Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation

Issue #036 07/07/10 The Science of TurboFire®!

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The Science behind TurboFire®

By Steve Edwards

Whenever you have one successful workout program, it's always hard to decide what to do next. When you have three, as Turbo Jam®, Turbo Kick®, and ChaLEAN Extreme® creator Chalene Johnson does, it can seem like an especially daunting task. But when Johnson's Fat Blaster workout (part of the Turbo Jam® Fat Burning Elite program) became a serendipitous hit, we knew it was time for Chalene to take things to the next level. That's how the idea for TurboFire® was born. The goal was to create a next-level fitness program that could be done by anyone and was easy to follow. Here's how we did it.

Chalene in TurboFire

What is HIIT?

TurboFire is based around a concept called High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. HIIT has been somewhat popular since the 90s, when a study suggested that you could burn up to 9 times more body fat using short but very high-intensity intervals than you could using old-school steady-state aerobic training. HIIT's popularity had been cultish, mainly because HIIT training had two perceived negatives associated with it. First, it's hard; as in full-bore, maxed-out, cross-eyed hard. (The Tabata study from 1996 forced subjects to 170% of VO2 max, or the maximum capacity for the body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise.) Second, it can only be effective when done in short cycles. But Chalene was intrigued with HIIT's time-efficient structure, which promised great results, so we decided to see if we could create a training program based around it.

The AfterBurn Effect

Our decision to focus on HIIT wasn't based on just one study. Additional studies have showed similar results, using variations of the HIIT protocol. A 2001 study concluded that HIIT training increases the resting metabolic rate (RMR) for the 24 hours following a workout due to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which explains how a short interval workout can have a longer-lasting effect on body composition change than a much longer cardio session.

We termed this phenomenon the AfterBurn Effect and began assembling a series of workouts that could maximize HIIT across many training platforms. Increases in post-exercise oxygen consumption are not unique to HIIT. No other style of training has HIIT's peak numbers, but they can be done for longer periods of time. There is science behind the saying "For every action, there is a reaction." All that intense HIIT training comes at a cost; the body breaks down quickly and it can't be sustained for very long.

People Doing HIITNumerous studies were on the same page in showing that fitness gains made with HIIT training begin to plateau sometime after the third week. Therefore, the key to creating a fitness program using the HIIT modality required us to figure out how to either get the body to recover for another round of HIIT training as quickly as possible, or look at other training modalities that could work in conjunction with HIIT that also yielded results.

The Periodizational Approach

In basic terms, periodizational training means finding a way to alter training over time to maximize results; sort of like basic cross-training, but with a more well-defined plan. If you're familiar with Beachbody's fitness programs, you've seen this before. All our programs have a schedule that changes over time. The two factors that control how much change occurs are time and intensity. Essentially, over time everyone should alter their appro ach to training, and the fitter you are, the more your approach needs to change, to continually cause something called the adaptation response. For those of you who've done P90X®, the TurboFire schedule should look familiar.

But TurboFire, as Chalene says, "is not P90X for girls." It's a HIIT-focused training program, where all the other training is designed to prepare you to get the best results possible during your HIIT training phases. And while both P90X and TurboFire have a somewhat complex periodizational structure, their schedules are quite different. TurboFire combines both of the philosophies you'll hear Chalene espouse in her other programs, Turbo Jam and ChaLEAN Extreme.

Muscle Burns Fat®

The tagline from ChaLEAN Extreme, Muscle Burns Fat®, doesn't get chucked out the window just because we created some HIIT routines. The physiological principle that adding muscle to your frame increases your metabolism and leads to changes in body composition is valid, and you'll find that resistance work is a major component of TurboFire.

TurboFire ClassIn ChaLEAN Extreme, you'll often hear Chalene say you should do resistance training three times per week for the rest of your life. It's not just talk, and TurboFire holds you to it. In fact, in an homage to the P90X tagline, Muscle Confusion�, as part of the TurboFire program, you'll receive a schedule for a hybrid program that combines ChaLEAN Extreme and TurboFire. When you combine the two programs, you get a periodizational schedule that'll keep challenging your body's adaptation response for nearly a year!

Advanced Cardio Conditioning

TurboFire, in fact, is not as much of a HIIT program as it is a Chalene program. Her workouts are unique, and TurboFire is very much an extension of her first Beachbody program, Turbo Jam, which was a home version of her health club training class, Turbo Kick. She termed her first vision of TurboFire "the next level of Turbo Kick," and that's pretty much what we've got here. The program has the look and feel of being in an exercise class at the gym—Chalene's preferred environment.

Chalene likes the class environment because "it's fun and provides motivation." But there's more than fun at the root of her classes. Cardio is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different styles of training, from easy aerobic to intense HIIT. No matter where between these extremes your workout falls, you're going to be targeting different human energy systems that have different physiological benefits. For the TurboFire system, Chalene created different cardio classes to make sure each of these energy systems were being targeted, to achieve an effect she calls Cardio Confusion, a play on words referencing P90X's Muscle Confusion.

Cardio Confusion is more than a slogan. The cardio phases of the TurboFire program combine different styles of interval training with recovery-oriented aerobic training to create a steady growth curve in your fitness levels. This accelerates your body's ability to get ready for your next round of HIIT, but it also takes advantage of the AfterBurn Effect by targeting different energy systems.


Chalene RecoveringTargeted recovery is not a by-product of TurboFire, but an essential part of the program. That you only get stronger at rest is a gym cliché that, as many do, holds a lot of truth. Active recovery helps your body grow strong much more quickly than rest alone. All high-level training programs work better if they contain targeted rest and recovery phases. During these periods, you target the body's aerobic system, stabilizer muscles, and use techniques which stretch out overworked muscle fibers and heal connective tissue microtrauma.

A program for one. A program for all.

It's often difficult to find one fitness program that would work for everyone, and it's generally not best to recommend that everyone do the same program, rather than steering each person toward the program that best fits their needs. Reality, though, has taught us that people often want to do what inspires them, whether it fits their ability level or not. Beachbody's high-level programs P90X and INSANITY® are meant to be "graduate" programs only; each comes with a fitness test that, if you can't complete it, recommends you do a lower-level program first. While our beginning-level customers should pay attention to this advice, and would usually get better results with an easier program, we've learned that they don't always do what we recommend.

With TurboFire, however, we've done our best to allow nearly anyone to attempt the program safely. In fact, we included a 2-month preparatory schedule for anyone who thinks they may not be ready for the rigors of HIIT training. Not only that, every move in the program comes with a modified version that almost anyone should be able to follow. Furthermore, Chalene recognized that men can be rhythm-challenged, so she purposely made the choreography a lot easier to follow than it is in Turbo Jam and her health club classes.


The final element of the program is diet, another area where TurboFire has evolved beyond other Beachbody programs. TurboFire has gone in the opposite direction from P90X, which has a phased eating plan that some of our customers have found to be complex. Instead, TurboFire's diet has expanded on the Beachbody Step by Step Diet Guide and tried to give you a variety of different ways to alter your eating habits, with the same end purpose as our other plans: a balanced diet the fuels exercise recovery.

Essentially, the entire TurboFire program has a singular focus: that getting fit can be fun, and that eating healthy doesn't need to be a complex task. And while there's a lot of science behind what you'll see as you follow along, our goal was to make it as simple as the original Beachbody tagline: Just Push Play.

Coffee, V.G. and J.A. Hawley. The molecular bases of training adaptation. Sports Med. 37:737-763, 2007.

Gibala, Martin J; Jonathan P. Little, Martin van Essen, Geoffrey P. Wilkin, Kirsten A. Burgomaster, Adeel Safdar, Sandeep Raha and Mark A. Tarnopolsky (September 15 2006). "Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance". J Physiol 575 (3): 901-911.

King, Jeffery W. A Comparison of the Effects of Interval Training vs. Continuous Training on Weight Loss and Body Composition in Obese Pre-Menopausal Women: A thesis presented to the faculty of the Department of Physical Education, Exercise, and Sports Sciences East Tennessee State University; 2001.

Little, Jonathan P; Adeel S. Safdar, Geoffrey P. Wilkin, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, and Martin J. Gibala (2009). "A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms". J Physiol.

Melby, C., C. Scholl, G. Edwards, and R. Bullough. Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate. J. Appl. Physiol. 75:1847-1853, 1993.

Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. (1996). "Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max". Med Sci Sports Exerc 28 (10): 1327-30.

Tremblay, A., J. Després, C. Leblanc, C.L. Craig, B. Ferris, T. Stephens, and C. Bouchard. Effect of intensity of physical activity on body fatness and fat distribution. Am J. Clin. Nutr. 51:153-157, 1990.

Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C (1994). "Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism". Metab. Clin. Exp. 43 (7): 814-8.

Related Articles
"Cardio Confusion: A History of TurboFire"
"Cardio: Do It for Your Joints"
"Female Fitness Myths and P90X"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards) in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, July 12, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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What's Your Beef?—The Red Meat Dilemma

By Omar Shamout

Here in the United States, it's hard to throw a dart at a menu without hitting the words "hamburger," "steak," or "beef." (Actually, it's hard to throw a dart at a menu without being asked to leave most restaurants.) Back on point, however, red meat is a huge part of our national identity. But is this a good thing? There are so many articles and studies proclaiming both the benefits and the detriments of cow flesh, it seems impossible to form a definitive conclusion about whether to embrace beef or avoid it completely. Instead of asking everyone's favorite 80s catchphrase, "Where's the beef?" maybe we should ask, "What's in the beef?"

Meat in Plastic Mouth

The Good:

Beef pumps you up! Long a favorite among bodybuilding enthusiasts, red meat is an excellent natural source of protein, iron, zinc, and creatine, all of which are essential to building muscle. Consider it nature's answer to Beachbody Strength and Muscle Men's Formula supplement, but in convenient grillable form.

Beef has selenium. Beef also contains a trace mineral called selenium, which binds to proteins to form antioxidant enzymes that help prevent cell damage from free radicals and are also thought to have cancer-fighting properties.

Beef has vitamin B12. Red meat is a good source of this essential vitamin that's responsible for maintaining healthy nerve and red blood cells. However, Vitamin B12 deficiency is usually only a problem for the elderly, those with pernicious anemia, or vegetarians who have not compensated for the lack of B12 in their meatless diets.

The Bad:

Grilled SteakBeef has saturated fat. High saturated fat intake has been linked with increased rates of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Some cuts of beef can contain 30 to 40 percent fat, of which more than half can be unsaturated. Compare that to chicken—roasted skinless chicken breast is only 3.5 percent fat, only a third of which is saturated. (Keeping the chicken skin on more than doubles both of those numbers.) The leanest cuts of beef are eye of round, top round roast, top sirloin, and flank.

Tip: Limiting your portion size of red meat to 3 ounces—about the size of a deck of cards— will help keep saturated fat intake in line with nutritional guidelines. For instance, a trimmed 3-ounce portion of sirloin contains only 1 gram of saturated fat, and a trimmed loin portion only has 2 grams.

Beef has cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood. Cholesterol comes in two types, commonly known as good and bad. Good cholesterol, or HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein), actually picks up excess cholesterol from the walls of blood vessels and eliminates it from the body. Luckily, lean beef contains this healthy type of cholesterol, which can be regulated by exercise and a diet high in monounsaturated fats. However, beef also contains LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein), which stays in your body by clinging to the walls of blood vessels. Trimming excess fat from the beef you consume is essential to regulating your LDL levels.

Admittedly, there is new research that claims consumption of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol have no negative impact on the human body. The Paleolithic or paleo, a diet fad that suggests we mimic the hunter-gatherer diet of our Paleolithic ancestors, even suggests that piling on the beef might be a good thing. While we're sorting through this information, though, here's something to think about: While there are countless studies pointing out the negative impact of too much saturated fat and cholesterol, I know of no studies that show any negative impact resulting from limiting your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. It's certainly food for thought.

The Confusing:

Cow Feeding on Grass Grass-fed vs. grain-fed. The food an animal eats is also the food you end up eating, so it's important to consider how your meat was raised when you're deciding what to put on the grill or in the pan. Studies have shown that meat from grain-fed animals raised in feedlots often contains more total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories than grass-fed beef does. Products from grain-fed animals also contain less vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids. Cattle raised on low-fiber grain diets are also prone to a condition known as "subacute acidosis." These grain-fed animals are often given chemical additives along with a constant, low-level dose of antibiotics to keep the cattle from contracting any fatal diseases. When these antibiotics are overused in the feedlots, bacteria become resistant to them, and these bacteria are passed on to the consumer in the beef.

In addition to containing more essential vitamins and nutrients, grass-fed cattle raised in open pastures are the richest known source of conjugated linoeic acid (CLA), which is another type of good fat. CLA is stored in fat cells and has been shown to reduce cancer risks in humans. Grass-fed animals can contain as much as three to five times more CLA than grain-fed animals.

Ground beef fat content. Ground beef can't be sold in stores if it has a fat content higher than 30%. Here's a fat breakdown for the other types of raw ground beef available for purchase:

Type: Fat % Saturated Fat %
70% Lean Ground Beef 30% 11%
80% Lean Ground Beef 20% 8%
85% Lean Ground Beef 15% 6%
90% Lean Ground Beef 10% 4%
95% Lean Ground Beef 5% 2%

Buffalo (bison) meat is considered a heart-healthy alternative to fattier beef, because while on average it contains approximately 16 percent fat, it contains less than 1 percent saturated fat.

The Preparation:

Grilled BeefGrilling is probably the healthiest way to prepare beef without raising the saturated fat content. Stir-frying and sautéing the meat in a pan with a small amount of oil are also great ways to make the meat more flavorful by adding seasonings, low-fat or fat-free sauces, and any of a wide variety of healthy vegetables. The meat also cooks quickly in the hot pan, preventing nutrient loss.

The Conclusions:

It's quite possible to enjoy beef as part of a nutritious diet that's still low in saturated fat and cholesterol if we remember that being strict about portion size and choosing the proper cut are vital to getting the best out of what's in the meat. As is so often the case, both moderation and education are key to enjoying the foods you love while also being smart and proactive about your health.

References and Further Reading:

  1. "10 Diet & Nutrition Myths Debunked." Gloria Tsang, RD. HealthCastle.com. November 2005. http://www.healthcastle.com/nutrition-myths.shtml
  2. "8 Foods that Pack on Muscle" Adam Campbell. Men's Health. http://www.menshealth.com/mhlists/foods_that_build_muscle/Beef_Carvable_Creatine.php
  3. "Nutrition/Infection Unit." Tufts University School of Medicine. http//www.tufts.edu/med/nutrition-infection/hiv/health_protein.html
  4. "The Truth About Cholesterol. A Look at Cholesterol and your Health: Myths, Facts, and Controversies." Ed Bauman, Ph.D. and Marsha McLaughlin, N.C. Share Guide, The Holistic Health Magazine and Resource Directory.
  5. "Cholesterol and Beef." The Irish Food Board. http://www.bordbia.ie/aboutfood/nutrition/pages/cholesterolandbeef.aspx.
  6. "Reducing the Fat Content of Regular Ground Beef by Draining and Rinsing." The Hillbilly Housewife. http://healthy.hillbillyhousewife.com/groundbeef.htm#lessfat
  7. "America's Original Health Food." Missouri Bison Association. http://www.mobisonassoc.org/bisonhealthy.htm

For more information on the benefits of buying grass-fed animal products, please visit: http://www.eatwild.com.

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards) in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, July 12, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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That Team: TurboFire Isn't Just for Women!

A bunch of dudes from the DC area, WeAreThatTeam, set out to prove that Chalene's hot new program TurboFire is plenty tough enough to give men a muscle-pumping, lung-bursting, sweat-dripping workout. Click below to watch their video!

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Recipe: Healthy Southwest Chicken Fajitas

By Chalene Johnson, creator of TurboFire
Chicken Fajitas

Fajitas are a festive, sizzling dish that's full of lean protein, crisp, healthy vegetables, and fun! Because they only take about 20 minutes to prepare (plus marinating time, of course) and there's no oven to heat, they're the perfect summer evening treat.

  • 3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-1/2- by 1-inch strips
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 large green bell pepper (or 1/2 green bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper), cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 8 romaine lettuce leaves
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
  • Large nonmetal bowl
  • Large nonstick skillet

In large nonmetal bowl, combine lime juice, garlic, coriander, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Stir well, add chicken strips, mix to coat, cover, and let marinate in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Spray large nonstick skillet with olive oil cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Add chicken to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 or 2 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are crisp-tender and chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Spoon chicken mixture onto lettuce leaves. Add some grated cheese (if desired). Top with a bit of salsa. (Makes 4 servings.)

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 6 to 7 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving, with cheese):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
164 24 g 2 g 9 g 4 g 1 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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