Brett Hoebel is an expert in mixed martial arts and fitness training.

Story highlights

Brett Hoebel loves mixed martial arts like capoeira and muay thai kickboxing

Hoebel has trained celebrities such as Victoria's Secret supermodel Karolina Kurkova

The trainer is now a judge on the online reality show "Fit or Flop"

CNN  — 

You probably know him best from season 11 of “The Biggest Loser.” But trainer Brett Hoebel is more than just a temporary Jillian Michaels replacement.

The martial arts expert has a background in biomedical science and uses his knowledge of Western and Eastern fitness disciplines to train celebrities from Victoria’s Secret supermodels Karolina Kurkova and Doutzen Kroes to rap artist Q-Tip.

When he’s not sweating with A-listers, Hoebel is traveling abroad to teach his favorite workout, capoeira. This mix of martial arts and dance was created by slaves in Brazil and uses participants’ body weight to tone and strengthen.

“It’s different – that’s why I like it,” Hoebel says. “You know, it’s like I can out-swagger in capoeira. Having swagger lifting? Uh, kind of. But I can really put my signature and personality and my stance on my capoeira. You’re going to know you’re doing it with Brett.”

Hoebel’s also a judge on the online reality show “Fit or Flop,” where contestants compete to be the next big celebrity fitness trainer. He took a break on set to speak with CNN about the show, the art of motivation and our biggest nutrition downfall. The following is an edited version of that interview:

CNN: Why did you join “Fit or Flop”?

Brett Hoebel: I think the fitness industry needs something like this. I think this is a great way to motivate (new trainers) and get them inspired and actually learn how to better themselves, not only as a personality but also as a business and a marketable commodity.

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CNN: Is there anything on the show that you’ve really been shocked by or impressed by?

Hoebel: Definitely shocked. I think there’s definitely been more newbies coming in that really have no clue about what they have to offer. What we’re judging is on five categories: the concept, marketability, user base, personality and star power. And a lot of people come in and do not have a concept. They don’t have any idea what the brand is, or they don’t have a name chosen out for it.

That, to me, is pretty shocking. If you’re going to step up in the auditioning process for a show like this and want to get chosen as the next fitness star with a $150,000 grand prize, you’ve got to really come in with a clear (idea). So it’s been a little frustrating.

CNN: World Health Day is April 7, and the theme this year is hypertension. What can people do to prevent high blood pressure?

Hoebel: Foods that are high in sodium or salt are some of the things that you really have to control. Anything that’s packaged, especially meats, are generally going to be higher in sodium. So you really should try to eat fresh foods. It may take a little more time to prepare the foods, but you’re guaranteed to have a lot less sodium.

I generally, with my clients, try to stick under 1,000 (milligrams) a day. If you look at some ingredients, let’s say on a ramen noodle thing, it’s got 1,000 (milligrams) just in one serving. So you’ve got to read food labels.

Something that a lot of people don’t realize too is (that) sugar can retain a lot of water in the body, and that can affect your blood pressure.

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CNN: What are some of the biggest traps for sodium?

Hoebel: If you really want to be low-sodium, you have to prepare your food.

Salt is one of the flavors that makes food taste good – salt, sugar and fat. So it’s a natural thing for all chefs and cooks to add salt, because it enhances the flavor of the food. If you go out to eat, I guarantee you’re going to be eating a lot of salted foods that you are going to have no idea. How are you going to read a food label on a plate of food that’s handed to you at a diner? You can’t.

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CNN: You were all about tough love on “The Biggest Loser.” Is that still your style?

Hoebel: Put it this way: I think when it comes to love, you’ve got to give love and you gotta give tough love. So my philosophy is if somebody does a great job, you have to commend them, give them a fist bump, congratulate them. They gave you a good effort and it’s positive reinforcement.

But if they’re slacking, I am definitely going to call them out on it. I’m going to be their accountability, in their ear until they stop doing it.

CNN: High-intensity interval training is all the rage. What is it about HIIT sessions that really work?

Hoebel: When you do these types of intense workouts, they cause a big metabolic disturbance in your body. Think of race car driving – there’s the normal race car and then they have the little nitrous oxide switch that turns on the turbo.

You don’t need (the turbo) when you’re taking, like, a Zumba class. But now think about doing sprints on a hill. You cannot do those for an hour like you can in a Zumba class because the intensity is too high. You’re not doing aerobic training, you’re doing anaerobic training.

In anaerobic training, the body tends to have to call on the nitrous oxide because the intensity is so hard it needs the extra boost. (That) causes a big disturbance in the system. As a result, when you’re trying to get your metabolism back to normal, it doesn’t happen for free. It takes energy to do that, and it takes calories.

And that’s what you want. You want to be burning calories after you work out. The problem becomes for most people – it’s not pleasant, it’s painful. You have to have the pain tolerance to be able to deal with that, which a lot of people do not.

CNN: What’s the biggest weight loss or fitness obstacle you see people encounter?

Hoebel: Really, No. 1 is diet. Most people want to think it’s a fitness thing or a nutrition regimen, and I’m like, it’s a mental and emotional thing.

We are in a society where we’re exposed to food so much of the time, and what people don’t realize is that food is a drug. Chemicals make up drugs; chemicals make up food. Food is the most over-prescribed drug we have today.

Food is a lot of people’s therapy – when we say comfort food, we really mean that. It’s releasing dopamine and serotonin in your brain that makes you feel good. And as you (indulge) more and more and more, it can become a little bit addictive. After you do that for too long, it can no longer be a choice – you really change the physical structure of your brain and it’s going to be harder to quit.

(But) the food addiction is only part of it. The emotional issues are the deeper thing, and if you don’t fix that, it’s just not going to work.

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CNN: How do you get clients over mental barriers?

Hoebel: I think what I try to do with everyone is build self-confidence and accountability. You want people to be self-motivating, in a sense.

If you can build accountability and confidence in people, the little switch will go on inside of them. They’re going to show up on time. Their diet is going to change. But how you do that – that is the art form. That’s the emotional intelligence you have to have. You have to ask the right questions. These are the intangibles you can’t necessarily teach trainers or motivators.

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CNN: What’s your weakness? You have to have at least one.

Hoebel: Peanut butter – I can’t even buy peanut butter anymore. I had to switch to powdered peanut butter because it’s less calories, but that’s definitely one of my big vices.

CNN: Any last piece of advice for our readers?

Hoebel: If I could give one tip for people – it’s not an exercise or nutrition regimen. It’s to walk your talk and believe in yourself, because at the end of the day, the dumbbell and diet don’t get you in shape. It’s your accountability to your word.