“Aging is just an excuse.”
The human body is an incredibly complex web of systems—gastrointestinal, hormonal, immune, detoxification, cellular, cardiometabolic, and nervous—that when functioning properly, work synergistically to keep your body running optimally. When one system is knocked out of balance, it will in turn, imbalance all the others, wreaking havoc on your health.
These imbalances are caused by stress to the body. By “stress” we don’t just mean psychological stress. The body perceives any threat to itself as stress. This can come in the form of toxins like alcohol and food contaminants, starvation mode from not eating at regular intervals, sleep deprivation, lack of sunlight, or even seemingly healthy activities, like over-exercising.
Stress-induced imbalances are the root cause of all conditions, including increased body fat, fatigue, allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal distress, eczema, decreased libido, and mood disorders. We tend to chalk it all up to “aging” but it doesn’t have to be this way!
Our goal is to keep all 7 systems in balance to keep you running optimally…and outrunning the aging process.
A customized approach
Generalized diets will never work for human beings until we start cloning ourselves. Therefore, all of my plans are tailored to the individual using the same methodology I’ve applied to world champions for years. This starts with an eating strategy that integrates nutrition requirements with body composition and exercise expenditure. This plan can be even further enhanced by state-of-the-art blood, GI, hormone and/or genetic testing.
A solid eating strategy is the foundation of your health. By “macronutrient”, we mean the proper ratios of carb, protein, and fat in the right amounts at the right times. Without such a plan, all the supplements in the world aren’t going to get you results. Those micronutrients won’t have anything to work on and imbalanced hormones will wreak their own havoc. To avoid this, our first step is to formulate a plan including the following:
Step 1: Your Macronutrient Plan is the foundation of everything
Elements of an Eating Strategy
- Optimal performance is not just about “calories in, calories out” as some nutritionists would lead you to believe. It’s the hormonal response that gives us the most bang for buck. You need some carbohydrate to burn fat but too much will cause spikes in the hormone insulin. The action of insulin is to store, so more of your energy from food will be stored as fat. And, worse, high insulin causes inflammation, which results in much more serious conditions. Remember we said all the systems are interrelated.
- The body perceives long periods without food as a threat to survival and will increase stress hormones, most notable of which is cortisol, to breakdown precious muscle tissue for conversion to glucose. Your brain and nervous system need this to keep you alive. To avoid unnecessary stress to the body, then, eating at regular intervals is an easy fix.
- While “calories in, calories out” is an oversimplified notion of how to stay lean, it still is important to track food quantities. And this may not be for the reasons you think. When people on “diets” plateau, they usually think they need to further restrict calories. However, in the majority of clients that I see, the opposite is the case. If someone is not eating enough, again, the body perceives this as a threat to starvation and we have a breakdown of muscle and increase in fat storage. To avoid this, we track progress weekly by measuring body composition.
- Education on how to choose the best sources of macronutrients is our last element of a sound plan. Why is it so important to buy organic produce or choose grass fed over grain fed beef? What kind of damage will vegan powders contaminated with arsenic do? What are the advantages and disadvantages of whey powders? Quality does matter and we’ll explain why.
The Science of Results: An Integrated Approach and Data-Driven Methodology
One of the most common reasons for failed fitness plans is a lack of integration between exercise and diet. Nutritionists often only look at food while trainers only have time to focus in depth on exercise. For the most efficient results and the ability to trouble shoot when plateaus are reached, however, the two need to be monitored and integrated.
Train smarter, not harder.
Like anything exercise can be under and overdone. Exercise gives us beneficial adaptations when done at the correct frequency, intensity, and duration. We call this “exercise volume.” Undertrain, and we’re unlikely to see results. But overtraining can be even more damaging, causing stress to the body that results in inflammation, cortisol release, depressed immunity, adrenal burnout, and…increased body fat.
As with your food plan, we want to get our most bang for exercise buck by optimizing hormone response. At 30 minutes of high intensity interval training, growth hormone and testosterone peak, while cortisol slowly rises. At around an hour, cortisol begins to overtake growth hormone and testosterone levels. So it doesn’t really benefit us to push through more than an hour. And it doesn’t help us to push too hard either. Contrary to popular opinion, when it comes to exercise, more is not always better.
Enter the Heart Rate Monitor
One of the easiest ways to determine whether or not you’re overtraining is to use a heart rate monitor. Not only will it tell us your caloric expenditure, but more important, it enables us to track your exercise volume—intensity, frequency, and duration.
Weekly Body Composition Monitoring
Many fitness plans fail because they don’t adjust for the changes that occur during training. As muscle mass increases your caloric and nutrient ratio requirements also change. But without consistent monitoring of body composition, you’re just shooting in the dark.
Weekly body composition measurements are a must. By keeping exercise and food intake variables constant, we’re only solving for one variable each week, and that’s your composition.
Why do we measure progress based on composition and not weight? The image below shows models of 5 pounds of fat vs. 5 pounds of muscle. They look pretty different but they weigh exactly the same!
Weight is also a terrible gauge of appearance (and health) when you consider that a mere pint of water weighs a pound. Never mind that you can easily drink 2 pounds of water without coming up for air, but muscle soreness, or excessive salt, booze, or carbs can also result in weight gain due to inflammation. You can see, then, how weight as a marker of fitness is a longstanding myth.
Provided all exercise and food variables are in place, your body composition tells us exactly how to alter your plan. Only one of the following can occur from week to week:
- Muscle gain, fat loss. This is exactly what we want. We wouldn’t make any changes that week.
- Muscle gain, fat gain. Unless you’re trying to gain fat, we need to cut back on your calories the next week.
- Fat loss, muscle loss. This can result from exercise at too high intensity and/or volume. If we determine from the heart rate monitor that exercise is not the culprit, then we need to spare the muscle by increasing protein only.
- Muscle loss, fat gain. This is a classic sign of starvation. If you’re following the plan and eating at the recommended times, then your metabolism has revved up and it’s time to give you more food!
Step 2: Micronutrients and Supplements
The media has done a great job of generating confusion around supplements. But in the presence of a severe deficiency, supplements, if pharmaceutical grade, can save lives. The problem is that not all are created equal and they’re not regulated in this country.
The truth is that micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—can make so many of the body’s systems and chemical reactions run more efficiently. Deficiencies in micronutrients can develop when the body incurs any of the stressors we’ve already mentioned—psychological stress, toxins, starvation, overtraining, lack of sunlight.
And while theoretically we should be able to obtain everything we need from food, commercial farming has stripped our topsoil of nutrients. Further compounding the problem, our toxic modern environment bombards us with heavy metals and endocrine disruptors in everything from food, water, and air pollution to medications, cleaning products, shampoos, and soaps. The deadly combo of nutrient-depleted food coupled with stressors that require the body to use more of the very nutrients that are in short supply necessitates supplementation.
For example, remember the good ol’ Krebs Cycle—the aerobic cycle–from high school biochem? Say you’re low in some B vitamins due to work stress or alcohol intake, or you’re deficient in CoQ10 because you’re taking a statin. Or maybe your liver is having trouble clearing heavy metals and you need alpha lipoic acid. All of these conditions can bring your ability to burn fat to a screeching halt and all can be corrected with supplementation. Again, body comp is just an outward sign of what’s happening on a deeper, more systemic level.
So while we start with a macronutrient plan, depending on the client’s symptoms or interest in taking things to the next level, we can further optimize their health with pharmaceutical grade supplements.
Step 3: Fine Tuning with Cutting Edge Blood, GI, Hormone, and Genetic Testing
Welcome to the 21st Century
It’s an exciting time in dietetics! Here are some of the amazing tools available to help us further tailor plans to individuals.
Comprehensive nutrition blood testing monitors stress markers, enables us to pinpoint nutritional deficiencies (vitamins, minerals, specific fatty acids and amino acids, and gut bacteria), and addresses food allergies and intolerances—knowledge essential for optimizing gut health. Results tell us which of the body’s systems could benefit from supplementation.
GI (Gastrointestinal) Testing
If you were to unfold all the microvilli in your intestines, the surface area would cover an entire tennis court! Your gut is the most significant interface your body has with the external environment. It’s the gatekeeper that lets nutrients in and keeps toxins out. Gut health, then, doesn’t just affect the GI tract but can also be implicated in conditions as far ranging as asthma, allergies, joint pain, and mood disorder.
60% of your neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. When clients complain of gastrointestinal distress, supplements can help break down food and improve the health of the gut lining. Very often, when we solve GI issues, we also see significant improvement in mood!
GI testing can help us troubleshoot your digestion by determining pH, microbiome balance, gut bacteria diversity, presence of parasites, and malabsorption issues.
Ever been frustrated that some people can eat whatever they want and still remain lean? Ever wonder why your friends can drink all night and not pay for it the next morning the way you do? We all know that everyone is different but now we have the technology to understand precisely why, and better yet, how each of us can work best with what we’ve got.
Rather than a life sentence, your genes merely represent a possible predisposition towards certain outcomes. Food and environment tell your body which gene expressions to turn on or off, so we actually have much more control over our health than previously thought. We call this approach epigenetics—“over genetics.”
Knowledge is power. To take control of your genes and your life, you need to arm yourself with the information that a genetic test can provide. Findings may provide clues to alleviating problems ranging from inflammation and impaired liver detoxification to psychological disorders and chemical dependency.
People often forget that “stress” is not just psychological. High blood sugar, alcohol, medications, overtraining, lack of sleep, food intolerances, heavy metals and other toxins can all tax your system and are stressors to the body. So even though you may have the perception that you are handling your stress well, the only real way to see what kind of toll it’s taking is by doing a saliva adrenal test. All hormone imbalances—from thyroid to sex hormones—start with the adrenals. Identifying what stage of adrenal exhaustion you may be in is the first step to rebalancing your hormones.