“I just want to tone.”

“I don’t want to get bulky”

“How do I tone my arms/legs/belly?”

These questions grate on the souls of most trainers. The beauty industry made this term, and it’s had disastrous effects on people’s expectations of what exercise can do for the body. Whenever someone asks me how to “tone” something, I asked them what they think toning is. Usually the response is something like “well… it’s like exercises to make a body part look better….?” Umm ok….. Here’s what toning is and what it is not.

Toning is losing fat and building muscle. You want Michelle Obama arms? You need to lose fat and build some muscle. No one gets bulky on accident. Women who you think are “too big” have earned that shit with hours and hours of specialized exercise and very careful diet. They tried to get too big. Hell, I am trying to get too big. It’s hard! You have to want it!

“Yeah, but I just want to tone my abs. What exercises do you recommend?”

I feel like Michael Scott in these instances. “NOOOOO!! NO!! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Exercise doesn’t work like that. You want abs? Awesome! Let’s dial in your diet and make sure you’re burning enough calories and revving up your metabolic engine through exercise. That’s the answer. No amount of tricep kick backs are going to get rid of that under arm jiggle you’re so worried about. Sorry to crush your dreams, but that’s how the body works. You will have to lift weights if you want your muscles to show through your skin. But sorry, that 5# dumbbell has got to go. Nothing changes without challenge. If you’re never sore, you’re not improving. If you never push yourself, you’ll never get any better. In the words of the wise Britney: “You betta work, bitch.”

So, if you want a toned (aka lean) appearance, here’s what you do:

Eat well every damn day. Exercise 5 days a week. Lift moderate to heavy weights 3 times a week.

 

Protein.

We can’t seem to escape it. Marketing and food companies have latched onto it like El Dorado. They tout their goods with the promise of lean bodies, reduced hunger, and athletic prowess. But you’re smart. You know that the goal of marketing is to sell you something. You know protein is important, but how much so? How much do we need? What are good sources?

I’ll tell you what I believe to be true.

  1. Protein is the building block of muscle and other bodily tissues such as skin and organs. Our bodies are constantly rebuilding new cells, and they need protein to do so. Our bodies are thrifty when they need to be and will sacrifice muscle cells to build more important cells, or to use as fuel if nothing else is readily available (such as blood sugar). We need to eat enough protein to fuel growth and rebuild without sacrificing hard earned muscle tissue.
  2. Exercise causes micro tears in the muscles that require mending. This is how we get stronger and bigger muscles, and also why we feel sore after strenuous or new exercise. Muscles must be challenged enough to tear and rebuild. If we perform the same exercises all the time, the rebuild cycle does not take place and we stagnate. Having enough readily available protein in the body keeps the cycle running efficiently. The more exercise you do, the more protein you need.
  3. Protein rich food takes more time and energy to digest which aids in satiety and resting metabolic rate. Be fuller, burn more calories at rest.

Those are the three main reasons to make sure you’re consuming enough protein. How much is enough?

I use this super general rule with my clients: Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight you WANT to weigh. For example, if Mary weighs 160 pounds, but would like to weigh 140 pounds, she should eat 14o grams of protein per day. This is assuming she is exercising a few times a week. If she was trying to gain some weight, she would eat more.

If someone is very inactive, I would recommend less, and if someone is very active, I would recommend more. This method is a very easy starting point. For those who are very, very overweight, this method is a bit different and those individuals should speak with a nutritionist.

So, you’ve found your number. Now what is good protein? The best protein is that which comes from healthy, lean animals. Lean beef, fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, etc are all great choices. Processed sausage is not a good choice. Most deli meat is not a good choice. Try to know where the meat you eat is coming from. The meat industry is dark and full of terrors, but the small farmer is making a come back! Do some research, it’s good for the animals, you, and the environment. At the bare minimum, look for pastured meats. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you’re worth it.

Other good sources include high quality dairy like cottage cheese, yogurt, and whey and casein protein powders. Read the labels and look things up. Make an effort to know what you’re feeding yourself.

Plant sources can do the job, but your diligence must increase. Try to avoid estrogen mimicking soy. It’s fine once in a while, but it can have an effect on your hormonal balance. Pea protein, glutenous protein, and other grain and vegetable proteins are fine if you feel fine after eating them. Make sure you’re getting a wide spectrum of all foods in your weekly diet to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Again, do your research.

These are the things that I believe to be true. I use these beliefs to guide me in training my clients, and in my personal lifestyle.

Support your body, and it will support you.