to establish a single value that consumers can use to evaluate products.

Unfortunately, as I found with many of the scored products, it isn’t nearly that simple.   The formula appears to assume that a nutrient is a nutrient is a nutrient, which is simply not the case.  Not all nutrients are created equal.  Furthermore, WATER is a nutrient, but is seemingly unable to sit at the big kids’  table.  More on that below.

My first issue was with the below image Byerly’s uses to pitch and define the system:

While not uninteresting eye candy, this formula above would almost NEVER produce a number between 1 and 100!

Micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are generally measured and available in milligrams, while macro-nutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates)  are generally measured and available in grams.    So, the micro nutrients would be under weighted by a factor of 1000 and the sodium and sugar would similarly be over weighted by the same degree.   To be fair, a very very sugary product like candy would be very nearly zero … unless it has a lot of fiber, like a pineapple where the fiber would counterbalance the sugar.   Interesting. 

If you have a ‘pure’ product, like lettuce with lots of fiber and a bit of simple carbohydrate, but with no sugar (or anything else),  you would have a zero in the denominator of the formula.  By definition, this is actually infinity … a lot more than 100.

Last, I don’t see protein or complex carbohydrates in this simplified presentation of “the formula.”   So, there must be a lot more to it than what meets the eye, but the flags go up when simple math breaks down on the flagship logo.

But again, the consumer isn’t supposed to actually think here.  Just realize that:

“The Higher the Score, The Better the Nutrition.” 

Folks, even in an election year, IT’S JUST NOT THAT SIMPLE!  

Proteins and Carbohydrates and Fats and Vitamins and Minerals and Water are all NUTRIENTS and are all important in a healthy diet!  

Selecting products purely by this single number would be a dietary disaster for most consumers! 

Here’s a good example: Organic Romaine Lettuce scores a perfect NuVal 100, while local, Minnesota grown Tomatoes score just an 18.   Are you kidding me!?

 Tomatoes are a TERRIFIC food.  They’re one of the most nutritious foods you can put into your mouth!

They are NOT A MEASLY 18!   Outscored by <gag> Chex Mix!? 

And to somehow suggest that lettuce is a perfect food is absolutely  ridiculous.  Lettuce is  great food, to be sure, but only when included in a balanced diet that includes a plethora of other macro and micro nutrients. 

There are  indeed foods, however, that are closer to perfect foods with a nice balance of nutrients that the behind-the-curtain formula somehow fails to recognize.

Fat free dairy fits this category with complete proteins and moderate, simple carbohydrates.  Low fat cottage cheese is exactly this food with 13 g. of Protein, 5 g. of Carbohydrates and ZERO grams of fat!  

Why and how then does Fat Free Cottage Cheese score a frightful Twenty Six!  Just 26!?  Stay away from fat free cottage cheese and tomatoes – really!? 

Moreover, how is it that cottage cheese’s nearly identical nutritional cousin, non fat milk comes in with a well deserved and highly flattering Ninety One!?

This is at the very least least confusing, and at worst, misleading.   If any product deserves to be be a 100 it would be the fat free milk.  It boasts clean complete (casein) protein with limited, and clean carbohydrates,  not to mention all that calcium.

About the only thing I can think of is that the product was somehow inappropriately penalized for the sugars listed on the nutrition label, yet these are really  nothing more than simple carbohydrates.    Queer.

What’s worse is that peanut butter is, by the most elementary of measurements, an UNHEALTHY FOOD.  Yet, with a NuVal score of twenty four it is somehow classified along side the non fat cottage cheese!

That’s just wrong and wrong in a very big way! 

While it is true that nuts can be a healthy part of your diet,  peanut butter is generally high in sodium content and always high in saturated fats.  It’s in the ‘bad food’ category.  

Incidentally, if you want whipped nuts, eat almond butter which is far lower in saturated fats.

So then,  the higher the number DOES NOT DEFINE better the nutrition in this case. 

Then, we find water.  Carbonated water flows in with a belittling score of 1.

To be fair, carbonated water has no calories, but WATER IS A NUTRIENT just as much as proteins and calcium and potassium.  It belongs in the diet and should have a good score!   Water is good! 

My greater fear here is that the oblivious consumer will see the 1 on the Carbonated Water next to the 15 on a diet soda with far more unnatural ingredients and choose the less healthy product.

Which raises the question on production and packaging integrity.

Nowhere in the formula did I see any penalization for preservatives, additives and fillers.   If you exercise regularly, these chemicals present a potentially less healthy choice than an occasional bad fat might.

As a result, in this initial and partial observation I can only conclude that the one size fits all judgement of nutrients is oversimplified and occasionally misleading.

We have to start somewhere, however, and I’m encouraged by what NuVal has started.

I think it has some promise, but it also has a long, long way to go in attaining the goal of finding a single value that actually helps consumers make solid, consistently healthy choices.

What is Fitness Feng Shui?

What is Fitness Feng Shui? 

“Fung shui, is a Chinese system of geomancy believed to use the laws of both Heaven (Chinese astronomy) and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive qi.”- Wikipedia

Without going into geomancy or qi, suffice it to say Feng Shui generally includes (among many other things)  the notion of harmony with nature and the natural patterns of nature and energy.

From that context  I like to use the phrase “Fitness Feng Shui” to define just what fitness should mean within the context of a holistic approach to a vibrant, active life and overall well-being.

To start with, Fitness Feng Shui is as much an art as it is a science. While intimately rooted in physical elements like how you look, and how you feel, or how strong you are, Fitness Feng Shui is as much a state of mind as anything else.  While you can measure muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, cardiovascular condition, and flexibility, Fitness Feng Shui is less measurable and more spiritual.

As such, Fitness Feng Shui is a lifestyle …   a way of living an enriched and enhanced life found only through regular exercise, sound nutrition, and healthy living choices.

The journey to Fitness Feng Shui is a very powerful tool! Improving how you look can improve your self-esteem, increase your confidence, and, in many cases, open doors that might not otherwise exist. Maintaining a healthy bodyweight with reduced levels of body fat dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and many forms of cancer. You can reduce your blood pressure, reduce stress, sleep better, and have better sex with Fitness Feng Shui. Your mind will be sharper, your blood pressure will be lower, and your appreciation of life itself will be more positive with Fitness Feng Shui.

Indeed Fitness Feng Shui is a fundamental element of health and happiness.

Feng Shui Fitness Hazards

Most often missed in the search for Fitness Feng Shui is the long slow cardio event.  While technically part of your cardio program, it is one of the most critical parts of recovery, especially for competitive individuals who sometimes find it hard to train easy.   It is also one of the most effective ways to engage your mind in new ways.  It’s some of the best thinking time you will ever find!

Next often missed upon the path to Fitness Feng Shui is poor food choices.  Understanding sound nutrition is one thing; having the day to day and year to year discipline to put quality nutrients into your body is another.    What you put into your body affects how you look and feel.  How you look and feel affects your attitude, your cognitive ability and stress levels.  Making good food choices is a habit and habits take months and years to make and break.

Lifestyle Elements for the Feng Shui Fit:

Fitness Feng Shui is all about how you think about exercise and fitness: how you plan your week; activity choices you make at home; and how you spend your vacations.

Exercise needs to be scheduled into all of our busy lives, and that exercise appointment with yourself needs to be the most permanent, immovable appointment of your day!

Feng Shui Fitness Exercise Elements

While the exercise element of Fitness Feng Shui can be elusive to adopt, it is straightforward enough to understand. It simply includes a healthy balance of strength training and cardiovascular exercise.  The other ingredients in the sauce include daily stretching, consistently sound nutrition, and sufficient recovery … All of things covered in my new eBook How To Be Healthy! 

Unfortunately, few individuals find Fitness Feng Shui.  A casual observation of the exercise community reveals that most of us tend to lean more heavily on one element or another in this regard.   Runners mostly just run run run, and have enhanced cardiovascular systems, but very little muscular strength. Cyclists normally do a bit better with enhanced lower body muscular strength development in addition to great cardiovascular systems,  but tend to have disproportionately smaller and weaker upper bodies.

On the flip side, bodybuilders and other ‘gym rats’ often neglect cardiovascular training, and frequently have very low cardiovascular fitness levels. Yoga students develop terrific flexibility, but frequently lack muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Healthy Nutrition varies widely within these groups.  Supplementation abuse is not rare, especially for the more competitive individuals.  You do not need to look far for over-the-top protein and energy boosting products.

Stretching is something that should be a daily activity. It assists in keeping good skeletal alignment, improved posture  and reduces exercise induced muscular recovery time. It could include a yoga or tai chi session, but doesn’t need to. A highly focused 15 minutes of stretching each morning or evening can be sufficient for most individuals.   Time sliced stretching can also be effective on an occasional basis.

Strength training is something that should be performed 2 to 4 times per week. Strength training increases bone density, stabilizes the joints with stronger tendons and  ligaments, and enables a more active lifestyle. Focus on large muscle group, and compound exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups for a highly efficient strength training workout. Always spend a minimum of 10 minutes warming up with some low to moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, as well as a minimum of 10 minutes warming down after your workout to help flush lactic acid (a byproduct of exercise) from the muscle tissues. A proper warm down also helps begin the recovery phase so that you’re refreshed for your next exercise day.

You should complete some form of cardiovascular exercise 3 to 5 days per week. Total cardiovascular exercise volume and intensity will be varied on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to safely, effectively and permanently improve your Fitness Feng Shui.

There is no one size fits all model for Feng Shui Fitness Nutrition.   Age, gender, fitness level,  body composition, and exercise habits all influence how many and how your caloric needs are balanced.  Getting this right is entirely on you.  You must become an expert on what you put into your mouth and how it affects your body.  A good place to start, however, is the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Remove yourself from fad, trendy, or extreme diets that deviate appreciably from the USDA recommendations.   They are largely unhealthy, not sustainable and not part of Fitness Feng Shui.

Understanding proper nutrition is a never ending and life long endeavor.  

You can never be too intelligent about nutrients, and just when you think you have it all figured out you get a bit older and things change!

Need a hand with getting onto the Feng Shui Fitness Path?  Ask me about my Health Coaching Sercices. 

7 Steps to Cut your Death Risk 50%

Black Friday was this week.  Discounts are everywhere if you dare venture into the high stress environs of the local malls.

10% off this, 20% off of that, etc.

But if it’s a deal you’re after,  your best bet is to skip the mall, have a clean, healthy meal and head to the gym for a workout!

For as Oxford Scientists recently reported,

you can cut your chances of developing cardiovascular disease in half ...yes, by 50% … with regular exercise!

The American Heart Association says you can reduce your risk of death by following 7 simple principles:

  1. Get Active
  2. Eat Better
  3. Lose Weight
  4. Stop Smoking
  5. Control cholesterol
  6. Manager Blood Pressure
  7. Reduce Blood sugar

The good news, in my opinion, is that these 7 can be even further reduced to just 3 …

  1. Exercise Frequently
  2. Eat Healthy, Eat Often, and Eat Light
  3. Stop Smoking

… because regular exercise and intelligent eating are the most effective ways to Lose Weight, Control Cholesterol, Manage Blood Pressure, and Reduce Blood Sugar!

If you’re struggling to get healthy, exercise more, or eat better, ask me about my Holiday Health Coaching promotions! 

Eating Right + Exercising Regularly = Living Longer & Living Stronger

Add Energy to your day with Time Sliced Stretching

 Time Sliced Stretching

For a lot of us (ahem) stretched on time, one unique way to get additional stretching into your day is with something I call time sliced stretching.

A terrific supplement to your active office, time sliced stretching simply includes short bouts of stretching performed in line with the rest of your busy day.

It works like this: if you’re climbing a set of stairs, stretch a bit on the way up and then again at the top of the flight; if you’re walking through a doorway, stretch a bit as you pass through.

Small amounts of time sliced stretching throughout your day can both improve your flexibility and give you a minor energy boost!
On stairs, there are a number of things you can do to stretch. First, after taking a few single steps up, start taking 2 or 3 steps at a time. This motion roughly equates to a lunging exercise, so be sure to step slowly (your muscles will probably be cold) into your 1st double and triple steps. This primarily stretches the gluts, but also hits the hamstrings a bit as well.
Near the middle of the flight take especially slow steps and really try to go low with with a few deep steps … you’ll feel the stretch in your gluts.

Once near the top of the flight, and now that the legs are warmed up a bit, it’s time for some calf and hamstring stretches. Grab the hand rail and balance on your toes over the edge of a step. Switch your weight from leg to leg, alternatively stretching your calves by allowing your heels to drop below the step height.

Then, come back down the stairs a couple of steps and extend a straightened leg up a couple of steps to stretch your hamstrings. Sloooowly bring your nose towards your knee until you feel the slight discomfort of the stretch and hold for 10 seconds. Stretching might feel somewhat uncomfortable, but never painful. If it hurts, you’re stretching too far! This entire stair climbing stretch can be done in as little as 60 additional seconds and just plain feels good!

If (and only if!) your shoulders are stable and without range of motion limitations, you can quite easily stretch your chest with something I call door jam stretches. As you navigate your home or office throughout the day,you can easily stretch your chest and back in just a few minutes by using the door jam as a stationary object. To stretch your chest and shoulders, stand about 6 inches in front of an open door jam. Place your hands on the sides of door jam at shoulder height. With feet firmly planted, allow your body weight to “fall” through the doorway to where your chest is stretched and resists falling further forward . Hold the stretch 8 to 10 seconds and repeat up to 5 times. As with staircase stretches, start slowly and gently … you’ll be stretching COLD muscles, which is less than optimal.

While in the same doorway, you can handily stretch your back as well. With one arm, reach across your body to grab the inside of the door jam molding. Then, slowly rotate your body away from the hand holding the molding. You’ll feel this stretch in your rear deltoids, trepezius, and latissimus dorsi (the largest back muscle). Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat up to 5 times on each arm.
If you’re tall enough (most door jams are 7′ and reachable if you’re taller than 5’6″), reach overhead and place both hands on the top of the door jam. Grab hold of the molding around the door jam if possible.
With a firm grip on the top of the door jam, perform a toe raiser to slightly thrust your torso through the doorway. As you do so, you’ll be arching your spine and stretching your latissimus dorsi . Hold for 8 or 10 seconds and repeat up to 5 times.
As with the chest stretch, you’ll be performing this stretch without the benefit of a proper warm-up, so do be gentle at the start.