Thursday, September 8, 2011
Married to Fitness
Here's Nalatie's interview covering everything from the inside of a marriage made for fitness:
"This couple I had the pleasure of working with (my first HAPA couple, amazing looks) chose me to photograph them recently and I loved their story. Kalai has a high level education in psychology, 38 years old and not a professional fitness model at all. Nate is also educated on the nutritional side of health, which is rare for most personal trainers and a former pro wrestler (more about that later!).
This detailed interview is broken up into three parts. It covers their background, how they chose to compete, and their journey along the way. Their banter and chemistry had me laughing throughout the dialogue.
1. Tell me about yourself Kalai – where are you from, your educational background, where it took you around the States, and what you do today.
I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was important to my parents that I go away to college; not just away, but far away, so that I could experience life and learn to be independent in a new environment. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, where I received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a specialization in Public Policy. I was a member of the women's volleyball team, and our matches took me to towns throughout the midwest, as well as cities like New York, Boston, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Rochester (on that trip we drove to Niagara Falls!), places I probably never would have made it to otherwise. I was so fortunate to have that opportunity.
After graduation I moved to New York City and got my Master’s Degree in Psychology from New York University. From there I decided to move to San Francisco, to live in a city that wasn’t quite so cold and be a little closer to my family (who all still live in Hawai’i); that’s where I met Nate.
Today, I work at the University of California, San Francisco, where I administer a variety of programs and services for students in medical school.
2. Nate, tell us a little more about you as well – where are you from, professional/educational background and specialties, your focus today.
I grew up in a small beach town in Northern California - Half Moon Bay. We’re known for the Mavericks big wave surfing contest. I guess that’s why I won’t get a haircut, and get a real job you know? It’s a perfect match with Kalai since she grew up in Hawaii. We’re just two laid back, beach bum surfers enjoying life, although neither of us surf — go figure?
I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and post baccalaureate studies in Kinesiology at San Francisco State University. It’s all been self-education since then: tons of personal reading and research, along with various training and nutrition certifications. I can’t believe it, but I’ve had my own training business focusing on physique enhancement/body composition transformations for 10 years now.
Currently, I’m transitioning more into fitness writing. I’m writing articles for various websites, and Kalai and I have our own new blog/website where we are focusing on fitness training, nutrition, and psychology topics. Eventually I’d like to put out some books in order to reach more people and share some of my philosophies.
So my current focus? I’d say writing in the industry, but I really can’t focus, that’s part of the problem.
3. Nate, now what’s up with you being a former professional wrestler?? LOL Give us the juicy details.
Haha – the legend of the Kamikaze Kid lives on! The video highlights are up on my YouTube channel if anyone is a pro wrestling fan.
In college, I started training with a Capoeira group. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art involving a lot of acrobatic moves. We used to go to a gymnastics studio to practice the advanced moves — flips, aerial kicks, etc. One day this dude saw me training and told me I should go check out a pro wrestling school/promotion located in the area. I was a huge pro wrestling fan growing up as a kid — the Ultimate Warrior was my hero. So I thought why not? You only live once.
Next thing you know, I’m touring up and down California as the Kamikaze Kid. The independent pro wrestling scene was a wild ride. It really is a crazy life. It was a lot of fun, but super tough on the body. It’s fake and scripted and all that, but the impact of the stunts is very real. As a small guy, the injuries began to pile up quickly, and after a couple of years I decided it was time to move on. Every once in awhile I regret that decision because I see a few of the guys I was coming up with are now performing with the WWE and TNA Wrestling.
4. Nate has always been into fitness but not the case for Kalai. Kalai, what was your fitness background, family perspective in health/nutrition (given that you have Hawaiian roots), and your driver to make the decision to compete in your first show.
I haven’t always been in into fitness per se, but I started playing sports in middle school, and continued to play volleyball well after college. As an athlete, my exercise programs had always been performance-based, and my primary goals were to be strong, fast, and agile. After college I got more into endurance sports, completing a marathon and a 6-day AIDS Ride. Because of my athletic background I was always comfortable in the weight room, but when given the choice I would usually go for a run over lifting weights, since I had bought into the idea that cardio would keep my weight in check and give me the lean, healthy body I desired.
As for nutrition, there are many factors that influenced my eating habits and thoughts about health growing up, but I’ll just mention a couple. The first thing that comes to mind is the practical: because nearly everything has to be imported, food in Hawaii (like just about everything else) is expensive. When fresh food is expensive, you end up eating a lot of things that you think give you more bang for your buck, like fast food “value meals” and plate lunches (which are take-out dishes typically comprised of two scoops of white rice, one scoop of macaroni salad, accompanied by some kind of meat that is usually breaded and/or fried, or covered in some kind of sauce or gravy), as well as foods that are cheaper in bulk like ramen, spam, and rice. Not the healthiest options, obviously, but what you think you need to do to get by. In time, these become commonplace and comfort foods.
On a more personal note, I grew up in a family where food was equated with love. For example, my grandfather knew how much I liked chocolate, so he brought me chocolate covered donuts every Saturday morning, and kept our freezer stocked with chocolate ice cream so that I could have it for dessert every night if I wanted (and I did). He knew my sister’s favorite was chicken cacciatore, so when she came home from college on breaks he would always make it for her. He did these things with the best intentions – because he loved us and wanted to make us happy – but the result how this kind of “love” was shared throughout my family is that I have many relatives who are overweight, and some who suffer from long-term health issues that are directly related to their weight problems. I suppose the path I have chosen – initially through athletics and now fitness – is my way of changing my “destiny” and having a hand in my own wellness and health outcomes.
There were a number of factors that went into my decision to compete. First, I was looking for a goal and purpose to guide my diet and exercise goals. For the past few years, other than when I was preparing for my wedding, I had just been working out to work out. This made it too easy to flake when I was lazy, or indulge in food and drink more often than necessary (I have a HUGE sweet tooth). Second, I wanted a challenge. I was curious to see what I was capable of and how much I could change my body composition if I truly dedicated myself to a plan. I have always admired Nate’s discipline and focus when he trains and wanted to see if I could do the same, following the theory and methods that work so well for him. Signing up for a contest – especially one that Nate was doing too – would hold me accountable. Once I paid the registration fee, there was no going back! Finally, we were coming upon the end of the year, which was stacked with back-to-back celebrations and holidays (November = Hawaiian vacation/family wedding, Thanksgiving, and my birthday; December = Christmas, Las Vegas wedding, Nate’s birthday, and New Year’s). I knew this would be a recipe for disaster when it came to my diet, workouts, and waistline. By signing up to compete in late January, I would need to eat clean and train through the holidays, and would thus avoid the otherwise predictable weight gain.
5. Nate, you prepared every aspect of Kalai’s program, which I think is brilliant. There’s nothing like having a coach to follow rather than second guessing yourself in this process. Please fill us in on what considerations you made for her program, how you wanted to change her physique for show time, the struggles/adjustments made along the way, and your final critique of your results.
It was either brilliance or madness – especially when you’re trying to take cookies away from that crazy Hawaiian girl. I think I might have acquired a few permanent scars from the late night UFC-style fights.
Well, since I’ve been online and writing a few articles and what not, I’ve been getting contacted by several women suffering from the metabolic/hormonal damage and post-contest weight rebound associated with improper contest prep. Its crazy, 20-40lb weight-gains in less than six-month’s time - on NORMAL food intake and training protocols. I definitely did not want my wife to do it the wrong way, go through the roller coaster ride of yo-yo-ing, and suffer the adverse health and body image consequences that can become involved with the competitive lifestyle.
And if I can have my Oprah interview moment here: ladies (and guys too), don’t take any crazy or extreme measures that ultimately damage your normal bodily functioning and overall health just for the sake of winning a trophy. It may seem like it now, but it’s really not worth it in the long run. Trust me, I’ve seen what happens on the other side of the equation. It’s not pretty, and for many it ends up being a lifelong battle. Use a solid plan backed by science. Train hard, eat like a champ, sacrifice, and use a warrior’s discipline to get into the best shape of your life. But use an intelligent approach, and don’t take it too far.
Sorry for the tangent, but I think that perspective can help a few people. Back to the Hawaiian Queen. We also had to keep in mind the fact that fitness is not Kalai’s main career. She has a full-time job in the real world running departments for the UCSF medical school and graduate research programs. She couldn’t turn her life upside down just for a moment of fake tan glory. She had to achieve her athletic goals while still maintaining her ability to function at a high level in an intellectually demanding job. (Don’t tell her I said this because I don’t want her ego to get too big — but yes, she is a badass).
In my business, I pride myself in the ability to combine scientific research with practical experience. So I wanted to design a program based on the physiological principles of how a body really loses fat and builds or maintains lean muscle, not just on gym myth or fitness folklore. A lot of plans are based on tradition rather than science. Fat loss efficiency is all about using your exercise and dietary programs to positively influence your hormones and metabolism, not simply about calorie burning/calorie counting — that is if you want the results to be permanent and sustainable.
In order not to bore you with the science, the practical side is that we based her plan on high intensity strength training, no traditional cardio, and a relatively higher protein, moderate carbohydrate, lower fat approach. We wanted the positive metabolic and hormonal effects of strength training without the negative effects of excessive cardio, and of course we wanted a targeted dietary plan to take care of 80-90% of the fat loss puzzle, without going so drastically low in carbs that we suppressed optimal thyroid production or met rate. The science is complicated, but as you can see the program was simple on paper. These days its ass backwards, complicated and crazy programs backed by little real science.
I think the biggest hurdle was getting Kalai to trust the plan and not revert back to her old endurance athlete ways of training — you know, tons of cardio with little strength training. I understand the base of my advice is counter intuitive or even completely opposite of traditional fat loss guidelines. And she was constantly exposed to the “standard, accepted” fat loss advice via various media channels just like everyone else. In many ways it had become engrained in her subconscious.
But I believe in my approach and more importantly, as she became more involved and started to consistently implement it, she started to believe in it as well. Part of the reason she wanted to compete was to prove it worked (1) just as well for women as men (2) and just as good, if not better, than more drastic, extreme approaches.
I was very happy with the results. Just check out the photos — she looks pretty hot to me. I’m going to hang one or two of them from the wall for motivation, and for other reasons that I just can’t mention on a family website. And the best part is because the program did not rely on drastic/extreme measures, I believe the results are sustainable.
And this was her very first shot at this whole fitness competing and modeling “thang”. She’s really only been focusing on pure cosmetic enhancement (as opposed to performance or endurance training) for 3-4 months. We know that results are cumulative, and as she continues focusing on this specific path, she is only going to improve.
Damn Natalie, when you asked to interview us I bet you didn’t realize how much of a rambler I am. Sorry about that.
6. Kalai, what did you think of Nate’s program? Where there any difficulties on working together since taking instruction from a partner can sometimes be a power struggle. What did you learn from this dieting/training process about yourself and furthermore, general nutrition?
I thought the program Nate prepared for me was perfectly reasonable. He explained everything to me, like why he kept the carb amounts moderate, why he took out certain foods when he did, and why he selected certain exercises; everything had a specific reason. We were always checking in to see how I was feeling on the diet, and make sure I was able to get my workouts in, since I had started a new job. In fact, I felt lucky that I wasn’t famished all the time, or about to pass out from doing multiple workouts in one day.
We both have pretty laid-back personalities, so in general we don’t get into tiffs very often. When it comes to training for a physique competition he is the expert, so I told him I would do exactly what he said to do, no questions asked. The only difficulty we experienced was when I was struggling mentally (fighting cravings, etc). Nate always has my best interests at heart, but at those times he didn’t know if he should respond to me as my husband (empathetic and loving), or as my Coach/Trainer (and tell me to just suck it up). I often didn’t know what I wanted him to be either, so that didn’t help. I think just recognizing his dilemma as a confounding factor during those moments helped us come to a resolution much quicker.
Goodness, I learned so much! The end result showed me that I am capable of getting in much better shape than I ever imagined, without having to go to extreme measures that I heard so much about. I learned that I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but I could instead “compete” with myself to be the best “me” that I can be. I also found that while I initially missed going on runs, I found a similar peace and enjoyed “alone time” by just putting on some headphones and lifting weights in the gym.
I don’t think you have enough time in this interview for everything I learned about health and nutrition while preparing for this contest. Some of the key takeaways, however, are that –
(1) you don’t need to cut out all your carbohydrates to get lean,
(2) nor do you need to do 2 hours of cardio in addition to your weight training sessions.
However, perhaps the most significant thing I learned from this experience is the importance of mental fortitude when you are dieting. Our bodies can adapt fairly easily to the changes in caloric intake, but it’s how you deal with the mental and psychological challenges – even those posed by physical hunger and discomfort – that ultimately drives your success.
7. Nate, what did you do differently during contest prep in your regime? For example, what did your regular fitness/diet schedule look like and then contest prep? What were your goals to achieve and putting your knowledge to the time test (fixed contest deadline) did it work out for you?
To be quite honest, my diet and training plans don’t really change that much through the year. I like to stay in shape year round. I’ve found that it’s better for my training business, and my career as a wannabe fitness model. No one wants me (especially Kalai) to look like a fat guy - I mean a bulking bodybuilder - 90% of the year. Plus, my fragile ego couldn’t take it. My 5 older brothers used to call me Baby Sumo because I was a fat kid. If they started calling me that again, I’d probably cry. I guess that childhood torture is why I’m so obsessed with the fitness lifestyle as an adult. Thanks guys, you’ve scarred me for life.
I know it would probably be beneficial for my physique to go through a few heavy bulking phases, but I just don’t see the need. I have no delusions or aspirations of being a professional bodybuilder. I just like the discipline and focus necessary in the training and dieting process leading up to the show. It makes me feel like I’m still somewhat of an athlete. So my goal is to continue putting on muscle slowly throughout the year, while always remaining within striking distance of competition or photo shoot conditioning.
Generally I train 4 days a week using a typical body-part split, with traditional volume/hypertrophy-based training as my foundation. Nothing fancy, you know the drill: basic dumbbell/barbell exercises, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 3-5 exercises per body part, lots of yelling, spandex, and of course, sunglasses during late night training are a prerequisite (I hope you know I’m kidding).
My diet is essentially 5 meals a day combining a serving of lean protein (eggs, chicken, fish) with a serving or two of complex carbohydrate (potatoes or rice) and maybe some veggies. I’ve been writing a lot lately on T-Nation about a Paleo/Caveman meets Sports Nutrition approach. That’s basically what I follow.
One major difference is that we usually have a cheat meal during the offseason one day a week, usually Saturday night so we can at least pretend we have some sort of a social life. That generally gets cut out 4-6 weeks away from an event. And I do miss that cheat meal. I love those freaking M&M’s. Ah man, the crunchy shell with the milk chocolaty center, but I digress.
8. What was your experience like for stepping on stage the first time? I believe that my first show was my most exciting because so many unknowns going in and the rush is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. What tips would you give to those stepping on stage for the first time?
You are right that there were so many unknowns, and I was winging it for the majority of the day. However, I had no problem making it known it was my first show and asking questions, and people were always willing to help. I was fortunate to meet another competitor early that morning when we were both waiting for one last spray tan; she was so friendly, and kind of took me under her wing. It was nice to have someone to get last-minute advice from, or just chat with throughout the day, which helped me to forget how nervous I was!
Being on stage in and of itself wasn’t that bad. I grew up dancing the hula and had performed as a soloist in front of large audiences before, so I knew I’d be able to handle the eyes on me. I don’t think the magnitude of what I was doing hit me until we were in the finals and waiting to hear the winners. Then, in a flash, it was all over, months of preparation, all for a couple of minutes on stage. Crazy!
For anyone stepping on stage for the first time, I would recommend the following: (1) PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Learn how to pose from someone who has done it before (and is good at it), and practice walking and posing in your heels. A lot. Not just in front of a mirror, but without a mirror as well (since obviously you won’t be able to see yourself on stage). I recommend having someone take photos or video of you walking and posing so you can see what the judges will see. With practice comes confidence, and you absolutely need that! I would also recommend NOT focusing on the final rankings or results, but just enjoying the experience for what it is, everything that you’ve learned throughout the process, all that you’ve accomplished simply by being there. It may sound hokey, and I’m just as competitive as the next person, but your success as a first-time competitor shouldn’t be measured by where (or if) you place. If you enjoy the experience, there will be lots of time to train again and improve for the next show.
9. How have your friends and family responded to your contest prep? Kalai I know that you had mentioned that your sister may have had some positive influence from your preparations. What easy tips could you give to others taking that first big change in diet/exercise?
I’ve done it enough times that they get it now. They still don’t completely understand why I want to shave the legs (among other areas), slap on a fake tan, and strut around in panties (and dudes, lets not try and mask what they really are – they’re not “posing trunks”, they’re frickin’ panties — so wear them with pride and be done with it). But I think they respect it. And many of my family members come to me when they have health or fitness questions. Using my nutritional philosophies, I even helped one of my brothers reduce his cholesterol levels enough so that he could get off medications that were damaging his liver.
The first set of easy tips I have given to family and friends are:
(1) cut out sugar from your diet. One of my friends did only this, and lost 15 pounds for her wedding; and
(2) Measure your portions, especially of starchy carbohydrates. You have no idea how much you are overeating until you get out a measuring cup and use it. You will be surprised at how little a ½ cup is on your plate, but how it is just enough to make you satisfied (but not full).
As for exercise, my two pieces of advice are:
(1) Do something – anything – on a regular basis. If you don’t feel like going to the gym, go anyway. Whatever you do will be better than nothing, and you will always be happier that you went; and
(2) Let go of the notion that you must do hours of cardio to lose weight and be lean. When I was getting ready for my wedding, I would spend up to 90 minutes in the gym, which included 45-60 minutes of cardio after lifting weights. Even with all that activity, I was nowhere near as lean then as I was after preparing for this competition, for which I did no formal cardio activity whatsoever. You need muscle to be lean, and in order to build muscle you need to weight train.
10. What’s next on your plate? Future plans, etc.
We are excited for this upcoming year. We are trying to gear up our competitive plans for 2011. I've convinced her that Musclemania is a much better fit for us than any other organization, but I'm not sure of the difference between the bikini and model divisions (she is definitely not a figure girl). I think my wife is going to do one of the Fitness California shows to get some practice, and then we are both going to come out to Vegas for the MM America."