I am honored to share a great interview with you guys today! I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with the gorgeous Amber Dawn Orton this week! If you don’t know ADO, she’s a fitness model & bikini competitor who has really made a name for herself in the fitness world. Not only has she had proven success in the world of competing, she’s also about to live every girls dream of having a photo-shoot with Oxygen Magazine!! I predict a cover in her near future 🙂
Introducing Amber Dawn Orton (soon to be Fokken).
Her interview is VERY informative. She talks a lot about counting macros, IIFYM, metabolic damage & refeed days. Enjoy!
Name: Amber Dawn Orton
Occupation: Personal Trainer, Posing Instructor, Prep Coach, Nutritional Guidance Counselor
Location: Sioux Falls, SD
How long have you been lifting?
I have always been active in the gym, my mother competed in bodybuilding when I was very young and the gym was always a familiar place to me growing up. I didn’t get serious about any of it until 2010 though when I was convinced by my bodybuilder brother to do my first show.
How many times have you competed?
I have competed 12 times.
I know you’ve been prepping for a HUGE photo shoot with Oxygen Magazine (congrats by the way, how excitingggg!!!). Do you do anything different with your workouts and/or diet to train for a photo shoot vs a bikini competition?
Thank you! Typically I schedule photo shoots around my competition schedule, it’s just easier that way since you already have that goal and you are lean as hell, might as well get some photos done haha. In the past, I found it was harder without the show goal to prep for photo shoots alone for some reason, I guess the accountability aspect doesn’t seem as “real”.
I actually had no plans to compete or even cut hard this year at all. My body took a big hit from a past prep coach and I have been battling hormonal issues and adrenal fatigue after putting myself through hell for too long of a duration. I planned to allow my body to recover and rest and started working with a hormone doctor last December who was helping me get things back to a healthy place. (My long term focus is having a family and getting married this month, I want to be able to conceive when the time is right). And then.. I got an email from Oxygen and knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass on.
I decided I would go back into prep but try to do it in a healthier manner, no extremes, no excessive cardio, etc. so that’s how its all come together again. Since I was already prepping for this shoot, I had some other photographers interested in working with me along the same timeline and now Brandan (my fiance) and I will also be shooting for Ironman magazine. I also was crazy enough to schedule 3 other photo shoots, might as well right? lol
I know you count your macros and follow an IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) type of diet. What made you switch from the typical “clean eating” to counting your macros?
Yes! This has been huge for me! I have always struggled post show. Before competing I had never been on a restricted diet none the less even attempted to diet. I ate what I wanted when I wanted and was genetically blessed to get away with a lot of it. I have always been a “foodie” and I have always been one to love variety in my diet. So dieting for me was a huge mental mind game and the more restricted it became over the years of competing, the more severe I would rebound.
I couldn’t feel full for the life of me, my cravings would be out of control, and I literally could eat all day long. I hated the post show weight gain and the post show mental mind game. I was always researching different methods to finding a balance for all of this and started implementing IIFYM last year – a few months after my last national show.
I didn’t get serious about it until this spring though, where I really started tracking attentively. IIFYM helped me not feel like I had “failed” if I ate something that was previously looked at as “bad” and therefore I wouldn’t react in the same way I had in the past- either “eat it all because you already messed up” or “do extra cardio and stress out because you ate something not on plan”. Those two mindsets were what contributed to the binging behavior I wanted to move away from. Getting those thoughts out of my head and viewing food differently has really helped me find more balance with prep and life in general.
This Oxygen Magazine shoot actually came at the perfect timing because it has allowed me to utilize IIFYM and learn what works for me without the added pressure of the stage. I am an extremist and I cant go into an NPC show without going into it to win it. But when I get in that mindset I go too far often times and wanted to avoid that at all costs, which again is why I am not competing (although I do feel lean enough to get on stage at this point ).
What is your typical macro breakdown when trying to build muscle (bulk)?
I would probably set my macros at 145G protein, 185G carbs, 45G fat for lean bulking/building. I would also implement a refeed schedule where I would bring my carb intake up to 375G or so.
What is your typical macro breakdown when trying to maintain your physique?
Maintenance intake is 140G protein, 165G carbs, 40G fat.
What is your typical macro breakdown when trying to cut?
This is all dependent on what I am coming off of as far as intake. Obviously I will start with my maintenance macros and then decrease from there. Always trying to get maintenance macros as high as possible so cutting macros aren’t so drastic. But I never have allowed myself that long of an off season to really be able to improve my metabolic capacity as much as I would have liked. That will be the goal this next year. Based off the maintenance calories I listed above I would probably start my cut at 140G protein, 150-155G carbs, 38G fat. **I am very much more fat sensitive than I am carb sensitive so I always keep my fats fairly lower than most**
I know that you partake in “Refeed” days instead of “cheat days”. Can you explain the difference?
I get asked constantly about my refeeds. Some people have cheat meals, I have Refeed days. The difference is the strategy that goes into refeeds versus cheat meals. On Refeed days EVERYTHING is tracked. The point of a Refeed is to bring your carb intake up to help bring leptin levels back to a stable position and allow your muscle tissue to stay full. I typically double my carb intake if not more on Refeed days. Again, this is what I do based on my daily intake/deficit/muscle tissue needs. Is this what you should do? I have no idea so unless I am your trainer and I know what type of intake and expenditure you are on daily, please don’t ask me.
How much should you refeed yourself? This will depend on how long you have been dieting, how intense your diet is, and your current level of body fat. Those who are at a lower level of bodyfat will need to refeed more often than those who aren’t. Similarly, the more extreme the diet being followed, the more intense the refeed. This last Refeed I had 300G of carbs. Higher than my last Refeed but if you look at the before and after pics above, you can See noticeable muscle fullness today versus before my Refeed. If the scale freaks you out, DON’T WEIGH YOURSELF. I have completely detached my emotions from my weight and therefore I actually find it entertaining to see what my weight is at after a day of eating bread, lots of yams, oatmeal, English muffins, graham crackers, arctic zero, etc. I am up about 1lb and I could care less because I look AND FEEL better!
Think about your muscles as a tube, like the inside of a tire. When you aren’t eating adequate carb intake and lifting/working out you deplete these tubes with glycogen (what carbohydrates break down into) and therefor you begin to look flat (like a deflated tire). A lot of girls specifically get so scared of eating carbs because they think they will look worse. But you know that jiggle on your ass? Don’t you think it would jiggle less with some air in those glute balloons? You catch my drift? Filling your muscle tissue up will leave you with full muscles, making you look tighter and “hard” versus soft and flat. Why do so many people think they look better the day after a show? Because typically they didn’t properly fill there muscle tissue up with carb intake until post show.
The amount you Refeed with basically has to do with how low leptin levels are. The lower the levels, the more calories above maintenance you will be needed to bring them back up. I know my body handles carbs well, but I do not respond to fats well so on Refeed days I make sure my fats stay low. I also keeps protein the same. The only macro-nutrient I manipulate with refeeds is carb intake.
You have some KILLER abs, girl!! Do you have any tricks to make your abs pop when you want to get bikini ready quickly for a vacation, photo shoot or show?
Ha, thanks. But honestly not really. I get asked this a lot and its flattering but I really rarely ever do direct ab work. About a month out from a show or shoot I will start adding in a few different ab exercises before bed. Just the basics though, no tricks! Bicycle crunches, reverse crunches, and standard crunches to name a few 😉 If I do hit abs in the gym I will do hanging leg raises or body-weighted side bends on the hyper-extension. That’s about it.
What’s your favorite healthy snack?
Oh man, I love all food. That is hard lol. When its hot outside I love a good cold blended protein shake. I also have a tuna salad recipe that I make and dip veggies in that’s really good. Besides that a chocolate rice cake with some peanut butter can never do you wrong lol.
What’s your favorite non healthy snack?
Haha, Well as an IIFYM’er I don’t believe in unhealthy snacks if they fit your macros LOL. I guess popcorn with some good ol’ fashion butter or ghardettos? Hmm maybe peanut butter filled pretzels or just a good ol’ fashioned peanut butter and jelly!!
What is your biggest athletic accomplishment so far?
Hmm, well I would probably say missing my pro card by one point last year. That was a pretty big deal to me. But I am glad I did because I met my soon to be husband that day and if I would have went pro things may have never worked out the way they did haha. But if I land the cover of Oxygen in two weeks that would definitely top the list! Being in my favorite magazines such as Oxygen and FitnessRX, Shape, etc has definitely been rewarding though. I never thought I would see myself in such magazines, so that is something I am proud of.
What’s your biggest tip(s) to someone who is trying to become a fitness model?
This makes me laugh, because in my head I automatically think- why are you asking me this? I guess it still hasn’t set in that I am a “fitness model”. Of course every girl wants to become a fitness model, I feel it is a common dream/goal. But to be honest I never saw that happening for myself. I saw competing as my outlet for competition (I have always been a very competitive person and when I quit playing sports I was looking for something to channel that competitive nature into- competing became that something for me). All I knew is I wanted to be the best at the sport and I put my everything into the last couple years trying to achieve that.
Like I mentioned, the idea of fitness modeling sounded great but I knew there were about 100,000+ other girls with that same goal in mind and I needed to “prove” myself to stand out in another way. I didn’t have any connections within the industry and didn’t know how to go about landing sponsors or modeling gigs but I knew the more my name was thrown around and the more people were talking about me the better my chances (I go about everything in the most logical way possible lol).
So as I became better at the sport, I started working with more local photographers to build my portfolio and give me more fitness based looks to market myself. After last year I was ranked #1 in the country for the NPC National Bikini Rankings and that had my name circulating a bit more. I landed my first sponsorship in 2012 with MaxMuscle who at that point was using my images in many of the fitness magazines I mentioned earlier. When my endorsement deal with Max ended I was in a great position coming off a second place win at Jr.Nationals and being ranked so high.
I started throwing myself at sponsors and networking. Within the last year I have landed many gigs through these connections and the reputation I have built. I currently have sponsorships with 7 different companies and an endorsement contract with Beast Sports Nutrtition. So I guess my biggest advice would be to find a way to make yourself stand out! I had a company contact me just from seeing one of my Max Muscle Ads and they wanted me to represent their supplement line. Once you are out there in mass circulation it becomes easier, but the key is getting to that point. Again, its not something that is easily explainable cause I often times wonder how I even got here without necessarily “trying” to become a fitness model.
Was there ever a situation where you made a mistake and learned from it as far as dieting or working out for a show or photo shoot? If so, please explain so others can learn from your mistake 🙂
Ha, TONS!! If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t learning in my opinion. I get asked daily on social media about how I know my body so well, or how does one know if they are carb or fat sensitive, or sodium sensitive, etc…. The only way to learn is to TRY! Everyone is different and therefore the only person who can really learn your body fully is you!
It has taken me 4 years of trial and error to figure out what my body responds best to. As I mentioned, I respond much better to carbs than I do to fats. I will say I was fortunate enough to have my brother’s wisdom of his own body for 6 years of competing before I ever stepped on stage, which helped a ton. Obviously he is a male and a bodybuilder, I am a female bikini competitor, but genetically a lot of the trial and error he put himself through also applied to my results.
I will give you one example; I tried the Whole 30 diet on one of my off seasons. Basically its a paleo diet with emphasis on fats. One thing it did help with is balancing my hormones a bit ( I was able to get my cycle back) but I gained a LOT of weight, as I said I do not respond well to a high fat diet. And that proved it to me.
I know you’ve dealt with metabolic damage in the past. How did you recover from it and it build back up your metabolism?
I am not recovered. A lot of people assume that because I have been able to get lean again. But I am still very much battling many of those symptoms and problems. I have made some improvements though and a lot of that came from what I did after I was done cutting last year. As I mentioned, I started working with a hormone doctor to see exactly where my hormonal functions were at. You cannot just guess when it comes to hormones, which is why I recommend everyone get a hormone panel done.
Once we saw my results and knew I was battling adrenal fatigue and some thyroid issues + low progesterone and low DHEA, I started on adrenal support, cut all stimulants from my diet (I switched to decaf coffee), was put on a topical progesterone cream to balance my progesterone to estrogen levels, took a low dose of pharmacy grade DHEA and also let my body rest. I rarely did cardio, but continued to lift heavy only about 4x a week max. Rest and recovery is one of the only ways to fix the adrenal glands but unfortunately it must be a long term thing in order to fully restore them.
I also increased my calories and carb intake and tried to get my metabolism to homeostasis where it was maintaining weight even on a much higher intake. I did put on weight faster than I wished but I also wasn’t fully utilizing IIFYM and know now how to go about increasing my metabolism in a more strategic manner. I haven’t taken a long enough off season to recover fully from my issues although I think much of what I did do in the 6 months I did take off was beneficial.
If you could give one tip to someone who’s just starting to get serious with their workouts, what would it be?
That progress is not overnight and it all comes down to consistency. People tend to think if they don’t see results nothing is happening and they give up. This drives me crazy. What is giving up going to do anyways? Put you back to where you started? It makes no sense. If something feels hard that is typically your body changing, and that is GOOD. In all aspects of life you have to struggle to progress. Even I have my days in prep where it feel impossible and I don’t see the changes I wish I did. But the only difference between me and the person who never reaches their goals is I just keep going.
A bit off subject here, but I’ve gotta ask. You have such beautiful long hair!!!! Any hair tips or tricks you stick to?
Haha, gosh another question I wish I had a magic trick to tell you. I honestly don’t do anything to my hair and in all honesty I am shocked it stays healthy and long for all I put it through. I think it helps that I have some Native American blood in me, but other than that I have no idea! I honestly blow dry it every time its wet (so bad!) because I hate the way it looks natural and I don’t use anything special… no leave in treatments or anything. Typically I buy whatever shampoo and conditioner is on sale too haha. Honestly.. I guess I am just lucky. Sorry!
Any other information about yourself or tips/advice you’d like to share?
I run an online training/nutrition business full time. My website is www.amberdawnorton.com and I take all business inquiries through my site. I am however full at the moment but will be taking on more clients after my wedding at the end of the month. Inquiries are always welcome though!
Amber, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Live Life Active! It was such an informative interview. Best of luck to you at your Oxygen photo shoot!!
If you have any questions or comments, leave them below!