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TMHS 605: Transform Your Metabolism & Elevate Your Fitness Mindset – With Sal Di Stefano
For decades, cardiovascular exercise was considered the gold standard for losing weight. But new science proves that strength training is actually the most effective exercise for fat loss and overall health. Not to mention, strength training is also a powerful tool for improving your cognitive health, metabolism, and so much more.
Today’s guest, Sal Di Stefano is passionate about teaching folks how to realistically incorporate resistance training into their routine. He is a long-time fitness pro, a bestselling author, and the host at Mind Pump Media. In his new book, The Resistance Training Revolution, Sal Di Stefano outlines why building muscle through resistance training is the key to overall health and longevity.
You’re going to hear powerful insights on why logging hours on the treadmill might be harming your progress, how your body adapts to workouts, and how to set sustainable health goals. Sal is sharing a wealth of knowledge on the benefits of strength training, plus realistic tips for building muscle in a way that works for your lifestyle. If you want to discover more about maximizing your health through resistance training, there’s no one better to learn from than Sal Di Stefano!
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Why cardio is ineffective for fat loss.
- How your body adapts to cardiovascular exercise.
- Why you shouldn’t consider calories burned during a workout.
- How weight loss plateaus happen.
- Why so many people can’t maintain their weight loss over time.
- The difference between fat loss and weight loss.
- How strength training can improve your cognitive function.
- The relationship between muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.
- How resistance training impacts hormonal health.
- What proprioception is.
- The truth about common strength training myths.
- Why focusing exclusively on appearance can be unhealthy.
- The reason why motivation alone won’t help you reach your goals.
- Important questions to ask yourself when setting health goals.
- How many days per week most folks should train.
- Why sustainable, behavior-based changes are the most impactful.
- The importance of approaching health from a place of self-love.
- How to improve your relationship with food.
- The best way to improve your metabolic rate.
- Why your workouts should be a practice.
- The ideal frequency for training specific muscle groups.
Thank you so much for checking out this episode of The Model Health Show. If you haven’t done so already, please take a minute and leave a quick rating and review of the show on Apple Podcast by clicking on the link below. It will help us to keep delivering life-changing information for you every week!
SHAWN STEVENSON: Welcome to The Model Health Show. This is fitness and nutrition expert Shawn Stevenson, and I'm so grateful for you tuning in with me today. What is the very best form of exercise? We're transforming our body composition. What's the best form of exercise for our health overall? That's what we're going to be diving into today. And I'm telling you right now, it is a game changer. Now our exercise inputs are critical because these are things that our genes expect from us. Our genes expect us to engage our musculature, to move our bodies. But as you probably know, we are now the most sedentary culture in the history of humanity. Alright, it's all about convenience today. Our conveniences, our creature comforts have made us less likely to move around. You know, there are dynamic reasons for this to take place, of course, again, our conveniences, our comforts, our innovations have made us lack the necessity to move. We don't have to go out and procure our own food. We don't have to go and hunt and to forage and to gather and to do the things necessary to eat. We can literally just grab our phone, push a couple of buttons and the foods at our door. Alright? Now these are innovations that our ancestors would've obviously loved to have, and it's not that it's necessarily wrong, but it is what is, and it's taken away crucial activities, crucial steps, crucial movement practices that we evolved having that are genes expect from us.
So, this is why in many ways when we seek to get healthier, we're trying to find a way to replicate some of those behavior patterns; engaging our musculature, engaging our cardiovascular system and "Training our bodies". Right? So, life was more active throughout most of human evolution. And just like if we've got a 10,000 page of human evolution, for like a sentence of that book, have we had the conveniences that we have, not even a sentence, a letter in the book of humanity that we've had these conveniences. And so, we're trying to find a way to adapt to them. So, if we're going to exercise, what is the best way to go about it? What's going to give us the most bang for our metabolic buck? That's what we're going to be talking about today. Now on the nutrition side, what's fueling our exercise? What's fueling our performance? The data has been shifting in recent decades, a lot more attention is being paid to electrolytes. These are minerals that carry an electric charge and sodium and potassium, that dynamic combination, the sodium-potassium pump enables the manufacturing of energy for all of our cells. This sodium-potassium pump is required essentially for all of our cellular processes to take place. So, when we say that electrolytes are important, it is not an understatement. And also, magnesium, for example, in that energy equation, another powerful electrolyte. Magnesium is needed to be bound to ATP in order for ATP to actually be the bioactive form.
This isn't what I was taught in my university setting. I was just taught ATP, energy currency of the body. End of story. Not to, so it has to be bound with magnesium in order to be biologically active. These are some of the newer discoveries in human health and nutrition, but we don't have to wait around for the books to change. We've got peer-reviewed data on all of these things now, and we have access to high quality electrolytes. But the problem is when people are seeking out electrolytes today, they're usually getting it packaged with processed sugars and sweeteners and artificial colors and all of these different things that are diminishing the nutritive value that we're trying to seek from those electrolytes. So today, we're stepping things up to another level. We're getting our electrolytes in the right ratios that are utilizing tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of data points to have the right ratios and no added sugars, no artificial ingredients, no artificial colorings, none of that stuff, just high-quality electrolytes, and this is what you're getting from LMNT.
Go to drinklmnt.com/model, you're going to get a free gift with every single purchase. They're going to send you a free variety pack as a bonus right now, when you get your electrolytes from my only, my favorite and only electrolytes that I use is from LMNT, L-M-N-T. Go to drinklmnt.com/model. Get that free gift. And also, they've got grapefruit, is back. The Grapefruit Salt is back in stock and it's one of my favorites. But if you haven't tried all of them, this a great chance to get to try all of them with the free gift, they're going to be sending you a free variety pack with every purchase. Go to drinklmnt.com/model. And now let's get to the Apple Podcast review of the week.
ITUNES REVIEW: Another five-star review titled, "The best health and nutrition show," by Iron for Life. "This is by far the best podcast in the health and fitness space. Shawn and his team not only take the time to give you valuable and verifiable information, they bring on expert guests who are knee-deep into the health and fitness space, uncovering hidden gems and debunking current fads. Thank you for all the hard work you and your team and guests put into this to share it with the world. It has improved my life and my circle of lives around me as well."
SHAWN STEVENSON: That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that over on Apple Podcast. I truly, truly do appreciate it. And on that note, let's get to our special guest and topic of the day. Our guest today is Sal Di Stefano. He's a bestselling author and co-founder of the mega hit podcast and brand, Mind Pump. Sal has been a fitness professional for over 20 years, and one of the smartest people in the field. And this conversation is really digging into one of the most proven and viable forms of exercise to transform our bodies, but also looking at some of the psychology that makes all of these health and fitness pieces work overall. So, let's dive into this conversation with the amazing Sal Di Stefano. Well, Sal, thank you so much for coming to hang out with me, man. It's good to see you.
SAL DI STEFANO: Appreciate you having me on, man. It's good to see you.
SHAWN STEVENSON: I'm going to ask you right off the bat. This is a hard-hitting statement in your book. This is a direct quote. You said, "Focusing on cardiovascular activity for fat loss is a fantastic way to fail at fat loss."
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah, 100%. So, I do want to start off by being very clear, 'cause I don't want to send the wrong message. So cardiovascular activity or exercise is good for you. All activity done properly and applied appropriately is going to improve your health. But the challenge or the problem is when people make cardiovascular activity the cornerstone of a fat loss routine. So they don't go into it saying, "I just want to improve my health and gain more stamina." They say, "I want to lose 30 pounds. Let me pick this form of exercise and make this the cornerstone of my routine." And it's just, it's a terribly ineffective form of exercise for that, for a few different reasons. I think first though, we need to start with why that's typically chosen as the frontline form of exercise. 'Cause if you talk to the average person and you say, "Hey, what's the best form of exercise for fat loss?"
They're probably going to pick a form of cardio, right? They'll say, running or cycling or swimming something along those lines. And it really goes back to this... Which there's truth to this, but it's just oversimplification to this model of weight loss that we've understood for decades now. And the model is that you need to burn more calories than you take in or put differently, take in less calories than you burn, and you create that energy imbalance and then that's how you lose weight, which is true, it's much more complex in that. But there's truth to that. So then what they've done, and we won't talk about the food part yet. We can talk about that later. Let's look at the calorie burn part. When they say, "Okay, we need to burn more calories," what they did is they looked at all forms of activity and they've ranked them in terms of how many calories you burn while you do them.
So, this is how people will typically rank the value of different forms of exercises. They'll say, "How many calories does that burn in an hour? That's more effective than that one over there because it burns more calories," and that's wrong because it ignores the real, most important factor to consider with exercise, which is, "How does this form of exercise get my body to adapt?" And then what does that mean? 'Cause that's what we really want to focus on. So why should we not look at calories burn while we exercise? Well, number one, it's not a lot. So even if you did an hour of cardio every single day vigorously, average person's going to burn maybe 250-300 calories doing that. By the way those cardio machines at the gym will lie to you. So, you'll do elliptical, and it'll tell you burn 800 calories. They make those numbers up, I think to get people to buy those machines. Average person 250-300 calories. And it's a very manual way of doing so, takes a lot of work. I'm dedicating an hour of strenuous activity to burn this 250-300 calories, but that's not it, that's not all. That form of exercise induces adaptations in the body that eventually get my body to learn how to burn less calories.
So initially, I'm burning more calories by doing that, but because the... That form of exercise requires little strength, it really doesn't require much strength to do long distance jogging or cycling or swimming or an elliptical, it does require a lot of stamina and because it is calorie, I guess, intensive for the time being done, your body adapts to try to become better at it or more efficient at it. So, to use an analogy, it would be like owning a very advanced AI car that adapted to your driving habits. So, imagine if you own this car and you drove 350 miles every day at 40 miles an hour, right? How would this car adapt? Well, it would become a one-cylinder engine, would burn very, very little gasoline, or become battery operated, become very efficient with energy, right? And so, this is what your body ends up doing. You end up pairing muscle down in order to become more efficient and have better capacity for the stamina, require less energy to do these types of activities. So over time, what you see is you'll initially see a weight loss, then the body adapts to become better, and then you get this real strong plateau. And by the way, that initial weight loss and studies will show this, a nice chunk of that comes from muscle.
Now, you're not burning the muscle, your body's just adapting and pairing the muscle down. So, you end up with a slower metabolism, which is why when people do that, they initially lose weight, they plateau, and then to continue losing weight, they have to do more cardio or cut their calories even more. And that road leads to something that's just not sustainable. You know, I'm eating 1600 calories, 1500 calories or less a day, I'm doing an hour of cardio five or six days a week. I've only lost 15 of the 30 pounds I want to lose, this is not sustainable for most people. So instead, what we need to do is we need to look at exercise and say, "Which form of exercise induces the adaptations that will make my body want to burn more calories on its own? It doesn't require me to go and try and move. Which one's going to end up with, or help me end up with a sustainable body where I can maintain this with less work and stay leaner easier?" And the answer to that is its strength training, resistance training. It's by far the most effective form of exercise for fat loss, but much more, and I cover a lot more of that in the book.
SHAWN STEVENSON: What you're saying is incredibly logical. We're looking at adaptation, what type of adaptation for our bodies, for our metabolism, for our hormones are we really looking to create. But this isn't regularly talked about, it's more... And I love this. You just literally brought it up, which is we're looking specifically at calories burned doing the thing versus when we're doing resistance training and not having that hyper-focused kind of tunnel vision on that one thing, looking at the metabolic changes, which we're going to talk about. But I want to lean into this a little bit more because essentially when you talked about that adaptation, when doing a lot of cardio, you're creating a body that gets very good at doing a lot of cardio.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah.
SHAWN STEVENSON: So, let's extrapolate that a little bit more.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah. There was a study that was done that I remember when I first saw, really confirmed what those of us in the gym and fitness industry have known for a long time. I've been in gyms professionally for over two decades and we would refer to members who would come in and jump on the StairMaster and the treadmill day in and day out as cardio bunnies. And very typical, they would kind of skinny... Excuse the term, skinny fat, right? They would lose a lot of muscle; body fat percentage would be kind of high and they'd be kind of stuck in this kind of plateau. And sometimes they'd come and talk to me as a gym manager, "Why isn't this working? What's going on? I'm coming in every single day." And we saw that all the time. Well, there was a study that was done on a modern hunter-gatherer tribe called the Hadza. So, they live the way that humans probably lived hundreds of thousands of years ago. So, no modern technology, no modern agriculture, they hunt their food, they gather, very active in comparison to the average Western couch potato. Okay?
And scientists went down there and with some really sophisticated testings were able to test their metabolisms. How many calories are these Hadza tribes people burning every single day? Now the results were remarkable. What they found was that these Hadza tribes people burned generally the same amount of calories as the average Western couch potato. So, at first you think to yourself, "How's this possible? They're moving all the time." I mean, the way you hunt as a hunter-gatherer is you stalk your prey, you throw something at it, you injure it, and then you run after it for 10 miles till it gets exhausted, and then you bring it back. It's like, "How are they burning as many calories as you know, John who sits on his couch and watches TV and has a desk job?" But if you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. If our bodies didn't adapt to become more efficient with that type of activity, there's no way humans would've survived. It's very hard to come across calories in nature. You know, if we were burning 8,000 calories a day, because we were running after prey and gathering food, we just, we wouldn't have made it.
So that type of activity teaches our bodies to become very, very efficient. There's also studies done on contestants from The Biggest Loser. I don't know if you're familiar with that show. So, this show, by the way, any trainer who's been a trainer for a long period of time that show's like the bane of fitness. You watch it, and it's like, man, they do everything wrong. But they beat these people up. They have 'em run like crazy. They use weights like cardio. So, they make 'em do circuits and they restrict their calorie. They lose tons and tons of weight. And then afterwards, there was a study that followed them, and it found that well, weight gain was quite common. And those that were able to maintain the weight loss were eating something like 1300 calories a day and active all the time. That's unsustainable for most people, especially when you consider modern life where food is everywhere, it's easily accessible. It's very... You know, getting an hour of exercise every day, for people like me, I'm a fitness fanatic, it's hard to keep me out of the gym, but the average person, if we can convince the average person to work out twice a week consistently, we've done a phenomenal job, and we're probably not going to get much more than that.
So, it's just an unsustainable approach. And so those adaptations lend themselves well to the activity that you're trying to do. You become more efficient with calories, you burn less while you're doing it, your body pairs muscle down, it organizes its hormones in a way to do so. And you become a more efficient calorie storing machine in contrast to strength training in which you don't burn a ton of calories while you strength train, but the adaptations, the muscle building process, even just the signaling of building muscles, you don't have to build a ton of muscle just telling your body, "We need more muscle," and feeding your body appropriately, your body becomes less efficient with calories. You see yourself... Your metabolism starts to actually speed up, and the result of that, which I experienced time and time again, as a trainer is I'd get clients to lose weight over time at the end of their "weight loss journey," or when we hit their goal, they're eating more than they did when they started. Now that's sustainable. Imagine if I could snap my fingers and make everybody be able to burn 800 more calories a day, I would solve a lot of the obesity epidemic just from doing that. So that's, yeah, that's the big focus of that particular form of exercise and why it's failed, why it just doesn't work for so many people.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Wow. That's powerful. And the thing is too, number one, what I really admire about you is we have this clinical data, yes, check, but you also have this real-world experience and working with all these people and being able to see this firsthand, and we cannot negate this. Like, it's one of the most important things in the human experience. You know, this "anecdotal data," like you see this firsthand and say something that's so kind of counterintuitive in how we're trained. Somebody's eating more calories at the end, they've reached their weight loss goals, and they're actually being able to eat more like that doesn't make sense. Because again, if you see the suffering that people have, had to undertake doing The Biggest Loser where they have to maintain this incredibly low amount of like that should be relegated to like an eight-year-old.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Right? For the rest of their life and keep exercising their face off in order to maintain that weight loss.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah. You know, you talked about, you mentioned clinical data, the studies now, finally, are supporting what I'm saying. There's a lot of studies now.
SHAWN STEVENSON: A lot now.
SAL DI STEFANO: But if you go back, when I started in fitness over two decades ago, there were none on strength training. All the studies that were done on exercise to look at the benefits of exercise on health and fat loss and cognitive function, were all cardiovascular based. Part of that is because, it's probably, it's a lot easier to get a hamster run on a hamster wheel than it is to get a hamster lift weights. So, animal studies are easy with cardio.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, right. Yeah.
SAL DI STEFANO: It's also, you need to know a little bit about strength training to study strength training with subjects versus, "Hey, let's just have people run or cycle, and then we'll look at the effects." So, all the studies done two decades ago were done on athletic performance. So, strength training, great for explosive power, great for strength, good for football players or baseball players, but we didn't have any that studied strength training for cognitive function, blood lipids, fat loss, heart health, but we have 'em now. And the data now is very clear. Strength training is the most effective form of exercise for pure fat loss. So, when I say fat loss, by the way, I'm not talking about weight loss, 'cause you could lose 20 pounds, half of it can be muscle and you end up just being a smaller, slower metabolism, same flabbiness version of yourself, right?
Resistance training leads to pure fat loss, and in most cases, you get some muscle gain with that, which we could talk about... Some people are afraid of that, they think, "Well, if I gain muscle, I'mma look bulky and big," not true, you're just much more sculpted and have a better shape to your body. Studies on heart health show that strength training is at least as beneficial as cardiovascular exercise for heart health. Now, of course, the best combination, again, I want to be clear, the best forms or way to work out, if you have the time and you are dedicated is to combine a lot of different forms of exercise. But we're talking head-to-head, and I'm also talking to, again, the average person that's probably only going to do a couple of days a week of exercise consistently. Cognitive function. Here's where it gets really interesting. There was a study out of Sydney, Australia that looked at strength training and Alzheimer's. And it was the only... This is one of the only times we've ever seen a non-medical intervention stop, slow down and stop the progression of the beta-amyloid plaques. That lead to, or at least contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer's.
How is that possible? Probably... And this is a really interesting point here, probably because one of the most effective ways to improve insulin sensitivity is to simply build muscle, and Alzheimer's and dementia, some researchers will even refer to as Type Three diabetes. You'll see that there's something connected there where... This is why when you put people on Alzheimer's on a ketogenic diet, you tend to see some improvements because there's a dysfunction there with utilizing glucose for energy. So, you improve insulin sensitivity, you tend to improve cognitive function. Well, you gain a little bit of muscle, and you see tremendous improvements in insulin sensitivity, there is studies on severely obese individuals where they don't even have 'em lose weight, they just have 'em gain a little bit of muscle and you see these great improvements in blood sugar and in insulin. Muscle is very insulin sensitive. It's also one of the ways we store glycogen, which is made from carbohydrate, so you got your liver that stores glycogen, and then you get your muscle, so you get more muscle, you have more ability to store. Becomes more sensitive to it. Insulin is a very anabolic hormone, actually contributes to muscle growth if you do it right.
So, and again, there's so much more, but we now finally have studies coming out that are showing like, wait a minute, one of my favorites is the strength studies that show how a simple strength test, like a grip test, that simple test right there will predict all-cause mortality better than almost any other single metric, so you could compare it to cholesterol or blood pressure or other metrics and a grip test is more accurate in terms of all-cause mortality, so strength is very important for longevity, muscle is very protective, and thankfully, now we're having the studies, and I named the book the resistance training revolution. I think the revolution is going to happen anywhere, I think we're already starting to move in that direction, 'cause the data now is finally starting to confirm what those of us in fitness have seen for decades now.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, man, thank you so much for bringing that up because we tend to put things into isolation, it's just again, another way that we're taught, so we don't really think about muscles connecting to the brain, for example, but this is all happening in one sovereign Unit, One sovereign human being, and I love this point because obviously, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes is beyond epidemic proportion, so now we've got about 130 million Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic right now, it's insane. But we're also looking at... Alzheimer's is now number six, it's the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it's creeping its way into the top five, and most people have no idea about this unless that they've been directly impacted by it with a family member, they're not even really aware of this epidemic. And the biggest proportion of these folks are folks who are insulin-resistant and diabetic already, it's like, it is the mega risk factor we're not talking about because the brain itself, there can be an insulin resistance taking place with your neurons, and so being able to improve that insulin sensitivity specifically in your brain by activating your muscles and the Miocene release and all of these other metabolic benefits we're just now starting to understand because, thank you for saying this, it's all happening right now.
There's so many amazing studies on the stuff you've known for years, coming out right now, and it's affirming what we already know.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah, and when it comes to brain health besides the insulin sensitizing effects, there's also a very pro-youth hormone profile effect that comes from strength training, and it's a direct one, so first off, if you improve your health, generally you'll see a better hormone profile come out of it. So, you know more optimal testosterone levels in men and in women, better estrogen progesterone ratios, growth hormone tends to get a little better, cortisol gets control a little better, insulin sensitivity, that's just from getting healthier, but only one form of exercise has been shown to directly influence hormones to make them look more youthful, and that's strength training... Now, why is that? Because the process of building muscle requires a youthful profile of hormones, it's very hard to build muscle as a man with low testosterone, right? So, if you send the signal to build muscle and your body is like, we need to build muscle.
One of the first things it does is it starts to raise testosterone and it starts to increase androgen receptor density. Now, what does this mean for the brain? We'll look at the studies on high Cortisol and brain function, low testosterone and brain function, estrogen progesterone imbalances and brain function, so there's that as well, and then there's a fourth piece, which is the proprioceptive effects of strength training. So, proprioception refers to my ability to navigate through space, knowing where my body is in space. So, like an extreme example would be like a... Olympic diver, they jump off the platform and they spin and somehow, they end up diving headfirst, right? So incredible proprioceptive ability, well, of all the traditional forms of exercise, because strength training encourages multi-planar movements, there's a million and one different strength training exercises, and there's 10 different ways to do each one, it's not like running where I'm going in the same direction or cycling which is the same motion over and over.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Always gomping it.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yes, exactly. Strength training is I'm pressing up to the front, I'm going laterally, I'm rotating, I'm rowing, it requires a presence of mind. When you're doing a barbell squat, it's not like I'm thinking about my argument that I had earlier, like I could when I'm on a treadmill, I got to think about this next 10 reps that I'm doing. So, it also trains this proprioceptive ability in the brain, so when it comes to strengthening the brain or our cognitive abilities or preventing things like dementia and Alzheimer's, strength training is head and shoulders. Part of the challenge, by the way, 'cause we're talking about how this is all moving in this direction. We have to erase and counter the myths that surround strength training and the way that it's been viewed for so long, like if you talk to the average person about resistance training, images of big body builders pop up and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they don't think about this healthy person living a long time. So that's part of the challenge.
And then if you talk to women, although this is far less evident today than it was 20 years ago, still I get women that tell me, "Oh, but I don't want to get a bulky. I'm not trying to look masculine", as if that could happen overnight. Right, but that's still the case. We're still... It's still uphill, but thankfully, I think we're starting to see some head wind.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, this is so awesome, man, because I'm almost... And September is going to be my 20th year when I started in health and fitness, and I was working at the university gym, and the first... We'll just say three of the five or maybe four of my five first clients were women, and it was the same tagline, "I don't want to get bulky, I don't want to get bulky Shawn, you see these thighs, I don't want to get bulky". And so, of course, we've seen that evolve over time to where it's not as common, but it's still a part of the public psyche, it still is. And this is leading to... I want to ask you about that beginning because there's something that sparked this. We were talking about, before we got started, when you got into this field, you was like, "Oh, this is the thing. This is for me", so number one, when did you first fall in love with fitness? It's kind of like this, the movie 'Brown sugar' is just like, when did you first fall in love with hip-hop, but like when did you fall in love with fitness? And when did you start working in the gym? Because you were crazy young.
Yeah, so I started working out and training my body for the same reasons, I think a lot of people do. I had some insecurities about my body image, I was a skinny kid, and I wanted to build a stronger, more muscular body. My dad was very athletic, I'm not very athletic. Much more of a book worm. We had a weight set in the backyard, and I finally got the green light from my parents, 'cause I wanted to start much earlier, but they said "No, you're too young". At the age of 14, they said, "Okay, you can go start working out". And I fell in love with that right away, was a very growth-oriented, and I don't mean physical growth, but it's a personal growth. Fitness is personal growth, it really is. You embark on that journey long enough and you end up touching almost every part of your life, but I really love that, and I became a nerd about it. So, I was working out in the backyard. I bought every book and magazine, I mean I subscribed to every magazine that I possibly could, I went to the library, read books on Soviet studies, on weightlifting, and Chemistry books so I could learn about supplement. I just love... I absolutely loved it.
SAL DI STEFANO: I knew I wanted to work with fitness in some way. The only career I knew at the time though that was somewhat related was physical therapy, I had no idea that you really make a career in gyms. So, I wanted to do physical therapy. And I worked out, when I was 16, I finally got a membership at a gym. 'cause this is when I had a license, so I could drive there. And I asked 'em if I could work there. And they said, "You have to be 18". So, I said, "Okay". So, I waited a couple years. As soon as I turned 18, I went in and I thought, this is a great place to work while I go to school for physical therapy. So I went, got a job as a personal trainer. And right away it was like, "This is where I belong". Within four months, I was managing the fitness department and within another less than a year, I was a general manager. And at that point, I knew I wanted to be in the gym and not in the clinical medical setting. I love the atmosphere, I loved working in that fast-paced environment, I loved working with lots of people, and I just totally fell in love with it, and I worked for 25 fitness for a couple years, Grand opened some of their clubs in the Bay area, and then I went off on my own. I bought a large gym with some partners, sold that, and then I had a wellness studio, and I did that for about 13 years before I met my current partners and started Mind Pump.
And in the wellness studio, this is where I really learned what I know about fitness. I had; I was... At that time, when I first started the wellness studio, I was very much the fitness guy, so I knew strength training, cardio, flexibility training, and I knew Macros in calories, and that was it. But in my studio, I had hormone specialists. I had a functional medicine practitioner in there, acupuncturist, body work specialists, because I knew that they would bring value, and just through osmosis, I just learned watching that 'cause I could see what they were doing with my clients, 'cause we shared clients, so my clients would come and they'd see me and then I'd have them go see the hormone specialist or go have them get, got tested, and I'd see the benefits. I was like, "Okay, there's much more to fitness than I thought". Then I had my own kind of health issue pop up in my early 30s, I had some gut issues that got really, really bad, thought I had... At one point, maybe I had Crohn's or some auto immune issue, and I got help from the people I worked with, I sat down with them, and I said," You know, everything I know about fitness isn't working. I think I'm eating healthy, but I've got these gut issues, can't figure it out, I'm losing weight, I don't feel good", and I completely revamped the way I approach exercise, I reduced the intensity, and I looked at fitness now as a way to become healthy, not just to look good.
And through about a year of doing that, I improved my health. Actually looked better than I ever looked before, I remember when I first realized that too, was probably a year later, and I had really avoided mirrors because it was such a trigger if I looked in the mirror then I'd want to go train a particular way that was not working for my health, but it was about a year later, and I kind of looked at myself and said, "Oh, this is weird, I look better than I've ever looked", and then that's when I realized one of the best side effects of being healthy is you look good, but if I'm always trying to look good, I might not improve my health, in which case I'll lose both. And that really shaped kind of the voice that you hear on my podcast, Mind Pump, now is that kind of that holistic approach.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, man, that's amazing. Such a powerful story. So, I want to ask you about you becoming a GM so young for some kind of big franchise gyms, so you've got people who are working for you, basically, they're under you. What was that dynamic like? To have a kid who's my boss, did you ever run into some conflict.
SAL DI STEFANO: I was so fortunate to work for 24 fitness during those years... We're talking late '90s, early 2000s. So, this is late '90s, so is 19... I want to say '97 or '98 when I started there. And this was right after 24-hour Nautilus merged with Ray Wilson's family fitness. So, stop me if I get too far in the weeds here, but both companies really revolutionized the gym business, they're the ones that created the gym business. Before that, if you owned a gym, it was like some meat heads worked out, you don't really profit that much, not really a big business, those two companies really put together like the EFT model, now you go to the gym you get, they bill you every month out to your bank account, well, they're the ones that brought that forth first, they had this kind of, their approach to sales and marketing and building these huge businesses, so they merged Mark master off the owner of Nautilus then became the... Obviously ran 25 fitness, which now at this time had 170 locations, which was massive back then, and he's just... He's the godfather of the fitness space, he now owns all the UFC gyms and crunch gyms and all that.
Anyway, it was a great time working there, learning from them, and being a GM at 19, I didn't tell anybody my age, so I walked in... And people thought I was late 20s, early 30s, just the way I think I presented myself. I remember when I got found out, I had... This is when I was running the club in Sunnyvale, and I had just turned 21, and there's a bar like two doors down from the gym, and I took some of my sales guys and trainers say, "Hey, let's go to the bar 'cause I'm going to celebrate my birthday". So, we go in there, they check my ID and they're like, Hey, happy birthday, you finally turned 21 and you should've seen the looks on the faces.
"21? I thought you were like 30 man". So now I just turned 21 but by that point I had earned their respect, but I made sure not to let them know I was 19-year-old kid, 'cause my staff is all... They were all much older than me.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Man, that's a great, great story. Man, so I want to circle back and talk about another really great insight that you put into the book, because you've seen this firsthand, but also it's what the data indicates. People in our culture... There are literally right now, tens of millions of people who are on diets, weight lost protocols, exercising, dieting, calorie restriction, I'm just talking about in America alone.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah.
SHAWN STEVENSON: And they usually see the needle move in the direction that they want for a short amount of time, and what typically happens is they regain that weight, and oftentimes, a little bit more, you said in the book that we don't have a weight loss problem, we have a keeping the weight off problem.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah, that's true.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Talk about that.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah, so most people lose weight throughout their lives through some method, diet, diet, and exercise combination, but the fail rate is north of 85%, and I would say even higher than that if you stretch out the time long enough. So, in the first couple of years, 85% fail. I bet if you go out to five or six years, you're probably looking at 95% plus everybody fails. Why is that? Because we view health and fitness or weight loss very mechanistically, we look at these pieces and parts and say, "Okay, if I just don't eat this, eat that, watch my calories do this, then it's going to work", and there's some truth to that. It's true. If you do all those things, then you're going to get some of these results. The problem is that's not how humans will work, we're behavior-based creatures, we're not robots where you plug in, go do this, and I remember learning this as a trainer, and by the way, the first five years I trained people, I was terrible. I had to learn this the hard way. I would give people meal plans and tell them, you're going to come in and do five days a week with me, and we'd get great success for three or six months, and then I'd lose them and then have to get a new client.
And eventually I asked myself, "Am I really doing a good job? I'm winning these awards for sales and all this stuff, but everybody's gaining the weight back, what am I doing wrong?" And it's because we're viewing humans like their robots and they're not, we're behavior based. So, when you look at this, you have to understand that nutrition in particular or diet in particular, these are fundamental behaviors that we have. It's part of who we are. Like look at food, for example, food is culture, food is celebration, its morning, it's... We got breakfast foods, lunch foods, dinner foods, we eat for a lot of different reasons, one of which is 'cause we're hungry, which is actually way down the totem pole, we typically, because we're bored, or it's time to eat, or I'm going to hang out with somebody and connect or it tastes good, and it feels good. So, we have to look at that. That's what we have to look at if we want to make permanent fundamental changes. And then the second piece of that is understanding that when you're making fundamental changes to your life that you want to last forever, it's not going to happen all at once. Nothing happens all at once, unless you have an epiphany, which is extremely rare.
I've seen people get heart attacks and cancer, and that still didn't give them the epiphany to radically change their lives. So then how do we change our lives, or the direction of our lives, in fundamental ways? Very slowly. And we have to develop the skill of discipline over time and stop relying on the state of mind, known as motivation. Motivation is a great state of mind, I love it, everybody loves being motivated, but I never had to convince a client to work out or eat right when they were motivated. Everybody can do that when they feel like it. It's when they don't, which inevitably you're going to get into those states of mind as well. So, we have to develop behaviors and habits that can move us in that direction. And there's a lot of different ways to do this that I've identified that are far more successful, but just kind of in a nutshell, you want to ask yourself the following: What's one small step that I can take now that is challenging, needs to be somewhat challenging, otherwise it has no meaning, but also, and here's the context, realistic forever? What can I do now? What change can I do now that is going to be kind of hard, but I feel confident that I can maintain forever?
SHAWN STEVENSON: Forever. Shout out to the Sandlot, which we talked about before the show.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yes, yes. So, you have to say that because when people tend to want to tackle this, they're in a motivated state of mind. So, I don't know if you've ever done this, but I've done this in business, right, where I'm all motivated, I'm like, "Alright, here's my goal, I'm going to work 15 hours a day." And then I went, "Wait a minute, is this going to last when that motivation fades?" So, you have to say, "Forever." Whatever that is, is the right... There is no wrong answer, it can be anything. So, it could literally be "I'm going to walk five minutes after breakfast, lunch, and dinner," or "I'm going to add a glass of water every single day." I had a client do that once, you know, that's where we started, glass of water, no problem, 'cause all she drank was Diet Coke. Let's add a glass of water, let's start there. So, you start there, and then when that becomes a behavior, then you ask yourself again, "What's the next step I can take that is challenging but realistic for me forever?" And what ends up happening is the steps you take as you go along start to become bigger and bigger, and the time in-between the steps start to get shorter and shorter as you start to develop this skill of discipline.
So, I'll give you a great story. I have a client, I've talked about her so many times on the show, so I'm sure she's heard by now. But I love using her as an example because she just fits so perfectly. So, at one point, when I had my wellness studio, my wellness studio was a couple of miles away from a hospital, and at one point I had developed a reputation and I had started training a lot of doctors, doctors and surgeons. So, they would come train me and every once in a while, they'd send me one of their patients. Well, one of my clients was a general surgeon, a wonderful lady, and she told me, "Hey, I'm going to send you a patient who just beat cancer, and she really doesn't want to come here, but I keep harping on her, and her and I have a good relationship, so she finally agreed. But I just want to warn you, she really doesn't want to do this." I said, "No problem, I have no problem with that." So, in comes in, Kelly. And first words out of her mouth, "I'm going to work out once a week, I'm not going to do anything on my own, and I'm not going to change my diet. So, what can we do with that?"
Now, the inexperienced old trainer, young trainer, I should say, would have said, "No, you got to come in three days a week, at least. We got to change diet," and I'm very charismatic and motivational, maybe I would have convinced her, but that would have eventually failed. But the older, wiser me said, "Yeah, no problem. Once a week's perfect, it's more than you're doing now. And we can definitely get you stronger and see some changes once a week, and you'll definitely feel better working out once a week." And that's what we did. But I knew that her coming in once a week seeing me, and me not making a big deal about it and having it a good time when she'd come in and making it a great place for her and her feeling stronger and seeing some of the effects, I knew eventually she would want to do more. And she did. It was a year later, literally. So, for a year, I trained her for once a week. And I know she showed up 'cause she liked the conversations we would have, which was fine. So, she'd show up, we'd have a good conversation, but I'd train her in the meantime.
A year later, she comes in and she goes, "Hey, Sal, do you have another day a week that I could train with you?" "Absolutely, Kelly, let's do two days a week," and we did that. Four months later, "Are there any exercises I could do at home when I'm grading papers?" She was a professor. And I said, "Yeah, let me show you three mobility movements you could do on the ground that are really easy and you can just add them to your daily activity." A few months later, "You know, I think I'd like to cut my sugar intake down." Well, anyway, three years later, she was a bonafide fitness fanatic. She actually got a certification in personal training for her own education.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Wow.
SAL DI STEFANO: And this is... I haven't trained this woman for 10 years, and I still keep in contact with her, and she's still exercising, she loves it. Now, had I pushed and convinced her to come three, four days a week and make all these crazy changes and, "Yeah, you got to do this with your diet, and you got to do this with your exercise, and got to do this with your sleep, and you got to... And that I'd thrown everything at her, she would have been gone. No way, she would've lasted three months and then she would have been gone. So that's the sustainable approach. And you want to ask yourself, "Can I maintain this forever?" The other things I love so much about strength training is, for most people, two days a week done properly, you'll build muscle and strength, and you'll positively affect your metabolism in ways where you'll burn more calories every single day. So, it's not asking a lot out of you. And you don't have to train like a bodybuilder six days a week or do anything crazy, two days a week, two days a week, you could go really, really far to improving your health and making things far more sustainable from a fat loss and health perspective. That's why I like it so much. It's like, it only needs this much time to get this much back. And let's be honest, when we're talking about the average person, what we don't want to do is make a prescription that requires a ton of time and gives them only this much in return.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah. Man, that's such a great story because that was a moment that literally she had a... There's a fork in the road type moment where she could have went a totally different direction if you pushed back against what her intention was at that time. But you said your experience, the older wiser you, you "Yoda'd" her or "Jedi'd" her. And that reminds me of that, was it, "Do or do not, there is no try." Shout out to Yoda. Shout out to Baby Yoda, as a matter of fact.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah. Baby Yoda's great.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Is it "Groku?"
SAL DI STEFANO: Grogu, my daughter loves that Grogu.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, yeah.
SAL DI STEFANO: It's a great story and it's a true story. But there's a lot of clients before that, that I did... I just didn't do it, I did it wrong. You know, I had... I remember blowing one lady out the water where she wasn't progressing, and I thought as an early trainer, it's my job to make you do what you need to do. And I had this real tough conversation with her, and she left, and she was in tears, and I was so proud of myself, and she never came back. She never came back; I still feel bad about it to this day. Those of us in this space have to realize that we're guides and that we're not talking... When I'm talking on a show like this, I'm not talking to myself, I'm a fitness fanatic. You can tell me to do almost anything, if there's going to be benefit, physical, I'm probably going to try it and probably do it. We're talking "the average person," the average person isn't really interested in getting super shredded or performing like a professional athlete, they just want to have a better quality of life, they want to feel better, they all want to be relatively lean, they all want to be relatively healthy and fit. But they also want to have a lot of time to be with their kids and their families or do their jobs or do the other things that they enjoy. And so that's who we're communicating to, and we have to remember that.
And so, we have to use the most effective means to do so, which means, what can you do that requires the least amount of time that's going to give you the best results. And I often... I'm often careful when I say that, because when I say, "Do less to get more," people think that means harder. In other words, "Okay, if I'm only doing 30 minutes, well then I got a crawl out of this gym, I got to beat the crap out of myself and throw up and then yeah, now that 30 minutes is as effective as an hour." No, no, that's not the case. We want... We want to induce adaptations that are beneficial, and what induces adaptations is appropriate exercise, it's dose-dependent depending on the individual. There's like a Bell Curve. Too little, don't get any results. Right here is perfect. Too much, and they get worse results. What tells us where we are in that? Your current fitness levels. What's your fitness level? Are you sore after your workout? Oh, you are? You probably went too hard. You probably shouldn't feel... You know what you should feel after you work out, more energy. After you leave the gym, you should feel better than you walked in. I know that sounds crazy to people who go and beat themselves up, but it's absolutely true.
I remember when I had that paradigm-shattering realization and I started to really target, like "I want my clients to feel better when they leave." The results... People just got way better results in that way, and that's really what you should aim for.
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SAL DI STEFANO: 100%.
SHAWN STEVENSON: And understanding human psychology, you just laid it all out for us. If we don't understand that and relate to that and connect to that. I remember being a nutritionist, I was so focused on food, and food was like everything, it was the gateway because it was for me, it was the bridge for me, but there are many paths to the goal. But it took me years in clinical work to realize how much sleep mattered. And so, when I started asking people about their sleep and hearing all these crazy stories like I just couldn't believe, I realized something... Well, it pulled up from my experience in working in nutrition, working in the field, I knew that people want change, but they don't want to change that much.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yes, and you know, I'll give you a great example around this just... And it's, again, it's... We have to understand our behaviors and our psychology. So, I'll give you two scenarios, both resulting in the same result, but only one of them will result in long-lasting, sustainable results. Okay, so let's say you're somebody who wants to lose weight. So, you're like, "Okay, in order lose weight, I need to eat less." So, I could take a client and I could say, "Okay, you want to lose weight, we're going to have you eat 500 calories less a day. So, I want you to track your calories, everything you eat, I want you to input it into this app, and I want you to eat 1500 calories a day every single day, 'cause that's 500 calories lower than what you're eating now, and that'll get you to lose weight." So that's one way to do it. Here's the other way to do it. I could tell a client, and I remember when I figured this out, it was such a light bulb moment, "Hey, you know, here's a deal, eat as much as you want, just avoid heavily processed food. So whole natural foods, eat until you're satisfied, okay, and then let's see what happens.
They both result in about a 500-calorie deficit, okay. So, studies are very clear on this. Heavily processed foods result in about a 500 to 600 calorie increase in intake because they're so well-engineered that they make you overeat. Now, on the one hand, I'm telling someone to cut their calories, On the other one, I'm saying, "Eat as much as you want, kind of avoid these foods here, but eat all the fruit and potato and vegetables and meat and rice and just whole natural foods, go ahead and as much as you want." Which one do you think is more likely to be sustainable? And I remember when I would tell clients that and they come in, they lose weight, they'd think there was some magical thing happening with the food they're eating. I'd say, "Actually, you're eating less calories." Here's another one, I could tell someone to cut their calories by 10 to 15%, or I could say, I don't want you to change your food at all, just try this: When you eat, don't be on your phone, don't watch TV, don't be distracted, just focus on your food. That results in about a 10-15% decrease in calories, just not eating distracted. So, and... So those are behavior-based methods versus the mechanistic-based methods.
That's the... It's only going to work if we do it that way. If we keep telling people, "Cut this, cut the calorie here, these are the foods that are magical, these are the foods that are bad, don't eat carbs or only eat vegetables or... " We're going to fail. And the data is very clear, it's a 85% fail rate. So, we have to change our approach and it's behavior, we got to focus on the behaviors 100%.
SHAWN STEVENSON: A good tenant to remember is that: Humans, we don't like stuff taken away from us. Since we were babies, "Don't take my fucking rattle away or we're going to have a problem. Don't take my keys, my baby keys, don't take my binky". If another kid takes your thing, it's a problem, like there's something you have to socially learn and we kind of have to, in a way, not literally, but kind of beat it out of a kid to not be selfish, not to have this kind of, "this is mine" attitude and to want to share. Now, there are dispositions, some people have a more sharing spirit, but in general, we don't like stuff taken away from us, especially if it's our thing. Right? So that's number one. We've got to keep that in mind, we don't like having things taken away from us. And also, we don't like to be imprisoned, but we don't realize this because we don't want to be told what to do, but we actually have to create a psychological construct for ourselves to be told what to do. That's a whole other conversation, but in general, we don't want to be imprisoned in a certain way of being, thinking, that whole thing. So, this is why it's such a strong punishment to imprison a human being. It's one of the most devastating things that you can do.
SAL DI STEFANO: I can tell you it worked with a lot of people with nutrition because what you just hit on is so powerful. So, when the average person goes on a diet or changes their nutrition to lose weight, what they're doing, what they typically will do, psychologically... And I'll give you an example that'll kind of illustrate this. Somebody's on a diet, so they go to a party and their friend says, "Hey, you want some cookies?" What do they say? "No, I can't." "What do you mean you can't? Who says you can't? Of course, you can." Very weird, right? I remember when that first came to me, I thought, "What you mean you can't? That's kind of a weird thing to say. What's going on here?" Here's what's happening psychologically, that person... Well, first off, what motivated them to want to lose weight probably came from a form of self-hate. Look in the mirror, I'm gross, I'm not sexy, I'm not attractive, I don't like this, who I am. So, I need to change this 'cause I don't like this, right. So, what do they do? They split themselves into two people, the child that needs to be told what to do, and the dictator or the oppressor that says, "You can't have that cookie, you can't have that cookie." And so, you offer the cookie, and they say, "I can't."
And then eventually what happens when you're oppressed long enough, when you've got to dictator over you, telling you long enough you can't do something, what do you do? You rebel. So, what does it look like when people go off a diet? Do they have one cookie? They have a whole box, right? It's like, they just don't say, "Oh, I'll have the one cookie." They eat so many that they get sick to their stomach, and they go, "Gosh, that was... Why did I eat the whole sleeve of Oreo cookies" Right? So, it's... That right there is one of the big problems. Instead, what if we did this? What if we went into it from not a place of self-hate, but rather self-care, self-love. So, you look in the mirror and you say, "Wow, I haven't been living in a way where I take care of myself the way I deserve to be taken care of. Just like I... Like my kids, like I take care of my kids. You know what I am going to start doing? I'll start taking care of myself. I'm going to start eating in a way that feeds me like I care about myself". So now, when somebody offers you that cookie, you know, you say, "I don't want it", or "I do", and I'll have one, that's how balance is created, 'cause here's a thing with food, is it healthy to eat pizza sometimes.
If I haven't seen a friend for a long time and we meet up and it's been five years, "Hey, let’s go get a pizza and have some beer". I could be having a very healthy interaction and bonding with my friend, most of the time I'll probably shouldn't eat pizza or don't eat pizza. So that the way we enter into this makes the biggest difference in the world, especially when it comes to nutrition. And the same thing for the gym. If I go to the gym and think to myself, "I hate myself, I hate how I look. I'm going to punish myself." What are my workouts going to look like? Punishments, I'm going to beat myself up, I'm going to push myself till I feel like throwing up, I'm going to keep going till I'm sore because I deserve it, because I'm undisciplined because I can't believe I look this way. What if I go to the gym and I say to myself, "I'm going to take care of myself. I'm going to train far more appropriately." I'm going to go to the gym and say, "What's going to feel good? What's good for me and my body right now?" I'm not going to use it as a form of punishment. I remember years ago, I was at a dinner, my ex-wife, she worked at a tech company, and so they had this Christmas dinner.
So, I remember we were sitting at this big table with a lot of these co-workers and all the spouses are introducing each other and they come to me, "Hey, what's your name?" "I'm Sal, and I'm a personal trainer." And right away, if you're in fitness and you're in with non-fitness people, right away people are like, "Oh, don't look what I'm eating," or "Oh, I'm only having... "
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah.
SAL DI STEFANO: Right away, it's this whole thing. So, I know and I'm used to it, so I'm trying to make people feel comfortable or whatever, but sure enough, the comments come and, "Oh, don't look at me, I'm eating more bread." Or whatever. And I'm sure you've experienced this, right?
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, so much.
SAL DI STEFANO: It's funny, right? So, we're having dinner and we're doing that, and one of the ladies after a few glasses of wine, she pipes up, she goes, "You know, Sal," she goes, "I had a friend who exercised every day and she ate right, and then she got cancer and died when she was 50. So, you know what I said after that, I'm just going to enjoy my life." And I remember thinking to myself, "Enjoy my life". Boy, people really view exercise and nutrition, eating healthy, or eating in ways that improve our health as punishments. If you go to the gym 'cause you hate yourself, of course, it's enjoying your life when you stop it, but how strange because, name one thing that won't improve every aspect of your life more than improving your health. You become a better parent, you can become a better employee or boss. You're more innovative, you have better mental clarity, you're less anxious and less depressed. Really enjoying your life is being healthy and doing the things that make you healthy.
And I remember sitting there and I was so... I was quiet for a good 15 minutes and I was thinking about this like, "Enjoy my life? This is such a weird thing." I said, "Oh, I know why. She views exercise as punishment, she views food as a restriction." We got to change that, we're going to change that attitude.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, man, this is... I love talking with you. There's so many similar stories. I remember on several occasions, but one particular person's jumping to mind, she came in, she sat in my office, I had her intake form, all the things, and she was like, "I'm willing to do whatever you want me to do, just don't take my bread away".
I'm like, "Sh*t", like "Okay, this is already... " She's already got in her mind that I'm here to take something from her, that she enjoys, I'm here to take her joy away. So, we're already starting in this deficit, and so the big thing in what you do and what is clear that you're doing is reframing things because the craziest part is there's so much joy to be found in these practices, but more so, this is the craziest thing too, and I understand this because again, I grew up... There was a time when I ate fast for 300 plus days a year, facts. And I understand what that's like. And so just the concept, I remember I said it to my... I've got myself healthier, and my little brother was around, he was like, "I heard you're eating organic now". He said it like organic was like, I don't know like sh*t covered...
SAL DI STEFANO: Like a weird cult or something.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, like some shit-covered lettuce or something. Just like, but it's just the label on it, I'm not eating food that has pesticides on them, right. So, he assumed that it's going to taste bad because it's grown better. So finding the joy, which, here's the crazy thing, real food, there's so much pleasure and flavor experiences to be found within a context, and I'm circling back for a specific reason because you mentioned that one instructive element, which was, Okay, we can force you to watch what you're eating, you got to literally keep an eye on your bad inner child self, cut your calories or eat whatever you want, just eat mostly whole real food, stuff that you can kind of still know where they come from. And one is strong development versus you constantly monitor yourself. And what happens is this group over here eating real food naturally has this reduction in calorie intake, so when you mention that. That is a powerful piece. There's one other piece too, this study was published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research, and they had test subjects to either consume a meal of whole foods or a meal of processed foods, and so they were sandwiches still, which is questionable. So, the whole food sandwich was whole grain bread and cheddar cheese, and the processed food sandwich was white bread and cheese product, which is craft singles, which is not legally, they can't call it cheese. It's not enough cheese in the cheese.
SAL DI STEFANO: Cheese product. Yeah.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Cheese product, right? And so, they tracked their caloric expenditure after eating these sandwiches, same amount of calories in the sandwiches, same protein, fat, carbohydrate, on paper they're the same, they should have the same metabolic impact. But afterwards, the people who eat the processed foods sandwich, when they ate the processed food sandwich, the different test subjects, they had a 50% reduction in caloric expenditure after eating a sandwich, some kind of metabolic shift took place where their body was being more stingy and hanging on to that energy. So this is the point I want to bring to you, which is, people, find it harder, like if you're trying to gain weight, for example, which is where I want to shift the conversation to, if you're trying to put on some muscle, and I know this from past experience too much more difficult to gain weight now eating real whole foods because I'm just so satiated versus back when I was having all these protein supplements and processed foods to gain weight.
SAL DI STEFANO: Yeah. We think, there's this belief and it's wrong, that humans are eating machines that because we evolved or food with scarce, that if you just put food in front of us will eat until we kill ourselves. That's not true. We have palate fatigue that sets in, and we have natural limiters that tell us when to stop eating. Now heavily processed foods, hijack these systems of satiety, they are designed to do so. Like I'll give you an example, I remember I had Chris Cresser on the podcast, and he gave me this example, I loved it. 'Cause, it Illustrates it so well. If I gave you five whole boiled plane potatoes, so I took five potatoes, boiled them, no salt, no butter, gave him and said, "Here, eat this and 45 minutes." Probably couldn't do it. You get through two potatoes, and you gag, like, "I can't finish this." But if I gave you a family-size bag of Lays potato chips, you could probably do it, which contains about the same amount of potatoes, except there's actually more calories in the bag of Lays potato chips. Now, why is that? Because the Lays potato chips or the processed version is engineered to make you eat more.
If you look at the research and development that goes into processed foods, the vast majority, the vast majority of the Research and Development goes into making them as irresistible as possible. And it's everything, it's not just taste, its mouth feel, it's the sound it makes when you crunch in your mouth, it's the residue leaves in your fingerprints. It's the color of the bag, it's the smell, it's the commercials, and the way that it presents this food to you. And so, again, some of the best studies you'll find, by the way, nutrition studies are tough because many of them are observational and self-reported, which is just notoriously inaccurate, meaning, people will come in and write down what they ate over the last week, and people are always off, right. Well, these studies on processed foods were amazing, their control, they had people. They took groups of people, put them in rooms, and said, "You over here eat as much as you want, and you over here eat as much as you want." Only difference is these are whole natural foods over here, and these are heavily processed food. And they even controlled them for macros. So, the macros were even very similar to proteins, fats, and carbs. Then they took the groups after a little while and they switch rooms.
So, this took this group, put them in this room, this group put them in that room. 500-600 more calories people on average will consume with heavily processed with because they're, again, engineered and designed to overcome systems of satiety. But you know there's more to it than just that, so that's important, it's important to understand, but there's more to it. Because we've grown up in such abundance and because we've grown up in modern Western societies with markets. And markets are exceptional, but they do one thing, and this is good and bad sometimes, they give us what we want, and what we want is convenience, and we want hedonistic pleasure when it comes to food. So, because we've grown up that way, we've learned to value food, for one thing, it's hedonistic pleasure. The value that we place on... You talk to anybody, "Hey, what do you want to have for lunch?" And they'll go down the list, "Oh, Mexican. No, I'm feeling like Chinese. No, what about pizza? Oh, I got this burger place." Or whatever, right? It's all about that hedonistic pleasure. There's so many other values to food that you can learn to appreciate that then will motivate you to eat differently. I'll give you a silly... Here's a silly, silly example, what place do you crave popcorn the most?
SHAWN STEVENSON: At the movies.
SAL DI STEFANO: Movies. Is popcorn that good? No, I never really want popcorn, but I'm at the movies, I feel like eating popcorn. We've conditioned ourselves through that process. I know there was... As a kid, I remember one time when I was so sick, I had to stay home from school, my mom took me at my grandma's house and my grandmother, she's an immigrant from Sicily, and Sicilian grandmothers or Italia grandmothers basically, when it comes to food, they'll give you whatever you want, and they'll give you a lot of it, right? So, I remember she took me to the grocery store and she said... And I wasn't feeling too good and said, "Hey, what do you want? Get whatever you want." And I saw this box of crackers and it had a chicken on it, and it was called Chicken and a biscuit, I think they still make them. And I said, I want those, and I was young, I was probably eight years old, so she bought them for me, and I liked them, and I ate them every time I felt sick.
Till this day, I still like them because of that association. Now, objectively, they're not very good, they taste gross, it's like chicken soup crackers, is what they taste like. But I had that association. Okay, I'll give you another example. In my early 20s, I went to go visit family in Southern Italy, and at this point, I was getting more and more into fitness, and I remember reading some articles about omega-3 fatty acids and how fish can help the muscle-building process. This is when I was like, all I cared about was getting building muscle and looking a particular way. And I hated fish, I hated fish, but I was going to Southern Italy, and they eat a lot of fish over there and I said, "You know what I'm going to do, I'm going to get a lot of fish and see how much muscle I can put on." So, I went over there, and I opened my mind and ate a lot of fish and actually started to enjoy it, start to feel good associated the two, now, I like eating fish. I did the same thing with vegetables. So, what does this mean for the average person, when you eat a food, we're already aware of its hedonistic value, the pleasure, make yourself aware of its other values.
How do you feel before, during, and after? How's your digestion? How's your energy? How's your mood? What does this do for you? And pay attention to those things. And at first, it's going to be conscious. At first, you have to be conscious of these benefits, you have to think about them, but eventually, those benefits start to solidify, become unconscious, and then you'll find yourself craving some of these foods. Like I crave vegetables now, not because vegetables are delicious, but because they help my digestion, and I identified that a long time ago, and now when I travel and I go home, 'cause when you travel, it's hard to get really good vegetables. When I go home, what do I want the most? Big bowl of vegetables. So, you can do this with yourself through that process, and for people who think, or are listening to this and saying, "Well, that doesn't make sense. Look, if you've ever eaten a lot of candy and then try to go eat a piece of fruit, you know how it can change how you view... How your body perceives food, right. You eat a lot of candy, go eat to strawberry, taste plan, don't eat candy for a long time, go eat a Strawberry, it's going to taste very sweet.
You can change how you perceive what you eat, how you enjoy what you eat, and it's not just its hedonistic pleasure, but rather how it makes you feel the people you're bonding with over. There's foods I like to eat just because I have good relationships with people when I eat them. Like I said, I come from a traditional Italian family, and I have family members that make these traditional dishes, and the only time we have them is when we're all together, so that's why I value that particular dish or whatever. You can do this with yourself over time, and like I said earlier in our conversation, this slow process, this step-by-step process will lead you to the sustainable... 'cause this is the only sustainable approach or the only sustainable place to be is this right here. I'll paint it. Where eating healthy is what you want to do, it's not stressful, I enjoy it, and there's balanced. And when I enjoy eating something because it tastes real good, I'm actually enjoying it for that one thing, and I'm not gorging or binging. Do you ever pay attention to when... I remember when I was younger, and I would go on these diets to get shredded and then afterwards I go off of them and then just eat whatever.
I remember one time I was eating potato chips and I was eating them so fast that I wasn't even paying attention to one that was in my mouth, it was about the one that was in my hand. And I remember thinking to myself like, "This is really weird. I like to taste, but I don't even think about the taste, I'm thinking about the one that's in my hand." You want to be in this place where eating healthy and balanced is what you want to do. Where exercising occasionally is what you want to do to take care of yourself. Now, because you want to do it because you value it that way, you're going to do it forever. You're going to always do it. If you don't get to that place, or it's going to be a struggle and then you're going to have to become a fanatic, which good luck or you're going to fall off, which is what happens to everybody.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Yeah, so powerful, thank you for sharing that. Again, this... What you're doing is directing us to the ability that we have to... And this is called, when people say, "I'm working on myself", but you have the ability to change how you perceive things, you have the ability to change your inner dynamics. And so, to circle back to the resistance training revolution, earlier when I mentioned that study with processed food changing the way your metabolism works. It's a step above, is this term that I'm pushing in a culture called epi calorie controller. And so, we've got nutrition is one aspect, but also muscle is an epi calorie controller, it changes the way your body processes energy. So, let's shift gears to muscle being an endocrine organ, and why this is something for us to focus more on right now, leaving from this episode, something for us to put more intentional and building in our lives.
SAL DI STEFANO: So first off, I want to say this, just in case they're still any questions, muscles very dense, doesn't take up a lot of space, so if there's someone still watching right now says, "Oh, I don't want to get any bigger though, I'm trying to lose weight." If you lost 10 pounds of body fat and gained 10 pounds of muscle, you would lose about one-fourth to one-third of the size of your body 'cause muscle takes up less space. Okay, so get that out of your head right now. Building muscle isn't getting bigger, you have to build a lot of muscle to really get bigger, you'll just feel tighter and more sculpted. So now that we've established that, okay, muscle makes up in many men, up to 40% of our bodies, it's an organ, it's massive, and it's expensive. Expensive. It's calorically expensive. Okay, for your body simply to maintain a pound of muscle, it must burn more calories than it takes to maintain a pound of body fat. And telling your body to prioritize muscle and telling your body that you need to be stronger, moves your metabolism in a less efficient way. So why am I saying that? Because I'll get people that will message me and say, "Oh, but this study shows that one pound of muscle only burns an extra 15 calories as if that was nothing by the way, but it only builds... Burns an extra 15 calories.
It's way more complex than that. Human metabolism or a mammalian metabolism is one of the most complex things that we've identified, probably second to the brain. You have a range of calories that your body will burn with your current lean body mass. Meaning you don't have to gain more or lose muscle, there's a range, and my lifestyle can make it more efficient burn less or less efficient burn more. So, like losing sleep, being stressed out, my body tends to want to store calories being more relaxed, getting good sleep, feeling healthy has to burn more calories. Hormones could do the same thing. Optimal testosterone levels burn more low testosterone levels burn less same lean body mass.
So simply telling my body through exercise with proper strength training, we need strength, and we need muscle. Feeding my body appropriately, meaning I'm not cutting my calories so low where I can't... Where my body is like, "I don't care what signal sending me, we're starving." So, I'm giving myself enough calories, I'm getting adequate proteins in particular, and fats in particular, those are essential. I don't have any nutrient deficiencies, feeding my body properly, getting good sleep, bad sleep will also push it in the other direction, when I do that, my body becomes less efficient with calories. Then you add a little bit of muscle on top of that, four or five pounds of muscle, which you're just going to feel tighter in your body, you're looking at a significant difference in your metabolic rate. On average, in my experience, I can get women's metabolism to boost by 400-600 calories a day, I've had way more than that, but on average, 400-600 calories a day. That's like two hours of cardio.
SHAWN STEVENSON: This is not talked about.
SAL DI STEFANO: No.
SHAWN STEVENSON: This is not talked about because again, going to a conventional University, these calories in calories out paradigm, which is, again, this is very simplistic. We're not looking at all the mechanistic things that control how your body's processing these calories. You just shared an example of literally shifting somebody's metabolism to the point that they're just naturally burning more calories.
SAL DI STEFANO: Four... I guess a 400-600 was... Would be my average with a female client. That's two hours of cardio. Imagine if you burn the calories of doing two hours of cardio every day, but you're not.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Just automatic.
SAL DI STEFANO: You just burn them, right?
SHAWN STEVENSON: Just on automatic.
SAL DI STEFANO: With men, it's usually I've seen 600-800. Now, in extreme cases, I've seen much higher. I mean I had this one woman who hired me, who, she was a stage presentation competitor, so she did figure competitions. And if you're familiar with that, the amount of dieting and stuff that's so extreme leading into that. And she did it all the wrong ways, like over-trained her body, cut her calories. She did a few shows in a row. And she came to me, because she was trying to get ready for a show, and she's like, "I can't get this last eight pounds off. I'm doing two hours of cardio a day; I'm doing strength training three days a week. I've cut my calories, I'm at 1200 calories," she's like, "What do I do? Do I go down to 900 calories? I don't want to do that. I'm already feeling terrible." I said, "No, first off, cancel the show. And what we're going to do is we're going to reduce your... I'm going to cut your cardio way down, and we're too slowly get you to focus on strength, and we're going to feed your body to build strength. Let's just focus on getting stronger for now."
Well, over the course of a year, I got her to... From burning 1200 calories with all that cardio, all that activity, she was eating 2300 calories a day, lifting weights three days a week, and doing almost no cardio activity except for walking. That's a big diff... That's over 1000 calories that her body wanted to burn on its own, right? So, you can do this with yourself, you just have to send the right signals to your body. If you send the wrong signals, you go in the opposite direction. You don't want to be in a position where you lose weight, and you're eating half as much as you were before. Now, you need to maintain it plus do all these extra activities, it's not going to happen.
SHAWN STEVENSON: So how do we do it? How do we do it, Sal? Like what are some best practices for resistance training?
SAL DI STEFANO: Okay, so here's a really good one. When you go to the gym, first off, you want to pick the most effective exercises. The ones that give you the most bang for your buck. There's a lot of strength training exercises, but the most effective ones are known as gross motor movement exercises or compound exercises, okay? So, your horizontal presses, like a push-up or a bench press or a machine press. Rowing is really good, like a barbel row or a band row or a cable row or a body row. Some kind of an overhead press, so you can do dumbbells or cables or bands. Some kind of a squat, it can either be a split stance squat, like a lunge, or a traditional squat, or of course barbel squats. Dead lifts, you want to lift things off the ground, maybe some kind of a rotation. Really pick like five... Maybe four or five exercises like that, that you have found that you say, "Okay, I'm going to do these four or five exercises." Now what you want to do is you want to go to the gym, and here's... This is real important, you want to practice those exercises. Don't go to the gym to work out.
This sounds crazy right now. Go to the gym to practice. We tend to view exercise like it's not a skill. Okay. I remember years ago, I was hiking up in the foothills by... Up in, where I'm at up in San Jose. And I'm hiking, and people would run by me, people who are running. And as a trainer, it's really hard for me not to notice biomechanics, right? So, people are running by, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, that guy's feet are pronating so bad," or "Oh, that person's anterior pelvic back's going to hurt right? And then all of a sudden, this guy ran by, and he looked like a gazelle, he just ran so smoothly. And I thought to myself like, "You know why that is? Because all those other people say to themselves, 'I'm going to lose weight,' they put on some shoes, and they just went running till they got tired. They didn't consider the fact that running is a skill, they probably forgot that skill when they were 10, and they stopped running. And they're just... This is why they hurt themselves. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is so true, it's strength training. People go to the gym, and they don't say, "I'm going to get better at squatting", they say "I'm going to hammer my legs", they don't say, "I'm going to get better at pressing they say I'm going to hammer my arms or my shoulders".
So, don't do that, instead go to the gym and practice the skill of the exercises. Practice and get better at doing those exercises better and more perfect and more stable and more controlled, and go ahead and challenge yourself a little bit, but challenge yourself with the skill more than the weight that you're lifting and the intensity. That'll lead you in the right direction. The second part is you got to leave the gym feeling better than you went to the gym with. So, if you leave the gym and you feel like you're crawling to your car or you got to go take a nap, you went too hard, too hard. So, the way the body adapts with exercise is you... Exercise is a stress on the body, then the body says, "Okay, we need to recover from the stress, and then we need to adapt so that next time the same insult doesn't produce the same stress". So, this is why you get stronger. The problem is is when the stress is too high for our body, our bodies can't adapt, it only focuses on healing or recovering. Recovery and adaptation are two separate things, they happen simultaneously often, but they're both very different. So, it's like if I took a piece of sand paper and rub my hand until I got through the skin and I let the skin heal, but then I waited a little longer and I started develop a little bit of a callus, and over time I developed a real tick callus, so that's adaptation.
But if I keep rubbing the skin as soon as it comes back, I'm never going to get that callus, I'm just healing. There's what a lot of people do when they go to the gym, they get sore then they're not sore, they go back and get sore in, then they're not sore and they never get stronger, they never really improve. So, you want to go and you want to feel better afterwards and what you're looking for are improvements in your technique, in your form and your strength, if that's moving in that direction, in the positive direction, you're going in the right way. If you're just sweating and getting sore, those are terrible ways to judge an effective workout. And for most people, two days a week of this will get you very far. If you do this right, it will get you very, very far. You want to add a third day, phenomenal, you want to add a fourth day great. But I'd say start with one or two days a week, full body, four or five exercises, practice them, feel good at the end of the workout, a little bit of soreness is fine, no soreness is perfect, and just get better at those exercises over time and your body will improve as you do so.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Awesome, awesome. So, a little bit more advanced question. That adaptation, just say somebody's skilled, they've already... They've practiced, they've got that under their belt. And maybe they're lifting certain muscle groups in a day, how many times should they be targeting that particular muscle group? So, for example, if it is chest and shoulders, should we be going twice a week or maybe following week or longer? What does that look like?
SAL DI STEFANO: So, they've done a lot of studies on this, and the ideal frequency of training body parts is probably around three. Okay, so each body part you want to train about three days a week. Now how can you do this? There's a lot of different ways to do this. You could do a body part split where you're training three body parts on this day, three body parts on that day, another three, and then over the course of a week, you've done everything three times. I personally have seen by far the most success, not just with myself, but with the people I've trained, by just training full body. So, you go to the gym two days a week, three days a week, just training your whole body, start with the larger body parts, so legs, then go to back and chest, shoulders, arms, and then maybe finish with your core. But that will do everything for you.
I also like full body workouts because the... When you send a muscle building signal, most of it is localized, so if I work out my bicep, most of the muscle building signal goes to my bicep, but there's also a systemic effect that happens. So, there's really cool studies where someone will have an arm that's incapacitated and then they'll work out the other arm and they actually lose less muscle from the arm that's incapacitated, 'cause it's this kind of systemic effect. Whole body work out sends this really nice systemic muscle building effect for people, so I've just seen better results with full body workouts, with most people. The people that benefit from the body part splits are typically so advanced that the amount of training that they would have to do with a full-body workout would just make the workout inconvenient, it would be two-and-a-half-hour workout because they do so much per area, in which case it makes sense to split the body, but most people, full body.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Great, great. So, this paradigm of having the leg day once a week, that's not going to be ideal?
SAL DI STEFANO: No. When you, you send the muscle building signal, we know that when... They've done this in studies, we see the muscle building signal rise very quickly, peak, and then drop very quickly after about 48-72 hours, even if you're still recovering and the adaptation signal is different. So even if you're still sore, that muscle protein synthesis signal peaks and then drops, so you probably want to hit the same body part at least three or four days later, not a whole week later, in which case, you'll get some muscle building effect, but you'll miss out on quite a bit.
SHAWN STEVENSON: Wow, that's so awesome, man. Thank you so much. And by the way, in the resistance training revolution, which I have a copy here in my hands, pick up a copy, like right now, there are several templates in here, different workouts, and of course, the science behind it all, it's a really, really great book, man, and I'm just so happy that you put your life energy and your experience into something like this that people can just extract. You've got over 20 years of experience in something that people can read, and a couple of hours they can tear through this book. It's such a great, well-written book. And man, just thank you so much.
SAL DI STEFANO: I appreciate it. Thanks for hearing me out, Shawn, thank you.
SHAWN STEVENSON: My pleasure. Sal Di Stefano everybody. Thank you so much for tuning in to the show today, I hope you got a lot of value out of this. This is one to share, it's such an important conversation. And this piece of education needs to be common knowledge at this point about the benefits of resistance training. So please share this out with your friends and family, take a screenshot and share it on Instagram, you could tag me, I'm @shawnmodel and tag Sal as well. Let him know what you thought about this episode. And listen, we've got some powerful master classes, incredible interviews coming your way very, very soon, so make sure to stay tuned. Take care, have an amazing day and I'll talk with you soon.
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