Meal Prep. Those two words evoke mixed emotions for me. As someone who has competed in natural, competitive bodybuilding nearly a decade ago, I think back to the 8-10 weeks leading up to a show in which I would prepare chicken breast, tilapia, egg whites, brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and asparagus every single Sunday. It was a huge time commitment and having to eat the same bland foods for 8-10 weeks made for a pretty mundane palate as well as social life. Sure I got really, really lean and looked great on stage and in pictures but it wasn't a sustainable way of life and you can even make a case and say that it was unhealthy (yes, there is such a thing as getting too lean)!
Nowadays, one word sums up my perspective towards health and fitness..BALANCE. I encourage my clients and members at my gym to stay on point 80% of the time with regards to nutrition and to not feel bad about having a few cheat meals each week or having 2-3 drinks of alcohol. Where people really get into trouble is when they start to binge eat. Binging is typically a result of being super stringent on a meal plan and ultimately reaching your breaking point with it. You see, extremism is rarely a good approach to take with anything in life and a more middle of the road nutrition strategy will still enable a person to make strides towards their body sculpting goals while not causing them to feel alienated in other aspects of their life.'
As a gym owner, professional trainer, and single man it's quite easy for me to get pulled in several different directions and lose sight of the ever so important element of life balance. This is where having my meals prepared ahead of time becomes so vital. We've all heard the saying, "time is money." As I'm sure many of you can relate to, I find this to be oh so true these days and long ago came to the realization that I am not Bobby Flay in the kitchen. Fortunately, I recently stumbled upon a local meal prep company called Fresh & Fit Meals on Instagram and reached out to them to see how they could help take the burden off of me. One of the owners, Matt Zozoya, responded immediately and I couldn't be happier with the service he and his company have provided.
For those that may have never heard of them, Fresh & Fit Meals is a San Diego and Los Angeles based meal prep company that truly hits it out of the park with their middle of the road nutrition strategy. They produce all-natural, well balanced, tasty meals at what I consider to be a very affordable price (about $10 per meal). All of their food is preservative free with the nutrition facts printed on the label. The guesswork and time commitment is removed from the equation as each meal is composed of (in general) a moderate amount of carbohydrates, low to moderate fats, high protein, and all that's left for you to do is reheat it for 2-3 minutes. They have over 50 different meals on their site, Freshandfitmeals.com for you to choose from and I personally have tried 16 of them—they're all great but I've included my top 5 thus far down below:
1.) Sweet and sour pork. Growing up my mom always made delicious pork tenderloin but didn't quite put this twist on it. Loaded with veggies and lean pork and they even throw in actual pineapples!
2.) Turkey meatball with marinara. Being a Chicago guy, this gives me that Italian fix that I often crave. A much better substitute than deep-dish pizza, the meatballs are incredibly full of flavor and the marinara sauce is on point. A very good low carb, moderate fat, high protein meal combo.
3.) Chicken breast with pecan'd yams and asparagus. Such a great meal combo. The chicken is super tender and the yams give that perfect amount of sweetness.
4.) Steak and roasted herb potato medley. Again, being a midwest guy we like our steak and potatoes. This is good old fashioned growth food. The steak is not dry as one might expect and the potato medley has a nice garlic flavor to it.
5.) Mediterranean Cod. I don't eat a lot of fish so it's nice to mix things up every so often. The cod is very smooth, the rice is flavorful, and they pack in the veggies.
Since getting my nutrition back on point with the help of Fresh and Fit Meals it really has helped re-solidify the framework for my balanced life approach. As I say to my clients and members, "You have to feed the beast" and in giving your body the nutrients it needs you in turn become more productive in other aspects of your life and your body composition starts to improve. Across the board, life gets better when you eat clean, regimented meals and if you're a busy, working professional like myself I highly encourage you to give them a shot, you will not be disappointed!
Q: Denise, first off, please tell the readers a little bit about what you do, your background with regards to exercise, anything else that you'd like to share that could be helpful for the readers in understanding the magnitude of your transformation.
A: As a kid and through high school I was always very active and never had a problem with my weight or figure. After getting married about 3 years ago, between working at a desk and going out to dinner on a frequent basis, I started gaining weight. Over the course of 2 years I picked up 30 lbs and people didn’t recognize me. After work all I wanted to do was eat and drink, I was always tired and self-conscious. I became so self-conscious that I constantly wore a jacket and avoided social situations. It was a nonstop burden, and uncomfortable carrying around all that weight. I cried when I had to buy bigger clothes.
Q: So we're approaching the two year mark of training together and it's truly been a 180 in terms of what you're accomplishing in the gym and how your physique has changed but the truth is that it really wasn't until after your first year of working with me that the weight started to come off. In that first year you certainly got a lot stronger and were more physically fit but explain to the readers why at that pivotal moment in time the weight finally started to come off.
A: It takes your body time to adjust. During the first year I gained strength but I had not fully mentally and physically committed to really getting into shape. After about a year I started to change my diet, thanks to your help. I also started enjoying work outs more and looked forward to the endorphin rush. After working out, I felt great and I felt proud of myself.
Don’t expect results overnight, it takes time and dedicated. Your entire mindset and attitude towards working out shifts. Once I started losing weight I felt much better about myself and it was somewhat addictive. I finally could see result which encouraged me even more.
Q: There are a lot of forms of exercise that are out there: Various styles of yoga, spinning, kickboxing and other group fitness classes, crossfit, swimming, the list goes on. What is it that makes you gravitate towards weight lifting?
A: Personally I find yoga slow and tedious. I’ve tried spinning and kickboxing. I think that the type of work outs we do are much more aimed at specific results and incremental progress. No two work outs are the same, they’re always more challenging. Weight training enables you to see the progress you’re making. It’s an organized and precise way to challenge yourself physically.
Q: Your husband has also been training with us over the past two years. Was it a mutual decision to start working out?
A: Yes. We had both gained weight. My weight gain was causing depression and making him upset. I think my constant complaining and worrying about my appearance was a drag for both of us, but when we met you something clicked and we both felt like we could trust you to help us gain strength and lose weight. In addition, we have both learned discipline thanks to your ongoing encouragement and training. You set goals and showed us how much we could achieve by trying, a little harder each week.
Q: How important has it been to have him in your corner supporting you outside of the gym and right beside you inside the gym?
A: It’s great to have a cheerleader in my corner. There are times that I do not want to go to the gym and he talks me into it. He is a very dedicated person and encourages and inspires me.
Q: As a very successful businesswoman, your schedule always seems to be packed to the max with projects that you're working on. How do you find time to make it to the gym three times per week?
A: Three times a week is really not that hard. Saturday is a no brainer and during the week days I make work outs a priority. The work out relieve stress and get my mind off of work. Often times work that seems insurmountable before the gym doesn’t seem like a big deal afterwards. It definitely helps relieve stress and is a worthy investment in myself.
Q: I can imagine there are a lot of social settings such as business meetings and dinners that present temptations in the form of alcoholic beverages and poor quality foods. How do you resist these temptations when everyone else is taking part?
A: I still enjoy myself on occasion but I’m more aware of the body I have worked so hard for and the damage I’m doing by overeating or drinking in excess. Most people do not notice if you order an appetizer for lunch or don’t eat the bread. Also the urge to drink is not as strong because I’m hooked on the endorphin rush from working out.
Q: Of course your husband is a big supporter but how do you handle interactions with friends or other family members that just don't seem "to get" why it is that you choose to lead the lifestyle that you do and make the sacrifices that you do?
A: Oh I think they get it. My mom says I’m doing a great job by investing in myself and my health and I think she is right. As far as everyone else, I think if they just gave it a chance, they’d enjoy it and adopt a workout routine and diet.
Q: Denise, I just want to say thank you for everything that you've done these past two years and I'm sure the readers appreciate your firsthand account into your fitness journey. Is there anything else you'd like to tell people out there that are perhaps on the fence with starting an exercise regimen?
A: Just like during our workouts, sometimes you say to me, “Just start” and it resonates with me. Just get going, start moving and don’t expect immediate results. The discipline you will learn and long term health benefits cannot be quantified.
As some of you may know, a little over 5 weeks ago I instinctively decided to take the necessary steps to drop body fat, restart my cardiovascular system, and make my own workouts a priority once again. You see, the preceding 5 months of my life the my focus was largely directed towards my business endeavor of opening a gym. Sure, I was still working out 3 times per week with weights and eating properly 50 percent of the time but for someone who is at an advanced fitness level like I was, these curtailed efforts eventually took their toll on my physique and I started to backslide. In that time frame, I would guess that I gained 6-8lbs. of fat and lost 4-5lbs. of muscle. My goal was to reverse that process--in 28 days!
I knew that the nutrition component needed to be the cornerstone for this transformation process but I also knew that with the new responsibility of being a gym owner, things wouldn't always go according to plan and I'd have to adjust and adapt. The staples of my nutrition would be my first and last meal of the day--the meals I knew I could always eat at my home.
Breakfast consisted of:
4 egg whites, 1 whole egg, iodized salt and pepper
2 strips of turkey bacon
2/3 cup of oats with unsweetened almond milk, cinnamon
chobani greek yogurt-individual container
8oz. orange juice
For lunch, I would typically eat out at one of the following restaurants in San Diego: Chipotle, SanSai, Flame Broiler, Crazy Bowls and Wraps, Panda Express. The constant at all of these restaurants was a lean chicken breast, rice, vegetables, and beans if I were doing chipotle. I omitted the sauces and other additions like guacamole, etc.
I would workout at mid-day and drink a protein shake afterwards that consisted of:
12 oz. of unsweetened almond milk
30g of protein powder
10g of L-Glutamine
2/3 cup of oats
My late afternoon to early evening meal which I would also eat at my home would be:
8oz. 93/7 ground turkey
1 boil-in-bag brown or white rice
1/3 cup of pinto beans
My last meal of the day would be a chef salad:
chopped ham and turkey
small amount of ranch dressing
1 cup of cottage cheese
1/4 cup of mixed nuts
To summarize my nutrition, I was getting at least 1 gram per 1lb. of bodyweight daily and keeping my total fat intake during the day to less than 50 or 60 grams. My daily carb intake was always dependent upon my activity level and some days would be as high as 400g and others as low as 200g. What made the biggest difference for me was eliminating snacks in the evening. It's incredible how the calories can really add from chips, etc.
The exercise component shifted quite dramatically for me as well when I started this transformation process. I went from training very heavy for low repetitions(3-5) to training moderately to light for high repetitions (15-20). My exercise selections also shifted as I now had incredible equipment to train with in my new gym and had to rely less upon basic barbell workouts. I still incorporated free weight movements but also incorporated a lot more isolation, muscle-group specific exercises. I would train with weights 4-5 days per week and have 1-2 days be devoted to cardio. I would do either the stationary bike or step mill for 45 minutes and keep my heartrate around 150 for the duration. Each week I made sure that I took one complete day off from exercise but this certainly wasn't a lounge on the couch day. It was productive in it's own rite--running errands, tending to business items, and trying to stay as domesticated as a single man can these days.
Some additional things to mention were that I consumed 1 gallon of water per day and only consumed two drinks of alcohol and a few slices of pizza in this time frame. I was working from about 9am until 10pm at my gym so it didn't allow for many social situations in which I would have to resist a temptation and in the little free time that I did have I used it to tear through a few series on Netflix.
The biggest takeaway for me that I'd like to share with you is that my aforementioned approach to nutrition and exercise during this transformation process made it a breeze to cruise right through the 28 days of this Anti-Diet, Diet. It brought me back to routinely making good food choices and prioritizing my own workouts. Now that I've gotten my body fat back down I hope to keep it in check because I feel so much lighter on my feet, enjoy the added definition to my physique, and appreciate the improved function in my cardiovascular system.
About the Author
Gym Owner and Personal Trainer, Keith Diedrich has a B.A. in Exercise Science and has been professionally involved in health and fitness in various capacities since 2005.
"My initial thought about Keith was that he seemed very casual and not as frenetic as other professionals. I quickly learned that he was gauging my stamina, movements, and technique. He wasn't after a fast burnout, but he wanted to exhaust every muscle every time. He said we were working on a "mind to body connection." With this connection I'd be able to gauge whether a set was 15 reps or 20 reps regardless of the initial "goal of 15!" I believe much of my gains came from Keith always seeing my potential even when I couldn't." ~ Saul "Mr. Biceps"