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Why is it harder to stay lean as you get older?

Like lots of people, I was considerably leaner in high school and college during my more athletic years.   Many of us who were high school and/or college athletes reminisce about how much better we looked, or how difficult things have now become to keep the same weight or "fit into my old jeans", etc. 

A common reason (or excuse) is the theory of metabolic slowdown that occurs as we get older.  Certainly there is a degree of validity to this.  However, a recent blog post I discovered makes things much more simplistic than complicated reduction in our respective metabolisms.

Rusty Moore of Fitness Black Book basically outlined a factor that is so simple, it's the last reason we consider when wondering why our waist lines were more trim during our teens and 20's - we were much more active back then.

I won't restate all of the article's points here so that you feel compelled to read through the original.  However, in a general sense think about how much more physically active we were as younger people, compared to our adult selves.  Or, said another way, think about the drastic reduction in our activity once we become everyday "office workers".

We wake up - drive to work or ride public transportation - sit at a desk or conference table for 8-10 hours - commute back home while sitting in a vehicle - then usually eat dinner and sit down once again in-front of the TV, computer, or possibly a book. 

Where is the physical activity?

In high school and college, you walk to and from most classes.  Chances are, if you're reading sites like mine, you were some sort of an athlete in the afternoons as well.  Two hours or more of sports practice or games 5-6 days per week.  Or maybe if you were fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that made it possible, you went  swimming at the lake or surfing at the beach, or mountain biking, or spent time hiking. 

No wonder we could "eat whatever we wanted"and still look like a shirtless underwear model  (or bikini model for you ladies) without even putting thought into complex factors like diet, counting calories, carb cycling, etc.

While it's a largely unavoidable fact that being an adult, and part of the working world means that the bulk of our time belongs to our company and will be spent in an office or behind a desk.  But it's up to you what measures you will (or won't) take to counter-balance this unavoidable slowdown in everyday physical activity.

Obviously joining a gym and getting some exercise either in the mornings or evenings (or even during lunch) is one easy fix.  If money is tight and you can't swing for a gym membership, you can find other ways to increase your "NEPA" (Non-exercise physical activity)like going for long walks, bike rides, workout DVDs (think P90X or Jillian Michaels), or even simple steps like choosing the furthest spot in the parking lot, choosing stairs over elevators.  Another idea I tried last year was 10-20 pushups and prisoner squats every time I leave my desk for any reason during the work day.

As Carolina Panthers' head coach John Fox is fond of saying, "it is what it is".  Adult life in the working world can drastically reduce opportunities for recreational physical activity, however it's up to you to take steps to fight back against "fitness atrophy".


Return of the Six-Pack: Getting Back Into Shape For New Moms

A month ago, a friend from work gave birth to her first child.  She's a former college athlete, so with a few weeks left in her pregnancy she was already lining up her game plan for getting back into shape.

"I've gotta get my six-pack back again!" she said one day.  Well I like fitness challenges, so I was quickly motivated as well. 

Losing the pounds that accumulate on a woman's body during pregnancy is obviously tough.  Adding to the challenge is the fact I'm a man and almost nothing about the complexities of the female anatomy post-pregnancy, however I've never had a problem consulting with people smarter than me to learn something new.

I assembled a "Dream Team" of the fittest moms I know and elicited their wisdom, feedback, and collective experiences after they gave birth to help my friend put a long term plan in-place that will help get her back to her "old self". 

Comprising my Fit Mom Roundtable: a former Division I college field hockey player, a former college soccer player in the ACC, and two fitness instructors/triathletes.  Clearly they know their stuff, but their shared experiences mean even more since they are "regular people".  What I hope to do below, is aggregate what I've learned from them (as well as some other sources) in the hopes that in-addition to my friend, some other new moms can help collect the tools to either reclaim their lost six-pack - or find the one they never knew they had!

 Doctor's Clearance

Also known as "Step One".  The Most Important.  Without this step, forget about reading the rest of the article until you've consulted a physician.  Hopefully it goes without saying, but there's no such thing as a plan to get back into shape post-pregnancy until you've been cleared by your doctor.


This was an interesting finding for me, since if you've spent any time on my site you know that I place a premium on nutrition strategy for athletic performance, body composition/fat loss, and overall health.  I was unaware that a new mom's diet had such a major affect on their baby due to breast-feeding.  Odds are that if you're a new mom reading this, there's nothing you can learn from ME about breast-feeding (and the subsequent effects of your diet), so I'll try to stay in my lane and stick to things I know something about.

Once your focus shifts to your own nutrition for your plan to get back into shape, many of the same dietary strategies that would help keep you lean under normal circumstances.  You'll want to do many of the same tactics like cutting back (or eliminating) those white starches like pasta, breads, pastries, and a few heavy dairy sources.  A shift (or continued focus) towards lean proteins, healthy fats, and moderate-to-low carb sources is the way to go.  Good news that there is no need to "re-invent the wheel" when it comes to dieting to lose pregnancy pounds.

As you have probably already learned the hard way, meal time becomes much less structured with a new little one controlling your schedule 24 hours-a-day.  As my friend Jessica (former Div. I college field hockey player) pointed out, "grazing" (snacking on healthier foods throughout the day) is one way to keep your diet pointed in a positive direction even while the baby's appetite takes precedence over your own.

"I became a grazer and would grab a protein and/or dairy source as a snack whenever possible (nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, slice of meat, etc.). I kept berries and spinach on hand and would grab a handful here and there throughout the day."

Jessica makes a great point that gets overlooked too often, if you keep good snacks handy, that makes it much less likely that you'll gravitate towards the "wrong" type of snack while you're trying to get back in-shape.


I'm a big fan of setting goals for fitness, both short-term and long-term.  In this situation, the short-term goals need to be moderate, and the long-term goals need to be LONG-term.

The consistent response from my Fit Mom Dream Team was that their recovery time spanned from 6 weeks to 2-3 months, and even then, the first few workouts should be kept to some brisk walks of 20-30 minutes. Another good strategy (that solves two tasks at once) is to invest in a solid baby stroller that allows you to burn a few calories while getting the new baby outside the house for a little while.

Once you get past that introductory stage and can truly begin focusing on your legitimate fitness goals, scale weight is OK however it's only one factor in the grand scheme of returning to your old self (or even an improved version).  You'll know once certain clothes begin to fit again, so those things will take care of themselves.  But with regard to fitness goals, once you are able to get out and jog for 15-20 minutes, perhaps it's time to target a 5K run in the next 1-2 months.  No worries about what the stop watch says, just focus on finishing and being involved in the competition aspect.  Once you get moderately close to your old self, maybe you set a much longer term goal like a half-marathon or sprint-triathlon in the next calendar year.

Stephanie, a personal trainer/triathlete (and mom of two) here in Charlotte had the following advice for new moms:

"The cross training that triathlon offers is fantastic, and I would recommend it to everyone.  Having goals is a huge motivator and really keeps you on track with your training.  Every workout has a purpose, so it eliminates repetitiveness and boredom that so often occurs when people 'just lift weights'."

 The Power of Routine

One of the biggest consistencies I found from the new moms was that their own workouts and bodies are now a distant second to the needs and care for their new little baby.  That's obviously a good thing, however there does come a point where Mom needs to avoid neglecting her own health and fitness too.  Still, workouts need to fit into the overall family schedule, so time flexibility is paramount.  Rather than fall back on the sometimes valid-yet-insufficient reason of "I don't have enough time", you must MAKE time somehow.

  • Gather with other new moms you know and pick a time to meet and push the kids in the stroller together. 


  • If you've got a gym membership, print a group fitness class schedule and pick 4-5 classes per week that you'll attend like clockwork.  See if the gym or YMCA has a child watch facility where you can drop the baby for an hour and jump into a cycle class or total strength/organized cardio class.  Odds are you'll become attached to the group setting and probably meet a few new people along the way. 

Mary Dare is another of the great fitness instructors (also newbie triathlete and mom of 3) at the Charlotte YMCA and she said the organization of the group exercise schedules plus child care was a huge pillar of her post-baby fitness plan:

"It takes time getting used to new schedules, and I think routine is important. Everyday, we went to the Y at 9:30 for an hour. This was my hour to myself, and fortunately, the YMCAs have great childcare. I scheduled all appointments around that time. Obviously things come up sometimes, but 4 out of 5 days we were there. Once my children were in Child Watch, I could focus on my hour to work out."


  • If your husband also likes to work out, do like my friend Jessica and set a "your turn/my turn" rotation with Dad.  If you watch the baby on Monday while he works out, on Tuesday it's your turn.


The point is, MAKE time and make getting your workouts a part of your regular schedule somehow.  Even if you can't go for a long jog or swim like you used to, a brief but intense session can still get the job done.

 Celebrity Mom Perspective

While there are some celebrity new moms who spend 3-4 hours in the gym with their personal trainers, there are still quite a few that incorporated the same workout and nutritional philosophies that will give a "regular" mom the success she's looking for.  One online article I found illustrated that several big names found success by using similar dietary tactics that I outlined above:

Jennifer Garner, Kate Hudson, Elizabeth Hurley and Catherine Zeta-Jones all lost their post-baby bodies by following a diet that is low in carbohydrate-based foods (breads, pastas) and high in protein (fish, chicken, lean beef).

Jennifer Garner, mom to one-year-old Violet, tells People magazine, "It took me a long, long time. I just wasn't that motivated. I wanted to play with her. Then I got on the treadmill, stopped stuffing my face and lost the weight. I cut out croissants, bagels and muffins -- all the good stuff. And went back to having a salad once a day and protein."  David Kirsch, supermodel Heidi Klum's trainer, tells Access Hollywood that the best way to lose the bloat is to cut down on "starchy carbs" like dairy and fruit for two weeks.

Workout philosophies varied among celebs (as they do among the rest of us) - Jennifer Garner and Gwen Stefani were big fans of higher intensity running, whereas Gwenneth Paltrow was more into moderate activity like yoga.  Jada Pinkett Smithwas a bigger fan of higher intensities like interval circuits and resistance training to work off her baby pounds (which is what trainer/triathlete Stephanie recommends by the way). Pro Volleyball player and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walshlost 36 pounds by consulting with other athletic moms like Mia Hamm and Gabrielle Reece for advice.


I saved the final key finding for last, since it seems to be the most important.  You can't rush back into your fitness plan 100% without allowing for a few set-backs and injuries along the way.  All of these aspects are important in their own way, but starting slow builds a solid base for more advanced training.

My friend Amy (half-marathonner and mom of two) was an ACC soccer player who went head-to-head with future Olympians at practice every day, but even she had to set moderate goals when first starting out.

"When I started walking I would take the baby out in the stroller just to get fresh air for the both of us.  And then depending on how I was feeling/healing I would either increase the length of time or if I was feeling too sore afterwards, then I would take off  a day or so, and then next time slow down.  It really is trial and error."

Kerri Walsh acknowledged the difficulties of remaining patient in her interview:

"They're like: 'It's possible.  Just give yourself time and be patient,' " Walsh said to the Times. "Which is truly the hardest part, being patient.  I want to be fit yesterday."

Trainer/triathlete (mom of two) Stephanie also echoed the importance of resisting the urge to do too much, too soon:

"I went back to work 6 weeks after giving birth and I think that's when I started working out again.  Lifting weights and light sessions of aerobic training.  I was determined to compete again in triathlons for the next year. I wanted to start running again and get a really good foundation of winter training on my bike (I rode on my trainer indoors).

  I probably did too much high intensity training too soon and paid the price with a  lot of injuries.  I was forced to scale back on my training and go about it in a smarter way.  I hadn't giving my body enough time to recover from the pregnancy and child birth, and it was retaliating!"

The odds are that your body will let you know what it can and cannot handle once you begin activity again.  The key is to listen and slow down when your body is asking for recovery time.  Set realistic short term goals, and keep the longer-term goals far enough in the future that you allow for a few minor setbacks along the way.

If my Fitness Mom Dream Team can illustrate anything, it's that with realistic planning, flexible scheduling, smart nutrition, and perseverance, that six-pack that you've been missing will return again one day.

Just be smart and persistent, and it might be sooner than you think.


Fitness Spotlight: Jamin Thompson

Jamin Thompson wears many titles.  Fitness model, fat loss expert and consultant, and motivational speaker are just a few.  He was a ATP world-ranked tennis player growning up and played collegiately at both Miami (Hurricanes) and Clemson, and now resides in Malibu.  His website is a gateway into a few of his fat loss courses and various peices of literature, but there's also an informative blog and e-newsletter with tips and key learnings on nutrition and training as well.  His e-book "The 6-Pack Secret" is a best-seller online. 

I've actually learned quite a bit from his e-newsletters and have passed information onto a few friends who are badly in-search of such things.  He's pretty active on Twitter also - which is where he advised me to combine salmon and eggs at breakfast some time (he was right, they go well together).

Those who know me are aware how much I stress the importance of diet, not only for fat loss and the pursuit of the elusive "six-pack", but for overall health.  I was impressed to see that Jamin Thompson stresses many of the same points of emphasis as well.  In-fact he rarely does any pure "cardio", which will shock some, but it further emphasizes the point that your nutrition makes up far more ground in body composition than hours spent on the treadmill.

His diet is very similar to mine (though his abs are obviously much better...) and is made up of lots of lean proteins (chicken, tilapia, tuna, salmon), vegetables, and strictly complex carbs like brown rice. 

I'm always big on learning from people whose bodies and fitness are worth emulating.  Jamin Thompson is one of those people, and I think his e-newsletters and resources will be helpful to most out there trying to win the fat loss battle. 



How do I get lean? Part 1

"How do I get lean?" 

"How do I get abs?"

"How do I get a six-pack?"

There's a dozen variations on this question, but "answers" to the above can be found all over the internet, usually followed  closely by an attempt to sell you something.

Well I'm not about to sell any product or supplement or workout book, but I do want to share what I've learned through trial and error (mostly error) that finally helped me locate my long-lost six-pack that had been hiding since I stopped playing football in 2001.

In Part I of this series - I'm going to focus on what I believe to be the MOST important part of "getting lean", and that's your diet.  As I've said before, I hate the term "diet" but I'll use it here just to keep things simple and uniform.  This is definitely going to be a simplistic approach to nutrition and subsequent fat loss, as there is a ton of more scientific research and context available online.  My hope is to make a complex process simple and easy to digest.

One of the best quotes I've ever read on this topic was in Runner's World magazine -

 "Great abs are made in the kitchen"

To this day, it's the best advice I've ever received with respect to shedding body fat and "getting lean".  Fitness experts Brad Pilon and Craig Ballantyne would say, you can't out-train a bad diet and they are correct.  Most bodybuilders or fitness pros or figure models would agree that the only difference in training for "muscle gain" vs "fat loss" is the way you eat.

Most "fat loss" eating plans are going to be structured with either low carbs, or carb cycling during the course of a week.  It's my opinion that it is nearly impossible to "get lean" while on a high carbohydrate diet.  Carb-cycling is essentially 2-3 days of low carbs (anywhere from 0.3-1g carb per pound of body weight). Followed by 1-2 days of higher carbs (1.5-2g per pound of body weight).

This does drift into the more complex habit of counting macronutrients, which isn't for everyone.  An easier way of ensuring that those carbs don't become "fat" is to make sure they are from complex sources (oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and LOTS of vegetables with moderate fruit).  Higher GI (glycemic index) carbs like white breads, pastas, and white potatoes make for a messy carb load and you will rarely find any one with a desirable level of "leanness" that uses high GI/simple carb sources in their diet.

Another simple approach if one doesn't wish to go through the science of carb cycling (but still has a level of self-discipline) would be to adopt a Paleo approach to eating.  To stick with my goal of maintaining simplicity, a Paleo diet is built upon the approach that we stick to foods that were around during the Paleolithic age or the "Caveman" era.  This eating approach is built around lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Grains and breads have no place on this diet.  Here's a tremendously simplistic but funny video that helps bottom line it all:

Mark Sisson is one of the proponents of this sort of high protein/moderate (healthy) fat/low carb approach.

There is plenty more to discuss on the topic of "eating to get lean", but I'll pause for now.  Next time I hope to delve into the way to structure workouts with an eye towards dropping winter body fat to get ready for the warm weather beach season.  Here's a quick preview and hint - if you're putting hours and hours on the treadmill at a slow pace, there's a reason you're probably not where you want to be.

More to come...