QUESTions With… Rachel Mac

QUESTions With

Rachel Mac is a frequent contributor to the Quest Blog. She is a commercial litigator in Chicago, Illinois, who lives a healthy lifestyle despite 12+ hours per day in the office. You can find Rachel on Facebook and on Twitter.

In today’s QUESTions With… Rachel talks about women lifting heavy weights, over-restricting calories and cardio queens.


What nutritional information have you learned that most people don’t know?

Eating more protein and fewer carbs is not some crazy fad diet for whackjobs!  There’s a lot of information out there about the USDA Food Pyramid, and I think it’s too bad that’s what we teach as the fundamental healthy eating plan. To lose weight, you must reduce carbs and increase protein. My body has completely changed since I put this plan into practice, but it requires reconceptualizing meals and snacks since our food culture is centered around carbs, not protein.


What training information have you learned that most people don’t know?

Women must lift heavy weights! I used to spend hours and hours of my life each week on the elliptical machine and my body never, ever changed–at best, my weight remained stable, but I noticed it creeping up with time although my diet hadn’t changed. A cardio-only workout plan will not enable you to maintain your weight. When I cut my workouts from 90 minutes of cardio a day to 45 minutes of strength training, I gained a huge amount of my life back (more than three hours each week) and I went from slim but squishy to tiny and toned and firm. It was a dramatic change, but it took me months to get the guts to do it because of the pervasive narrative that women bulk if they lift heavy weights. It’s simply not true, and if a woman was able to gain enough muscle to get bulky in a short time, it would be almost a sure bet that she was taking steroids.


What are your three biggest nutrition pet peeves?

(1) Over-restricting calories–this is absolutely guaranteed to backfire. In fact, if you asked me how you could steadily gain weight year after year, I’d say “restrict your calories to around 1000 per day for a while. Then try to ever go back to normal eating.” The longer you starve yourself, the more metabolic damage you’ll do. STOP NOW! Women are often terrified to increase their caloric intake, but if you do it gradually (and intelligently) it’s almost always effective to increase the rate of weight loss.


(2) Vegetarianism for weight loss. This is just … crazy. If you have religious or ideological reasons, more power to you. I was a vegetarian for years, in fact. But it is much more difficult to get protein as a vegetarian (and even harder to maintain a good protein-carb ratio), and protein is the key to fat loss!


(3) Diet food. There are no shortcuts here. Diet food won’t make you slim, but even if it did, living healthy is about more than that. Eating good, clean, healthy, wholesome, single-ingredient foods will not only make you slim, it will give you stable energy levels, keep you full for fewer calories, and (barring food allergies and intolerances, of course) prevent digestive distress and other weird side effects of dirty food. Sugar alcohols, for example–food manufacturers say they have no impact on blood sugar because your body can’t digest them. That can’t possibly be a good idea. Keep it simple, and everything in moderation.


What are the three things you see people doing in the gym that bother you most?

(1) Cardio queens and kings: it is almost unfair for me to criticize, because I used to totally be one, but doing a ton of cardio when you have a lot of fat to lose is like stopping to tread water when you have a long way to swim. JUST SWIM!  You need muscle to burn fat during the 23 hours a day you’re not in the gym, and if you’re doing too much cardio, you could be wasting muscle tissue, which is fully counterproductive to losing fat in the long term.


(2) Grunting boys. This is picky, but there is no way that actually HELPS! Some people like to make a scene.


(3) Girls with those 3-pound neoprene weights, doing rep after rep in sets that never seem to end, complaining about how their muscles are bulking up. Ladies. It took me months of torturous hard work in the gym, lifting until I felt like I was going to throw up, more protein each day than many women eat in a week, and spoonful after spoonful of creatine to put on five pounds of muscle–and I’m SMALLER now than I was before!  You are not going to bulk. If you put on that much muscle that quickly, scientists would want to study you. Go for the 15s 🙂


What is a quote that you live by?

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle


Who is your inspiration?

The fit moms I interact with on SparkPeople and Facebook are my inspiration; particularly Carolyn Gibson Channell and Nancy Reinhardt. Both women transformed their bodies in spite of having a whole lot more going on in their lives than I do, including kids. It is such an enormous struggle for me to eat healthy, make it to the gym, and avoid getting derailed by my life, and I’m the only person I have to worry about. Having kids is exponentially more difficult because you not only have kids’ dietary needs to take into consideration, kids have completely different palates than adults. Nobody is going to bother me if the only veggies in my house are dark, leafy greens and asparagus, and if there is no dairy and no sugar. I have tremendous respect for women who eat clean and live healthy lifestyles with kids.


Who or what got you started?

See my Transformation Articles!


What is one piece of advice you give to new lifters?

Keep it simple. Lift each body part once per week, using this simple split: (1) chest, then triceps; (2) back, then biceps; (3) shoulders and abs; (4) lower body (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves). You can add in an extra abs day and a day or two of cardio (which is best left for after your lift) and you’re set. Lifting each body part once per week means you won’t get bored with lifting, you’ll give it your all with each lift, and your muscles will have adequate time to recover. There are a million different ways to split up your lifts, and it gets much more complicated than this, but this is a great baseline and can take you far.


What is one piece of advice you give to seasoned lifters?

Get a neutral third party to evaluate your physique every once in a while and address imbalances. Working with a trainer even a few times every six months or so is a great investment. I’ve recently learned that I favor one shoulder–which I’ve never injured–when I lift, and that my left leg is significantly weaker than my right. I’m able to focus on these imbalances, which I couldn’t do if my trainer hadn’t pointed them out to me. A lot of seasoned lifters pride themselves on doing it all on their own, but even a lifting buddy can be on the lookout for issues like this.


What’s your goal for 2011?

Although I’m new to the industry, I have a lot of big ideas already. I would love to be in Oxygen magazine, appear in an infomercial, and do some fun shoots with great photographers and other models. I’m planning a number of competitions in 2011, so I’d like to improve my body with each show and find some balance with my diet.


What body part do you struggle with the most, and what have you done to overcome the problem?

I have always struggled with my lower body, which never seems to catch up to my upper body. I focus most of my training on my glutes and hamstrings and take pictures weekly to evaluate my progress. I had Biosignature Analysis performed a few weeks ago, and made some dietary and lifestyle changes to avoid introducing xenoestrogens (i.e. false estrogens) into my body. I use glass storageware now, I no longer drink tap water or diet soda, and I take supplements that help with these issues. I’m thrilled with the results and highly recommend it.


What does your typical diet consist of?

You can see a typical day of food here, but my general overarching principles are:

– Focus on protein, every meal, every snack

– Reduce carbohydrates; they should come primarily from vegetables, except for oats in the morning, fruit after my workout, and a slow-digesting carb (like sweet potatoes) with my first full post-workout meal.

– Eat unlimited broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, greens (spinach, kale, etc.)

– Water: at least a gallon a day

My wackiest diet habit–aside from often eating my food cold out of laziness or lack of time–is my morning ritual. I combine the juice of half a lemon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, a splash of apple cider vinegar, greens powder, and a liquid fish oil/vitamin D supplement, add warm water, and chug it. It’s disgusting, so I call it “poison.” But I love thinking about all the healthy benefits I’m putting in my body to start my day, so I actually look forward to it. I’ve even turned a few friends on to it!


Photos By: Don Bersano