Welcome back, tribe! I want to start off today’s blog post with an important question:
Do you ever feel like you’re not living life at 100%? Maybe you feel tired all the time or like you have no energy to do the things you actually want to do. Perhaps you want to become fitter and healthier, but you’re not sure where to start. These are struggles that we can all face at some point in our lives, so the question is, how do we train ourselves to reach our full potential?
My guest today is Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD, and she’s the perfect person to walk us through what it means to optimize our physiology to achieve our highest level of performance! In addition to being a naturopathic doctor, Dr. Alice is also the head of the Performance Medical Department at STARK — a fitness and health facility based in Southern California.
In our interview, Dr. Alice talked about how she started in naturopathic medicine, what sets STARK apart from other fitness centers, and some things we can all do to optimize our physiology to maximize our performance in our lives. There is so much good content here, so grab a pen and paper, and let’s dive in!
Who Is Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD?
With a third-degree black belt in karate and jujutsu, and experience as a personal trainer with specialties in rehab and complex orthopedic issues, Dr. Alice Nguyen has devoted her life to the pursuit of human performance. Her studies led her to earn her BA in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University, followed by a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in San Diego, CA. Dr. Alice was also part of a research team that investigated the relationship between hormones and memory, furthering her ability to help individuals achieve optimal health!
Currently, Dr. Alice is the Naturopathic Medical Doctor and head of the Performance Medicine Department at STARK, a Southern California-based facility that is a health and fitness industry leader. Through her practice, she continues to push the limits by helping business leaders, professional athletes, and many others optimize their physiology to achieve the highest levels of performance possible.
Dr. Alice also cares deeply about her community and currently uses her expertise to create a positive impact by donating her services to the CEOs of nonprofit organizations, in hopes that the improvements in their health and fitness will allow them to more effectively impact the community in a positive way!
I loved this conversation with Dr. Alice, and I know you will too! She’s an incredible doctor with a heart of gold, and she gave so many great tips on the micronutrients we need to consume, what diets are right for different people, and the details on intermittent fasting. If you’ve been wanting to be more active, increase your productivity, and live a healthier and happier life, then this interview is for you!
How Dr. Alice Became a Naturopathic Medical Doctor
To start the interview, I asked Dr. Alice about her journey pursuing naturopathic medicine — a discipline that specializes in natural, therapeutic remedies to help the body heal itself. Her spark for this discipline all started when she was an undergraduate student at Loyola Marymount University:
“So my undergrad was actually in psychology, [but] I had no interest in therapy. In fact, I thought it was a little bit too nebulous, not too specific. … I decided to go more down the biomedical route, which did a lot of research in neuroscience. … [I] joined a student research team that really examined the role of hormones on cognition.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
After she graduated from undergrad, Dr. Alice decided to move to Japan to teach English, and that’s where she began practicing martial arts. One of her head teachers was her sensei, who had a background in the health field, and he encouraged Dr. Alice to consider applying for medical school.
Dr. Alice moved back to the US and began prepping for the application and taking her prerequisites, and during this time, she interned with a doctor in Los Angeles for about three years. However, there was something that didn’t sit well with her during this whole process:
“I did intern with a medical doctor for like two to three years, and there was something that didn’t sit well with me. … She was a brilliant doctor … she was part of the community, [she] did a lot of great things, but I was a little concerned. She ran herself into the ground. She really had to work really hard to support her family. And I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go down that route. So I did apply to school, but I kind of sabotaged myself. … I didn’t get in. And [in] the first round I was just like, ‘Okay, well, I tried.’ And in fact, I would rather go down the prevention route instead. And I was like, ‘Well, why don’t I just become a trainer?'” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
And that’s exactly what she did — Dr. Alice became a trainer at Equinox in Santa Monica, and she worked there for about five years. Her managers were constantly impressed with her expertise, and they would continually assign her clients who had serious physical ailments.
“They would give me these clients who either had knee, hip, [or] back pathologies. And then on top of it, they had celiac disease or lupus … I actually had one client who had vaginal prolapse. … So a lot of it was just I either learned how to help my clients or I [didn’t], so it got to a point where I felt like I needed to learn more.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
Inspired by the needs of her clients at Equinox, Dr. Alice started thinking about medical school for a second time. Her mentor at the time encouraged her to consider naturopathic medicine, a discipline that she had never heard of before:
“[My mentor said,] ‘They have a very interesting approach when it comes to medicine. They’re going to teach you how to look for the root cause … instead of symptoms.’… So I looked into it, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is cool.’ And I found out that Bastyr, which is one of the main accredited naturopathic medical schools, was opening a branch campus in San Diego.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
Dr. Alice applied, was accepted, and about seven years later, she’s the Naturopathic Medical Doctor and head of the Performance Medicine Department at STARK! Similar to my own medical journey, Dr. Alice’s story isn’t picture perfect — it took turns that she never saw coming — but they all led her to where she is today!
Also — I think Dr. Alice’s story is another great example of the power of mentors. If she hadn’t met her sensei in Japan, she might have never pursued medicine. And if she hadn’t found a mentor in the US, she might have never learned about naturopathic medicine, which is the perfect discipline for her! Never underestimate the power in asking questions — opportunities arise when we step out of our comfort zones and seek growth!
What Sets STARK Apart from Other Fitness and Health Centers
In addition to hearing about her medical journey, I was curious to learn more about STARK and the type of services they offer their clients.
“It’s a pretty amazing creation. [It’s] the brainchild of a CEO named Todd Vande Hei. … He’s not a doctor, he’s not a trainer, he’s not a nutritionist, not a chiropractor, but he pretty much has brought together this team of coaches, nutritionists, chiropractors, and of course, myself, to collaborate in treating the patients.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
Unlike other fitness and health centers, STARK takes a very holistic approach by not separating the teams — everyone works together and communicates so that each patient can receive the best care possible. Their CEO, Todd Vande Hei, used to suffer from a lot of health problems, and you can follow his story over on Instagram! In his thirties, he was really frustrated with the healthcare system, and he aspired to create a service that would provide what he needed in his most painful moments.
“If [a person] did our comprehensive intake, which we call ‘The Ultimate,’ [they] would come in, and it’s a two and a half hour intake. They will see me where I will basically do a medical intake to see what’s going on internally. They go do their lifestyle intake with our executive coach, and then they will go get a functional movement screening and analysis. And then finally, they will get their orthopedic assessment with a chiropractor who’s also an ART specialist — that’s active release therapy.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
At STARK, these health and fitness professionals aim to ensure that every person has a plan that is optimized for their specific needs. Their approach is very comprehensive, and they also have an accountability practice in place for their patients. If you’re located in Southern California, definitely check out STARK if you’re looking for a holistic program to help you with your health and fitness goals!
Dr. Alice spends most of her time at STARK working with patients, but another huge component of her work is STARK’s philanthropic mission. Every year, STARK accepts a group of nonprofit CEOs into their program for a discounted price (and sometimes free!) to give them the best health and fitness resources while they’re giving away their resources to the community:
“Nonprofit CEOs do not have the disposable income that we typically see in our patient base here. But we want to make sure that the community is taken care of, and if the CEOs are getting healthier and being taken care of, hopefully we can influence the community as a whole as well. … We give our services free for that [non-profit] CEO and a few others as well. … And that usually comes with free training, a certain amount of free chiropractic sessions, and a free intake with me as well as IV therapy and supplements.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
Dr. Alice Nguyen, along with the rest of the STARK team, is doing a phenomenal job serving patients and the community as a whole with their quality services and philanthropic efforts! If you want to hear more about STARK, definitely check out their website, blog, and podcasts for more information!
Three Tips to Optimize Your Physiology for the Highest Level of Performance
Maybe you’re interested in the services that STARK offers, but you don’t live in Southern California — no worries there! Dr. Alice gave some valuable tips on how we can all begin to optimize our physiology to reach our highest level of performance!
#1. Take supplements if your diet calls for it!
In a perfect world, humans would all get their nutrients from food or the sun, but because of diets and work environments, this doesn’t always happen perfectly. In order to counteract those deficiencies, Dr. Alice suggests taking supplements:
“For example … you’re going to find high levels of [Coq10 and B12] in organ meats, like liver [and] heart, [but] your typical American is not going to eat [those]. It’s a game that I play with all of my patients. I sit there, and I tell them where the food sources are, [and] I look at them, and I’m like, ‘Are you willing to eat this?’ And they’re like, ‘Nope.’… And so it’s either this, or we supplement.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
Supplements are a good way to level out vitamin levels and antioxidants, especially if you’re not into eating animal liver. But of course, you don’t want to rely on supplements to give you everything — your diet is your main source of nutrition, which brings us to Dr. Alice’s next point…
#2. Eat clean proteins as much as possible (especially if you’re trying to build muscle)!
This is a huge encouragement for the patients at STARK who are working on physical strength, and there is a lot of data to prove the positive effects of clean proteins:
“There is a lot of research that basically supports that a higher protein diet regulates blood sugar. And of course, it helps with body fat composition, [and] … the reduction [of] body fat is going to be one of the top goals that we have. And of course, since the patients are engaging in resistance training, they need that amino acid pool to rebuild the muscles, especially after the workout.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
One of Dr. Alice’s favorite proteins is whey, which is one of the greatest sources of glutathione — an antioxidant that aids in the detoxification of cells!
#3. If your calorie intake supports it, try intermittent fasting!
Not everyone at STARK is advised to try intermittent fasting because, in order to gain muscle mass, they need to intake a certain amount of calories per day, but if you’re someone who is looking to lose some weight, then intermittent fasting may be right for you!
There are several ways to do intermittent fasting, but the goal is the same: You want to restrict your calorie intake by about 25 – 40%. That means that if you normally eat a 2,000 calorie diet, you would eat only 1,200 – 1,500 calories on your intermittent fasting day. However, that doesn’t mean you can eat 1,500 calories-worth of potato chips or candy and be done! You want to make sure you’re eating very high-quality foods with plenty of macro and micronutrients.
One popular way is the 16:8 method. That’s where you fast for 16 hours during a 24-hour period and then consume your lowered calorie amount during an eight-hour window. But that’s not the only method! Some people choose to do the 5:2 method where you eat normally for five days and then follow a calorie-restricted on the remaining two days. Regardless of which method you choose, it’s essential to make sure you check with your doctor first!
Step Out with Confidence® with Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
This interview with Dr. Alice was absolutely incredible, and I definitely suggest checking out the full episode to learn more about her story! She is truly an example of a healthcare professional that is pursuing a holistic approach. She’s not just putting a bandaid on a symptom — she’s getting to the root of the problem, which is what people truly need!
We closed out the interview with this last piece of wisdom from Dr. Alice:
“Stay curious. Don’t ever get comfortable with the medicine. In the moment you think that you know something, that’s when things get boring. Definitely think outside the box. … And the last thing is, ‘It takes a village to heal.’ I think doctors have this unfortunate kind of tendency to have an ego of where … they’re the only ones who could potentially [fix the problem], but it really does take lots of other people to actually get the picture as well. So just stay curious and be open to working in a team that integrates with one another.” – Dr. Alice Nguyen, NMD
I love that so much. When we keep asking questions and lean on others for help, that’s when we make the most progress. If you want to hear more from Dr. Alice, definitely check out STARK’s website! And if you enjoyed this interview, tag Dr. Alice, @alicenguyen.nd, and me, @drnikoleta, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways!
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Thank you all so much for joining me on this journey! Remember to Step Out with Confidence® and go rock your life!
Disclaimer: The Millennial Doc® Podcast is advertising/marketing material. It is not medical advice. Please consult with your doctor on these topics. Copyright Dr. Nikoleta 2019.