Not long after CEO Lee Labrada filed a life-insurance application a few years back, he got a call from someone at the insurance company who had a few questions. "You're five feet six?" asked the voice on the phone. "Yep," said Labrada. "You weigh 190 pounds?" "I do," Labrada affirmed. As Labrada recalls, that's when the insurance agent's tone changed -- conveying, clearly, that the CEO looked like a pretty unacceptable risk. Which is when Labrada had the delicious opportunity to point out what his own company's customers already knew: that he's a former pro bodybuilder -- a past winner of the Mr. Universe title -- and that his body weight is composed of less than 10% fat. He got the policy.
Labrada's company is Houston-based Labrada Nutrition (#432), a seller of sports-nutrition supplements that last year hit $18 million in sales. He knows full well the competing priorities inflicted by a fast-growing company, and he firmly believes that CEOs need to put keeping in shape at the top of the list. He explains how and why to senior editor Mike Hofman.
You believe that CEOs should focus on their physical fitness for business reasons, not just in the interest of health?
The most important thing for busy CEOs to remember is that they have to take care of themselves before they take care of anybody else. If you eat well and exercise, you can maximize your energy levels so that you get more work done in less time and maintain a better disposition.
But how can a CEO find time to exercise?
It's not easy even for me. I went from making a living from my body -- where my job was to train it -- to working 60-hour weeks at a desk and building a company. And I'm a focused, hard-driving person, so it was hard for me, when I first started out, to drop my work for an hour so that I could go work out. But I came to the conclusion that it was of the utmost importance.
How much do you work out now, compared with the time you put in before you had your company?
I used to train anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours per day, but now I train almost every day for at least 30 minutes -- each body part for 10 minutes. Back, biceps, and abs one day; chest, shoulders, and triceps another day; legs on a third day. I do six to eight sets per body part at high intensity with as much weight as I can handle, for 8 to 10 repetitions per set.
When do you work out?
I work out anytime I can fit it into my schedule. I have an advantage in that I have a gym here in the office and a gym at home, both with a full range of equipment. I find that my most productive workouts are at 3 in the afternoon -- the afternoon lull. If I go to the gym then, I come back to my desk with a lot of intensity.
What's your home gym like?
It's not huge, but it's ample and compact. It's the size of a four-car garage. I have several tons of free weights, a leg-press machine, chin-up bars, a leg-extension machine -- I poured $15,000 worth of equipment into it.
60 % of the Inc 500 CEOs surveyed said that they did not expect to still be the CEO of their company in five years.
What would you tell a CEO who, unlike you, isn't physically fit?
First, don't have unrealistic expectations. If it took you 30 years to get out of shape, it'll take you some time to get in shape. Start by adding in a little activity at first. Take a 30-minute walk in the evening or in the morning before you go to work. I would ultimately encourage anyone to join a gym. Resistance exercise -- weight training -- is the best exercise we have. Barbells, dumbbells, pulley machines -- any of those are good.
Would you stress weight training over aerobic exercise?
The important thing is to find an exercise you enjoy that fits into your lifestyle and that can become a habit. The reason resistance training is important is that it directly stimulates muscle tissue, which is responsible for your metabolism and how many calories you burn daily. If you stimulate and increase muscle tissue, you will stimulate your metabolism -- you'll make it faster and burn more fat during the day and get leaner.
Aerobic training involves repetitive exercise on equipment like stationary bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines, or rowers -- or even swimming. The primary effect is to improve your cardiovascular system and your lungs. You should definitely find a place for that in any fitness program.
And what about diet?
First of all, it's important not to skip breakfast. Very, very important. It raises your blood-sugar level in the morning and helps to keep it stable during the day. I have oatmeal and either a protein drink or an omelet made out of 10 egg whites, and a piece of fresh fruit.
What about coffee?
It's fine to have two cups of coffee a day.
What do you make of the Atkins diet?
The high-fat/low-carb diets like Atkins are terrible for CEOs because CEOs make their living from thinking, and your brain needs glucose to think. Therefore, you need carbs in your diet for your brain to work. I would say to eat carbs, but keep the carbs complex. Have rice and oatmeal and beans and potatoes, because all of those have unrefined carbohydrates. Bread and sweets have refined carbohydrates, so they raise the blood-sugar level too quickly, causing insulin (a fat-storage hormone) to rise and people to get fat.
I imagine some CEOs are kind of psycho about exercise and diet.
You can overdo working out. Balance is key. If you exercise regularly and eat well, you'll have more energy and more mental acuity, which is particularly important for CEOs. You'll be able to work harder, longer, and more efficiently. Plus, you'll be able to have a life when you cash in your chips. If your car breaks down, you can buy a new engine. You can't do that when your heart gives out.