Struggling with fat loss? Try more protein

That's such a click-baity headline, I know. But I did it anyway because I suck at headlines and I'm experimenting, ok?

When clients want to make nutrition changes, I teach a habit based approach, something that I learned during my certification process with Precision Nutrition

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This means that rather overhauling your entire diet on day one, we choose one habit to focus on for each week. Usually, we start with keeping a food log. Often, just writing down everything you eat can help you find some of the hidden calories that it's easy to forget about at the end of the day. Unmeasured salad dressing, the croutons you pop in your mouth while cooking dinner or the handfuls of nuts you eat in the afternoon. 

Then we reduce processed foods. (Your body has to work harder to break down a handful of peanuts than it does two tablespoons of peanut butter). From there we focus on chewing slowly and paying attention to hunger cues. Are you really hungry at 10:00 a.m. or are you tired of answering emails and eating a snack out of boredom?

Once we've worked on these habits we start looking harder at the macronutrient breakdown. If you're unsure what a macronutrient is, check out this post here. 

One habit I encourage is to increase the overall protein intake for the day, and the recommended starting point is 100 grams. You’ll see many different recommendations on the interwebz when it comes to protein consumption, but if you’re just beginning to make dietary changes, 100 grams is a good starting point. 

There are multiple reasons that a high protein diet can help with fat loss. Protein is satiating and helps you stay fuller longer. It helps build lean muscle, especially when consumed after a strength workout. And it has a thermogenic effect, meaning that your body has to work harder to process the foods and you burn more calories in the process. (This is what people mean when they talk about the meat sweats…no I've never had meat sweats...) 

Many clients come in feeling as though they enough protein, but when we begin tracking their food, they quickly realize that they consuming much less than they originally thought. So to help get you started, here is a sample of what a 100 grams of protein in a day might look like. 

Breakfast: Smoothie - 40 grams 

In the image above, one scoop of protein powder is 23 grams, 1/2 cup of greek yogurt is 12.5 grams, and 2 tbsp. of PB Fit (not pictured) is 4 grams. One cup of almond milk, ice cubes, and some spinach or green powder and you've got almost half of your protein intake for the day. Total calories are under 300.  

Lunch: Cottage cheese, chicken breast, spinach salad - 47 grams

1/2 cup cottage cheese - 15 grams 

4 oz of chicken breast - 32 grams 

Right now, you're almost to 100 grams of protein half-way through the day, and once again, you're around 300 calories. 

Dinner: Salmon and steamed brocolli- 40 grams 

If dinner is half of a salmon fillet, now you're at almost 120 grams of protein for the day. Boom. 

Now there are a ton of different factors with this recommendation. One is assuming that you like seafood, and you may not. And another is assuming that you like and can eat dairy.  The above suggestions are only scratching the surface of possibilities. You can also get protein from grains such as quinoa and spelt, nuts and soy products and chicken and turkey.

Questions? Thoughts? Stories?

Shoot me an email at or comment below.  


Changing your fitness focus - get out of the weeds

I’m a big fan of simplicity. One of the reasons I took up running in college was the ease of getting started. Put on some shoes and run. Boom.

Or, depending on how you roll - skip the shoes and just run. 

Over the weekend I joined other fitness professionals for a three-day fitness summit hosted by Perform Better. One of the speakers, Rachel Cosgrove has been training clients, and women in particular for over 20 years. She's an expert at helping people get results, and in her talk spoke to a good reminder that we all easily forget.


Focus on the big rocks.

This reminder has been a big part of my studies with Precision Nutrition - the idea of mastering the basics of getting enough sleep, enough water, fun (ok that's mine) as part of your base. I see a lot of clients start in the weeds - should I do intermittent fasting? Go Paleo? Should I take BCAA's and fish oil and hair of the lemur 22 minutes after my workout? 

Should I eat my protein while riding a goat off into the sunset with a koala bear? 

Yes, you should - but invite me along because I love goats and koala bears. 

A strong focus on those minute details can cause information overload and decision fatigue - and before you know it, you're too exhausted from trying to understand what's you should be doing and just throw in the towel.

(Hold on to the towel. No throwing of the towel. If it's yellow, you may wave it at Steelers' games - but you must not throw it.)

Some of the big rocks in training include training with a purpose 3-5 times a week, warming up with a purpose, and working on areas of opportunity, such as performing a push up from the floor or a chin up. 


Over the weekend, we got t-shirts that said: “stop exercising and start training.” I love the quote and I think this could be a blog post in and of itself. When you sign up to work with a coach, the two of you have a goal in mind and the coach develops a plan to help you hit that goal. Whether you want to drop a pant size, gain lean muscle or perform a push up from the floor - your programming is the road map you need to follow. 

Exercising is getting out and moving, which is good for you, but is there a purpose behind it? Do you know if what you're doing is going to help you achieve your goal? 

(To read more on why you need a coach, check out this post)


No, chasing your dog does not count as a warm up, although you do want to get your body temperature up. Warming up with a purpose means warming up the muscles and movements you’re about to use in your workout. We don’t do toy soldiers because we want to know if you’d make the Rockettes, we do that to warm up your hamstrings before working your hips. 


Are you getting enough sleep? Most of us know we’re not. According to the Sleep Foundation, adults age 26-64 need 7-9 hours and adults over 65 need 7-8 hours. If you are averaging less than seven hours of sleep per week, we know that you want to work on your batwings (one client’s name for skin on the triceps) and belly fat, but one of the best places to start is to get more sleep. That means turning off the phones and iPads 30 minutes before bed (or turn on the Night Shift which reduces the blue lights) and put a priority on getting more, quality sleep.


Recommendations from Precision Nutrition on water are that sedentary individuals drink at least two liters, athletes drink three litters, and athletes in hot weather climates drink at least four liters per day. Many of us would benefit from drinking more water. Especially those of us like myself who drink most of their water with…well…a lot of coffee in it…

Some of the other big rocks in nutrition include eating whole foods (single ingredient), eating slowly and mindfully, and following the formula of a serving of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats with each meal. 

Regardless of your goals, we live in a time of information overload. In fact, I saw this great quote from strength coach Ben Bruno the other day. 


Be careful of the weeds. Stick to the rocks. 

Here's your grocery list for protein

I like simple.

The most successful nutritional approach I learned came a few years ago when I hired a coach. He gave me a list of things to eat, and I only ate stuff on that list.

It wasn’t easy, but it was simple.

Chocolate was not on this list, so I may or may not have wrestled Sheila to the ground for a piece of baking chocolate half-way through the second week of this nutrition plan. Which is one of the reasons that an overall nutritional approach that allows for things like birthday cake and ice cream is often much easier to stick with. Just sayin'

It also keeps the wrestling matches with your spouse to a minimum.

Here’s a list of the main protein sources I use. I'm sure there are plenty of other options that aren't on this list, but I feel like this gives me plenty of options and variety when it comes to a high protein diet. 

If you're not sure why you should eat more protein, read this.

Note about serving size - your simplest form of measuring your serving size is to use your hand. Recommendations from Precision Nutrition are one palmful of protein at a meal for women, and two palms of protein per meal for men. 

Ok, here's your list:


Obviously there's more to your diet to protein. Check back next week for a list of other things to include in your grocery cart.

Besides red wine...

Nutrition 101 - Understanding Macronutrients

I don’t know if this is a Western Pennsylvania thing, but for the sake of efficiency, we drop the “what” when asking a question:

"Hell you going?"

"Hell you doing?"

 You can find this screen on MyFitnessPal by clicking on your calories. From there you have the option of viewing calories, nutrients or macros. A good place to start is setting the goals you see to the right of the macros: 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fat. 

You can find this screen on MyFitnessPal by clicking on your calories. From there you have the option of viewing calories, nutrients or macros. A good place to start is setting the goals you see to the right of the macros: 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fat. 

"Hell you eating?"

It’s the eating part I want to focus on today. Specifically, macronutrieints.

"Hell is a macronutrient?" 

Glad you asked :) 

When clients begin to overhaul their diet, they download MyFitnessPal, set a calorie a limit and begin the laborious task of tracking nutrition. First of all, if you are tracking your food, you’re off to an excellent start. But as most of you know, it’s not just the number of calories but the type of calories that can make an impact on your health and nutrition. (I’m not talking only about fat loss here, even though that’s the focus for many. )

What I want you to do is click over to the screen in your MyFitnessPal that shows you a macronutrient breakdown. Click on your calories and you'll see a screen like the one to the right. See it? Ok, good. That’s where we start. 

What is a macronutrient?

“An essential nutrient that has a large minimal daily requirement.” 

There are three macros: protein, fat and carbohydrates. 

You’re familiar with all of them, and perhaps you’ve tried to go one route over the other. 

High protein! Paleo, yes! I'm in. Why do I have the meat sweats?? 

Low carb! I’m in! Yes, no carbs. Why am I so punchy? 

Low fat! That tastes awful! Forget it, I’m out. 

If you’re curious and like math, both protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. 

A brief explanation of each:


Protein is the single most important macronutrient as it helps to build muscle, burn fat, boost recovery and immune health and improve digestion. The Precision Nutrition recommendation* for protein consumption for muscle gain is 135grams for a 180 pound man and 110 grams for a 150 pound woman. 

As I’ve written in the past, higher protein consumption promotes fat loss in part because it’s the most satiating macro - eat a serving of cottage cheese and then eat a serving of crackers and see which one fills you up more. When you’re satiated, you consume less calories over all. 

Protein also ensures that most of the weight you lose is actually fat, and when consumed after a workout, can help to build lean muscle.


We know carbs. We have friends who do low carb diets, we’ve done low carb diets (I’ve done low carb diets), we’ve seen the Atkins diet and watched people wrestle over a doughnut hole. 

Ok, that was me, wrestling Sheila for a doughnut hole when I was trying to go low carb. It wasn’t pretty. Also she won. 

As a result of many of these popular diets, carbs have become vilified.

They’re not. 

Carbs help ensure that our stress hormones stay low, that our thyroid functions well, that our sex hormones stay healthy and that we sleep and recover well. 

Have you ever tried to go super low carb? Like less than 10 grams per meal? I have. And I was an a***hole. And I wrestled Sheila, not just for a doughnut hole but a piece of baking chocolate. 

There’s science behind that. Low carb can elevate your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels which can affect your over all stress response, mood digestion and energy levels. 

One reason that low carb is appealing is the rapid weight loss that can happen. In the beginning you're primarily losing water and glycogen - but if you are going low carb, you’re probably increasing your protein - because those calories have to come from somewhere - so is it the decreased carbs or the increase in protein that’s helping your weight loss?


We know low fat. I’ve never been grocery shopping that low fat wasn’t an option; cottage cheese, milk, ice cream (that’s just wrong) - but the thinking was that consuming a lot of fat made you fat. 

Also that too much fat caused heart disease. 

Then you wondered how your great-grandfather lived to be 95 and ate bacon and eggs every day. 

Well, because nutrition isn't black and white. 

Without going too far down the rabbit hole on fats, it's important to understand that you need an appropriate amount of healthy fats. (We'll get to the healthy part in a second). The appropriate amount can help your cells to work properly, build a strong immune system, and even help provide some satiation between meals. 

Because we are only scratching the surface on macros in this post, I think what's most important to understand about fats, and all of the macros, is which sources are healthy fats. Nuts and seeds, whole foods like avocados, all natural peanut butter (yes, the kind with oil in it), and olive oil are just a few sources of healthy fats that you can incorporate into your diet.

In terms of a recommendation of how you much of any one macro you should consume in a day, it depends on your goals. As mentioned above regarding protein consumption, if you're looking to build more muscle, (or tone, which is a post for another day), then higher protein is a good place to start. But if you're just trying to get a handle on the types of calories to consume, the breakdown of the screen shot above is a place to start. 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 30 percent fats.


Now, next time you're in Western PA and someone asks you 

"Hell is a macro?"

You'll at least understand that they're asking you a question. :)

*I'm currently pursuing my Level One Coaching Certification from Precision Nutrition and much of this information comes from that program. Click on the PN link for infographics regarding meal prep, stress management, and sleep. 







This is what stress looks like

It was a typical Wednesday in February of 2014. I was working as the Assistant Athletic Director at a small Maine college, our women’s basketball team was winning their way through the playoffs, and I was settling into what I thought was going to be a long career in college athletics. 

Until the dean of students pulled me into her office for a conversation.

“We've done the budget for next year,” she said “And your job isn’t in it.”

She talked for a few more minutes, trying to soften the blow, but all I heard was the murmur of Charlie Brown adults as the news sunk in.

Finally, I interrupted her.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I need to go have a meltdown in my car.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I chased that with a further meltdown into a draft of Miller Lite, trying to figure out exactly how, after years of searching for meaningful work in Coastal Maine, I was going to find not just a job, but a career-focused job.

A few days after the news, in preparation for both additional time on my hands and the impending depression that was sure to follow, I decided to hire a coach, not just for strength training, but for nutrition as well. I wanted something to focus on besides my unemployment, and despite the expense of a coach (200 bucks a month), I felt that I couldn’t afford to not have some guidance and accountability. And quite frankly, structure to my days.

One of his requirements was that I take a “before” picture. 

Here’s that picture, which I swore that I’d never ever share. 

 You KNEW I had a Steelers sports bra.

You KNEW I had a Steelers sports bra.


I was about 158lbs here, and somewhere around 28% body fat.

For the most part, my diet was 70% compliant, and I was working out three to five days a week in the months before this photo was taken.

Below is a photo from last November. 



I weighed in at 135lbs and 23.5% body fat. My workout regimen is about the same as it was three years ago and now I’d say I’m closer to 80% compliant with my diet.*

The biggest difference between then and now?


My stress level in the months leading up to the time the first photo was taken three years ago was as high as I can ever remember. I’d been married a few months prior, had finally gotten around to coming out to my family, and had just lost my job. 

Basically, I’d just checked off three of the top five life stressors in a matter of eight months. And my body showed it.

Now, I’m happily employed in a career, and while I still have the day to day stresses we all have, I’m managing them a little better. I’m meditating, putting more emphasis on quality of sleep and yes, I have a therapist I see who helps me keep things in perspective. 

When clients come into our gym and fret over their lack of results, we first talk nutrition, and then fitness, and then we go right to sleep and stress. Because if your diet and exercise are on point, but you're still carrying that little extra around the middle, then it might be time to look at other lifestyle factors.

There are a lot of different pieces in play when it comes to understanding stress. But for now, let's talk about cortisol. 

Cortisol - the stress hormone

I think about what my life looked like during the days and months when I was unemployed. The first thing I noticed every day when I woke up was that vague sense of worry and anxiety that was percolating in my body. I was chronically worried.

I was chronically stressed. 

Cortisol is good in small doses. Produced by the adrenal glands, which are right atop the kidneys, cortisol is designed to help us handle certain situations. You may have heard cortisol referred to as the fight or flight response. 

If you are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger (I'd speak to the zoo manager first of all), your adrenal glands cover your body by releasing both cortisol and adrenaline into the body. These hormones provide extra physical energy and strength from stored carbohydrates and fats. (And if you watched the "Incredible Hulk" back in the day, they help you pull cars off of people).

But that's small doses. 

When we spend our days worrying, about money, our kids, relationships, jobs, whether or not the Steelers' secondary will improve next season; our adrenal glands are still kicking in like we're being chased by that saber toothed tiger. And now our body is all out of whack. (As I've said before, we want to be in whack. Whack is where it's at).

Those chronically elevated cortisol levels can also trick bodies into believing we've burned more calories than we've actually burned, and so we're hungry. We look for ways to relieve our stress, so we turn to comfort foods that are high in sugar and fat and alcohol to wind down at night. These high levels of cortisol also cause our blood sugar to rise, so insulin is produced to control this by turning the sugar to fat - and it's the high levels of insulin that cause the build up of belly fat (also known as visceral fat) 

Aside from what your body craves, your defenses are down. In other words, when I’m tired, stressed and sleep deprived, I’m much less likely to reach for a banana, quite frankly because I just flat out don’t give a sh**. I want a comfort food. I’ve suffered, I’m suffering, and I want what I want because I want it.

Check back later this week for part two on ways to manage chronic stress. 

*I do spend more time on my feet now than I did when this photo was taken, and I’m sure that’s a factor in my current build.