How Doing Less Cardio and Eating More Helped Totally Transform My Body

Less cardio, more weights was the secret to Maria Pro's transformation.

less cardio

Maria Pro did less cardio, more weights, to transform her body. Photographs courtesy Maria Pro.

Changing your body takes hard work, persistence, and dedication. Here’s one local’s story. Want to share your Transformation Story? Email

Who: Maria Pro (@musclebymaria), 27, an online coach, personal trainer, fitness instructor, and founder of Muscle by Maria, from Manayunk

What inspired my change: “After graduating college and leaving behind my days of competitive cheerleading, I was a little lost trying to figure out how to be active without cheerleading. I was always into functional fitness and conditioning-style workouts thanks to many years of cheerleading, but my then-boyfriend-now-husband was into bodybuilding style, weightlifting workouts. As a compromise, he agreed to do my workouts with me if I would do some bodybuilding training with him. It wasn’t too long after that agreement that I realized how much I enjoyed the weightlifting. Next thing I knew, I was rarely doing my full-body cardio conditioning workouts anymore and was fully immersing myself in the ‘bodybuilding’ world. I was tracking my weights for exercises in the gym to measure progress, I was eating much more than I ever had before, I was taking protein supplements, and I was feeling great!”

Height: 5’7″

Starting weight: 149

Current weight: 152

What changed: “I’m much stronger and have put on a decent amount of muscle and lean body mass. I also have developed more mental and emotional strength! For a little there, I felt like my brain was in a fog — I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I should do, I had a lot of doubts and felt like I was kind of stuck. Now, I have much more mental clarity as I know what I want to do, I know how to do it, and I can push myself and motivate myself to get it done!”

How I changed my diet: “I started eating more! More carbs, more fats, and much more protein — that protein is so critical in body recomposition. I’m not really eating much less of anything as I don’t restrict any specific foods, I believe everything has a place thanks to balance and moderation. However, since leaving college and entering the real world and starting this health and fitness journey, my alcohol consumption has declined, which in turn has decreased my late-night eating, so you can say I’m eating fewer dollar slices of pizza now.”

“I started eating more! More carbs, more fats, and much more protein — that protein is so critical in body recomposition.”

How I changed my workouts: “I began incorporating strength training to my bodyweight-style conditioning workouts. Now, my weekly exercise is 99.8 percent strength training, with the occasional exception for when I decide to go back to my roots and toss in a conditioning workout. I utilize training splits where I target specific muscle groups on specific days. For example, Monday is chest and triceps, Tuesday is legs (heavy lifts), Wednesday is back and biceps, Thursday is shoulders and leg accessory work. I treat cardio as ‘optional’ and toss in short 15 to 20-minute steady state sessions or a HIIT session when I feel like it (which is somewhere between one to three times a week).”

less cardio

In addition to doing less cardio, Maria Pro also started eating more to fuel her body. Photographs courtesy Maria Pro.

The hardest part: “The hardest part was silencing the irrational voices and dismissing the fears in my head when I first started lifting and eating. The voices telling me not to get ‘too muscular’ or to avoid specific foods (like carbs) and constantly having a fear I was going to turn into a man if I lifted a weight or drank a protein shake. I blame the subliminal messages put out in society for this. Without realizing it at the time, I had developed some food fears and illogical thinking. I needed to shake the idea that I should be doing only cardio, lots of cardio, because heavy weightlifting was just for the guys. Eventually, the thoughts lessened as I got more comfortable with my new routine and saw the changes it was leading to.”

What I’m most proud of: “I’m most proud of the mental transformation. I didn’t go into this five years ago with the goal of ‘transforming,’ I just wanted to re-discover my true happiness for health and fitness after leaving cheerleading/college and entering the real world. I had to figure out what I liked and how to make that work for me, I had to educate myself on new topics I wasn’t familiar with (such as a high-protein diet and bodybuilding styles of training), and I had to get past mental roadblocks and self-doubt as I struggled to figure out what was best for me.”

What I want everyone to know: “Not all transformations come from weight loss. Your body doesn’t need more cardio and less food to transform, it needs some TLC! If you want to recomposition your body, you have to keep it happy! Give it food, give it activity, give it attention. Make sure you’re getting your sleep, trying to reduce stress levels, nourishing yourself through nutrient-dense foods and plenty of water, and be patient as you wait to see what happens. A happy inside will show on the outside!”

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