Adam Schafer is a co-founder and one of the hosts of Mind Pump Media, a podcast that promotes accurate information about health and fitness. Adam and his co-hosts work against the fake science and sometimes dangerous advice that constantly appears in the world of fitness. Adam chatted with us about Mind Pump’s mission and the right way to help people reach their fitness goals.
What is the mission of Mind Pump Media?
When we first started the business, the goal and the idea was can we produce more free, valuable, accurate, science-based, and fun content than anybody else out there? So, when I look at (and we were this crazy when I first started) companies like BodyBuilding.com and Beach Body, they were our target market. We saw a lot of marketing and advertising to the consumer to sell supplements to make money. A lot of the advertising was gimmicky and things that were to play into your insecurities to get you to buy a product. We wanted to just present to our audience with free, valuable, good, science-based information. The idea was to combat a lot of the misinformation that has been presented for so long. And we knew if we were going to do it and be successful that we needed to do it in an entertaining and fun way: something that would get your mom or my mom back and listening the next day because it wasn’t just heavy science. There’s podcasts and there’s sites and there’s places that you can go if you want just real, heavy, science-based information. But we wanted something that the average consumer could disseminate and could break down and apply to their lives.
There was this huge gap – there was this entertaining, gimmicky, quick-fix, just like when you read all the hype on the shape magazines and muscle magazines, the ads that you see. There was that side, and then there was the really heavy, science-based side and there wasn’t really something in the middle, something that provided science-based, valuable information but then did it in a very fun way. The goal was can we drown everybody out with so much free content that we build a network large enough to support the company? And obviously the way we monetize is through digital programs. But when we did it, we waited a long time before we released and tried to monetize. Our goal was just to provide so much free information that was so valuable that people would almost feel compelled to contribute to the business. And that’s exactly what happened and what allowed us to scale.
What keeps you motivated to help others with their fitness goals?
Selfishly, what I love about it is that it’s never the same thing. I’ve been doing this for two decades now and what’s motivating and why I enjoy it so much is because there’s always a challenge. We’re all so unique as individuals. Even two people with the exact same body weight, with the exact same goal, will have totally different things that I have to troubleshoot as a trainer. And so that part of it is what I think keeps me going, keeps it enjoyable and entertaining is because it’s never the same thing. It’s always another challenge or something different. Or you expect it to be one way and then it ends up being another way completely. I get bored really easily with the same thing, so my MO in the past would be to build a business up, prove that I can do it, and then move on from it. What’s nice about helping people in fitness is there’s so many people with so many unique challenges that it always continues to challenge me and my partners.
Outside of exercise, what do you think it is important to do to stay healthy and well?
I really like that question because that’s changed a lot for me. As I get ready to head into my forties and having a son now at one year old, I really look at health in a much larger sphere than just exercise. In fact, exercise is a very small sliver of that pie. In my early career, everything was centered around lifting weights and building muscle and burning body fat. That was my definition of health. And the truth is you can have an amazing physique and extremely low body fat percentage and even eat really good foods and technically be a very unhealthy person. Because mental health, spiritual health, relationship health – all those other aspects are all part of the sphere. In fact, they are probably more important and there’s more that goes into that than exercise. You could exercise literally two days a week for an hour and build an amazing body. So, exercise is actually not the biggest piece. When you talk about total health, I think mental, spiritual, relationship and those things take a lot more work and a lot more effort and there’s more of it on a daily basis than your one-hour workout window. So that stuff has become such a higher priority for me as I’ve aged.
And even the way I address clients today is much different than the way I approached it back then. As a young trainer, I’d give you the answers. You’d come to me and say “Adam, I want to lose this much weight” or “I want to build this much muscle” or “I want to jump this high” or “run this fast.” And I’d plug in the numbers “Okay, you’re this old, you’re this much weight, your goal is this. Here’s where your macro should be, here’s where your calories should be, here’s how much we should be training, here’s the exercises we need to do.” And then I would just cheerleader, to motivate you to get to your goal. And I found that was fleeting. Once they got to their goal and they finished with me, most all of them would revert back to where they were before and, many times, worse. Because we weren’t addressing the whole sphere, we were just focused on the way they looked most of the time: the insecurity, fat, the lack of muscle. And I ended up being somebody who would give them the answer and motivate them, but I didn’t teach them to figure that out themself. It looks so different today than it did when I was first getting started as a personal trainer.
What do you think is the most harmful trend in the fitness/wellness industry?
There’s so many, right? What I think is the most harmful – of course the optimistic side of me wants to believe that we’re gonna fix this and we’re gonna change it – is that as whole, the fitness space really targets people’s insecurities and its’ really doing a disservice to all of them. Including those of us that are selling products and doing things. It’s unfortunate. We’re in a consumer-based society and it’s very easy to monetize and sell things, especially in the digital world we live in now. And people buy on emotion. And things that get people emotional to buy are many times rooted in and driven by insecurities: I’m too fat, I’m too short, I’m too slow, I’m ugly, I don’t have enough muscle, I’m skinny. And this is me! What got me into fitness was my insecurities: I was a skinny boy when I was growing up and teased. And I didn’t want to be, I wanted to be big and muscular. Even though that was what motivated me to get me to the gym, continuing to be motivated by that will eventually lead to failure and crashing and burning and never really reaching that true health pinnacle that you’re going for. That is what I think is hurting the space more than anything: we’re all taught to market that way, we’re all taught to sell that way to people because it’s what works. It’s what gets people to make a decision and buy. We constantly are poking and prodding at those insecurities and it doesn’t help somebody. Even if it gets them going, eventually they will need to come full circle and work through that.
Somebody comes to you and they want to lose 100 pounds. They think that when they lose 100 pounds, they are going to be happy. And it’s amazing how many times this has happened in my career. You get someone to their goal – and of course it’s really exciting to reach a goal, especially a big goal like that – but what you find is they’re not really very happy. We see this with money and success. People think money is the answer to everything and then they win the lottery and then they have this real high spike and then most – is it 80%? – of lottery winners end up going back on welfare or go broke. Just like 80% of the biggest losers end up putting all the weight back on. That’s because they didn’t do the work that I was talking about earlier: the internal work, where their head is at and how they feel, their self-image. If they’re only motivated by their insecurity and haven’t worked on their self-image, then even when they lose that 100 pounds, they’ll find that they’re still not happy. And they’ll end up reverting and going the other way. So, happiness comes first, and then the weight loss, then the muscle gain, then the lifelong health. You first have to be happy and secure with who you are. And when you go to exercise you have to shift your thought. I’m not exercising because I’m fat; I’m not exercising because I’m skinny; I’m exercising because I love myself, because I want to take care of myself, because I deserve it, because I’m a good person and I want live long and I want to be vibrant and enjoy my life; I want to have healthy joints and have good energy and be a good father and a good partner. And in order to do that, I need to exercise because when I exercise, all those things are better. When you take care of your health, work gets better, relationships get better, all those things improve in your life. And so, the motivation to exercise not only for me has changed, but this is how I try to change that perspective for my listeners and clients. You need to exercise because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself and you want to change yourself.
Do you have a favorite post-workout snack?
Well, first let me address “snack.” I teach people that there’s no such things as snacks. There are complete meals and incomplete meals. A complete meal has a balanced amount of macronutrients in there, so you’ve got a good protein, good carb, and good fat. It’s a balanced meal. Anything short of that is an incomplete meal. Snacks are just incomplete meals. And the reason why I teach that is because if you start to fill your day up with all these incomplete meals, it’s really hard to reach the targets that your body needs. So, we have what’s called an RDA, your recommended daily allowance, for all kinds of macro and micronutrients. And everybody has these and this is for optimal health and also for pursuing goals. If you want to build muscle, you need to eat a certain amount of protein every day. It can’t build from thin air, it needs those building blocks, it needs calories to do that. And even though we can survive without carbs, carbs are also your main source of fuel, so having a balanced meal is important. It’s really difficult for my clients to hit what they need for all their macronutrient targets if they snack a lot.
Now does that mean that I never snack? Literally right before I walked in here, I had a little rice cake; that’s an incomplete meal. So, I want to make it clear that I’m not shaming people who have an apple or have something like that. But I’m just trying to inform the client that when you start eating that way, it’s tough to hit what you need. If I have a rice cake right now, and then an hour goes by and I have an apple, and then an hour goes by and I snack on peanuts. Then you look at your day as a whole and you don’t get but maybe one or one and a half complete meals for the day, it’s really tough to get your body what it needs. So, I’m really big on trying to get my clients to eat a balanced meal and to target the things that are most essential for them. I ask them to always eat your protein first, then eat the fat (many times the protein and the fat are together, like a steak), and then get your vegetables, and then the last thing you’d get would be your starchy carbs (your rice, your quinoa, things like that). Because what I’ve found over years and years of training people is that most people have a hard time hitting their protein target. If you are lifting weights and exercising, protein is essential to seeing progress and building muscle. Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient and so if your goal is fat loss, one of the best strategies for you to not overconsume is for you to eat your proteins and fat first. So, I’m not a big proponent of snacking, but I do have favorite meals. I have a favorite meal after I work out: I love a good green (broccoli, asparagus, or spinach) with a cup or cup and a half of white rice with a chicken thigh. That balanced amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and some veggies is such a good meal and it makes my body feel amazing. My body digests that really well. So that’s a favorite of mine.
Is there one health product you think everyone should own?
No, and that’s just because there’s such an individual variance. The one product that everybody should have in their home is the one that helps them the most with mitigating stress and anxiety. I think in the last five years in particular – in the last year, even more so, right? – the level of stress and anxiety and depression is through the roof for people. So, if you have something that helps lower that. And we work with a lot of partners, so I’ll give you some examples. I don’t think it’s one-size-fits-all, whatever helps you individually the most.
I’m talking to you and looking at my computer, I’ve got my Felix Gray glasses on. I would have never thought that this was a big deal for me, but I also never worked on my computer and a phone for 8-10 hours a day every day until my last five years. I started noticing that I was getting tension headaches and I had trouble going to sleep at night, and these are all from staring at a screen all day long from the high blue light. It’s low levels of stress. If we have stress all day and anxiety and then we’ve got the political climate that we’re in and we’ve got COVID going on. Your body, it’s constantly getting attacked and you don’t realize it because it’s low-level stress, it’s always on the defense. And when it’s always on the defense, it’s really hard to get your body to move in the direction you want to. It’s really hard to get your body to want to adapt and build muscle or adapt and lose body fat if it’s always fighting off stress.
And sometimes we think of stress like it’s this “Oh my God, somebody died in my family” or “I got fired from my job.” Well, those are major stress situations. But just arguing with your partner and the stress of what’s going on with COVID and maybe you got a pay cut recently and maybe your kid’s driving you crazy. And then on top of that you’re dieting and trying to lose body fat and maybe you’re pushing yourself in the gym. The unfortunate part is this is why many people are stuck in plateaus, because their body is just being hammered. Working out, you have to understand, is a stress. And the reason why it’s a good stress is because we stress the body and then it adapts, recovers, repairs, and it gets stronger because it realizes we’re going to keep doing this to it. But the problem is you’re working out really hard and you’re pushing your body that way with your exercise, you’re pushing yourself by dieting and not eating a lot of calories, that’s also a stress. And then you have all these outside stresses with work and relationships and everything else going on, the body will go into a defense mode and survival mode. The whole way it adapts is all about survival. Oh, she made me lift weights, she keeps doing this, okay I’m going to build some muscle because she keeps doing this every three days. The problem is if you’re doing that and you have all this other shit happening to you at the same time, the body doesn’t have time to adapt, prepare, strengthen and grow, or burn body fat, it’s constantly trying to ward off all the different low-level stressors that you’re getting.
Now we always tell people that going all natural or learning how to do something yourself is better than using something as a crutch because you never want to become dependent on a supplement or a thing like that. The goal is to intrinsically learn how to do that. So, for this example, if we’re talking about stress, I would always push somebody in the direction of meditation or doing yoga or going for long walks where you have no distractions and just practicing mindfulness and being present. These things will all help reduce stress which in turn will help you build muscle and burn body fat. Now there are things out there that help aid this. For the stress I’m getting from high blue light on a computer and a TV all day long, the glasses help me sleep better at night and sleep is very important to recovery. It’s very important to how you feel the next day, and stress levels and energy levels. And so that is a tool that I use that benefits me. Now if you’re not somebody who works in front of a computer, that’s a waste of money for you. But maybe you’re somebody who works indoors all day and you don’t get enough vitamin D, so supplementing with vitamin D or using an infrared Joovv light because you don’t get out in front of the sun that much.
This is another thing that Mind Pump really wanted to address. And I love that you asked that question, because that is exactly how we’ve been taught to think: what’s the best supplement out there, what’s the best thing everybody should probably have? But the reality is what we need to do is really peer into our personal life, our personal behaviors: where are we being attacked the most by stress? What would potentially help you mitigate that or eliminate that? And yeah, if there’s a supplement out there that is helping that, I’m all for it.
CBD is becoming really popular right now. And CBD is really good for lowering anxiety. And so if you have a long day where you’re stressed and your mind is still racing 100 miles per hour, and you use some CBD before you go to bed bed to try to lower the anxiety and get yourself in a calm state so you can get yourself in a REM sleep and have a good night’s rest. That can do wonders for somebody and be the difference of somebody seeing a result and not seeing a result. But it can also be a complete waste of money for somebody who doesn’t have a problem with anxiety or doesn’t have a problem with sleeping at night. So, it goes against everything in my nature to say “this is the thing everyone should have” because this is how unique we all are.
Stress and sleep are probably two of the most underrated things trainers address. You see a lot of it in the wellness space, on the hippy-crunchy-yoga side, but you don’t see a lot of it on the body-building-performance side. That was another thing we knew when we got into this space is that there’s a lot of good information from those hippie-yoga-crunchy-fitness people and there’s a lot of good information from the sports-high-performance type of people. We wanted to meld the two of them. Just because you’re a high performing athlete and in the NFL doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking care of your sleep and your stress levels. It’s only going to make you a better athlete.
But I always caution people with supplements and products. Listen, this is a tool that we can use to help you but ultimately, we don’t want it to mask an underlying problem or the real root cause. Maybe CBD helps you fall asleep at night, but if the real root cause is that you have a terrible relationship with your husband, that is what we need to fix. Just taking CBD every single night is not your answer. It may be the answer to a temporary fix, but we need to get to the root cause of why you’re deficient in Vitamin D, why you have anxiety, why you’re not getting good sleep. We need to get to the root cause of that and address that. If some of these supplements can help us along the way, I’m all for it. But I always want to educate the person on figuring out the root cause of what’s causing the lack of results or anxiety or whatever it is that we’re talking about.