One year ago this week—February 12, 2017, to be exact—Bob Harper suffered a near-fatal heart attack and cardiac arrest.
The Biggest Loser trainer/host and bestselling author was in tip-top shape at 51, but a hidden genetic condition known as lipoprotein(a) made him susceptible to an often-lethal heart attack known as a widowmaker. Harper’s fitness level helped him survive, but his long road to recovery required him to rethink and rebuild not only his physical health but also his mental wellbeing.
He chronicles his transformation with candor and emotion in his new wellness and weight-loss book The Super Carb Diet. In these outtakes below from my interview with him for a feature in the April 2018 issue of Better Nutrition magazine (see BN‘s sneak peak of this article, in honor of National Heart Health Month, here), Bob reveals how he brought balance to his life with an expanded sense of being, shifts in lifestyle, and smart supplementing.
chris mann: Given your strong identity in the fitness arena, how did your heart attack affect the way you see yourself?
bob harper: After my medical crisis, I went through a period of time where I was really having to kind of redefine who I am. I was the guy that was always the fitness guy. I was the guy that was the one that was always in the gym. I was going to be the one that helped you in the gym. And when that was taken away from me for a while I had a bit of an identity crisis. It did strengthen me in the long run as far as realizing what is so important in life, and what to have to stress about or worry about—and what not to. And (my medical crisis) also made my focus with nutrition narrow in even more.
cm: In what key ways have these internal shifts changed what’s important for you to teach others?
bh: I’ll tell you what’s changed with that, Chris. The fact is that I’ve always talked about how important nutrition is and then how important exercise is, how important sleep is and stress management. But what I have learned throughout the conversations I’ve had with doctors and my support team is how important your stress management is to everything else. When you have stress in your life, all those other things, (especially) your sleep—getting deprived of sleep because of your stress—will be affected. It’s like a domino effect. So in my book I talk about the importance of getting balance not only on your plate but also in your life.
(And, as Bob adds in this Better Nutrition excerpt, “If you have ways of managing your stress, then you’re going to have the tools, the discipline and the resolve to make better choices when it comes to food, to find time to work out and take care of yourself.”)
cm: You hail exercise as a great stress reliever. Are your inclined to advocate more of a moderate approach to exercise now?
bh: Well, I’ve worked in the fitness industry for a long time and I want people to exercise, to move around. I don’t want people to ever underestimate low-impact—for lack of a better phrase—types of workouts. Like during my recovery the only thing that I was allowed to do was walk for the longest time, and I got tremendous benefits from that kind of movement. You don’t have to beat your body up to achieve good results.
cm: What supplements help you—and can help us—achieve a healthy balance?
bh: I’m a big fan of magnesium with a shot of tart cherry juice. This (combo) is going to be a good anti-inflammatory for you, and it’s great to take at night and it can help with your sleep, too.
Also, because I lean toward more plant-based (nutrition), I’ve had to look for different types of vegan protein powders. Pea protein powder is something that was introduced to me a while back, and I really enjoy that. There’s a company named Ora that makes an organic vegan protein powder that I found that to be the tastiest one of all of them. It’s a great protein supplement. I’ve been running around all day today and I haven’t been able to eat like I normally do. And when you have that protein powder you can just whip yourself up a shake with the right amount of protein, fat, and carbs in it the way that I want you to have it and it’s great.
And I like good quality fish oil pill, which also helps with inflammation, with good fats.
cm: And finally, you always advocate taking a multivitamin. Why is this supplement essential?
bh: Yeah, I do, only because I really do believe that it’s super difficult to get all your micronutrients from all the foods that you’re eating. So why not just take a multivitamin—you know, take extra vitamin D and C—and you’re going to be giving your body the benefits that it needs.