You may never know the impact that your words, encouragement, and advice may have on others. What may have been a simple, already forgotten conversation to you, could make a life-changing difference to someone else. I know I have said this before, but I will probably continue to repeat myself because I believe it is so true and so important to realize. Your words make an impact.
A little over a year ago I was feeling frustrated, confused, and unsure of what to do differently with my diet. I needed some major guidance with nutrition but was unsure of where to turn. I had been running for about a year at this point and had subsequently lost a good bit of weight, and the weight was continuing to drop to an unhealthy number for my body. Running has always been my escape…my release…my therapy…my time to recharge and renew. I loved it and was not willing to give it up, but I was beginning to lose energy and feel weak rather than strong. So while I knew I needed running to remain a constant in my life, I also knew that I needed to maintain a healthy weight and be stronger. I desperately needed to find my balance.
My understanding of how crucial diet is to our overall health and wellness all started with a conversation I had with Brandon Booth one day. In addition to being co-owner of the gym I belong to, he is also a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, so I knew he had to be full of knowledge that could guide me in a better direction. My question to him was simple – how can I keep running the amount I want while remaining strong and healthy? I told him my concerns about my consistent weight loss and we briefly went over my diet. Brandon said things I needed to hear – the dangers of being underweight and more specifically, what would happen to my body if I was to continue on the path I was currently on. He opened my eyes to some major deficiencies I had in my diet, but most importantly, he changed the way I thought about food. I had spent so much of my life viewing food as the enemy, counting calories, and avoiding certain foods because I thought they would make me gain weight. So even though I had majorly changed my lifestyle at this point, I had not really changed my view on food, and it was affecting me in a very negative way. Until this conversation with Brandon. He helped me realize that food was the fuel my body needed to function at its best, to keep me strong, and to keep me running. He created the spark that made the lightbulb go off in my head, and his words made a powerful impact on my life…
When I first started blogging, I knew I wanted to interview Brandon, to learn even more from him, and to gain his insight to some common nutrition questions many of us have. Recently, I had the pleasure of getting that interview, and I loved all of his answers – he keeps it real, he keeps it simple, and he keeps it relevant. And so this week, it’s time to talk nutrition.
Brandon Booth, MS, RD, LD
Masters of Science, Registered Dietitian, and Licensed Dietitian
First, I wanted to learn more about his career specifically.
Brandon received his Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Alabama, and continued his education at Florida State University by earning his Master’s degree in Nutrition, with an emphasis on Sports Nutrition and Exercise Science. In addition, he held his personal trainer certification for 6 years during his career, founded Benchmark Nutrition, and is co-owner of Helena Health Club.
What interested you in this career and what do you love most about your job?
This is obviously a two-part question so let’s look at part one first – what interested him in this career. After discussing this question with Brandon, I learned that there was more than one level to his answer. First, he mentioned that he was always overweight growing up and while he understood how exercise played an important role in his health and weight management, he didn’t have a clear understanding of the nutrition piece. At the same time, his family (who owned a gym) was having the same realization for their clients, and were recognizing the need to have someone available to educate and guide their clients in regards to nutrition. The other part of his answer was that he knew he wanted to work with sports and athletes somehow. He took all these things – his desire to work with athletes, his own need to understand the role of nutrition, and seeing that other people needed the same guidance with this vital part of our overall health – and he found his career. Brandon is really a one-stop-shop of health and wellness knowledge. He understands how the body works and what the body needs from a strength and exercise standpoint all the way to the science of nutrition and what the body must have in order to perform at its healthiest.
Then I asked what he loves most about his job. His answer was simple really, “It would definitely be helping people reach their goals.” He went on to say “I love helping people achieve something that they didn’t think they could.” I love this answer. What a rewarding job it must be!
Food labels – what should we really be looking for?
The first thing Brandon mentioned in response to this question was how much it depends on the individual. For example, someone with high blood pressure might be more concerned with sodium while someone with diabetes might be more concerned with sugar. And someone with heart disease may be more concerned with fat content while someone trying to lose weight may be more concerned with calories. I love that he pointed this out because it is so important to understand that nutrition is very individualized. We are all created different, we all face different challenges and even diseases, and our bodies all respond differently. Knowing your body is a key component to achieving your personal nutritional goals.
He continued by mentioning one key thing everyone should be looking for on food labels which is the serving size. Because really, what good is paying any attention to the nutritional value of a food if you aren’t going to pay attention to the serving size – they must go hand-in-hand. He also pointed out that the ingredients are listed in order based on weight. This means that the first thing listed on the ingredients list is the heaviest and therefore the most abundant in the food. My personal rule of thumb is to glance at the top three ingredients and say no if I see the words enriched, bleached, partially hydrogenated, or high fructose corn syrup. Brandon’s suggestion of checking the list is very important in order to know what you will be consuming!
Three meals a day or several smaller meals?
His response to this one was quick and confident: “Whatever works best for the person.” I really love this answer because again, it is based on the individual. He pointed out, for example, that a nurse doesn’t have the option to eat several smaller meals throughout the day (actually, some days they may not get a lunch at all!) and he brought up this excellent point: “It’s what you eat more than when you eat.” He went on to explain that for weight loss specifically, it is really about your calories in versus calories out, and that we shouldn’t overcomplicate it by trying to time our meals a certain way that may not be conducive to our lives. “Do what works best for you” he said, and “Just watch your daily caloric intake.”
Which is most important when trying to lose weight – low-fat, low-carb, or low-cal?
There was no hesitation with this answer: “Total calories, definitely.” He pointed out that if a person decides to eat low-carb, for example, they will be cutting out things like heavy pasta meals, and the additional breads we add to our meals, but ultimately, this also lowers our caloric intake. He stated, “It all comes back to calories.”
He also pointed out that your calorie needs are based on your activity level, so it is important to factor this into your calculations. Applications such as MyFitnessPal are good tools to track your daily caloric intake as well as your activity level, and is geared towards assisting with weight loss.
In your opinion, what is one food we should stop eating altogether and why?
I was actually surprised by his answer to this one, but again, I loved his response! He stated, “There is no food I would take away” and “It can all work when you practice moderation.” He brought up two very important words that go along with this: portion sizing. We talked about the extra large portions that we receive when we go out to most restaurants these days, and he mentioned the “portion distortion” that has been created within our society. I really did love his answer to this question because we all have unhealthy foods that we enjoy and crave from time to time, but he is right… “You don’t have to give up what you love. It can all work.” The two key things to remember here are moderation and portion control.
Diet or exercise, which one is the most crucial when trying to lose weight?
First, he mentioned that both diet and exercise are super important, however, he went on to say that “Diet will have the largest impact.” This reminded me of a shirt that Brandon wears often which says “You can’t out train poor nutrition.” We talked about the importance as well as the many benefits of exercise (including weight loss) but the statement on his shirt still rings true. If you aren’t eating healthy and you don’t focus on your nutrition, all that time at the gym may be futile. But while Brandon mentions that nutrition will make the biggest impact on weight loss, he also mentions that is the harder of the two to manage. It takes knowledge, work, willpower, and planning. But you can do it.
What are your thoughts on skipping breakfast? And eating past a certain time at night?
Another two-part question so first up – skipping breakfast. Brandon simply stated “I don’t like skipping breakfast” and he had many positives for waking up and eating a healthy meal. He described to me how your body is going from a catabolic to an anabolic state when it wakes up (from breaking down to building) and we talked about how a healthy balanced breakfast can sort of wake up your brain and make you more alert. He also warned that skipping breakfast can possibly cause back loading or binge eating later in the day, which can often lead to an over consumption for the day. In short, a healthy breakfast is a really good thing, why would you skip it?
Part two – eating past a certain time at night. Since I have heard so much over the years about not eating past a certain time, I had to ask this one (I was very curious!) Brandon responded with an assuring “This is crap.” Ah-ha, this is good, I like this answer! He went back to our discussion earlier of the nurse who doesn’t have the option to eat several small meals a day and may not even get a lunch. Some people simply don’t have the option to eat dinner until later in the evening. He reassured me that it’s not the timing we should be so concerned with, it’s your daily caloric intake. “Just eat your caloric needs for the day” and “Eat your meals when you can.” He does mention, however, that a good rule of thumb would be to try to eat at least 2-3 hours before bed. This will give your body time to digest and utilize the meal.
What is the most important aspect of your diet if you are a runner?
The number one thing he mentioned is hydration and he stated, “A lot of runners are dehydrated which negatively impacts the joints and performance.” However, he added that there are other important aspects in a runner’s diet including total calories and total carbs. Hydration and energy to burn…we need these things to keep running!
For someone who wants to eat healthier but feels overwhelmed, where do you suggest they start?
“Start small.” That’s it! His suggestion was to look at what you are currently doing and make some small changes. He warned not to make too many changes at once because this will only lead to being overwhelmed and eventually giving up. We talked about the kind of changes someone can make in their diet from things like increasing your water intake, replacing an unhealthy snack with a piece of fruit, and eliminating things such as sodas or mayonnaise. Again, everyone is different so these small changes will be based on the individual and their current diet. Brandon added this powerful statement to keep in mind “Small changes lead to big results.” Don’t give up, just keep it simple, keep it small, and watch your little changes lead to bigger results over time!
What are your go-to favorite snacks? How about top 5?
I love talking about food so I had to ask this question! His answer was: “Fruit (specifically Gala apples), Greek yogurt with some kind of nuts on top, jerky, carrots and hummus, and crunchy peanut butter.” They all sounded delicious and nutritious and started to make me hungry…it was about this time in the interview that I realized I should have brought snacks!
What is your best piece of nutritional advice?
Brandon had two pieces of advice he wanted to give. The first was “Eat a rainbow at every meal.” He explained that by doing this you will be eating a variety of fruits and vegetables which helps to ensure you get as many vitamins and minerals as you can in your diet. The second piece of advice was “When choosing your protein, the less legs the better.” I found this one so interesting because I had never actually thought about it. He explained how a four-legged animal such as a cow doesn’t move much and is a fattier protein. Then you move to a two-legged animal such as a chicken who is more active and you have a much leaner protein. And lastly, you move to no legs such as a fish who is constantly moving, and you have the leanest protein you can find.
I loved this advice, and I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to sit down with Brandon and talk about nutrition. One of the major themes that I noticed throughout the entire interview was the focus on the individual. Let’s face it, we are all different and the right answer for one person doesn’t mean it will be the right answer for everyone. One of the things Brandon mentioned during the interview was that “Nutrition is not black and white.” This is so very true. I want to give a huge thank you to Brandon Booth, not only for taking the time to chat with me during this interview, but also for changing the way I think about food. And to all of my readers out there – no matter what your nutrition goals are, take it slow, never give up, and don’t be so hard on yourself along the journey…