Explore New Orleans

My New Orleans: Sports Trainer Mackie Shilstone

America's top fitness guru on what he loves about New Orleans and how to eat healthy while in the city

New Orleans-based fitness consultant Mackie Shilstone ranks as one of the nation’s leading sports-performance mangers. With a client list that reads like a sports world Who’s Who (Serena Williams, Michael Spinks, Bob Costas) and is peppered with celebrities (John Goodman, Chuck Norris, Wesley Snipes), in addition to numerous books and local GNC franchises, Shilstone, who also directs The Fitness Principle at New Orleans’ East Jefferson General Hospital, is at the top of his game. Where caught up with the energetic 63-year-old for his top tips on keeping fit while traveling.

What’s your golden rule for maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

You have to live it 24/7. I’ve traveled all over the world in this profession, written seven books, and I think anybody who knows me says that I live it. I haven’t had red meat in 35 years; I don’t eat fried foods; I follow a Mediterranean-style eating plan and enjoy a glass of wine every night with dinner. Probably my biggest vice is oatmeal cookies.

Give a few suggestions for New Orleans visitors trying to stick to their diets.

If you start out with a high-fat New Orleans breakfast, say, eggs Sardou, well that’s going to elevate the fat in your blood—it’s called postprandial lipaemia—for six to eight hours. Then you turn around and have some of our famous Popeye’s fried chicken for lunch and later at night have fried oysters on French bread, with hot sauce, washed down by beer. By the end of the day, you really have a problem, because you never allowed the blood fat to go down. My solution is to pick one splurge meal each day. Ask for the sauce and other things on the side, omit the bread and practice portion-control, and you’re going to be just fine.

Red Fish Grill's barbecue shrimp po'boy
The trick to staying on your diet in New Orleans? Pick one splurge meal, like Red Fish Grill's hot sauce-laced shrimp po'boy. (©Red Fish Grill)

What’s the biggest misconception people have about fitness or wellness training?
First you have to separate the two. Fitness is based on frequency, intensity and time. That means you’re going to devote a specific time on a regular basis to move. It’s not complex. We know now that in order to keep weight off, you really have to take at least 10,000 steps in a day. After you get past the age of 40, sarcopenia, or the aging loss of muscle, sets in. So it’s very important for people to start to take ownership of their hormone profile and their testosterone profile and start looking at thyroid function, which is the master gland of metabolism. Wellness is theoretically the absence of illness, and you can’t judge a book by its cover. There are people who lean on the outside but are carrying a tremendous amount of visceral fat inside. Wellness was the subject of my last book, “Stop Renting Your Health, Own It.” Basically it’s a question of do you want to own your health or do you want your health to own you?

What’s your advice for maintaining workout routines while traveling?
It’s called commitment versus contribution. I was away for 31 days with Serena Williams. I found a gym two doors down from where I was staying and joined. On the corner I found a great breakfast place and told the guy, “I’m going to be in here for the next month. When you see me I want an egg-white omelet with turkey or salmon and a slice of whole-wheat toast, etc.” The secret is not what you do; it’s planning to do. 

Name your favorite outdoor exercise spaces in New Orleans

Woldenberg Park along the riverfront; people can jog all the way from Poydras Street to the back of the French Quarter. We also have two beautiful parks [City Park and Audubon Park] that have been restored, new bike paths all over the city and the ability to run down the neutral grounds along St. Charles, Esplanade and other avenues. New Orleans is also a very walkable city. In metropolitan areas around the country, fitness has moved to the neighborhoods, and there are local gyms with daily rates in just about every neighborhood. It’s a matter of just saying I’m going to do it and finding a reason to do it versus a reason not to. A good way is to bring a pedometer with you and saying, “I’m going to do 7,000 or 8,000 steps,” then wear it on your belt and look at it throughout the day.

Jogging in Audubon Park
Jogging in Audubon Park (©Jean Paul Gisclair/NewOrleansOnline.com)

What’s the difference between training a Serena Williams and an Average Joe?

The focus. The focus is just there in a pro athlete for 11 months out of the year. With the Average Joe the level of focus might be there for six to eight weeks, but tends to fade.

What’s your personal fitness goal?

To continue to keep myself in the best possible physical condition that I can—not necessarily for my age, but in general. I’m not looking for excuses for what I can’t do; I’m looking for solutions for what I will do. I can’t go to Serena Williams and say, “I can’t run with you because I’m 63 years of age.” I have to be able to move with a 20 year old. I’ve already planned how I’m going to die: I’m not going to go broken; I’m going out standing up. If you understand how you are going to die, it’s going to tell you how you are going to live.