Muscle Matters: 5 Secrets to Change Your Body Composition

bicep Vanessa Matthews.JPG

Strength training will change your life. It changed mine, and I’ll never go back.

I grew up obese, sedentary, and unhealthy in every way possible. I suffered from depression and had zero self-esteem. It wasn’t until after high school that I started to make changes. I ate a little better, drank more water, and dedicated myself to at home workout tapes. Yes, tapes. Denise Austin’s Hit the Spot Sizzler, to be exact.

I lost 75lbs in only 8 months and my entire world flipped upside down. It gave me confidence to do more and turned me on to a path of personal development. After college, I started teaching group fitness classes and fell even more in love with fitness. Sure, I worked out with light weights, but I always worried about getting “bulky”, so I made sure to never do too much.

Eventually, my body started breaking down from teaching kickboxing and hip-hop a few times a week, and my back and knees gave me hell. When I really got serious about strength training in 2010, I noticed a difference. My joints started feeling better immediately. My core was strong enough to support my back, taking the pressure off of my degenerated disks.

Even though I was passionate about fitness, I still struggled with my weight and my eating habits, and I remember feeling totally fed up with myself one Christmas in 2013. It was a moment of clarity and certainty that I decided I was going to take my fitness and nutrition more seriously. I resolved to compete in a bodybuilding competition in 2014. It ended up taking me almost a year and a half to prepare, and in April of 2015, I stepped onto that stage to compete. What a journey it was to get there!

Here are a few pictures of my transformation over that time period.  The picture on the left was me in January of 2014, while the pictures on the right were from my competition.

Transformation Tuesday Jan 2013- April 2015

Through the process, I learned exactly what it takes to build muscle, how to burn fat, how to fine tune your diet, and I want to share some of those secrets with you.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you to become a body builder. I am going to teach you how to build a strong body, and how to turn your body into a fat burning machine.

Another thing that I discovered through my experience is this:

Why muscle matters.

Your metabolism is a function of how much muscle mass you have on your body. Increase your muscle mass, and you will increase your metabolism.

Dieting simply doesn’t work.

When you drastically reduce calories and do too much cardio, you actually deplete your existing muscle mass, reducing your metabolism, making you have to eat even less calories to avoid gaining weight. It is a vicious cycle that doesn’t end well.

When you change your body composition to have more muscle mass, your body burns more calories each day, so you can eat more food!! It also allows you to consume more nutrition, and build an even stronger, more efficient body.

THIS is the only sustainable option. As you age, your muscle mass naturally degrades, but you can preserve what you have and improve upon it no matter how old you are.

So how do you change your body composition?

Here are 5 secrets that will help you change your body for good.

  1. Consistent Strength Training (With Progression!)

Let’s start with the obvious. To change your body composition, you have to lift weights. You must strength train at least 3 times per week to build a stronger body. And I’m not talking about those plastic coated Barbie weights either. Lift heavy, and it will pay off. You don’t build muscle overnight, but it takes consistent, and persistent work to earn it! The best thing to do is just focus on the journey. Each day, your body is learning, growing, and getting better.

If you want to make sure to get REAL results, you must incorporate the principle of progression into your routine. You must push your body to a place that it has never been before, or you will stay exactly the same. I use a motto when I lift weights. It’s “One More Rep”. Every time you do the same exercise, shoot for one more rep than you did last time. When your reps get up to 20 or so, increase your weight and start over at a lower rep range.   Using the “One More Rep” method, you know you are always progressing, and doing it at an easy pace. Be patient. As long as you do one more rep than you did yesterday, you know you are getting stronger.

  1. Nutrition

In order to build muscle (and burn fat) your body needs the proper nutrients. When you deprive your body of nutrients it still needs to find it somewhere, usually, at the expense of the muscle tissue you already have. It also holds onto the fat you have just in case you are actually in a famine. You can only eat so much in one day, so you need to make sure you make your calories count. A good balance of protein, carbs, and healthy fats are essential for building a strong body.   Nutrition needs to come from whole foods, rather than processed ones.   This is ESPECIALLY true when it comes to your carb sources. Stick to sweet potatoes, brown rice or quinoa, rolled oats, and starchy vegetables… but don’t over do it. Carbs require a delicate balance of just enough to not result in weight gain. If you are serious about changing your body composition, sugar and refined carbs are OUT.

Timing of your meals is also very important. After strength training, your body needs replenished, and it is most effective at absorbing protein and carbs within 45 minutes after your workout. So, try to get a post workout snack containing both protein and carbs as soon as possible after your workout, and your body will thank you. Your body can only process so much protein at once, somewhere around 20-30 grams, depending on your size. This is why it is so important to eat multiple meals spaced out throughout the day. Forget about snacking. Eating 4-6 small meals that are based around a protein source is the best way to fuel your body and get enough protein to build strength.

  1. Sleep and Recovery

Believe it or not, sleep is a CRITICAL component in changing your body composition. Recovery is when your body actually gets stronger, not during the workout itself. If you never take a break, and deprive yourself of sleep, your body will eventually break down. The result: overtraining, injuries, and setbacks. No one wants that.

Remember the movie Million Dollar Baby? If not, it was a movie about a female boxer who seeks to become a professional. Hilary Swank put on 19lbs of muscle in a short period of time to do that film. In order to do so, she was required to sleep at least 9 hours every night. Without proper rest, muscles can’t grow.

Planning rest days into your routine is equally as important as getting enough sleep. It is best not to train the same body part on consecutive days, which is why most serious lifters incorporate the split routine. This means working a different body part on each day of the week. By the time the cycle repeats, each body part has had several days of rest. The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body and get in tune with the signals it is trying to tell you. You are going to be sore, but joint pain is NOT ok.

  1. Hydration

I think most people just don’t realize the importance of water to the body. It is one of the easiest, quickest, cheapest ways to improve your overall health. Water is the most critical nutrient in your entire body, and makes up at least 60% of your body composition. The millions of chemical reactions that happen in your body (and make everything else possible) are facilitated by water… so without proper hydration, we simply cannot survive.

Water transports nutrients to the cells in your muscles and removes waste as well. Water helps form the structures of protein and glycogen in your muscles, which means it is impossible to build muscle without being properly hydrated. Dehydration is the most common cause of fatigue, and it impairs your strength and performance.

To get enough water, make sure you carry around a wide-mouthed water bottle, AT ALL TIMES. And, try out my 5 gulp rule: Every time you take a drink, take at least 5 gulps. This way, you will get 5x the amount of water you would have otherwise! 3 Liters of water a day is a good goal to have, but 4 Liters (or closer to a gallon) is much better.

  1. Stress Reduction

This is the final, and least obvious, secret to changing your body composition. When you are under stress, your body holds onto fat, and starts breaking down your existing muscle tissue. This is all thanks to the stress hormone, known as cortisol. Cortisol is this handy hormone that is released when we need it most, like if you were being chased by a bear for example. Under this kind of stress, it is pretty darn important that your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and all of your body processes (including digestion, absorption of nutrients, fat burning, and tissue repair) all slow down or stop, so that you can focus solely on escaping with your life.

The problem is, we aren’t being chased by a bear most of the time. We are stuck in traffic, dealing with nasty coworkers, raising children, and sticking to deadlines. Over exercising, sleep deprivation, and calorie restriction ALSO cause increased levels in cortisol. If you want to keep your body functioning and turn it into a strong, lean, fat burning machine… you MUST manage your stress.

I’ll give you one simple way to reduce your stress, immediately. Just breathe. Take a few moments to clear your mind, and try my 5 x 5 breathing technique. Breathe in for 5 counts, hold it for 5 counts, and exhale for 5 counts. Repeat that sequence 5 times. This is a super simple stress reduction method that will only take you a minute or two. And, it can make all the difference in the shape of your body, and your overall health.


So there you have it. 5 secrets to change your body composition. When you slowly increase your muscle mass while you decrease body fat, your body will transform before your eyes. Your metabolism will speed up and you won’t have to work so hard to stay lean. THIS is how you will set yourself up for a vibrant, healthy, happy life, rather than letting the aging process take over.

If you are interested in a personalized workout and nutrition program to help you transform your body, I can help!  Click here and I will help you get started!




A sense of purpose gives us an internal desire to change and improve ourselves. It is my mission to instill within my clients a powerful reason to improve their health and well being as well as their fitness level. To achieve this, my programs are personalized and tailored to each individual and include the necessary tools, education, and motivation for men and women of all ages from beginner to advanced levels. It is my goal to help my clients reach their highest potential through scientifically proven methods of exercise, nutrition, and positive lifestyle modification.

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Posted in Motivation, Nutrition

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