I am BEYOND excited to present this post to you guys, like pee my pants excited. Why? Its a topic I know we all care about AND its featuring a BADASS who knows her stuff. Today we’re talking all things health, fitness, balance + food with Melanie Morton of Next Level Fitness Chicago. At 25, she’s married with two cuties and while she is a certified personal trainer, she’s striving to become a nutrition consultant. (I promise she’ll motivate and inspire, all while providing great tips throughout this interview!) Enjoy babes!

Meet Melanie:

The Brunette Blend-Health + Lifestyle with Next Level Fitness' Melanie Morton (Interview)

Insta + Snapchat (melaniemorton27)

-First off, I personally think you’re a total inspiring badass. For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in health + fitness:

MM: FIRST OFF- THANK YOU! You’re not so bad yourself, girlboss. Well, I was not into fitness, health, or nutrition until high school. I used to eat fast food weekly and just not care. However, when I was a freshman at Lane, I joined the Cross Country team, followed by Track and Cheerleading. It was when I joined all of these sports that I started to read up on nutrition. From the get go, I just found it all so fascinating. The idea that the food you eat could help or hinder your performance was so intriguing and cool. Unfortunately, the more active I became, the more I became obsessed with my food and eating habits. I stared living off of protein shakes and egg whites because I thought the less I ate, the thinner I would be. I completely ignored the fact that I was weak and tired and hungry all the time. I have struggled with bulimia, body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression all because I had developed unhealthy and unrealistic habits that I would, unfortunately, carry with me for years to come. Fast-forward to now-my relationship with food and fitness has changed drastically! I own a personal training business with my husband-called Next Level Fitness Chicago, I lift HEAVY, and I eat to FUEL my workouts and to gain the muscle that I desire. We actually just launched a new program for women centered around weightlifting. Our goal is to get women out of the mindset that lifting will make them bulky. We want to empower them to step into a weight room and feel confident and eat so that they can become stronger from the inside out–focusing on whole, nutrient dense foods. I am so much happier AND in better shape now at 25-with two babies- than I was at 17! It’s amazing how fitness and food can have such a powerful impact on my day to day life.

-Starting a new workout routine or healthy lifestyle can take sometime for people to stick with it, what keeps you motivated and pushes you to continue to strive to be the best version of yourself?

MM: Honestly, my biggest motivators are my kiddos- Harlan and Wilder. Harlan will ask me in the mornings, “Mom, are you going to workout?” This puts the biggest smile on my face. I know that my husband and I are leading by example. We want to live long, healthy lives with our kids and we make our health a priority.

Working out is also my therapy. I don’t think about any of my problems, or any other stressors when I’m in the gym. It’s just me, the weights, and my music. I think too many people get caught up in “quick fixes.” There’s too many short term diets and cleanses out there! People need to realize that this needs to be a lifestyle. Pencil in your workouts just as you would a meeting, think about how much better you’ll feel after a workout. Make small little goals for yourself along the way and know that you are worth it! For me, I know for a fact that having that thirty minutes or an hour to myself everyday makes me a better mom, a better wife, and a better friend. You need to put yourself first sometimes so that you can be of use to others! Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

The Brunette Blend-Health + Lifestyle with Next Level Fitness' Melanie Morton (Interview)-Family

-What is a simple and quick, healthy recipe?

MM: Protein pancakes! I make a huge batch of these every Sunday so that my husband and I can just grab and go! My little Harlan also loves these! They’re great pre and post workout due to the banana (carb) and protein powder (protein, duh!). Spread on some coconut, grass fed, or nut butter and you’re good to go!

Ingredients:

♡ 1 banana
♡ 1/2 C egg whites OR two whole eggs
♡ 1 scoop protein powder-vanilla or chocolate, grass-fed whey or plant based
♡ 1 T collagen -optional, but recommended (because #guthealth)
♡ As much cinnamon as you can handle (anti-inflammatory and delicious)
♡ Coconut oil spray

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a blender, spray a pan with coconut oil, wait until it’s hot, then pour the batter in-just as you would with pancakes! This recipe makes around 10-12 small pancakes for me. They keep in the fridge for about a week- but I doubt they’ll last that long 🙂 Top with raw coconut butter, grass-fed butter, or any nut butter and devour!

-Let’s talk gym-bag. What’s in yours?

MM: Hmmm, there’s LOTS of stuff in my gym bag! I have my protein shaker just in case I’m not going straight home after a workout, I’ll need my protein shake on the go. I also have Say Yes To Cucumber face wipes because healthy skin is always in! You’ll also find about 3 pairs of socks, some mints, deodorant, and like ten pairs of headphones. I probably have some toy trucks in there too because Harlan will put his stuff everywhere!

-In my eyes, you’re like the queen of no-excuses. When you’re not in the gym, you make time for an in-home workout (little babes running around and all!) What’s an in-home workout that readers at home can do with little to no equipment?

MM: There is ALWAYS time to get a workout in. Whether it’s ten minutes or an hour, there’s always time to break a sweat. Clear a space on your floor, set a timer (you can download HIIT timers in the app store), and WORK. Here’s a quick little workout with NO EQUIPMENT necessary:

5 Rounds, 45 Seconds-1 minute ON (ALL OUT!), 10-30 seconds OFF:
Bodyweight Squats
Jump Squats
Pushups (drop down to knees if need be)
Mountain climbers
Plank
Tricep dips (on a chair or table)

I would HIGHLY suggest investing in some resistance bands, yoga mat, and a few kettle bells or dumbbells for your home. Start out with no weights to light weights and see yourself progress into lifting heavier!

-What song gets you pumped for a workout?

MM: Eminem- Lose Yourself. This song has been my workout jam since high school.

-How many times a week do you workout/what’s your favorite way to stay in shape?

MM: I workout six days a week and always take a rest day. I lift 4-5 days a week, focusing on multi-joint, complex movements such as pull ups, deadlifts, back squats, rows, etc. I also do 2-3 days of HIIT or high intensity interval training. For HIIT, I’ll do sprints, sled pulls and pushes, tire pulls and flips, farmer carries-anything that gets the heart rate WAY up for 30 minutes. I am also active in everyday life because I have two little boys to run after, but I make sure to walk as much as I can. I go on 2-3 walks a day with my kids, and even when I’m at home, I make it a point to get up and move. If you have an office job, set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move for 10 minutes- every little bit counts!

-How do you balance married life, motherhood and fitness?

MM: Time management! I have a planner that I write in at the beginning of each week detailing all of my appointments-workouts included! I also write down little goals for each week and to-do lists for each day to make sure I’m making the most of my time. Like I said, my workout time keeps me sane and happy, so I try to workout first thing in the morning so that it sets the tone for the rest of my day.

I make sure to spend as much time as I can with my boys, especially now because they’re so young. However, I do have a babysitter who comes 4-5 days a week for a few hours so that I can get some work done. I’ll be starting school soon to become a Nutrition Consultant so that means even MORE prioritizing! My husband and I also plan out our date nights as much as we can-whether it’s a quick dinner or even watching a movie when the boys go to sleep, we make sure to make time to spend alone together. One of my favorite quotes, though cheesy, is “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” This rings SO true to me. Even though I am a wife, mom, daughter, friend, personal trainer- I am all of these things separately. In order to excel at all, I have to manage my time, be a little selfish, and make time for MYSELF. Believe me, you’ll be better in ALL areas and roles in your life if you take care of yourself first!

The Brunette Blend-Health + Lifestyle with Next Level Fitness' Melanie Morton (Interview)-AJ Morton

-You’re a family of four, what is your go-to family dinner?

MM: Protein, veggies, and healthy fat! You can fill in the blanks! For us, it’s usually lemon chicken with a salad or grilled veggies, and some avocado. Another favorite is zoodles (zucchini noodles) and beef with marinara. Lots of greens too! Harlan LOVES Applegate grass-fed hotdogs too!

-This may sound like an odd question, but how do you order at a restaurant? Any restaurant ordering tips?

MM: This is one of the most frequently asked questions that we get from our clients! My advice is to look at the menu ahead of time! Any restaurant that you go to is going to have a protein- whether it’s fish or chicken and veggies or a salad. Do NOT be afraid or embarrassed to customize your order or ask questions! Believe me, if you’re nice about it, the server will not care. I usually look at the salads first. I’ll get a Cobb salad, no dressing and no cheese, and always make sure it comes with grilled chicken- not breaded or fried. If the salads don’t look good, I’ll just ask for a grilled chicken breast cooked in olive oil and a side salad or some yummy grilled veggies. For breakfast (because it’s the best meal ever) I’ll usually order an omelette with all the veggies and no cheese, I’ll ask for sliced tomatoes or fruit instead of potatoes, no toast, and a side of turkey sausage if I’m feeling hungry!

MM: If I have to get Starbucks (it’s not my favorite) I’ll order the largest size iced green tea, unsweetened, light ice please! Peet’s Coffee and Tea is my favorite coffee spot- I’ll get an iced almond milk latte with an extra shot!

-Do you have a best kept fitness tip?

MM: Weight lifting first, HIIT later. Always remember, lifting heavy trumps cardio! You don’t need to run an hour a day to get fit. Just lift heavy weights a few days a week with proper form and tempo, thrown in some HIIT, and you’re golden.

-Because who doesn’t love a beauty tip or a girl crush moment? You’re effortlessly beautiful. Any beauty tips?

MM: You’re the sweetest! I clean my face twice a day with a charcoal bar from Beautycounter, followed up by they’re anti-aging serum, followed by Juice Beauty oil-free moisturizer with SPF. I was told to start using anti-aging stuff and spf in my 20s, so I have been for the longest time. I also am a huge fan of safe, toxic free makeup and cleansers- so Beautycounter and Juice Beauty are two of my favorites. Also, Monday-Friday, I don’t put on makeup- just my daily cleansing routine and moisturizer, followed by some mascara. That’s it. You’re skin needs to BREATHE! And never workout with makeup on!

-What advice do you have for those who are wanting to get in shape?

MM: First, know that you are so worth it. You deserve the time that you set aside for yourself to make your health a priority. Find a workout that you’ll love and stick to- or hire some cool trainers..wink wink ;). Set small goals along the way instead of huge, all encompassing ones. Take notes of how you feel after workouts and start a food journal to make notes of how you fee after you eat certain things. Many of us don’t know that the human body is supposed to feel GOOD! A lot of people walk around day to day eating crappy food that doesn’t agree with them, feeling low energy, fatigued, unmotivated, sleep deprived, etc. That is not normal! So start a journal and start to get in tune with your body, experiment, change things up, find what works for YOU! Also, you cannot get better or see results without rest, so set aside time to get a massage, read a book, do some yoga, get your sleep in, and drink A LOT of water.

-Anything else you want to share with readers?

MM: Life is seriously too short to be unhappy. If you don’t like something, change it. Not living your dream life? Do something about it. Do you have toxic, negative people in your life? Drop em. Feel sluggish after eating dairy? Stop eating it. Of course life is complicated and things don’t always work out how you thought they were going to, but you adapt. Remember, if you are reading this, you have a phone or a computer, you’re alive, you’re breathing, you have hands, so find out what you want and go for it with everything you have!

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Me again! If you’re interested in a FREE consultation at Next Level Fitness Chicago, email Melanie at melanie@nextlevelfitnesschicago.com or message on Facebook. Don’t forget to follow her on Instagram and Snapchat (melaniemorton27) for daily inspiration, recipes and workouts! A giant thank you to Melanie for sharing her tips + tricks!

The Brunette Blend-Samantha-Signature