Fitness icon, bikini queen, business wiz, role model, hot mom. Jennifer Nicole Lee shares her secrets to doing it all.
How many people alive today can Google their initials, click “I’m Feeling Lucky” and zip directly to a Web site connected to their name? Count on one hand. Three NFL players (LT, TO and, yes, OJ), a famous—in France—French journalist (PPDA, or Patrick Poivre d’Arvor), and, drumroll please, one fitness all-star (JNL)! But considering all she has accomplished in the past seven years, it’s perhaps no surprise that Jennifer Nicole Lee has achieved search-result supremacy.
Quick recap: After the birth of her second child in 2003, she took a photo of her nearly 200-pound self in a swimsuit and used that as motivation for a workout- and diet-fueled total-body turnaround. A couple of years later and 70 pounds lighter, she won Miss Bikini America. Since then, JNL has appeared on Oprah, published several books and calendars, starred in a fit moms DVD series, became a spokesmodel for BSN and the AB Circle PRO, graced 30-plus magazine covers and inspired women/entranced men across the land, all while raising two energetic sons. Safe to say she knows a thing or two about fitness — and life — so it was high time for an M&P Q&A. Here are the greatest hits.
M&P: Before you made the changes that led to winning Miss Bikini America, had you spent much time at the gym?
JNL: Growing up, I wanted to do soccer, ballet, gymnastics, but my mom couldn’t afford it, so no, I was not exposed to any kind of exercise until after I became a mother. And that’s when I took it seriously. I had to teach myself, and it was from just taking the resources I found around me and wanting it enough. My family is just like every other average family — we had dessert every day for breakfast, you know? So I had to learn a lot, but I enjoyed the process, and now I’m sharing what has worked for me. I want to banish the myth that being skinny equals being fit. It doesn’t. It’s the opposite. Women need to embrace the weight room.
M&P: Is it important to have an experience of bottoming out in order to change?
JNL: A lot of times people are in this lukewarm temperature in their lives where they’re just going through the motions. They haven’t had that threshold where they realize, “I really have to take charge of my life and make positive choices on a daily basis.” You have to get real with yourself. One way is to take a before photo — front, side and back — study it and ask yourself, “How can I get better, what areas of my body would I like tighter, where do I need to maybe lean out more?” That will evoke a little pain in you, which is actually very good. Maybe it’s gaining more energy or endurance, maybe it’s lowering your body fat or eating healthier. You can be so-so with working out and having a nutritionally sound food plan, or you can be dedicated. Take the time to set your goals, ask yourself how you can do it and become more committed.
M&P: What was the hardest part of turning things around?
JNL: I suffered from what everyone else suffers from, which is I-want-it-now-itis. So my suggestion to everyone is, don’t expect your body to change overnight because it’s not going to happen, you’ll give up on yourself and you will not follow through. Focus more on being persistent rather than perfect in your training. We’re gonna have off days, we’re going to eat something we shouldn’t have eaten or something comes up last minute and you’re not going to get your training in. That doesn’t mean you give up or give in. Just get back on your program and start again tomorrow and keep your eye on the prize. We’re all gonna miss a workout, but make sure you are diligent and sticking to your program 90 percent of the time.
M&P: When did you envision that being a fitness personality could be a career?
JNL: It happened over a process of a few years, but I think the real aha moment was when I saw that women had heard my weight-loss success story, how I didn’t get in shape until after I was a mom, how I suffered a miscarriage with my first pregnancy and I went on to have two kids. And now here I am, a real woman like them, and they really related to that. So I have to thank the fans for pushing me to keep on with my career and building it.
M&P: What advice do you have for people who want to start a business?
JNL: One way to create a business around your passion is to use the Internet to open up that stream of income, relate to your fans on a daily basis and give them updates through all the social networks — Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. You’ve got to brand yourself, and you can then do a digital product. So while you’re with your family, working out or on vacation, your site is selling to the wealthier people in Dubai, and you don’t have to worry about trying to sell to your broke neighbor. People joke that I’m Steve Jobs in a bikini. I’m a big geek. People think I’m running around in a bikini doing booby hugs on the beach all day, but I love technology. I just got an iPad.
M&P: Is your family into fitness, as well? Why do we picture you bench-pressing your husband?
JNL: Ha ha! I actually tell him to get on my back and I do squats. I’m like, “Honey, squat time, let’s go.” I’m joking, but we are a very physically fit family. My husband loves to train, and my sons are very active, from golf to baseball to soccer to tennis to swim lessons. I believe it’s something all parents can do, and you don’t need a large bank account to do it. Even kicking a soccer ball or playing baseball or going swimming. It changes your whole outlook, and a family that works out together and plays together stays together.
M&P: What’s the source of your energy?
JNL: It all starts in the mind. When you feel good in the mind, you have more energy. And yes, of course I work out four to five times a week, and I do a lot of plyometrics and speed rope. It has been proven that when you jump up and down, you release serotonin a lot quicker. So I’m always on a natural endorphin high.
M&P: Attending photo shoots, appearances and competitions has to be a big motivating factor. Is there a way to replicate that effect?
JNL: When I coach or consult women, people say, “Well, I don’t really want to do a fitness competition, I don’t see myself putting on that blinged-out bikini with the pole-hopping stripper shoes. I can’t get on the stage and do that.” I understand that. So ladies or even guys, take your before photo, find a great photographer and schedule a photo shoot 10, 11 or 12 weeks later, which is usually how long it takes to get competition-ready. Everyone in their life needs at least one really good photo shoot, so you can look back 10 years from now and say, “Wow, look how great I looked, and this is a goal that I did.” And what girl doesn’t love to have great-looking photos to put on her Facebook, give to her boyfriend or her husband, or to find another husband with?
M&P: Anything we’ve forgotten to cover?
JNL: You know, when Muscle & Performance called me, I didn’t have a trip planned to Los Angeles, and that’s where I had to go to shoot the cover. But I was so excited about the opportunity, I rearranged everything to get there. When you want something bad enough, you will find a way, and when opportunity presents itself, when a door opens, you’ve gotta walk through it. Don’t let anybody or anything stand in your way, even yourself. Even today, I am continuing on my fitness journey. I still look at my before photo every other day to keep myself moving forward. And everyone can visit me at my Web site, jennifernicolelee.com, and e-mail me your questions.
HED: JNL’s Fitness Favorites
>> Stick to a Program
Sunday, I take off and go grocery shopping, preparing my food plan for the week. Monday, I train shoulders and triceps. Tuesday is legs and glutes. Wednesday is abs and cardio. Thursday is chest and biceps. Friday is back. And then Saturday, sometimes I take that day off, or I’ll do abs and cardio again.
>> But Change the Exercises
Every week, I go in with a different workout. For, say, my triceps, could be triceps dips, it could be pulldowns, it could be kickbacks, it could be the overhead press. If it’s leg day, I’ll do maybe leg extensions and hamstring curls the first week, maybe the next week I’ll do lunges and squats. I keep my body guessing.
>> Trick Yourself
On my third set, when I’m fatigued, I tell myself, “It’s my first set. I didn’t do those two sets. This is the one that really counts.” I go in with the same focus and energy I did on my first.
>> Follow the Three Fs
A lot of Fs equal an A in weight training.
Focus: Nothing else exists except the movement that you are doing.
Full range of motion: Get from point A to point B smooth, not herky-jerky.
Form: Make sure you have proper form so you don’t [get injured]. I love the guy who sits down to the big pulldown bar, and it looks like he’s rowing a boat. Lock in the other body parts and focus on the muscle, not the momentum.
>> Train Like a Pro
Change your identity to, “I am an athlete, I’m going to start training like one, thinking like one, having more mental toughness, reading what the top athletes are doing for their top performance.” And then when you walk into a room, people are going to say, “Wow, she’s not working out just to look good in a bikini, she’s working out like an Olympic gold medalist.” And it just quantum-leaps the responses you get from others. That’s huge.
HED: JNL’s Nutrition Know-how
>> Size Up (and Down) Your Meals
You’ve gotta eat. You can’t starve yourself. That’s how you fatten a pig. I’m from Tennessee, and on the farms, we’d starve them all day and then give them as much slop as they wanted at the end of the day. You don’t want to do that. You want to eat breakfast like a king or queen, lunch like a prince or a princess and dinner like a peasant. You also want to supplement midmorning with a protein shake and then again around 3 or 4 o’clock with another protein shake or a 200-calorie snack. This way, you’ll be spacing out your meals and having mini-snacks between those to keep your energy going.
>> Make Breakfast Count
You’ve got your egg-white omelet, with your whole-wheat toast, your steel-cut oatmeal. That’s a staple. Or I like to do protein pancakes. If I have more time, I’ll whip up a whole-grain tortilla with some scrambled eggs and low-fat cheese and fat-free sour cream, a little healthy egg burrito. I also love French toast. I’ll dip protein bread in eggs and cook it real quick in the frying pan, and I’ll sprinkle them with cinnamon and fat-free Cool Whip, strawberries and blueberries. You can also do it with hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds, and it’s so good.
>> Embrace Supplements
I love and live by my BSN Lean Dessert Protein shakes, two or three a day. For energy management, I use Endoburn. And I also enjoy my preworkout igniter, N.O.-Xplode. It’s way better than a shot of espresso, as it gives me a laserlike, razorlike mental focus and increased stable energy throughout my workout without a crash.
>> Enjoy a (Healthy) Dessert
One of my favorite desserts is pecan pie. A great way to get the same taste and consistency is to mash up some sweet potatoes, put in some unsalted pecans, a touch of Splenda brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon, and just bake that in the oven. If you have a favorite food, find a healthier way to prepare it. It’ll help you get over that craving.
>> Occasionally, Cheat
I don’t have a sweet tooth. I have a spicy tooth. I love hot food. So I’ll do fajitas with guacamole — which is still healthy — but full-fat sour cream and jalapeños and salty fried chips with salsa. Or maybe a glass of red wine, which is full of antioxidants. I’ll do a chunk of dark chocolate every two or three days just to keep myself happy and sane. Maybe full-on loaded nachos would be my other little fix that I need once in a while.