Blood sugar champion

Local fitness trainer touts importance of regular meals, stabilizing blood sugar

Jaime Calderon, 46, trained in Aikido under the tutelage of Steven Seagal, earning his black-belt in 2000.

Jaime Calderon, 46, trained in Aikido under the tutelage of Steven Seagal, earning his black-belt in 2000.

photo by Howard Hardee

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Email Jaime Calderon at with inquiries on fitness and nutrition.

As an independent personal fitness trainer, Jaime Calderon estimates he strikes up conversations with 50 to 100 strangers in the gym each week, and he’s just as likely to talk about the interconnectedness of nutrition, physical fitness and human emotion as he is about blasting biceps.

The barrel-chested 46-year-old Chicoan readily and passionately shares what he’s learned over the last 20 years working as a trainer and martial arts instructor. Calderon has recently shifted his focus to nutrition, which he touts as the foundation of health and fitness. For clients who want to reduce body fat, build muscle or both, he recommends the same thing—eating regularly to avoid dips or spikes in blood sugar levels.

“So many diets fail because they’re always about restriction, cutting or counting calories,” Calderon said. “What we teach people is to eat to balance your [blood sugar]. Once you do that, you can get as big as you want or lose as much weight as you want.”

By “we,” Calderon means himself and close friend and fitness guru Mark MacDonald, whom he met a few years ago at a health conference. MacDonald is a celebrity fitness trainer now based in Atlanta who authored 2011’s best-selling book Body Confidence and the just-released Why Kids Make You Fat. He makes regular TV appearances on CNN and is the host of cable network HLN’s “Transformation Tuesdays.”

MacDonald’s So-Cal agency, Venice Nutrition, oversees a panel of physicians and dietitians, the International Board of Nutrition and Fitness Coaching, through which Calderon received his certification as a nutritionist last year.

Calderon teaches MacDonald’s eight-week program here in Chico, including the nutritional component based on eating food—whole foods, mind you—all of the time.

As Calderon puts it: “I’d rather miss a workout than miss a meal.”

Calderon has always been an athlete. He was nationally ranked in the long jump at Alisal High School in Salinas and played professional basketball overseas after graduating from Chico State in 1999 with a bachelor’s of science in fitness and kinesiology (at just under 6 feet tall, he claims he could “dunk with the best of them”). He also got into martial arts, earning his black belt in 2000 under the mentorship of Steven Seagal—that’s right, the round-house-kicking action star from Hard to Kill—and is currently the chief instructor at Ten Shin Aikido Dojo in Chico.

After his basketball career ended, Calderon got a first-hand glimpse of how fitness and performance levels can change with life circumstances, even for people who have never been out of shape.

“You know, priorities changed, and I put on 40 pounds and didn’t even really realize it,” he said. “Your mindset is always, ‘I’m in good shape,’ or ‘I can get fit again really fast.’

“After a while I was getting slower and wasn’t feeling good. People told me, ‘That’s just how it is when you get older,’ ” he scoffed. “Yeah, right.”

Improving his own health was only one part of Calderon’s motivation for delving into nutrition. For years he wanted to make sound, scientifically based nutritional recommendations to clients, but he hadn’t yet formally studied nutrition, and there was a lot of misinformation out there—such as the commonly held belief that eating less and skipping meals helps shed pounds.

Meeting MacDonald, coming to understand his fitness philosophy and eventually getting certified through his agency was enlightening for Calderon. Following Venice Nutrition’s guidelines helped him to more fully understand the human body while regaining the fitness he’d lost—he’s gone from 30 percent body fat to just under 15 percent in a little more than a year.

“I said, ‘This is exactly what I’m looking for.’”

Much of the intent of the Venice Fitness program is to cut through the media noise—the overwhelming bombardment of Internet ads and TV infomercials promising fast and dramatic weight loss or muscle gain. MacDonald’s term for it is “diet madness.”

Calderon emphasized that adhering to Venice Fitness principles can and often does result in short-term physical changes, but the point is to adopt a sustainable, healthy lifestyle rather than suffer through several weeks of food deprivation or boot camp-style workouts.

“I ask people about their diets: ‘Is it something you can do for the rest of your life?’ This program is not something we conjured up in our backyard,” he said. “This is basic physiology.”

Although it seems counterintuitive, the key to losing weight and keeping it off, Calderon says, is eating balanced proportions of quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats every three to four hours—five meals or more a day, but never gorging oneself in an individual sitting. Doing so kicks the body’s metabolism into a higher gear.

And therein lies the folly of skipping meals to lose weight.

“It’s actually the opposite,” he said. “If you don’t eat, your blood sugar levels drop, you’ll start burning muscle, your metabolism slows down, and then you don’t want to eat, or those cravings [for junk food] come in.

“We should be eating to where we’re satisfied—not full, not still hungry, just satisfied,” Calderon said. “That’s blood sugar stabilization, right there.”