Gaining and Maintaining Lean Muscle (My BFF)

My best friend for 16 years, Maggie, is really a fitness inspiration.  Her body is the envy of all of our friends and we are always asking her for fitness advice.  Over the weekend, I sat down with Maggie for a lengthy chat about her lifestyle, including her eating habits and workout routines, along with what vitamins and supplements she uses.  I think she has a lot to share about the “mystery” behind what it takes to get a super lean body.

Her physique and lifestyle may be more extreme than most people desire (she maintains about a 14% body fat and carries a cooler with her food to work everyday, eating it cold if she can’t get to a microwave), but my goal is that you’ll see how incorporating some of the things she does can make a positive impact on your health and/or help you lose weight and build muscle-  if that’s what you want to do.

A little background before we start:  Maggie and I have been friends since our early 20s and even lived in an apartment together in college and also worked together (she was the bartender, I worked the beer tub, and our phone number really was 780-BEER:)  Like many girls in our twenties, we had too much fun, and over the years, we’ve grown up (I’m 37, she’s 39) and have been through many of life’s ups and downs together.   She remains my constant confidant and I’m thankful to have a friend with such a big heart.

* * * * * 

Although she has been fit most of her life, Maggie has always worked very hard to be that way.  After her daughter was born and she lost the baby weight, she found herself skinny, but lacked muscle tone and definition.

Four years ago, when her daughter was 3, Maggie started working out with a trainer 4 times a week, doing cardio on her own 2 additional days, and started a new eating regimen that she still follows pretty closely to this day.  She has maintained her weight and muscle, fluctuating maybe 5 pounds every so often.

I will also mention that Maggie keeps up this eating and training regimen despite being a full-time working, single mom.  Her gym has a daycare that encourages activity where her daughter can climb a rock wall, play soccer, or engage in other sports with other kids.  Mags says that she firmly believes that taking 1 to 1 1/2 hours out of their day for her to workout makes her a better, more patient mom.  And she shared that working out frequently really helps reduce her stress and anxiety levels that tend to plague her when she doesn’t get those workouts in.

Because I got so much information during our “interview”, I’m breaking this post into two parts.  Today, I’ll focus on the eating and, later, we’ll talk about the workouts.

When she began working out with a trainer, he tracked her progress, weighing her and measuring her body fat regularly.  p.s. Maggie is 5’4. (and isn’t her daughter just adorable??!)

February 26, 2008:  107 pounds; 17.5% body fat

April 28, 2008:  104.5 pounds; 15% body fat

July 10, 2008:  108 pounds; 12% body fat

October 4, 2008:  110 pounds; 12% body fat
Notice that she actually gained weight as her muscle mass increased, but her body fat decreased significantly, about 5 percentage points.

When she was being extremely diligent and goal-driven, Maggie ate balanced “meals” (which typically included a protein (4-6 ounces, 1 cup steamed veggies, and 1/3 cup complex carbohydrate) every three hours.  So, basically, at 8am; 11am; 2pm; 5pm; and 8pm, she was eating “meals” as described below.  Many days, the same meals are eaten repeatedly.

Now, she alternates the “meals” with “snacks” in between.  So, instead of 5 meals, she eats 3 meals and 2 snacks.

Examples of meals:

  • Protein pancakes
  • Extra-lean ground turkey (1/2 to 1 cup) with pasta sauce, brown rice (1/3 cup), steamed veggies or black beans (1/3 cup)
  • Grilled fish (tilapia, salmon, halibut) with salad
  • Grilled chicken salad with veggies 
  • Turkey burger (no bun) with veggies and a small sweet potato
  • Omelets with spinach, extra lean ground turkey
  • Meatloaf muffins with veggies and rice or sweet potato
Favorite proteins are fish, extra lean ground turkey, chicken, beans, quinoa, and egg whites.
Favorite veggies are fresh zucchini, squash, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, and asparagus.
Favorite complex carbs are brown rice and sweet potatoes. 
Favorite seasonings are Tony Chachare’s Salt Free seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper.
She recommends using condiments and salad dressings to enhance the flavor of your food, but use them sparingly.
Examples of snacks:
  • Hummus and carrots
  • Raw almonds
  • Greek yogurt (she loves Chobani) with 1/3 cup granola (gluten free) or fruit
  • Cheese squares
  • Protein bar (in a pinch, she prefers real food)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Apples and raw almond butter

She drinks only water, no soda, and rarely coffee (although she IS the one who got me hooked on coffee when we lived together years ago).

8:00 a.m.   Protein shake

11:00 a.m.  Protein pancake

2:00 p.m.  Extra-lean ground turkey (1/2 cup) with pasta sauce, rice (1/3 cup), veggie (1 cup)

5:00 p.m.  (pre-workout) Meatloaf muffins, steamed veggies, and sweet potato

8:00 p.m.  (post-workout) protein shake

8:30 p.m.  Grilled fish, quinoa, steamed veggies

Before bed:  If she’s hungry before bed, she eats yogurt (Activia) or 1/2 cup of skim milk.

Like me, Maggie’s got a bad sweet tooth.  She says she can satisfy it with a Lenny & Larry’s Muscle Brownie protein bar or a high protein chocolate chip cookie. But, once a week, she indulges in pizza or something else she’s craving, and an awesome dessert.

Maggie typically cooks a big batch of food on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, then portions it out into meals she can  grab easily at home or take with her to work.

I asked Maggie what gave her the determination to stick with her meal plan initially, when it seems so extreme if you’re not used to it.  She explained that she was highly motivated to get her body into the shape that she knew it could be in and did not want to “let herself go” after having a baby.  She knew from watching other people in her gym, as well as her trainer, that eating clean was the key to obtaining the body she wanted.  “The only person that can change you is you, and you have to just take control of your life and do it,” she told me.

Maggie has friends and family members who are overweight, suffer from various health problems, and require medication.  Seeing how unhappy and unhealthy they are, helps drive her in the other direction.  She strives to live a healthy, drug free lifestyle.

Also, this girl HONESTLY enjoys the food she (and her daughter) are eating.  She loves grilled fish and steamed vegetables.  Trust me, I’ve been to some of the best steakhouses with her, and she still orders the mahi mahi!

Back in 2008, when Maggie started eating this way, she was quick to see visible results in just about 30 days. Within 90 days, she saw major results.  The pictures don’t lie.  That is motivation enough to stick with it if you ask me.

Love you girl!  Thanks for sharing!

* * * * * 
I told Maggie that y’all may have comments or questions, so please, don’t be shy!

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Meet Megan

Hi! I’m Megan, mom to a thoughtful teenager and spunky young girl. We call Houston home and recently moved into our dream home. I traded my lawyer hat to become a full-time blogger in 2010. I love sharing my passion for affordable fashion, home decor, organization, & fitness to help inspire you to take care of you!


  1. This is great! Thank you for the details and walk through! Like you said, you just have to do it! I keep putting it off. You mentioned protein pancakes and pasta sauce. Do you dip the pancakes in any type of syrup or just plain? And what pasta sauce do you use? Thank you again! It really helps to see pictures and examples.

  2. Thank you so much for starting this blog! I am just starting on my health journey. With both kids in school full-time, I decided it was time to get serious about getting healthy. I am not overweight but I won't share my body fat which was shockingly high. Anyway, I was wondering if you could share your favorite source for healthy recipes. Do you have a cookbook that you like? My kids are super picky and I find it helpful to have new recipes to try to encourage healthier eating.

    1. Thank you for your sweet words:) Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Diet is a good cookbook. I also like America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.

  3. Awesome post! Especially after I spent yesterday afternoon making my grocery list for Jamie Eason's 12 week program. Here is what I always struggle with. You may call it an excuse or whatever, but It ways on my heart. I don't like having to have my own "special " meal when I sit down to dinner with my 5 and 7 year old children. Especially my daughter, who is already body conscious. And having them eat the same thing as me over and over again is not realistic. What are your thoughts on this?? Keep up the great posting!

    1. Hi Staci! I think this biggest thing is to make the change for your whole family–that way you won't have to have a "special meal" . It will be good for everyone to eat lean proteins, veggies and complex carbs. There are so many different clean recipes to try so it is not the same thing over and over. 🙂

  4. Such great tips and awesome motivation! I'm a mom to a two year old and I always think that people that look that good after kids are just genetically blessed. It's a kick in the pants, a necessary one, for me to realize it takes hard work and dedication but it pays off in spades 🙂

    1. I feel the same way- she has worked hard to get back into shape. That's why I wanted to share her post-pregnancy picture, so people could see that we are all the same and have to work at getting into the shape we want to be in.

  5. Hi Maggie! I remember working together, how fun and sweet you were, and how healthy you were even back then! So glad to see you have kept up all your hard work, and most importantly are a loving Mommy to a cute little girl. 🙂

    1. Hi Layne!
      So nice to hear from you! It has been a very long time!! Thank you for the sweet comments. Yes, being a Mom has been the most amazing experience ever! I'm truly grateful and incredibly in love with my little girl. Hope you are happy and healthy!
      Maggie 🙂

  6. This is awesome! Thank you for posting. I feel like this is very motivation for me – seeing someone in real life going through similar things as me. I have a 5 year old and a 5 month old and my husband works out of town, so during the week its all me. My biggest struggle is getting to them during the week – our gym has a good childcare, but they don't feed them dinner – and my youngest goes to bed for the night at 6:30. Plus, I have the constant mommy struggle of taking them from one daycare to another. Anyways – obviously you rock at this mommy-hood, multi-tasking, super-mom life, and that is inspiring!

  7. This is awesome! I really envy your ability to do all of this as a single mother. I have a 5 year old and a 5 month old and my husband works out of town, so during the week it's just me and my full time job. It's difficult to get to the gym during the week as our daycare has a childcare facility but does not do dinner and bedtime is 6:30 for my youngest and 7 for my oldest. If I'm very diligent with my time, I can get 3 days at the gym – Friday through Sunday when my husband is home. As my youngest gets older,I'll be able to add Monday and Thursday evening to that because on those nights my mom or mother-in-law take the kids for a few hours to spend some time together (right now they only take my oldest). Anyways – basically what I'm saying is it's HARD for me and it's nice to see someone who is doing it – and doing it amazingly well! I'm focusing on my eating habits right now, as I do have control over those during the week. Not going to lie – it's a huge struggle for me, but I'm confident (I think!)

    1. Dawn, you really have your hands full. And with a 5 month old! You are probably still very tired! You are doing so well getting to the gym the days you do and I applaud that! You can do it! I am so proud of you.

  8. Wow — her transformation is amazing!! I can't believe she manages to fit all that in her life…it's true we find time for what's important to us!

  9. Hi Megan – I have read all of your posts and this one is probably my favorite. I can feel your admiration, encouragement and love for your friend by reading your post. I love your blogs and I think that is why I like them so much, you seem to encourage success in others and I like that about you, not enough people are like this. Maggie is a year older than me and you are a year younger than me, I am in ok shape but have to get back what I have lost since I stopped running 2 years ago, this post maybe what I needed to help me get a jumpstart back to taking care of myself better again. When you stop working out you lose that fitness quickly. Last night I decided I needed to start with flexibility again, so my P90x stretch video is the best for that. I relate to Maggie working fulltime, but I am married and have kids who I have very active in sports and activities so free time really does not exist. Exercise for me is either late at night or early in the morning, I hope to start sneaking back in 1-3 mile walks at lunch time now that Ohio is getting nice and chilly. Getting eating and exercise to marry is one of my biggest challenges beside finding time to workout.

    1. Jennifer- you are so sweet to give such a nice compliment. I do like to encourage other people. I think that's just they way I was made. It is hard, but making the time for you is so important!

  10. I have a friend like this, who I constantly solicit health and fitness advice from. She, along with my trainer years ago and many fitness books I've read, highly contribute to the knowledge I have today on the subject. She is an IFBB Figure Pro…and is no joke. It takes crazy dedication to have the body fat percentage she does!

    1. Yep, those figure girls aren't kidding around. I could never keep up with that level of dieting and training, but I admire those that do! Maggie and I were just saying last night that she should have competed when she was at her peak condition.

  11. LOVE all the meal examples…it helps make things easier to adapt! Your friend looks GREAT!! Such an awesome story! And you both are too cute growing up together!

  12. This post is SO inspiring!!! I'd love for your friend to share some of her clean eating recipes!! I am always looking for healthy recipes I can feed my family!

    Can't wait to read part 2 with her workout! I struggle with that!!

  13. This post couldn't have come at a more perfect time! I'm going into month 2 of Insanity and although I have seen some results, I know my eating habits are what's holding me back from getting great results. Glad to have a little meal plan to look at and try out. Ready to eat clean! THanks 🙂

    1. I just saw the infomercial for insanity last weekend. Do you like it? I need to find good at-home workouts to recommend to people who can't get to a gym.

  14. Hi Megan! I love your new blog. I have never commented on a blog before but wanted to thank you for providing such motivation especially for the working moms! It is hard to relate to other blogs at times from a working mom perspective. Maggie's clean eating sounds very similar to the TQI diet that is very popular in the northwest. I have always worked out and ate well but could never really lose weight. I was a college athlete but having 2 kids only 1 year apart really impacted my body. This anti-inflammatory diet has completely changed my body and I feel great. I think many moms are plagued with food allergies or intolerances, we are just too busy to get ourselves checked out.
    Thank you Megan and Maggie for your inspiration, I will not cancel my workout tomorrow!

  15. Loving your new blog! I was an avid reader of your home blog as well. I am REALLY looking forward to hearing what her workout regimen is like! I am actually excited about going to the grocery store this week to plan out my meals for the next week. Thanks Megan (and Maggie!)

  16. I love this entry Megan! Such a blessing that you have a BFF that is so diligent, driven, kind and willing to share (before pictures and all). I too appreciated the meal examples. I love my food… I know I'll be able to scale back without problem as I too love fish (I live in Hawaii) and salad!!! It's a match made in Heaven ( I think so any way). Thanks again! This was great. P.S. Her daughter is absolutely adorable!!!

  17. I did really well after having my 4th baby…lost the weight and then some. I was in the best shape I've ever been. Then, because of hearth issues, I got off my antidepressants that I had been on for over 10 years and the withdrawals were awful! I am still suffering from extreme fatigue (falling asleep sitting up at 2 p.m.) and because of the exhaustion I didn't work out our watch my diet and am now unable to fit into my clothes anymore. I'm only 5'1" and maybe a size 6…but I'm extremely uncomfortable at this size. Most of my weight is in my hips and love handles. I'm angry that I've back slid…and have been serious about my diet for a few months again, but the weight will not budge. I'm also dealing with horrendous bloating. It's so bad that I look about 6 months pregnant by the end of the day. I feel hopeless. I know a lot about diet and exercise. I've been active and fit for years. I do body weight exercise and HIIT. So now what? I have one pair of pants that I can wear comfortably…and we are in NO position for me to buy anything for myself. We are barely scraping by. I used to be one of those great before/after stories. Now I feel totally lost.

    1. Oh, I'm so sorry to hear you struggling so much. Have you been in touch with your doctor? I have heard about side effects of weight not budging when being on certain meds, and I don't know how long you've been off- did you wean or quit cold turkey? I would definitely talk to your doctor and possibly a nutritionist to see what's going on. I can tell you are feeling really exhausted and physically depleted- which isn't how our bodies are meant to function. I wish I could hug you through the computer and tell you it's going to be okay. You are short like me so I totally understand how uncomfortable you are now. Are you getting enough sleep too? I don't know how you do it with 4 kids! I wish you well.

  18. The meal planning portion and food breakdown of this post was soooo helpful to me! Thanks so much for providing detailed yet simple answers–it's what missing from a lot of healthy/weight loss information today! 🙂

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