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The best way to find out the fitness secrets of a personal trainer? Ask them.
I have to confess, I frequently watch - all right, gawk - at personal trainers in the gym in awe of their svelte, sculpted-to-perfection physiques.
I can’t help but wonder what secret regimen they follow to look so good. Do they really practice what they preach to their clients, or is there a whole other realm of exercise know-how that only the exalted fitness pro can follow?
With each New Year comes the traditional resolutions of weight loss and pledges to dust off the running shoes and hit the gym more often. As we try to make amends and become the healthier person we want to be in the coming year, I couldn’t think of a better time to reveal a goldmine of fitness information: the top diet and exercise secrets of certified personal trainers.
I’ve been around the proverbial “fitness block,” having worked for the nation’s largest fitness certification organization as well as an exercise equipment manufacturer, and I am proud to call many certified personal trainers my good friends - some of whom I informally polled for this story.
Some of these secrets may surprise you, some may not. Remember, we all have different physical and diet limitations, so this list is not to be taken as a foolproof prescription for a perfect body.
Let’s get started!
Secret #1: Eat clean to get lean.
The buzz words “eating clean” have long been synonymous with the body building world, but recently they’ve made their way into mainstream consumer lingo.
Eating clean means consuming only natural, non-processed foods such as lean meats, fish, fresh vegetables and fruits, complex carbohydrates (whole grains) and healthy fats found in nuts and avocados - the foods nature intended us to eat. This means no refined, sugary foods or drinks and limited alcohol consumption.
Eating clean is a lifestyle - not a diet. It requires dedication and can be less expensive than buying processed foods. Experts agree that eating clean is effective for weight loss, can reduce body fat, boost your energy and decrease the risk of certain diseases like diabetes and stroke - and it can even give skin and hair a healthier glow.
Personal trainers who follow this healthy regimen eat throughout the day, often eating six small meals of 300-500 calories each, in addition to regular exercise. And contrary to popular belief, they do sneak a treat here or there without repercussions- they are human after all! Check out www.eatcleandiet.com to learn more about eating clean.
Secret #2: Make exercise a part of your daily routine.
This may seem like a “no duh” concept, but honestly, how often do we actually stick to a regular exercise routine?
It's no secret that there isn't a substitute for regular exercise. (Photo courtesy of the American Council on Exercise)
According to personal trainers, there is no substitute for consistency and variety when it comes to exercise. Many personal trainers look the way they do because they exercise nearly every day, and they constantly mix weight training with cardiovascular and flexibility exercises to challenge different muscle groups and reduce burn-out.
Although personal trainers enjoy the luxury of working in a gym, they, too, get busy with clients throughout the day. So they have to be diligent about carving out at least an hour a day for exercise, which means they won’t get paid for that hour they aren’t training. Now that’s commitment!
Secret #3: You won’t gain weight if you eat like a caveman.
This is one of my favorite nutrition secrets simply for its simplicity! Before the dawn of fast food restaurants and processed foods, our prehistoric ancestors had it right. By eating only what they could hunt or gather, the cavemen fueled their bodies with wholesome, natural foods.
Although eating only plant-based foods and meats found in prehistoric days is quite extreme, the personal trainers I spoke with adopt the main premise of the diet by eating lean meats, nuts, fresh fruits, root vegetables and complex carbohydrates.
Personal trainers say eating naturally low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods most of the time makes it nearly impossible to gain weight. With this “caveman” approach, experts say you’re likely to see sustained weight loss and your health will be improved over the long run. Of course, one cheat day a week is allowed.
Secret #4: Try going dairy-free to reduce body fat.
If you are a cheese connoisseur or a die-hard frozen yogurt fan, you may be reluctant to read further.
In my unofficial research, one of the personal trainers I spoke to opted to eliminate dairy from his diet completely, meaning no milk, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese or ice cream - and the benefits included the loss of body fat; he feels noticeably lighter and has found himself with a more agreeable stomach.
While many studies prove that dairy provides healthy benefits, such as calcium, protein, vitamin A and D and probiotics (good bacteria), for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, dairy may not be an option. There are also studies showing that a dairy-free diet can reduce the risk of arthritis pain, acne and certain cancers. In some cases, eating dairy foods has been linked to obesity, diabetes and autism.
Those choosing to go dairy-free have some decent “non-cow-made” alternatives, including soy, rice or almond milk, margarine instead of butter, dairy-free yogurt and dark chocolate.
Before deciding to put the kibosh on dairy completely, consult your doctor or dietician to ensure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet. They may recommend you take a calcium supplement to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Secret #5: Follow the 80/20 rule.
One personal trainer told me that he follows the “80/20 rule” to keep himself in tip-top shape. The equation is simple: 80 percent of the time he eats a well-balanced diet while 20 percent of the time he allows himself the occasional sweet indulgence or alcoholic beverage.
Preparing meals in advance for the next day helps this personal trainer stick to his 80 percent rule and avoid the vending machine pitfall when he’s hungry. Making food ahead of time is beneficial for professionals like personal trainers who are on their feet most of the day with little downtime to make or buy a healthy lunch - and it’s also good advice for the rest of us working full-time jobs. If this personal trainer knows he’s going out to eat at night, he will watch what he eats during the day to avoid a double whammy of calories. Obviously, regular exercise is factored into this 80/20 approach.
If some of these secrets seem too extreme for the everyday fitness enthusiast, remember these are lifestyle commitments for personal trainers who are often in better physical shape than the average consumer.
If your New Year resolution includes modifying your diet or fitness routine to lose weight or get in shape, consult your doctor first, then you might want to meet with a certified personal trainer to learn his or her “secrets,” and how you can apply them to your lifestyle in the New Year.
Any change, no matter how small, can make a difference.
Casey Piercey is a fitness writer for SDNN.