Jul. 22. 2015
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

I’m happy to introduce you all to a friend of mine and someone that’s incredibly positive, motivating, and down to earth with his philosophy about exercise and eating well.

Adam is a renowned personal trainer coaching clients all over the world and known for his fantastic work with Men’s Health Magazine, being a contributor for many years then moving onto creating his own booming business. Today, Adam Born of Born Fitness is here to share his motivation to staying fit, what he’s learned from training thousands of clients all over the world, what inspired him to become an entrepreneur, and of course we had to ask him some fun questions. Introducing Adam!

Adam Bornstein

for Nutrition Stripped


Adam Bornstein

If you had to define all that you do in a title, what would you say?

I have two primary jobs so let’s separate them. For Born Fitness: Translator of health, fitness, and nutrition information and for Born Fitness Consulting: The ROI Whisperer

What is your professional background?

It’s a fun mix that shows how lost I was until I was found, with all experience ultimately playing an important role in what I do today. A flow chart might make this more fun.

Behavioral health intern @ Boulder Community Hospital | Sports medicine intern | cardiac/pulmonary exercise rehab intern | Freelance writer for several publications | Professional researcher @ University of Colorado lab in social psychology lab | Lecture assistant at University of Florida | Editor at Men’s Health magazine | Published author of #1 fitness best seller | Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com | Published many more books, including a New York Times best seller (6 books on my own, 3 ghost-written) | Started Born Fitness | Advisor/consultant for everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Muscle & Fitness, SHAPE magazine to Examine.com, and others | Founded Born Fitness Consulting, where we work with clients like Microsoft, Equinox, Dollar Shave Club, Precision Nutrition,  and more.

How would you describe your philosophy about being fit and healthy?

Don’t believe the dogma. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t search for the magic bullet. The real secret in fitness is that many things work. So it’s your job to find what sounds best for you and what’s most sustainable. Anyone can make a workout difficult or create a diet that helps you lose weight or build muscle. But there’s a real art to making it enjoyable, doable, and possible to maintain for the long run. That’s where I come in. Simplify the message, clear out the misinformation, and give you a plan of action that you believe you can achieve…and then help you do it and see the results.

What are your specialties in training and the science behind it?

I have degrees and training certifications, but I’m honest with everyone that those accolades aren’t what makes my “specialties” special. My background is in research. I worked in multiple labs when working as a researcher at the University of Colorado. I would design studies and analyze data. So while I used to view my science background as a curse, it ultimately became a blessing that allowed me to understand what we know about the human body and then apply it in a way that makes sense.

That’s the biggest problem with science: it’s hard to understand and not digestible for most people. Who cares if something improves your metabolism by 5% if that change really won’t make a dent in your fat loss? So my job is to blend what I know about the science of nutrition and training and then blend it with my first love: human psychology and behavioral change. I truly believe that mental barriers and lifestyle factors are a bigger hurdle than physical limitations. So I spend my life learning and practicing behavioral change, staying up-to-date on the latest science, and then investing my time and money learning from the smartest minds in the business. It’s my job to make sure I never stop learning. So my specialty is that I surround myself with incredible mentors in nutrition and fitness, and then fuse what I learn from them with methods that can actually help people change and improve their lives.

How did you get started creating your passion into a business—when was your “ah-ha” moment?

It happened from the most unlikely of sources. I was 23 years old, working in a social psychology lab full-time, writing part-time, and training part-time. The writing and training were just hobbies. I never even thought about them as a career possibility. So here we are, working away in this lab going through our third or fourth month of analyzing data when we have this huge breakthrough we see on this project we’ve been working on for more than a year. Everyone is all excited and fired up. Just a bunch of nerds (me included) high-fiving around computers. Me? I sat there completely removed from the situation. I didn’t feel that excitement. I didn’t feel like a part of the moment. I was proud of what was happening, but the excitement and passion were forced. I was doing what I was good at, but not what I loved.

I went home that day and knew I had to change careers. If I were this un-enthused at 23, where would I be in 5 years? What about 10? I sat down and asked myself what I love above and beyond all other things. And I didn’t worry how I would make it work—mainly because everyone told me there was no money in writing, fitness, or nutrition. But I no longer cared. I’m the kind of guy that wears my heart on my sleeve and pour my life into my passions. And I wanted to do that for my job. So I set out a plan to make it happen. Truth be told, I want to be a writer first. I hadn’t figured out the fitness and nutrition piece and realize that I could combine writing and health into one. I applied to 27 different jobs. I was rejected by all 27. And you know what? That rejection only strengthened my passion for what I wanted to do. It put a chip on my shoulder that still exists. I never forget those rejections. I let it fuel me and remind me that it’s my job to do what I do so well that there’s never a question about whether I can help others.

Photo via Daily Burn

You’re one of, if not THE most sought-after trainers, working in the past with Men’s Health Magazine and Livestrong; what sets your style apart from others?

It really goes back to my overall philosophy. Part of it is I never stop learning. I never think, “I’ve got this figured out!” I’m always testing, always listening, and always trying to figure out how to help more people. Health, fitness, and nutrition is so fluid that we have to be flexible. And the human body comes in so many shapes, sizes, and preferences that it’s not about creating the gold standard. It’s about having many different options that you can present so that people don’t feel like health is exclusive but instead inclusive to anyone. I work with men, women, children, young, old, beginners, and experts. But here’s the big thing: I am not a jack-of-all-trades. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and who I can help. So I really try to stick to what I know and what’s effective, rather than trying to appease everyone. It’s just that within my strengths I figure out how to adapt them to different types of people. Ultimately, what sets me apart is I don’t tell people they have to be someone else. I let them be who they are and then meet them at a place where they can create change.

What’s your favorite quote or mantra you can’t live without?

“Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” –Michael Jordan

Who or what gives you the most inspiration?

Honestly, every person I work with. I could rattle of “no-name” people that doesn’t mean anyone to anyone reading this, but it means everything to me. Lindy Cunningham is one of the strongest women I know. She was an online client, was paralyzed in a ski accident, and from that moment has become family. I think I learn more from her than she does from me. Mary Beth has battled cancer twice—and continues to kick its ass. David Musikanth defeated Crohn’s disease. Paul Thiel turned 20 years of fitness frustration into his best body every in his late 40s.

The list goes on and on. The great thing about life is that we are all superheroes in our own story. Most of us just never realize it. I get to play a supporting role with all these people and it never gets old. It’s why no matter how much my business grows I’ll never stop doing the coaching. I can’t it’s what makes my information relevant; what allows me to understand needs and problems. But also what reminds me daily of why I do what I do. Get around real people living real lives and it’s hard not to be fired up and want to do more good and find more ways to help. 

Photo via Daily Burn

Picture this, you’re living your most perfect day- what does this look like?

  • I can picture it because I aim for this all the time:
  • [Note: if my day seems long and unrealistic it’s not. I get up at 430 am each day because I love the mornings. So I have many hours to work with.]
  • Wake up and do 10-15 minutes of meditation. Just me and my thoughts. 
  • Have an awesome cup of coffee and an amazing breakfast.
  • Hang out with my wife, talk, and just do nothing together.
  • Go to the gym and lift some heavy weights. If deadlifts are involved, even better.
  • Call up friends or family on the way back from the gym. Just to say hi. [This is a step I need to execute more often. So important. So easy. And makes a huge difference.]
  • Another amazing meal, please.
  • Go do something with friends. Anything. If it’s active or attending a sporting event, even better; football and basketball games are my favorite. If it’s winter, let’s go skiing. We can do that instead of the lift.
  • One more incredible meal, and let’s include dessert on this round as well. You only live once.
  • Kick back on my couch or bed with my wife, talk about the day, watch a movie, and just pass out.

Now what’s your actual typical day look like?

Haha, I see what you did here McKel.

  • Wake up and meditate.
  • List of to-dos for the day
  • About 3 hours of work
  • Wake up my wife and make her breakfast. [True story: I do this every day.]
  • Eat, hang with my wife, and then she’s off for the day and I’m back to work.
  • Work: Calls, writing, consulting.
  • Gym time.
  • Great lunch, but sometimes too short or at my desk. Happens a lot.
  • More work
  • Call or text a friend. (I have calendar reminders set to help make sure I do this every day and every week.)
  • More work.
  • Make dinner for my wife and I. If possible, go out and have a meal with friends. 
  • Shut down for the night, watch some TV, talk about the day, and pass out.

Fueling your body from workouts and living lean takes work, what’s your typical meal for…

  • First thing upon waking: just coffee
  • Morning: Big fan of overnight oats. It’s become my go-to pre-workout meal. I’m addicted
  • Lunch: Eggs, chicken sausage, and fruit. I love eggs and I eat them A LOT
  • Supper: Protein + veggie + starch. This is formulaic. I just mix and match different options but always the same combination
  • Snacks or sweets: If I’m going all out, then it’s either cheesecake or a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie with ice cream. If I’m being healthy and want to taste something sweet, then it’s my homemade protein ice cream. I eat this every night. Literally. 
  • Favorite beverage: Am I boring because I love water? Give me a milkshake or a cider and I’m also pretty happy.

If you could pick one meal to eat over and over again, what would it be?

This is like Sophie’s choice. Just one? Steak or sushi? Steak or sushi? But how do I leave off eggs? I can’t do it, McKel. I just can’t. I love food too much.

What makes you laugh, smile, and be joyful?

I have a saying, “Life is about people and experiences. Fill your life with both and you’ll always be happy.” That’s what does it for me. I love my wife, my family, my friends, traveling, eating, being spontaneous, and even work. All of those are about people and experiences.

Let’s talk about metabolism; you hear the word “metabolic damage” being thrown around a lot the past couple of years—can you breakdown the myth, the hype, and the truth behind this term?

It’s overblown. Most people don’t suffer from metabolic damage, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find research that supports it. What really happens? Some people do suffer from “metabolic slowdown” where a combination of super low calorie diets with too much exercise (usually cardio) makes it harder for you to change how your body looks. The human body is very adaptable, but in many ways. You can teach it to eat and be fueled, or you can teach it to starve and hold on to whatever it can to survive. The big picture lessons with this slow down are that “extreme” approaches don’t lead to ideal results. The people who are most susceptible to this are competitors or those that do crash-dieting techniques and then follow up with binge-like or reckless behavior.

The bottom line: your metabolism most likely isn’t broken. But your habits and mindset about losing weight probably is.

This one is for all the ladies out there afraid to lift weights and get “bulky”, let’s drop the #truthbomb once and for all about this myth!

Lifting weights will not make you bulky. All women should feel comfortable to squat, deadlift, row, press, and do every other type of exercise that tends to strike fear in the females. If becoming big and muscular was that easy, all men would be walking around looking jacked. How you train, your hormones, your eating style will all impact your appearance much more than any exercise selection. Lifting weights is good for all people. End of story.

Do you have any daily tips and strategies you recommend your clients implement to keep them living at a lean, fit and healthy body composition?

For exercise, find an activity you love and try to do it as often as possible. Exercise is a gateway drug. You don’t have to start in the gym. For diet, start simple. A protein and a vegetable at each meal. Make that the priority, and then you can build from there.

How do you encourage your clients to stay motivated?

I tell them to look into the mirror and ask themselves one question: Do I want to go through life knowing that I gave anything less than my best? It might sound ridiculous, but life is the greatest gift we have. And sometimes we just need to not take the simple practice of living for granted.

Granted your expertise is in training, but do you feel counting calories for your clients is a necessary step in achieving ones optimal body composition?

For some people, yes. For others, no. Again, it’s about meeting people where they are at. Some people love numbers. It provides structure and comfort. Others, it’s stressful and ruins eating. I will say that counting calories is not necessary.

What’s new for Born Fitness?

Just having fun. We’re just finished a redesign (BornFitness.com), have changed our coaching program to pay you when you achieve your goals (see more at bornfitness.com/coaching), we’re creating more content, and working on our first recipe book. And then our consulting business is just focused on providing more helpful information for entrepreneurs (www.bornfitnessconsulting.com)

Lastly, why do you love Nutrition Stripped!?

You remind me why I love food. You have great energy. And your recipes always deliver. It’s a fun brand that removes the stress associated with eating. We should all eat and enjoy, and you make that possible.

So where can everyone keep up with you to learn more?

Website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

I hope you all enjoyed learning more about Adam and his incredibly positive and motivating insight into Living Whole and Eating Well!

xx McKel