Episode 116: Skinny Fat: Nutrition And Exercise Strategies To Build Muscle

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Thanks for joining us for episode 116 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Can you give me some advice on being skinny fat? I’m 5’7” in my late 30s and weigh 115 to 120 pounds. I went through your Paleo Rehab program and have some HPA axis dysregulation as well as high estrogen and low progesterone and testosterone. I tend toward orthorexia and can easily go down to about 1,200 calories a day when I’m not tracking.

Here’s where I need help: Even though I’m thin, I have no muscle and I’m very fat and flabby with increasing cellulite on my quads and thighs. I just can’t seem to burn fat and build muscle. What’s the best macro ratio for this? I’m about 15 to 20 percent protein and 40 to 60 percent fat and carbs currently. Would a higher protein and lower fat help burn fat and build muscle?I currently walk, do yoga, and a little PiYo, but can’t afford a trainer for strength training. I’m scared to eat more and just get fattier. Help!

P.S. Just to add to my question, I basically want some help knowing what would be a good macro breakdown for my particular issues as well as exercise ideas to burn fat, reduce cellulite, and build muscle. Perhaps you could also speak to the hormone imbalance. Would it be dumb to take testosterone to build muscle? I already do all the dietary and lifestyle for estrogen reduction as well as Cal D Glucarate. Don’t need DIM because I already metabolize down a protective pathway according to DUTCH. Thank you!”

The term skinny fat may seem like an oxymoron of contradictory body types, but it is a real dilemma to those who have low muscle mass and can’t seem to tone the excess flab that can occur even in thin bodies. If this sounds like you, you’ll definitely want to listen today as we share what to focus on to see results in your physique and body composition.

Join us to learn why it’s important to direct your effort into building muscle instead of burning fat and come away with effective nutrition and exercise strategies to reach your goals. You’ll understand why strength training along with appropriate calorie and protein intake leads to muscle gain and improved body composition while even helping with hormone balance.

If strength training doesn’t seem possible for you, don’t throw in the towel! We’re also sharing options and recommendations on how to begin to strength train in a way that fits your lifestyle and budget.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:05:26] The importance of strength training to focus on muscle building instead of fat burning
  • [00:06:29] How eating in a calorie deficit can hinder muscle gain
  • [00:10:44] How the goal of getting toned can be achieved by building muscle even if body fat levels stay the same
  • [00:12:54] Options and program recommendations for how to incorporate strength training while on a budget without working one on one with a personal trainer.
  • [00:20:03] How beginning a strength training program with in-person feedback can prevent injury and increase likelihood of consistency
  • [00:25:52] The importance of getting adequate protein to build muscle while strength training and the recommended percentage of protein to aim for
  • [00:28:22] How the ratio of carbohydrate and fat can be adjusted to individual preference and needs
  • [00:35:01] How appropriate caloric and protein intake with strength training can help in hormone recovery and balance


Links Discussed:

  • This episode is sponsored by Paleo Rehab
  • The Ancestral RD’s Podcast: How To Choose A Gym And Personal Trainer (Part One and Part Two)


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 116 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hi everybody!

Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food. At the end of the show, we’ll be sharing some personal and business updates, so stick around if you’re into that kind of thing.

Laura: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive reviews so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Today on the show we’re going to talk about being skinny fat and strategies for gaining muscle using appropriate nutrition and effective training. But before we get into our question for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone. Here’s our question for today’s show:

“Can you give me some advice on being skinny fat? I’m 5’7” in my late 30s and weigh 115 to 120 pounds. I went through your Paleo Rehab program and have some HPA axis dysregulation as well as high estrogen and low progesterone and testosterone. I tend toward orthorexia and can easily go down to about 1,200 calories a day when I’m not tracking. Here’s where I need help: Even though I’m thin, I have no muscle and I’m very fat and flabby with increasing cellulite on my quads and thighs. I just can’t seem to burn fat and build muscle. What’s the best macro ratio for this? I’m about 15 to 20 percent protein and 40 to 60 percent fat and carbs currently. Would a higher protein and lower fat help burn fat and build muscle? I currently walk, do yoga, and a little PiYo, but can’t afford a trainer for strength training. I’m scared to eat more and just get fattier. Help! P.S. Just to add to my question, I basically want some help knowing what would be a good macro breakdown for my particular issues as well as exercise ideas to burn fat, reduce cellulite, and build muscle. Perhaps you could also speak to the hormone imbalance. Would it be dumb to take testosterone to build muscle? I already do all the dietary and lifestyle for estrogen reduction as well as Cal D Glucarate. Don’t need DIM because I already metabolize down a protective pathway according to DUTHCH. Thank you!”

Kelsey:That’s a lot of information, which is great. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have enough information on somebody to answer some of these questions that you guys send in. But this is very thorough which is wonderful.

The first thing to me that comes to mind for this is that I would really, really recommend that this person does some strength training because honestly it’s the best way to get less skinny fat and build more muscle. More cardio is not really going to do that. This person was kind of saying that….she’s walking, doing yoga, and a little PiYo. Just for those of you who don’t know what PiYo is, it’s kind of a mix between Pilates and yoga basically. To me that sounds like a lot of cardio type things, and a little bit of relaxation, maybe a little bit less intensity from the yoga depending on what kind of yoga she’s doing.

Definitely the first thing that I think of in terms of becoming less skinny fat is that you really have to incorporate some kind of strength training because otherwise I think it just very difficult to build muscle. This is something that I’ve seen personally in my own body as I’ve started to do some strength training. It’s just a night and day difference to me.  I don’t know, Laura, if you felt the same way.

Laura: Yeah. Just looking at this person’s question, really to me none of her plan sounds like a muscle building plan to me. I think part of the problem is that she wants to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Honestly I feel like her best interest would be to just focus on the muscle building part, not worrying about burning fat, not worrying about losing fat at all because honestly for most people it’s really hard to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Some people can do it. It’s usually a pretty slow progress if you’re going to do both at the same time.

But with building muscle, if you’re in a calorie deficit most of the time, and again not everybody, but most of the time it’s actually very difficult to put on any muscle at that calorie level if you’re at a significant deficit from what you would need even just to maintain your diet. A lot of people actually need to eat in a surplus to actually put muscle on.

And then with the weight training thing that you were saying, that’s definitely going to be the most important factor for whether the weight that came on from eating enough or even eating in a surplus whether that weight was actually muscle weight or primarily fat weight.

You were asking what my personal experience was. It’s funny, I had been pretty consistently weight training for about two years up until recently when I had my wedding, my honeymoon, some traveling, some illness, just a bunch of things, my trainer was out of town. Actually today is my first training session that I’m going to be having since probably about five or six weeks ago.

It’s funny because you would think that if you’re not exercising, and for me I’ve been eating a lot more than I was before because of vacationing and just the different types of food I’m cooking for what my husband needs, and I have actually lost about four or five pounds since my wedding. I don’t actually think I’ve gotten thinner. I actually just think I’ve lost muscle and kind of turned…I don’t want say turn muscle into fat because it’s not an accurate way of describing what’s going on. But I think actually physically my body is either the same size or a little bit larger than it was when I got married, but the scale weight is actually lower.

I think when you’re overly focused on losing weight or losing body fat as part of the plan, you’re going to be hindering your ability to actually gain muscle. And when you’re trying to gain muscle, your whole program has to be really designed to be a muscle gaining program. Like I said a few minutes ago, being in a calorie deficit and doing mostly cardio with a little bit of body weight training, which I think is what PiYo tends to be is mostly body weight, it’s not going to actually be a muscle gaining program. I think there’s a lot of things we can fix for this person.

Like you said, the strength training is kind of the first thing that if all she did was eat a little more and do strength training a couple of times a week, she’d probably see a lot of progress in the area of putting muscle.

Kelsey: Definitely. I think the other thing to remember here is that even though it might sound a little scary to potentially be at a calorie surplus and like Laura was saying have this muscle building type of program and not focusing so much on losing fat, the way that your body will change, it’ll feel like you’re losing fat, it’ll look like you’re losing fat. Just because that’s not the actual focus of the type of programming in terms of calories and types of exercise that you’ll be doing, the end result I think is still what this person is looking for which is to lose that extra fat I think she was saying on her legs, and she’s got some cellulite, she just feels like she’s skinny fat.

But I think what ends up happening when you start to build muscle, especially if you start out very thin like this person saying she is, that’s going to have the end result of changing your body composition in a way that I think this person is looking for.

Laura: Honestly, I don’t even feel like based on what she said with her height being 5’7” and her current weight being 115 to 120, it sounds to me like honestly she wouldn’t need to necessarily lose any fat and she would still be able to get the physique progress that she’s looking for. Let’s just say 5’7” getting up to like 125 to 130 pounds would probably be a slightly more appropriate weight for her. If she put on 5 to 10 pounds of muscle, she would probably look a heck of a lot different than she looks right now and she’d probably feel a lot more confident in the way that her legs and just in general what she’s saying about her quads and her thighs having a lot of cellulite.

Again, a lot of times I think people assume that if their physique is somewhat soft or not very toned looking, everyone uses that were toned all the time to describe what they’re looking for, a lot of times people think I have to lose fat to see that. But oftentimes if you’re just building muscle, you’re going to get that look even if the fat stays totally the same because you actually have some definition that is developing.

That’s kind of just what I want people to keep in the back of their minds when we’re going through this question because I think you’ve probably had a similar experience as me where just focusing on building strength and building muscle and not really worrying about trying to lose body fat actually led to positive physique changes and probably some body fat loss that even wasn’t on purpose but it just happened by nature with eating appropriately and exercising in the way you and I have been exercising in the last couple of years.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s honestly surprising.  I guess it’s not surprising because I think we both know that that will happen. But I think when you see that happen to you personally and your body changes in that way when you’re really not even focused on fat loss, it can it’s a little surprising.  I was pleasantly surprised, I’ll put it that way.  Considering that I wasn’t focused on that fat loss piece of it from the beginning, I was very happy with the progress that my body composition went. So I think this personal me very happy with how her body changes once she starts strength training.

Laura: You don’t even need to do that much to see the progress. For me it was an average of two maybe three times a week that I was doing it and that was like all I was doing and I was getting that progress. It’s one of those things that I think people look at strength training they’re like I don’t want to do CrossFit five days a week or something. Honestly, if you have two heavier lifting days per week, even one day, one a week if you’re not doing any of it right now, it’s going to show progress, you’re going to see positive changes.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I think you were about to talk about the concern that this person has about not having a trainer to work with, which you and I are fortunate that we both have trainers.  I’m working one on one with someone. Are you still doing the group, or are you doing one on one at all?

Kelsey: Yeah, I do group.

Laura: Both of us are using the different levels of trainer use, but that doesn’t mean that stuff is necessary to get this progress.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. What I was going to say, because I totally get the financial concern, it can be very expensive to join some of these gyms where maybe you’re getting personal training, or even the group training can be fairly expensive depending on what your budget is. I want to make it really clear that you can do strength training on a very low budget. You don’t even need to work with anyone necessarily to do this kind of thing.

One of the things that I typically recommend for beginners, like for some of my clients who they’re in remote areas, they don’t have a lot of gym options and definitely not a lot of trainer options, or they just really can’t afford that. One thing I really like to recommend is a program called StrongLifts 5×5. Basically it’s just a program, it’s aimed towards beginners, but a lot of people will end up doing it for quite a long time before they change to something else. Basically it consists of three workouts per week. Again like Laura was saying, it does not have to be a lot to make progress, and even three is probably more than you actually truly need to make progress. I think 3 is a good place to get to if you want to really put in that consistency and see some results.

It’s three workouts per week and an alternates between two different types of workouts. One of the workouts has squats, bench press, and barbell row. And then the other workout is squatting again, the overhead press, and the deadlift. Those terms might be completely nonsense to you at this point. If you’re totally new to this and that means nothing to you, the cool thing about StrongLifts is that their website has all these blog posts, and these videos, and everything going through the lift guides for each of those different lifts telling you exactly how to do it, showing you how to do it, talking about the different types of mistakes that a lot of beginners might make.

I think it’s a really great way to get started. That programming is free, which I think is great. It’s something I recommend to a lot of people in my practice when they want to get started with strength training but again, they either don’t have any good trainers near them or they can’t afford it for whatever reason. I mean this is something that as long as you have access to a gym with real barbells, meaning not like a Smith machine for squatting or things like that, as long as you have barbells that you can use, you can do this program and it’s really, really great for beginners.

Laura: Yeah, I use this program a lot with my clients, too. It’s funny, you mentioning people living in remote areas or not having access to a gym. I have a client who lives in a part of Alaska that you literally have to take a plane to get to the town from another part of Alaska. It might be an island. I think it has to be because you can’t drive there, so it’s an island. And it’s funny because she’s very active because she works at a camp and so she’s already pretty active. But she was feeling a little less happy with her physique because she felt like she was losing some tone as she was getting older. We had her start this StrongLifts program. I think she’s doing twice a week at this point and she’s already feeling like she’s making physique progress.

It’s not that she was overweight, or super not-fit, or whatever. Like I said, she’s very active. But just the fact that someone who’s already pretty active adding this in twice a week could see noticeable progress in both her strength and her physique, I just think that’s a sign that if you’re starting from scratch, you’re guaranteed to see progress with this kind of program.

For me, I mean the program that I’m doing with my trainer, I think most of it is like basically what this StrongLifts actually has you do because a lot of what we do is we have the basic powerlifting moves like the bench, the squat, and deadlift. Some variations on those, but those are our primary lifts that we focus on. That’s at least half the workout and then we do some accessory stuff. Honestly, at this point I feel like I use my trainer more for accountability than actual programming. But I mean not that I don’t appreciate him programming for me as well, it’s just this StrongLifts app and program that’s available, like you said it’s free and so the fact that it’s basically designed to get you as much progress in your strength and musculature as possible in a short amount of time, it’s actually a really good resource and I’ve had a lot of really good results with clients that do it consistently.

Kelsey: Yeah, me too. The other thing to think about too is that there are some online trainers as well. Again, if you live in a remote area or you just can’t afford working one on one in person, a lot of trainers will do some sort of online programming where you can get hooked up with a trainer, they’ll program your…I guess they’ll do your programming would be the right terminology here, and then you just get sent that programming and you implement it on your own. So it’s of course a little bit different than having someone there to watch you, but if you’re just totally overwhelmed with how to set up your programming and maybe you’ve done a 5×5 type of program or something that’s completely the same for everybody who does the program and you want something a little bit more personalized, that’s a great way to get a little bit of that personalization without the full cost of working one on one in person with somebody.

For example, my coach, he has an online option that he does where I think it actually takes you through the same programming that we do in the gym. You can join the powerlifting team or the weightlifting team at my gym elsewhere and you get the same programming. And then what he does is he has a Facebook group for all of his virtual clients where you are supposed to post a few videos of you doing your lifts every week and he’ll critique them. He’ll say okay, make sure you’re doing whatever, like focus on pushing back when you’re doing a squat to kind of keep yourself more upright, or something like that giving you a little bit of personalized advice to get your lifts looking better.

Again, that’s a happy medium as well where it’s not going to cost you nearly as much as working one on one in person, but you’re still going to get some of that more personalized advice than you would get from something like StrongLifts 5×5.

Laura: I also feel like even if you don’t want to do programming from a coach, it may make sense to get a couple of sessions with a trainer to at least get started with some of these lifts so that way you can help or get help with like just basic form. Because one thing I think there’s probably a little bit of a barrier to entry with this type of lifting because there’s some fear, there might be some concern that you’re going to hurt yourself, or that you’re going to do it wrong.

Again, there is a decent risk for injury if you’re doing these things wrong. It’s not just about like dropping the bar on yourself. It’s also about if you are pulling deadlifts in a bad form, you could really hurt your back, that kind of thing. I feel like for anyone who’s serious about getting into a lifting routine, getting at least some basic one on one, or not even one on one, but just I mean in person maybe it’s like a group class where you can get some feedback from a coach in person so they can see what you’re doing and make some critiques as it’s happening.

I know the videos are helpful, too, but I think there’s something about being in person where that trainer can maybe either show you what you’re doing wrong and then do it better themselves, or maybe put you physically in a different position to make sure the position is correct.  There could be a benefit to even just getting a couple of sessions with a coach either one on one or in a group so that way you can get some feedback when you’re first getting started so you have some general understanding of what these moves look like and how you should be doing them properly. And then you can use the strong lifts program to actually follow the programming so you don’t need to necessarily be paying ongoing for programming, if that makes sense.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Those are kind of two different options. What Kelsey just mentioned is more if you want someone to do the programming online, that definitely exists. I know my coach does that somewhat, too. I think what he does more typically is like a hybrid program where he’ll do like once a week as an in-person session and then he’ll give the person the rest of their workouts for the week to go do on their own. That’s a way to save money on personal training.

I would just say if there’s any trainers in your area that you feel like you’d be interested in working with, just ask them and see what they can do for you if you tell them you’re just getting started with lifting and you want to just get some help with your form and getting some basic form instruction, or if you want them to do that hybrid model you’re like seeing them in person once a week and then they do the rest of your programming, or if it’s a 100 percent online. There’s a lot of different options and you might be surprised to see what trainers are willing to do and they don’t necessarily require you seeing them every single time you’re working out.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I would just add that along the lines of what you’re talking about with seeing a trainer just a couple times in person to get started with the stuff, for me one of the biggest barriers to entry for weightlifting was just that I felt totally intimidated by walking into a gym and feeling like I knew what I was doing. Even if I had programming that I knew I was supposed to do I was like, okay, how does this squat rack work? Like what little peg am I putting in what hole?

I know it sounds kind of silly to me now, but that was like a really big fear that I had and I just didn’t feel comfortable in the weight room. Seeing a trainer for even just like two or three sessions and going through each of the moves that you need to do for a program like StrongLifts, it’ll just make you so much more comfortable walking into that room and knowing what you’re doing that I think you’d be more likely to stick with it. Because again, that comfortability factor at least for me was huge and once I felt like I knew what I was doing, I was just so much more likely to continue with it.

Laura: We have a pretty in-depth two part podcast on how to pick a gym and a trainer if you’re listening and you’re like well, maybe I should get a trainer and you want to have more information about what to do to find the appropriate gym and trainer, so we probably shouldn’t go too, too far into that since we’ve covered it pretty in-depth. But I think we just wanted it to be very clear that that’s probably the biggest change she could make for this program is just changing her current workout routine to be more of an anabolic, which means building type program.

We should go over the diet side of things because like I said a few minutes ago, if you’re in a deficit unless you’re like kind of genetically gifted, you’re probably not going to put on much muscle especially if it’s a big deficit. If she’s accidentally getting 1,200 calories a day when she’s not paying attention and she may need closer to like 2,000, that’s enough of a deficit where she’s going to really struggle to put on strength.  Even to just tolerate those heavier training sessions if she’s underfed, it’s going to be difficult.

Since what we were saying was that this particular person should really be focusing primarily on muscle growth and not worrying about losing fat or losing weight at all, she needs to be eating at a minimum to her maintenance. Again, that might be like for her smaller size maybe that’s 1,800, maybe it’s 2,000 if she wanted to be in somewhat of a surplus to really encourage muscle growth and also hormonal recovery since she said she has high estrogen and low progesterone and testosterone. Low testosterone especially is really common when you’ve been under eating for a while. I would say that going  200 or 300 calories above what her estimated maintenance needs are and then also doing that three times a week strength training would be the best way to put muscle on in a more effective and noticeable manner.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. I think that in terms of macronutrient ratio, I would definitely recommend increasing her protein intake. Let’s see what she said here.

Laura: She said 15 to 20 percent.

Kelsey: Which is not bad.

Laura: But I think we have to keep in mind that that’s 15 to 20 percent of how many calories?

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Because if it’s 1,200 calories and she’s doing let’s say even 20 percent, which is the higher amount…we’ll do a little quick math, but that would be 60 grams of protein which honestly is like just enough to maintain her body’s normal functioning.

What I was saying before, if let’s say she’s eating 2,000 calories a day which may be more of either a maintenance or a surplus amount and then also getting 20 percent of calories from protein, then she’d be getting 100 grams. So a hundred is a lot closer to what would be enough to not only supply her daily needs to just like turnover proteins, create enzymes, that kind of thing, but then also have a little extra to boost the protein synthesis in the muscles.

At the end of the day, if you don’t if you don’t have enough amino acids to build muscle, you’re not going to. I mean your body can kind of repurpose them and recycle them, but if the goal is to put muscle on, going higher protein is kind of a really easy way to change your diet if you’re also doing the strength training. Just eating more protein isn’t going to magically turn into muscle, but high protein plus strength training is like kind of the sweet combo for putting on muscle.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I would say probably that 20 percent area would be good if she’s at maintenance or definitely if she’s at surplus, and potentially even going up to 25 if she really wants to see maybe a little bit faster progress. But anywhere from 20 to 25 would be fine I think. And 25 is definitely on the higher end there.

Laura: 25 might be a little tough if she’s prone to under-eating.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: For me I think if somebody is already struggling to eat enough food, I don’t go too high in protein since protein tends to be pretty satiating. But that’s kind of a side note for this particular person.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I would say do the 20 percent if you’re eating at maintenance or even if you’re eating at a higher calorie level, which probably might make sense for this person to do.

And then in terms of other macronutrients to decrease, that 5 or 10 percent that you’re going to be changing other things, it’s not going to matter a whole lot in terms of what you’re taking it out of. For me with a lot of my clients, I find that depending on the person, and we do some experimenting to figure this out if they haven’t figured it out previously, they’ll tend to either feel better on a lower carb higher/fat diet or then lower fat/higher carbs. Depending on which way your body just feels better, that’s what we will tend to go more toward.

That 5 or 10 percent can come out of either your fat or your carbs, I really don’t think it’s going to matter too, too much. She seems like she’s pretty well balanced across her macronutrient ratios, so she’s not tending towards any type of extreme. So I think she can take it out of either one or she could kind of alternate depending on if there’s a day where she feels like she needs some extra carbs, you can take it out of your fat instead of taking it out of your carbs.

I think that little bit of percentage isn’t going to make a huge, huge difference. I would just kind of pay attention to which macros you feel a little bit better on. If you feel better on higher fat, fine. If you feel better on higher carb, you can tend toward that. But it’s not going to make a huge, huge difference I think.

Laura: Right. It might be a day to day thing, too. Like on the days that you’re training, you may feel better if you do higher carb. And then the days that you’re not, lower carb might work fine. And when we say higher versus lower, we’re not saying like ketogenic versus like very low fat or anything like that. It’s probably talking about the difference between like going down to the low to mid 30s for carbs and then up to the 40s or maybe 50 percent for carbs. That’s maybe like a 10 to 15 percent shift in that macro amount.

And honestly with this particular person based on what she told us where she’s currently at, I don’t even know if worrying about the carbon fat ratio is even important for her right now. Because ultimately, if she’s eating enough, and if she’s eating high protein, and she’s strength training, I’d be willing to put money on the assumption that that would be enough to start seeing progress.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura:  Trying to play around with carbs and fat I’d say is a little bit more of like an advanced, It’s not super advanced, it’s not very complicated. I know you and I do it a lot with our clients all the time who are trying to figure out the right macro balance for their needs. But when you’re kind of starting at a place where there are some obvious major changes that need to be made in both the exercise and the diet approach, I feel like getting super in the weeds with the fat and carb balance is probably not really worth the attention at this point.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Not to say it’s a bad idea. Maybe she gets to the point where she’s like, okay,  I’m putting on muscle, and I’m training regularly, and I’m seeing some strength improvement, but I want to see a little bit more leanness now that I put some muscle on. Then yeah, maybe then she wants to go in and play around with that carb and fat ratio. But in the beginning, I would hesitate to be over concerned with that carbon fat ratio as long as the calories are appropriate. For her it probably doesn’t really matter and kind of fall on either side and however she feels the best. She doesn’t necessarily have to be aiming for any specific number. She might just want to try eating a little more carbs on the days that she trains and maybe not worrying about it so much on the days that she doesn’t. Or she can eat high carb all the time, that’s totally cool, too. You don’t have to worry about that if you feel better always on a higher carb amount.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura:  I just wanted to be clear about priorities because I think sometimes this whole macro thing can get a little overwhelming for people because they’re like, well should I be high carb? Should I be low carb? I’m like really as long as you’re eating enough protein and enough calories and you’re lifting two to three times a week, you’re going to get like at least 50 percent of the progress just from doing that, if not higher.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Laura: So I don’t like to over complicate it.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. Since it sounds like she’s already tracking because of that tendency to under-eat if she’s not tracking, she will see those numbers for carbs and fat. Just like Laura said, don’t focus too much on it. You can kind of look at the trend that you’re tending towards without aiming for certain numbers. That’s what I think I would like to say at this point is don’t aim for certain numbers for the carb or fat. Just kind of eat what feels right and see what those numbers look like because you’re going to be tracking them anyway.

And then from there as Laura said before, once you get that maybe 50, 60 percent of improvement from just focusing on these big things, the calories, and the protein, and the exercise, then that’s when you can dive in. But then you’ll have all that data from these last few months of just focusing on those things and eating intuitively for carbs and fat that you can see, okay, here’s what I tend to do, maybe let’s try this because you’re seeing that you’re eating more fat normally and that you can try eating higher carb versus higher fat and see if that changes things for you.

But I completely agree with you, Laura. At this point in her journey, just focusing on the calories, the protein, and the exercise is going to get her so far. It’s not worth you know bothering with the other stuff at this point.

Laura: Right. I just feel like if there’s too many things to be focusing on, it can be a little overwhelming.  With the carbs thing, most people tend to feel better lifting when they have some carbs in their system. That’s just the typical experience. That’s why I mentioned eating more carbs on the day that you train.

Which personally at this point with my diet, that’s kind of the main thing I’m paying attention. The days I’m not training, I’m kind of like just eating to appetite and not really worrying about it. But then on the days that I am training, I’m like alright, I need my carbs, I need to get this many cars before the training session.

I’m not saying that’s the optimal way to do it by any means, but from like a minimal attention perspective, that’s I think the bare minimum. You kind of just want to pay attention of fueling yourself prior to the workout.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. So I want to answer just before we wrap up here, she says, “Would it be dumb to take testosterone to build muscle?” I just want to answer this real quick because I don’t think that’s necessary at all. In fact just eating at either maintenance or a caloric surplus you’re going to help your hormonal balance. Plus adding in strength training, that’s a natural testosterone booster. Eating more protein is going to help too.

I think again, just these three big things that we want you to focus on is going to go a long way toward helping your hormonal recovery as well. I wouldn’t worry about all these other supplements and all these other things. You’re not there yet. You’re not at that place where you need to focus on the little things. You want to focus on the big things because it’s going to get you so far.

Laura: Right. I think that’s a really good point about where she’s at in her journey because it’s not like we’re saying that testosterone replacement wouldn’t help with muscle building. Obviously it’s a very effective muscle increaser because people wouldn’t use it otherwise if it wasn’t. But like you said, she’s definitely not at the point that that’s even something she should be considering.

Because it’s kind of like what I said before about eating more. Yes, eating more is going to help with putting muscle on. But if you’re not lifting weights, you’re not going to just magically add muscle, especially if your testosterone is low. The same goes with testosterone. You’re not going to just magically start putting muscle on because you’re taking testosterone. You really need that muscle breakdown stimulus and the repair function that happens after that breakdown that adds more muscle tissue to the muscle itself to actually see that muscle gain.

So really what we talked about in the last 30 minutes of the conversation, all of that is the basic foundational muscle building recommendations. If you’re not doing that, then there’s literally nothing else you should be focusing on right now except for that.

Kelsey: Right, exactly. Well, I think that about sums it up, I would say. Those three things, that’s it. That’s all you need to focus on.  I hope that simplifies this for you because I know that it can be confusing when you’re reading all this stuff online and you’re seeing all these supplements and people talking about these kind of smaller things. But if you’re missing those big things, you’re going to have a hard time. Focus on the big things that we talked about today and I think you’ll see a lot of progress.

Laura: Yeah.

Kelsey: Let’s jump in to our updates. Thank you guys for joining us and we’ll see you in the next section!


Kelsey: Welcome to our updates section. Hopefully you guys are still enjoying this at the end of the show. Laura, what’s been going on with you?

Laura: Where do I start?

Kelsey: A lot!

Laura: I know. The current episodes that are live as we’re recording these…because we tend to do these pretty far in advance, not crazy far. We try to stay somewhat current, but we’re usually a couple weeks in advance recording. It’s funny to see some of the episodes that come out and say like this one’s talking about getting ready for my wedding. Now I’m one month after the wedding. It’s just kind of funny. So for me just a lot of traveling and kind of reorganizing my entire life.

Kelsey: All kinds of little stuff.

Laura: I know, just little things like learning how to have a healthy marriage. I was in Colorado last week, I think. I’m trying to remember. Oh gosh this weekend was crazy. I was in Colorado last week.

Kelsey: I think it was last week.

Laura: Yeah because I got super sick last week, so I feel like whenever I’m sick I just like blackout the whole week like it just doesn’t even count for real life. So anyway, last I guess a week and a half ago I was in Colorado for a combo business and personal trip. We had originally planned to be there longer, which I was sad that we had to leave early. But it ended up working out because my husband was super sick in the beginning of the trip and then by the end of the trip he had kind of passed along to me. And then when I got home, I got super sick.  I was glad we had left when we did because the last couple of days would have been me just being like dead.

But the first half we were just kind of there for pleasure. My husband used to live in Colorado for about eight or so years, so he hadn’t been back in a couple years.

Kelsey: I didn’t know that.

Laura: Yeah he actually was there a pretty long chunk of time. He had a bunch of friends and kind of like old neighborhood haunts that he hadn’t been to in a while. We did kind of a bit of a whirlwind tour of a lot of Colorado. I wouldn’t say like the whole state. I know it’s a huge state, but a lot of the highlights I would say.

We flew into Denver, drove to Vail from Denver. We stayed at one of his friend’s house who ironically was out of town, so we just used their house to stay at. But it was Fourth of July when we flew there so we ended up going a Vail for the Fourth of July holiday and watched fireworks there, which was really cool because we were up in the mountains and they were shooting it off the mountain.

Kelsey: That’s awesome!

Laura: It was like a lot closer than I think normally you would be. They were awesome! They were really good fireworks. I was kind of surprised. I feel like I’ve seen decently good fireworks being originally from the New York area. And then having lived in Australia, I saw the fireworks for New Year’s there in Sydney. I’ve seen good fireworks so I was actually really surprised how good these ones were.

The next day we drove, like we were driving through a lot of the mountain area, so part of the driving was somewhat of a sightseeing type of drive because you’re going pretty slow and it’s actually really pretty. I always knew Colorado would be pretty, but I’d never been there so it was just cool to actually be there.

Then we went to Aspen, which again we met up with some of my husband’s friends that couldn’t come to the wedding. So I got to meet some of his friends from the area that he was really close with when he was in Colorado. That was nice because I don’t get to meet a lot of his friends.  I’ve met most of his family, but friends-wise, most of his closer friends are around the country. Other than our wedding, I haven’t really had a chance to meet them.

Kelsey: Yeah, it makes it a little tough.

Laura: We met some friends and I guess just drove around and kind of had again a lot of sightseeing type driving. We ended up going to Glenwood Springs which is a cool area where they have these like hot springs. It’s the biggest hot spring pool in the world so it was kind of cool.

Kelsey: Wow!

Kelsey:  Yeah, it was this just long kind of rectangular shaped pool that one side was the actual hot springs and the other side was kind of like I don’t know, room temperature version of the water so you could kind of cool off if you needed to. That was cool and it was like right around the mountain so it’s kind of like a really awesome environment. What else do we do? I’m trying to remember. It was such a crazy whirlwind trip.

Kelsey: That’s a lot!

Laura: Yeah, and that was the first part of the trip. And then we drove to Boulder. Boulder was where the business meet-up was happening. Boulder is cool. I don’t want to offend anyone who’s in Boulder, so I obviously not want to say anything…And I liked it, I just was really shocked by how many kind of hippy dippy street performer, I couldn’t tell if they were homeless or just like begging. Because some of the people I saw that had these cardboard signs asking for money were like dressed really nicely, like dressed cooler than I look. I was like, I don’t get why you’re begging and wearing these really nice, expensive looking boots.

It was kind of like a weird environment where it was like super health conscious, very like….I mean it was cool, it was definitely cold to be there. I just was a little overwhelmed by literally you’d have on one half of the street somebody doing a magic show and then 20 feet away on the other side of the street somebody was tap dancing and playing a trumpet.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: It was like literally they were kind of overlapping in each other’s performance space and it was every block there was different performers.

Kelsey: I would not suspect that, you’re right.

Laura: I know and I just kind of got to the point where I was like, oh my gosh, you need to just kind of spread out so it’s not just this huge… it was like a circus, that’s the best way to describe it.  I know we are in the more, what’s the word?

Kelsey: Like touristy type of area.

Laura:  Touristy areas, yeah. And I know that with like weed legalization, they have a lot of like weed tourism, which that was another thing. I didn’t go into any of the stores. I was curious, but I didn’t end up going in because I feel like my husband has like a little bit of like a negative viewpoint of weed. I’m totally neutral about that. I don’t smoke weed, but I’m like I don’t really care what people do. It’s kind of like the same way that alcohol is. Like I don’t go out and get trashed, but if people want to do that, that’s fine, they can do whatever they want.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I was more just curious. I was like I wonder what a weed store looks like. That’s just such a weird concept to me. We didn’t end up going into any. I did think it was kind of funny that some of the weed store placements were really funny. There was one that was right under a Ben & Jerry’s. I’m like that was a good combo.

Kelsey: Genius.

Laura: Yeah. I don’t know if it was Ben & Jerry’s picking that place or the other way around, but I can definitely see that would be a good business promoter for Ben & Jerry’s. But anyway, I mean like I said, Boulder was cool. I don’t know if it’s a place that I would want to spend a ton of time in just because again, it was a little just out there. I like somewhat of a hippie vibe, but not like commercialized hippie vibe which I feel like that was the experience I had.

Anyway, it was fun and the business mastermind was awesome.  I’m doing a business coaching thing with Jordan and Steve from SCD Lifestyle so this was like our meet up mastermind with everyone else that’s in the program. Not everyone, not everyone could come. But whoever was able to come was there. It was pretty intensive as far as like digging into our businesses and seeing where we can start to put our attention to grow. Which a lot of the stuff I already know, but it’s like sometimes you need a little bit of extra clarity about things to be able to actually take action. That’s usually where I struggle is like I have so many ideas and so many different people that I want to help. It’s like when you’re trying to pick a topic to focus on, it can be a little hard if you’re not super clear about who you’re actually trying to help.

That was helpful to have that and to meet some people there that I hadn’t met in person before. One example is Jen Fugo from Gluten Free School. I had talked to her online a lot, but I had never met her in person. That was fun to get to meet her and just kind of network.

I’d say the most interesting thing was just when we were doing deeper dives into individual people’s businesses was to just see the spectrum, like where people are at. Because some people are like, they’re making like multi six figures income…not their income, I should say like sales in their business. And it’s just interesting to see what that looks like behind the scenes. Whereas my business, I’m a lot lower than that. But it’s not that I want to be making multi six figures as an income, but there is just the growth progression that you could see. So that was kind of cool to see how you how you make a business that makes that kind of sales. And again, that’s like gross income, it’s not what their take home paycheck is.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So that was cool. And it was just a good experience to be in person with people. Because sometimes I think in Raleigh, like we don’t have a huge health and wellness entrepreneur climate the way something like Boulder or I would imagine New York City, like you probably have the opportunity to meet up with people that are in this general wellness sphere. In Raleigh, I mean I haven’t done a great job of networking with other people, but it’s not as obvious as far as there being a big group of people that are doing the online health entrepreneurship thing. It was kind of cool to be able to meet people in real life that are doing it. It was it was a good experience. Definitely a fun trip, really liked Colorado in general.

Kelsey: I was going to ask you, what was your favorite place in Colorado? Because I’m hoping to go there sometime next year.

Laura: Well, I’d say it probably depends on what time of the year you go because obviously summer in Colorado is totally different than winter. Josh and I will I’m sure at some point go back during the winter because he’s a big snowboarder and skier. I can handle skiing. I haven’t done it in a while, but I can still do it.

Kelsey: You can handle skiing.

Laura: Yeah, I can physically do it. I don’t love it the way he loves it. In that sense there was areas that probably would have been better if there had been snow. I thought Vail was really cool. It kind of had a nice in between Denver and Aspen vibe where it was a little bit, nicer but it wasn’t like over the top fancy. I felt that Aspen was a little…again, I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m totally just being honest about my experience. Aspen was beautiful, but it just felt a little too fancy for me.

Kelsey: Yeah, I can understand that.

Laura: It’s not a bad thing, it’s just what I was experiencing. The restaurants were super expensive. There was a ton of like super high fashion stores. So even just shopping there, I wouldn’t buy anything. I would potentially buy stuff in Vail, but not Aspen. Aspen was like, it was cool to be there, but I wouldn’t necessarily be like, yeah, we have to go back to Aspen. Whereas Vail I feel like I could see us going back for a trip. Not that Vail is cheap or anything, but it kind of felt more approachable.

We did go into this really cool distillery, which I feel like any time I see a distillery where we are, I’m like we have to go in there! So there was this like whiskey distillery, or maybe I think they had a couple of different spirit options, but they kind of build themselves with whiskey and bourbon. It was called 10th…was it 10th Mountain? I’m trying remember exactly what it was. If people are familiar with Vail I’m sure they’ve seen it. But it was a really cool laid back, it was technically a liquor store, but they sold cocktails and it was just a really fun atmosphere. So we hung out there for a bit, so I liked that.

Vail I would say it was a really cool spot with the caveat that I think it would be cooler to go in the winter when we could do some outdoor sports and stuff. Even though the fireworks were awesome, I still feel like we would have had more to do if it had been snowy out.

Kelsey:  It makes sense.

Laura:  For the summer, we did go to this hiking spot outside of Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs was cool. Definitely would check it out if you can.

Kelsey: Okay.

Laura: And then there’s a hiking spot outside of Glenwood Springs called Hanging Lake that was pretty nice. I have some photos in my Instagram from that place. That was a cool hike. It wasn’t overly strenuous. It was definitely pretty high elevation, so I mean it’s not an easy hike, but it wasn’t something that was really hard to do. There was an area that got pretty steep that I was like sliding on my butt to get down because I was scared. But it wasn’t dangerous because there was a handrail. I just get freaked out when it’s super high up.

But it was a cool hike so that would be an area to go. But yeah, I would say if we’re going to go back, which I’m sure we will, I would love to do like a winter trip to Vail in the Vail area.

Actually we didn’t we didn’t spend a ton of time in Denver, but just driving through and stuff, it looked pretty cool.Denver seems like a city that maybe isn’t a touristy type city, but it would be a cool place to live. That’s how I kind of look at Raleigh. I wouldn’t say come visit Raleigh for the tourism because there’s really nothing to do as far as like a tourist is concerned. But it looked like a cool place to live and it doesn’t hurt that they have like every single type of sports team there. I’m a big football fan. I wish we had a team like the Broncos like 20 minutes from the house.

But anyway, I thought Colorado was awesome. I don’t necessarily see myself leaving North Carolina anytime soon, but it was definitely an area that I could consider as being like a cool place to live and I know my husband really loved living there. So I was glad we finally got to go.  I’ll definitely be back and like I said, maybe go for a winter trip so we can do some winter sports.

Kelsey: Yeah, that’s awesome! That sounds like fun. Like I said, I’m hoping to get out there sometime next year I think.

Laura:  I didn’t mean to go on and on about Colorado. And again like I said, if anyone’s like horribly offended by me saying I didn’t like Boulder, I mean I liked it, I just was kind of glad we weren’t staying there much longer. It was a little intense.

Kelsey: That’s fair.

Laura:  Like I said, everyone’s going to have their different experiences and I’m sure there’s people that think Raleigh is like the most boring town ever. Just from my experience, I like the mountains and I like doing stuff outdoorsy when I’m there so I feel like the Vail area and the Glenwood Springs area had the most opportunity to do that kind of stuff.

Kelsey: Awesome. Good to know. I’ve been traveling a ton lately, too. For fun also, no business side in there for me.  I’ve been away, I just got home last night after I think it’s been like two and a half weeks of being out of my house, which is a long time.

Laura: Wow!

Kelsey: I felt like I was gone for longer than that. It just felt like forever. But my husband and I first went to Martha’s Vineyard, which is in Massachusetts, an island off of Massachusetts. His parents have a house there so we try to go there every year at least for a weekend or something. We were there for I think like four or five days. And then we drove from there all the way to Quebec in Canada for a music festival which was like 11 days or something like that, which is always really fun, but also very exhausting because it’s like I feel like my circadian rhythm just gets completely off because you stay up late going to all these concerts and then sleep in and eat your first meal at like noon. My whole schedule is just completely messed up.

It would have been nice actually to do the trips in the opposite direction because whenever we go to Martha’s Vineyard it’s like really pretty remote. There’s not a ton to do so like everybody goes to bed at 9 or 10 o’clock, wakes up pretty early. You just get your circadian rhythm reset in a good way. It would have been nice to do that after going to Quebec for the music festival I think. But yeah, we did it the opposite way, unfortunately. When we got to Quebec we were like on this very great sleep schedule and then just completely trashed it, unfortunately.

But it was fun!  Both were fun. We go to the Quebec music festival, or we have gone to that festival for the last like two or three years, I think it’s been three years. It’s a pretty cool place, like meaning the festival. The festival takes over the whole city. Quebec is a pretty small city to begin with, so it doesn’t take a lot I guess. But it’s really interesting to see that whole city just be taken over by a music festival. You can go to, there’s probably six different stages I think across the city and they’re all fairly close together so you just can walk to any of the venues.  I saw Backstreet Boys, which was a fun experience.

Laura: Oh my gosh!

Kelsey: It was hilarious. It was like one of the funniest concerts I’ve ever been to because it’s just so produced, like it literally was a Broadway show. That’s what it looked like. There was choreography, and backup dancers, and of course they wore their iconic white suits. Nick Carter had his frosted tips still.

Laura: Oh my gosh!

Kelsey: Very nostalgic. I’m sure he must have done that for this concert. Apparently they’ve been doing this residency in Las Vegas for I think the whole year. So they’ve been doing this show for a while.

Laura: Wow.

Kelsey: It is very reminiscent of a Broadway musical or something just with all Backstreet Boys songs. It was fun.

Laura: That’s funny.

Kelsey: They have some big bands that go there. I’m trying to think if I would, I guess Backstreet Boys is a big band but an old band at this point.

Laura: It depends on how old you are. If there’s listeners that are under the age of like 25, they might be like who’s that?

Kelsey: Yeah, I know. It’s pretty funny because it was all women my age, our age wearing shirts that are like “I was supposed to marry a Backstreet Boy.” And they have these big video screens because where they played was a huge, huge outdoor stadium. I think they can fit like 100,000 people in there, so it’s really big. At one point they showed the screen of this woman singing of course along to the songs and she’s crying.  And everybody just is laughing because it’s just so hilarious to see this woman who’s like 30 years old crying over the Backstreet Boys, singing all the lyrics. That was probably the most memorable concert.

They have a lot of other great bands. It’s just fun to kind of experience the new bands which I wouldn’t have normally found out about other than listening to their music to see if I want to go to their concert and then ending up going to their concert there.

So it’s a good time, but very exhausting and probably not great for my body overall. But now I’m in recovery mode.

Laura:  Yeah, I feel like combination of getting sick and being on like Mountain Time, just I’ve been sleeping in so much more than I normally would. It’s like I have all this work I want to do and I can’t get out of bed until like…I mean not that 8:00, 8:30 is such a sleep in. But when I’d probably be better off getting up at like 7:00, it does make a big impact. I feel like I’m still kind of stuck on Mountain Time because of being sick and not really, I don’t know. It’s just weird.  I feel like my husband’s getting up at 6 now for his job and I’ll just wake up and be like, wow! He’s already been at work for like an hour and a half at this point. My goal is to hopefully start transitioning in that direction.

The only tough part is, and this is something I’m learning being married, he has a very different sleep schedule or sleep need. Sometimes he’ll go to bed later than me and still get up at 6:00 in the morning. I’m like I can’t do that. So if I’m going to be waking up earlier, I have to go to bed earlier. So these are all the fun things that we’re still working out with being married. I mean I’m very happy to be married and it’s definitely 100 percent positive. It’s just funny because he’s out of town this week, I’m like oh my gosh, I get to like go to bed on time and wake up when I want.

So anyway, it’s all good. But I’m glad you had fun and it sounds like we both are kind of recovering from travel modes. Are you going to be in town more consistently over the next couple of weeks?

Kelsey: For the next couple of weeks, yes. But then in August, I think I’m going in Nashville towards the end of August. That’s my next big thing. I travel a lot over the summer.

Laura: Have you ever been there before?

Kelsey: No, I haven’t. I’m excited to go.

Laura: Nashville is cool. I really liked it when we were there. I went there for a bachelorette party last year.

Kelsey: Oh yeah.

Laura: Josh and I had extended the trip and met up there when he was still living in Ohio. I definitely really liked Nashville. I mean I probably just tend to like southern cities a little bit better. But if you like random live music, Nashville is really cool because literally you can just walk into like any bar on Broadway or even just around the area and there will be somebody playing live music. So I really liked that.

Kelsey: I’m in. That sounds great.

Laura:  Awesome. Well that was an extra update. But if you guys are still listening, thanks for joining us. Hopefully this stuff is interesting to you. We’ll be back next week with an interview that will be really fun. But otherwise until then, enjoy your week and we’ll see you around next time.

Kelsey: Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.


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I'm a women's health expert and a registered dietitian (RD) with a passion for helping goal-oriented people fuel their purpose.

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