As a personal trainer I wish I could tell you that I’m the epitome of health, but there are times when I feel like a fraud in the health and fitness world. For being a motivator, I too struggle with self-motivation. With hours of training packed into a day, fatigue and exhaustion are an understatement. At the introduction to my 30s from the 20s, I realized I’m playing in a whole new ballgame, and I’ve realized the true importance of eating smart and clean. While my diet does have a bit more flexibility, I do wish I was able to eat anything and everything I want. You might think I’m humblebragging that I can eat like a teenager and still look the way I do, but with regular exercise — something I do not struggle with — I do struggle with nutrition, constantly.
Many people think that trainers stand in front of full-length mirrors on the daily, admiring how toned our bodies are; that our obnoxious selfies on Instagram are an excuse to show off our toned bodies. Or maybe, due to the motivational and inspirational aspect of training, morning wake-up is met with a mind full of affirmations and anecdotes that would turn any pessimist into an optimist.
The truth is: for being healthy, I sure am unhealthy. At 30 years young, I snack like a teenager and pop pills like my grandpa. My eyes have the baggiest of bags, and my eyelids are so dry that skin flakes off mid-blink. I once thought that I contracted an STD, but it turned out to be a weird skin rash I developed due to many hours spent in soggy spandex. Wearing “real” clothes happens never, and denim gives me anxiety.
One of my biggest fears as a trainer is the unemployment aspect. My market is severely saturated, and mostly everybody in my market is just like me: semi-educated individuals with a passion for working out and good coaching skills. A year ago, after having been active my whole life, my body started failing me and I thought something was seriously wrong. I was constantly fatigued, there were days my muscles couldn’t function, I was itching with anxiety, and I felt like I was on the verge of depression. There were days my body couldn’t function; living in NYC, commuting everywhere by foot, there were days I couldn’t even take myself up at the stairs without the handrail — something that should be a breeze for a healthy trainer. I was constantly exhausted in a way that felt like my body was attacking itself. It got to the point where I had zero desire to wake up each morning, let alone motivate a room full of people to live their best, healthy life.
I was miserable. I needed to make change, stat, and I needed answers about why the fuck my body wasn’t cooperating. I started lining up a team of professionals. I started with a psychotherapist, which turned into seeing a hypnotherapist who recommended an acupuncturist, all while simultaneously seeing an Ayurvedic dermatologist. I went to a gynecologist, a chiropractor/physical therapist, even a yoga guru. Even though I was crawling on the inside, most professionals came back to me saying there were no findings, and each suggested I was training excessively and not getting adequate rest or nutrition.
At this same point in my life, in an effort to numb the work stress, I started serial dating. As luck would have it, a blind date landed me across the table from a nutritionist. A beautiful man he was, and wildly intelligent — I just had no interest in him other than asking him every question under the sun about athlete performance and nutrition. A few dates later, he fixed me with a cookie.
Yes, a cookie.
Blind-date-man geeked out on me about something called “nutrient timing.” He taught me the power of timing meals to enhance performance levels as an athlete. He explained that, when working out, in order to see physical results, the food and the amount you are consuming becomes a vital part of physical progression.
Energy (aka calories) used in a workout originates from food consumed that the body has since stored. In order to get your body in motion, the body has to produce adequate energy to fuel the muscles. For any given activity, on demand, through a huge chain of scientific events, the body produces enough energy to last 12 to 18 seconds. Seconds! (Ever wonder why the hardest part of working out is just getting started?) From there, it takes a few more minutes for the body to release energy stored in cells into the blood as glucose, which is to be consumed by the body for energy to keep you moving and active.
But what changed my life is the breakdown of the cookie as an aid in exercise. If you take away anything from this, I hope it’s this:
Glucose is a carbohydrate, and cookies are carbs. The logic behind consuming a cookie is (disclaimer: I’m bypassing a lot of scientific explanations) that when you consume said cookie 20 to 30 minutes before a workout, the cookie/carbohydrate is broken down into and released into the blood where it can be absorbed by the cells as glucose for energy. A quickie cookie can jump-start the exercise engines.
If you’re like me, a caffeine junkie…then what a better way to eat one cookie than swallowing it down with a black coffee? AKA ‘”wake the fuck up juice.” Coffee = me with a better attitude. You can parlay your caffeine addition into working out as well. Caffeine, the central nervous system stimulant, increases blood flow, boosts the ol’ mood, wakes you up, and can give you laser-like focus. When consumed 20 to 30 minutes before activity, it can keep you moving longer. Studies say caffeine also maximizes fat stores for energy, and best of all, it tricks you into making you think you’re not tired.
So it turns out that the things I’ve considered as unhealthy in my profession actually the make my job easier. With some punctual eating, these unhealthy little circles might actually make me feel healthier. Ironic, no?