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THE PATH TO A BETTER BODY


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Good nutrition plus exercise makes
for a program that works for this reporter

September 08, 2003

By LISA ANN WILLIAMSON
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

Last year I spent 100 days developing a meal plan. My nutritionist, Lisa Buneo, suggested I incorporate an exercise routine, but I wanted to focus on the meals.

So now is the time for exercise.

Personal Trainer Tony Books Avilez suggested a 14-week transformation program he developed called "Best Body Ever." The plan involves a high, lean protein diet, low carbs, little sugar, minuscule fat, plenty water, three days weight training and three days cardio and abdominal workouts each week. Then there's one day of rest from exercise and one "fun food day" where eating is not for the expressed goal of nutrition. Lean protein, after all, feeds muscles. Muscle burns fat.

I got the go-ahead from my doctor, so I'm trying it.

In about 98 days, I should have a body I feel less jiggly in.

I want to make exercise part of a several-time-a-week affair instead of just occasionally. I'll develop new habits. My metabolism will get moving and I won't have to take a pill. I'll be a fat-burning machine. If the rumors are true, I will even have more energy than before. It's quite possible I could stay awake past 10 p.m.

Sure, I'd like to wear a bikini and be free from the back fat and excess mid-section that would spill over the waist of low-rise jeans. And would it be too much to ask that my thighs not touch as I walk?

I don't need to be bulky with muscles. In fact, I'm against it.

I would, however, really enjoy a bit more muscle definition, a feeling of strength and power, and to really enjoy my reflection as I pass a store window. Instead of noticing that my rear has spread or that I'm looking a little dumpy.

Next to the New Year's resolutions, the spring is a popular time for folks to start an exercise and weight-loss routine. They want to be fit for swimsuit season. Yeah, I'd like that, too.

So, March 25, I got started.

The first week would be the primer week to get acquainted with the program. I met with Avilez at Northeast Fitness Center in West Brighton.

My assignment was to set aside time for the exercise, commit to the meal plan, and buy a couple new toys. I love new toys.

A Polar Heart Rate Monitor will help make sure my heart rate is in the target heart zone and record the length of activity and number of calories burned. That costs about $100. Next, I got some sports gloves so I don't develop calluses during the transformation.

I took my Polar monitor with me to a Bikram yoga class where the room is heated to 100 degrees and then you do the 90-minutes of yoga poses. I just wanted to test it, so I turned it on for 40 minutes. I burned 383 calories and stayed in my target heart rate.

Then I took the monitor to a practice with the New York Power, a professional soccer team. In 56 minutes, I burned 426 calories.

Usually with a 20-minute jump rope routine, I burn about 150 calories.

Staying in the target heart rate is a more efficient way to burn fat, Avilez said.

THE NUMBERS

In order to know how just how fabulous the transformation will be in 14 weeks, we had to start with weight and measurements.

"They are just numbers," Avilez said, noting my increased stress level at the recorded circumference of my thighs, my waist, my hips, etc.

I was positive his tape measure was faulty. Maybe he wasn't starting with zero, but somehow adding five inches to the total. I'm not sharing the particulars here. Suffice it to say that I welcome a reduction in every area.

And in a few weeks, I'll be pleased to share the final results.

A basic gym membership with access to the gym and equipment is $39. An hour with Avilez as the personal trainer is $70. He will also work with you for 30 minutes for a fee of $35.

In addition to the expertise in exercise, Avilez is part cheerleader, part sounding board and part motivator.

Now, the weight training portion is a series of eight exercises to work the thighs, back, calves, shoulders, biceps, triceps and chest, using free weights.

We started with 20 repetitions of each exercise -- and two sets.

"In the first two weeks, most people will find the physical challenge quite powerful. You have to adjust to the discomfort of exercise," Avilez said. "But you should begin to feel a little stronger and feel like you can add some weight."

The third week we began three sets, with the last an abbreviated 15 reps. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes.

I went from bicep curls with 10 pounds to 15 pounds and rows from 10 to 15 and now 20.

When he first suggested 20 pounds, my hearing stopped. "Is he still talking?" I thought to myself. I saw his lips moving but my brain got stuck on 20 pounds. "He isn't kidding."

And the trick is starting with the higher weight and if the muscles are so fatigued, you can finish the set with lighter weights.

THE FOOD

While I feel most expended on the exercise portion, "about 75 percent of the program is nutrition," Avilez said.

Having a goal of six smaller meals a day and up to 100 grams of protein, several fibrous carbohydrates a day, and limiting fat and sugar is key.

But you need a strategy here too, because the meals don't prepare themselves.

I've now come to know that a chicken breast is about 30 grams of protein, while a cup of yogurt is 13 grams of protein. A serving of scallops is about 19 grams of protein and four ounces of salmon is 24 grams of protein.

Those are some good lean protein sources. Egg whites are another, but since I'm allergic, I can do tofu.

There are days when you really ask not only if this all is worth the effort but even if it is possible.

I learned that cooking a pot of brown rice and making falafel or cooking vegetables and protein on the weekend helps the meal process go smoother during the week. Having carry containers is also a helpful.

"It's all a strategy," said Avilez when I told him that I could not get five meals into my day unless I woke up at 3 a.m.

"You have to take a look at your schedule and see how your schedule will allow you to make adjustments," he said.

While not the best choice, protein meal replacements are better than missing a meal.

Now that my meals end around 9:30 p.m. for the day, I have a scoop of protein powder in water with 17 grams of protein for a bedtime snack.

SEEKING A ROLE MODEL

Another strategy is having a picture of what you'd like to look like at the end of the transformation.

Is it too much to ask to have Janet Jackson abs?

"Well," began the explanation from Avilez, "Janet Jackson is way over the top."

Not wanting to discourage his student, he continued with the reality of Janet Jackson's life. Ms. Jackson likely has a staff.

She would not, as I was, be driving to Costco to purchase produce and grains to prepare for the weekly meals. And she definitely would not be standing over the stove sauteeing 2 1/2 pounds of spinach for the week and washing dishes afterward. Nor would she drive to work carting plastic containers with meals to be eaten every roughly three hours.

Janet "has a chef to prepare her meals and someone hands her water," Avilez chuckled. She also has a driver, a home gym and dance studio. Plus her full time job is singing and dancing which is an intense workout in itself.

It's important to get in the meals and to consume half your body weight in ounces of water each day.

So I need to balance my perceived goal with the reality of balancing a job, career goals and life with -- all its challenges and demands -- with exercise.

That's the big todo.

NOBODY IS PERFECT

I'm basically a student and try to follow the rules, however, sometimes life interferes, like the appointment that went longer than expected so that I missed my gym time. Or then there was the time I was so hungry and away from my food source, so a Hostess cake caught my eye and made it's way into my mouth.

"That's a matter of preparation," Avilez offered. "If you take a meal replacement with you or have a plain yogurt on hand, that situation can be avoided."

While I've gotten much better with the meals and am increasing my protein levels, I am much better at getting in the cardio exercise, which I usually do with a video tape at home or a walk in the park.

But the weight training was a problem. Instead of the prescribed three times, I've made two. That's not the prescription, Avilez reminded.

It's been four weeks and Avilez asked if I've seen any changes. My first answer was no, then I noticed that my arms feel a little stronger. My thighs are a titch firmer.

By week seven or eight, many people who have been through the program see "so much improvement they are ready to quit," Avilez said. "But that's when the good stuff is starting. The last three or four weeks is where people see most of the body changes occur."

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