Emily Zaler’s business card should probably read “mad scientist.”
When the personal trainer is not putting clients through their paces up and down the famed Santa Monica stairs or working out herself, she’s making a mess in her Los Angeles kitchen. There, she modifies recipes that are normally filled with unhealthy fat, sugar and carbs using her favorite secret ingredient: Whey protein powder.
Her recipe catalog includes fudge, blueberry crepes, almond butter cookies, sweet potato muffins and more. But, um ... how do they taste? Like cardboard?
Actually, they taste pretty darn sweet, thanks to the low-calorie stevia or Splenda she uses instead of sugar. While you probably won’t mistake her chocolate peanut butter brownies for a pastry from New York City’s famed Momofuku bakery, they will help you scratch that itch for something chocolate-y. It’s enough to help you get over that craving -- and not blow your “clean eating plan,” she says.
That’s the key to sticking to your diet, she says. Save the splurges for the bites that are really worth it -- birthday cake, or an anniversary dinner, or your favorite restaurant in Paris. But most junk calories aren’t worth it, she says, so why not find a substitute you can enjoy guilt-free?
Zaler has become such a wizard at whipping up desserts, side dishes and entrees (most use her protein powder tricks, but some don’t) that she’s published an e-book filled with her recipes and rolled out smartphone apps. And each week, the traffic to her Facebook page soars as fans show up for her EZ Whey Wednesday recipes. It was enough to land Zaler and her recipes an August profile in Oxygen magazine, the bible for fit and buff women.
The popularity of her recipes also underscores how far protein powders have come. Years ago, protein powders were notorious for their chalky taste and grainy textures. Now, protein powder lines are big business, and they try to entice with luscious sounding names such as Banana Nut Bread, Fresh Cinnamon Roll and Chocolate Coconut.
Zaler prefers About Time protein powder (which signed Zaler as a rep and offers up Birthday Cake Batter, among other flavors). But she says that her recipes will work with any protein powder as long as the flavor profiles match up.
“Clean eats that taste like cheats!” is the way Zaler touts her recipes, and “clean eating” is a term she sprinkles throughout her conversations. She says she hates the word “diet” and doesn’t want her clients using it either because it conjures up images of deprivation.
People who want to lose weight need to eat more -- and far more frequently -- than they are used to, she say. (It probably goes without saying that you need to eat more of the right foods, of course, such as veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fresh fruit.)
“People think that eating healthy and eating clean must be boring, but it doesn’t have to be,” she said. “It’s really about experimenting to find things you enjoy eating. It shouldn’t be a chore.”
Zaler played Division I soccer at Arizona State University before she was sidelined by a knee injury that ended any dreams of a professional soccer career. So she channeled her love of sports and fitness into a degree in exercise science and nutrition.
After leaving sports and those calorie-burning training sessions behind, Zaler paid rigorous attention to her nutrition and wanted to find ways to splurge without gaining weight. Her secret weapon became protein powder.
“Everyone knows chicken or broccoli make a good meal, and I noticed that I could take those same basic macronutrients and tried to find a way to create a dish that had the same protein as a chicken breast, but tasted like cake.”
She began sharing the recipes with her fitness-minded friends. “The feedback was ridiculous,” she said. She knew she was on to something. She launched a personal training website and a Facebook page dedicated to her “EZ Whey recipes,” a play on her initials as well as her emphasis on recipes using simple ingredients.
(Here’s the recipe for her chocolate mousse: Combine one cup of nonfat Greek yogurt, one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, Splenda or stevia to taste, and freeze. That dessert will only set you back about 100 calories.)
“I like experimenting and putting stuff together to try it,” she said. “It started out as more of an experiment just for fun.”
She largely focuses on protein-packed, calorie-friendly desserts, but has expanded into entrees, side dishes and breakfasts as well. Her inspiration doesn’t just come from food, however. She was at a store recently and came across a non-stick pan for making miniature donuts, which led to a baked donut recipe on her site.
“I’ll just get an idea and make it for myself, and if it’s great, then it works; if it doesn’t, it goes in the garbage.”
She tests her recipes on friends and relatives and admits there have been a few duds. “I made an ice cream once and I thought it was great, and I served it to my brother and mom and they were like, ‘This is terrible.’ Since then, I’ve developed a new ice cream recipe,” she said.
A personal trainer and certified nutritionist, Zaler says she tries to design her recipes to appeal to everyone.
“My recipes are not just for extremely fit people,” she said. “The majority are either people looking to lose a lot of weight -- like 30 or more pounds -- or people who are very serious about fitness or figure competitors who are getting ready for a show and don’t want to be stuck on these miserable diets.”
Zaler pursued competitive bodybuilding briefly but gave it up, in part because of those miserable diets. Now, she says she eats about 2,000 calories a day that are heavy on protein, but she certainly doesn’t skimp on carbs. (Zaler, who is about 5-foot-10, doesn’t weigh herself because she says it’s not an effective way to measure progress. If she fits into her 28-inch-waist jeans, she knows she’s on track.)
Breakfast is usually one of her protein pancake recipes, followed by almonds or egg whites or another protein source. Lunch is a huge green salad with five ounces of lean protein -- think tuna, turkey or chicken -- and a healthy fat like avocado. She has a protein shake mid-afternoon, and dinner is another serving of five ounces of protein and lots of green veggies. An EZ Whey protein dessert caps off the day.
“I eat constantly,” she says, adding that several small, balanced meals throughout the day are the key to weight control. To the doubters out there, Zaler suggests just trying it for a few days and noticing whether eating small, balanced meals and petite snacks throughout the day curbs your hunger. She said it has been the single most important nutritional change she made in her own diet.
“Once I started six times a day, I thought, ‘How did I only eat three times a day?’” she said. “I’m not eating huge meals, but I am never hungry.”