Fitness Q&A with Raul Cervantes

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I am so glad that being fit and strong is becoming the new skinny. At least that’s the trend that I’ve been seeing. Still, there are countless variations of diets and quick fix plans for how to reach the latest #bodygoals when at the end of the day the classic diet and exercise is what is truly meaningful and lasting. I can say this from experience because I’ve tried the fad diets, the fat burning pills and the cleanses and can honestly say the best results came from consistent diet and exercise. This is Raul Cervantes’s KEY MESSAGE for his personal training clients and Instagram followers, and Gabe and I both have seen the benefits.

Raul is a personal trainer out of Georgia that Gabe found over 2 years ago (he has no idea how) and we both have used his online training program. I was really impressed by his comprehensive diet and exercise plan that makes it simple and straightforward to follow. But I was also impressed by his positive attitude and encouragement as we navigated our weaknesses. Oddly enough we’ve never met in person, but to this day we’ve stayed in contact as huge supporters of him and go back to his program when we start to stray from a healthy routine.

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I asked Raul to answer a few questions for us to address some of the contradicting information and myths about health and fitness. If you’re interested in more of his insights and guidance after this Q&A I would highly recommend following him on Instagram: @rcfitness. He’s incredibly knowledgable and posts really useful information.

Now, let me introduce you to Raul!

Raul headshotQ: Tell us about yourself and your fitness experience.  

A: My name is Raul Cervantes, being active in sports and fitness has always been part of who I am. It all began when my Dad introduced me to the gym when I was 15 and soon after I found myself loving the process of challenging my mind and body. Fast forward 10 years to now, I’m 25 and I have a degree in Exercise Science and a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) personal training certificate. While attending Kennesaw State University here in Georgia, I worked alongside the strength & conditioning coach which was a blast. I give a lot of credit to Coach Jim Kiritsy for all of his mentoring. I’ve been a trainer for a little over 2 years now, I’m still new to the game and I’m learning something new each day, which goes back to when I was still a teen, I love the challenges and process of this lifestyle.

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 8.42.37 PMQ: In being a fitness coach, I imagine you have a passion for helping people achieve their personal health goals. What do you find the most encouraging and the most frustrating when working with someone to achieve those goals?

A: When a client leaves the gym excited, that’s really encouraging. There are many things that I find encouraging but seeing a happy client is always great. As far as frustrating, I would say I find it hard when a client struggles with positive self-image. It kills me to know that they don’t think they’re good enough. I don’t show that frustration, though. In a way, I let that fuel my drive to help that person feel better about themselves

Q: What do you think are 3 necessities to achieving a health/fitness goal?

A: Consistency, patience, and a positive attitude.

Q: From following you on Instagram and doing your fitness program I know that you advise calorie reduction for weight loss, which mathematically makes total sense. However, I’ve also done Whole30 and didn’t count calories but ate a very strict diet with no dairy, alcohol, grains, added sugar etc. and also noticed a difference in my body. Having experienced both I’m on the fence if one is better than the other because I personally don’t believe that counting calories forever is sustainable. What do you think?

A: I agree, counting calories is not really sustainable long term, but I do believe it gives you a solid foundation to understanding portions. Since counting calories, I can eyeball 4-6oz of chicken, 1 cup of rice, 100g of almonds, etc. This allows me to not actually count calories but still be very accurate with my portions. Ultimately, portions are what matter. Too large of a portion, too many calories, too small of a portion, not enough calories.  If you can be very comfortable eyeballing portions, you shouldn’t have a problem adjusting your intake to gain or lose weight. About Whole30, I am not familiar with that at all so I can’t say too much about it. Pretty much all the diet programs out there do 1 thing, and that is put you in a caloric deficit without you knowing. How do they know that you will lose weight if they don’t really know much about you? Easy, they count on the fact that a grand majority of people don’t have any knowledge in nutrition and everyone pretty much overeats, so it’s pretty easy to get people to lose weight because what they suggest you eat is almost always much less than what you normally eat. So as long as you’re consistent you’ll lose weight. That’s all great, but what happens when you stop doing that program? You still do not have any knowledge in nutrition and the program didn’t teach you much about portions or calories or anything. If you do the work ahead of time and learn how calories work and have a better understanding about macronutrients, you are able to adjust your eating much easier and avoid all the frustration of why you gained weight back so easily.

Q: What would you recommend to someone who doesn’t want to be a fitness model, but wants to have a healthy, balanced lifestyle so they don’t want to die when they have a few french fries (and not the sweet potato kind) and a non-skinny cocktail?

A: I always follow an 80/20 rule. 80% of what I eat is nutrient dense, the remaining 20% is a little more relaxed. I’m human too and love ice cream, pizza and fries. I just don’t beat myself up over it. I find balance in 80/20. Some fries on a Friday night aren’t going to destroy any progress made. Of course, portions and moderation are still important with those “unhealthy” foods.

Q: Can you elaborate a little more on the 80/20 rule and how you apply it to your diet? 

A: I apply the rule to my everyday calories. So, 20% of what I eat in one day is considered not healthy and is in very small portions. Usually consisting of snacks, not just meals. My meals are what make up 80% of what I eat (breakfast, lunch, dinner). I don’t stress about whether I’ve eaten 80% healthy or 75% healthy, the difference is so small. Since I make all my meals healthy I don’t have to worry about it. I snack on whatever I please and make it part of my 20% — and by tracking my food I NEVER go over my allowed caloric intake. So for example, let’s say I’ve eaten my 80% healthy foods and I want to have ice cream, but I want the whole pint.  When I log the whole pint before eating it, it puts me over my calories so I’m NOT going to eat the whole pint. Instead I’ll see what half the pint does for my calories. If half the pint puts me right at my caloric needs then that’s all I eat. Some days I may eat 80/20, others might be 75/25. The difference doesn’t matter because at the end of the day I’m still eating the same amount of calories.

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Q:  There is so much contradicting information about fitness and nutrition and one myth that I know really bugs you is that women shouldn’t lift weights. Why is that a myth?

A: So the whole thing with “women shouldn’t lift heavy” started when someone said that by doing so, women would start looking like men and be jacked. Lifting heavy is a way to increase muscle size, but many other factors must be at play for that to happen. Testosterone is the number one player. Women already have much lower levels of testosterone than men. It’s already hard enough for men to get big and bulky, and most women do not realize the amount of work that is necessary to get big. Lifting heavy is not going to turn you into a man. You might say, yea but look at the women bodybuilders. They have been doing this for 15-20+ years with performance enhancement drugs. Your average girl/woman working out 3-5 times a week with some heavy lifting days is not going to get anywhere close to being “bulky”. 

Q: What are 3 other myths that really bug you that you want to dispel once and for all?

A.  1. Eating past 6pm will not make you fat or gain weight, the body does not just store food as fat after a certain time of the day. It’s the total amount of calories a day that you eat that determines if you gain weight. 

2. Eating 6 meals a day will help you lose weight. The number of meals doesn’t matter. Total calories a day is what matters.

3. Juicing and detox drinks are not a way to lose weight. If your kidneys and liver work fine, your body is detoxing perfectly. Change your eating habits around and that’s all you need. A cucumber drink with lemon is not going to melt fat.

Q:  I read recently that only 29% of U.S. medical schools offer the recommended 25 hours of nutrition education [this U.S. News article]. I find that startling since nutrition affects nearly every aspect of our overall health, but completely believe it since my primary care doctor told me I shouldn’t eat past 6:30pm recently. Thanks to you I know that is NOT true. Where do you go to find the most reliable nutritional and/or fitness information and keep yourself up-to-date?

A: I stay up to date by doing continuing education courses, getting more certifications, and referring back to NASM as they provide all their trainers with great articles to stay up to date on what’s new. Also, my degree is in Exercise Science so that gives me a really strong foundation on exercise, nutrition, and anatomy. I also do a lot of random research on Google on exercise physiology; of course some sources are credible and others aren’t. When you look at 30 different sources on how creatine works, you can pick out the sources that are B.S. There aren’t any specific sites that I go to for my own research, I wish I had some to share with you. As far as a site that many can benefit from when it comes to nutrition choosemyplate.gov is a good site for tips, recipes, meal ideas, etc.

Q: What are BCAAs and why do we need them? I drink the powder mixture after my workouts because Gabe has it, it tastes like Coolaide and they’re supposedly good for your muscles or something so why not? Are they helpful, necessary, what’s the deal?

A: BCAAs are branched chain amino acids. BCAAs are comprised of these three aminos; leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis, which helps repair and build new muscle tissue. I wouldn’t say aminos are a must have but you can’t go wrong with taking them if it’s within your budget.

Q: That leads me to my last question about supplements. There is no miracle fix pill, I know that. But there is so much STUFF that you can take/drink before or after your workouts I have to wonder if there’s something to it. Not to mention it seems like all the really fit people are drinking or taking some kind of supplement or vitamin. I personally don’t like to put a lot of unneeded chemicals in my body. What supplement is really beneficial?  

A: I like to keep things simple. When we are talking about workout supplements I stick to whey protein, caffeine (either just coffee or a pre-workout supplement), and creatine. If we’re talking about vitamins I take a daily multivitamin that includes vitamin A, vitamin B-complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, folic acid, and zinc. I take these vitamins just for overall health. I believe vitamins and minerals play a big role in just health and performance as well.

You can find more from Raul on his Instagram or Youtube, or check out his website Raul Cervantes Fitness for more information on his training services. He’s great to work with and gives you an easy-to-use program to reach your own personal fitness goals. He will quickly become not only your coach but your friend.

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