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Protein packs on muscle for LA Fitness juice bar owner

All Juiced Up! owner Vinny Di Re Jr. keeps his metabolism high by eating, and drinking, protein several times a day. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

The Buffalo Diet – pizza, pasta, chicken wings – brought Vinny Di Re Jr. into the world of the overweight in the years he owned his former company, Vincent’s Heating and Cooling of Williamsville.

He was 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds in 2007 when he decided to change his look and enter the world of bodybuilding.

He lost 70 pounds in a year, and put on loads of muscle.

In the years since, Di Re has settled quite nicely, thank you, into packed frame of a little under 200 pounds. He’s discovered he can maintain his weight as long as he puts in lots of time at the gym most of the year and sticks to a nutrition plan that involves plenty of protein a half-dozen times a day.

“This is what works for me,” Di Re told me earlier this week for today’s “What are you Eating?” feature in WNY Refresh. “Everybody’s different. I’ve seen people try different diets. One thing works for one person and doesn’t for another person. Everybody’s body reacts differently.

“I still get my cheat days where I eat what I want,” he added. “I don’t deprive myself (all the time).”

Especially on Sundays, when he visits his mom for dinner.

“I’m Italian,” he said. “I’ve got to eat pasta.”

Just not every day.

Di Re said his fitness and nutrition plan has worked even better for him since early last year, after he won the right to open juice bars in the new LA Fitness gyms across Western New York.

His All Juiced Up! shops are tucked into the chain’s locations in Buffalo, Clarence and Niagara Falls and he said he soon will set up nooks in two new planned clubs. His 20-ounce shakes contain up to 40 grams of protein and cost $6.25, except on Wednesdays, when they’re $5.

“I enjoy walking into a gym every morning,” Di Re said. “People are here for one reason only – to improve themselves and feel better – so it’s a positive energy. When you’re helping people achieve their goals, it gives you a better feeling about what you’re doing.”

He worked up his business and menu signs with help from 3G Grafix Printing in Amherst, including his signature “Banana Man,” who touts arms almost as big at Di Re’s. He looks to get facing Banana Man tattoos on the back of his arms in the coming months.

Here’s some of what else he told me during our interview earlier this week in the Elmwood Avenue LA Fitness site:

How did you lose the weight?

High protein, low carbs and the last three months of dieting before the bodybuilding show was zero carbs, which included working out six times a week, cardio twice a day.

It’s got to help to have a business in LA Fitness.

Yep. I spend 10, 12 hours a day in the gym, mostly working.

Over time, you’ve figured out a way to keep your metabolism high. How?

I’m probably snacking every three hours and I have the advantage that a lot of my snacks are protein shakes. Being in the business, I probably consume three or four shakes a day. You’re getting a regular infusion of protein, so that’s keeping up your metabolism ... and the only sugar is the natural sugar in the fruit.

Talk about the shakes.

We start out with a puree. The Vanilla Berry Parfait, for instance, is a four-berry: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and acai. The company that makes the puree takes all the berries and throws them into a machine, skins, seeds, everything. When I buy it, it’s like a paste, so I have to mix it with water to dilute it. A scoop of granola, a scoop of vanilla and two scoops of protein. Some of our shakes we take an orange and take the orange zest, the skin, which goes in there, too. That’s where a lot of the nutrition is.

We use a bio-whey protein; that’s our standard protein. It’s a good, clean protein. If someone is lactose intolerant, I have a soy protein. We also have a high performance protein called Elite Zero. It has zero fats, zero carbs, zero sugars. It’s a little more expensive because it’s a cleaner protein.

Talk about your typical eating day.

Breakfast is oatmeal and protein. I take three scoops of oatmeal, mix it with milk, a scoop of protein dissolved in and I throw some berries on it, or honey.

Within the hour, I’m back at the gym taking in a shake. The shake I do in the morning is the Body Builder. It’s 8 ounces of milk, 40 grams of  protein and a banana. I drink that about 9:30 in the morning.

I don’t exercise until 6 o’clock at night. Between my three stores, I’m running around, so my time to myself is between 6 and 8 at night.

Lunch is usually about 1 o’clock: broccoli dipped in Italian dressing and chicken breasts. My mid-afternoon snack is another shake, the Blueberry Monster. That has blueberries, bananas, pineapple juice, 40 grams of protein and oatmeal. I use the bio-whey protein. I’m not counting my calories right now.

For dinner, to be honest with you, I eat a sub. I like Firehouse (subs). I like the meatball subs. They have eight different subs. I start with number one and the next night I’ll have the two. So when I get there, they know me. They ask, ‘What number are you on?’

I eat my sub before I work out, and after I work out I have another shake. It’s usually the shake of the month.

Every day, you have at least 120 grams of protein in shakes alone?

Yes, I snack, too, on a protein bar. You’re supposed to consume a gram of protein a day for every pound of body weight (for bodybuilding).

(He stays at about 200 pounds most of the year, but cuts back significantly on his gym time most of June, July, August. He will eat a bit more pizza and wings then, too. “I might gain a couple of pounds,” he said, “but I get right back into it in the fall and my body picks up right where I left off.”)

What are the other staples of your diet?

I choose lots of chicken. Turkey is my second protein, red meat about once a week. I get the fruits from the shakes, but I do a banana a day, right before I work out. It gives me a boost of energy. It’s a good source of potassium.

How did you start this business?

I sold my (heating and cooling) business and decided to take six months off. Then I hear LA Fitness was coming into town. I went to their presale center on Transit Road and when I walked in, there was a sign at the window that said, ‘Business Opportunity.’ It was for the juice bar. So I called the number, sent my paperwork in for an application and I was awarded the license agreement for Western New York. I lease space.

What was it like getting things up and running? Had you done any juicing before?

Never. I was in the heating business my whole life and this was completely brand new. I was one of those guys that worked out and wasn’t into protein shakes.

Do you feel any differently after a year of incorporating the protein shakes?

I feel great. I’ll be 44 in June ... and this is the best I’ve felt in a long time.

What has the business been like?

Being brand new, it was lots of trial and error. We were trying different shakes. I’ve figured out after a year now what’s working, and I’ve got some new products in. Your staff is very important, too. You’ve got to make sure you have the right people working for you. I have four people at each store.

What tend to be the most popular sellers?

The Peanut Butter Cup. The Strawberry Slam is the most common shake for people who’ve never had a protein shake before. It’s strawberries, bananas and protein. Everybody loves strawberries and bananas.

The Veggie Fusion shakes caught my eye.

Those are vegetable shakes made with freeze-dried spinach and kale, avocado, beets. Each scoop of spinach or kale, it’s two servings of vegetables, so a lot of the shakes have four servings of vegetables. They start off with a pineapple-based puree or a butternut squash or a carrot-orange. It gives you a fruity taste, so you don’t taste the vegetables. We use all the skins, all the pulps. All those nutrients stay in.

Have you seen business grow since LA Fitness bought the BAC coed clubs in December?

I’m just into my second year, so the only thing I’m looking into is January and February from this year and last year, and business is up. I’ve seen an increase in people from the BAC coming through the door.

I see the list of bottled waters that you sell. Is there anything besides those and shakes that you sell?

We sell the add-ins along with the protein that we use. We have people who buy the freeze-dried spinach and kale and have started making their shakes at home. For a bag, it’s $35; they can buy the puree itself for $20 a jug.

How did you come up with the juice bar name?

It all came together working on a Saturday afternoon with Bobby over at 3G signs. We had the banana first. We came up with him, then the name.

What do you see in the future?

There’s two more stores opening this year. One is on Niagara Falls Boulevard and Sheridan; that’s the Amherst store. The other is in Hamburg on Milestrip and McKinley.

Have they asked you to go into any of the former BAC coed locations?

Not yet.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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