We are constantly flooded by ‘get-fit-quick’ diet/fitness plans over social media and magazines, all of which are either unsustainable or offer no long-term benefit. Technology and convenience seems to be shortening our attention spans by the day. However without time and consistency invested into a diet and fitness regime, sustainability and long-term benefit will be limited.
Below are the simple things you can do, starting NOW that will jump start your summer of health that will leaving you looking great and feeling awesome.
1) LONG-TERM FOCUS
That ‘Summer body' is a great goal, as it provides a strong mental picture of motivation, however don't limit it to just this summer: adopt a more holistic, bigger plan or focus on changes you know will benefit you not only for the coming summer but also the many years ahead. It also means less prep time needed for future summers!
2) ELIMINATE BARRIERS TO SUCCESS
For elite fitness models or physique competitors calorie counting and/or weighing food is a must in order to get down to extremely low body fat levels as safe and progressive as possible. The need for calorie counting ends there. However don't interpret that as 'calories don't matter'. They certainly do. There are more than one ways to skin a cat, easier and less time consuming ways too! Meticulous tracking is just another time consuming task that becomes unsustainable in the long run and therefore extremely inaccurate.
Find a plan that cuts out any additional admin to your life, but still WORKS. No-one wants their mealtimes to be reduced to a screen of characters like Neo in the Matrix.
Try structuring meals and portions in a more simplistic manner. If you prefer the feel or satiety of larger meals, techniques like intermittent fasting where you can enjoy larger evening meals may benefit you more. Pick something that works for you!
3) THE COMMON-SENSE DIET: Eat real food
- Optimal health centres around real food. Mother Nature just knows better than us. 4.5 billion years in the making gave her a head start. This may mean you need to acquire more skills in your kitchen in order to cook. But the basics are basic and will get you 90% of the way. Try to avoid convenience foods, even if they ‘fit the calorie goal’. Human biology and dietary requirements haven’t changed in millennia. Our bodies naturally want to be lean and somewhat muscular or toned. We require a plethora of vegetables throughout the day; healthy fats, including olive and coconut oils; good quality protein at every meal; occasional fruits; and good quality carbohydrates. Avoid processed carbs that can be found in anything made of flour: pasta, spaghetti, bread and baked goods. This common sense approach to eating gives us everything we need nutritionally and also re-balances our hunger and digestive hormones to keep our satiety and gut health in check for the long haul.
- Prioritise real superfoods. Don't waste money on the latest supposed ‘superberry’ that only grows in remote parts of the Amazon and is picked by monks only 3 days a year . The true superfoods have stood the test of time: these include free range eggs from well-cared hens, small wild-caught fish like sardines (small fish have less accumulation of heavy metals), cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, salad leaves like spinach; and best of all, freshly roasted organic coffee.
- Coffee beans remain one of the highest sources of antioxidants known to man. Limit yourself to 2-3 cups of coffee a day max, and don’t drink it past early afternoon especially if you struggle with getting good sleep.
4) SLEEP: Get your 8 hours
Sleep is probably the most underrated aspects to optimising health and reaching fitness goals. Poor sleep and frequent sleep disruption has been proven to add to weight gain. It increases our appetites and lowers our 'NEAT' (Non Exercise Attributed Thermogenesis), basically how active we are at rest during the day which adds up and contributes to overall calorie burn.
Sleep is the essential repair and recovery phase of our training. Without it, all your hard work in the gym is negatively affected. Most people need a minimum of 7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep per night. Also, if your work/day allows it, try having 20 minute power-naps during that afternoon lull. Studies show it can improve brain function. After all, a strong mind leads to a strong body. Especially when it comes to will power.
How to improve your sleep:
- Our bodies love routine, especially when it relates to our sleep / wake cycle. If you feel you never get enough sleep and stay up too late, set an earlier bedtime and stick to it. With consistency, your body will start waking up before your alarm, provided you’re getting your 8 hours.
- Try diet strategies like Carb-backloading: Eat the majority of your carbohydrates in the evening to enable release of serotonin, our relaxing feel good hormone. The reason cereals are such a bad option for breakfast is the high carb and sugar content. It makes people tired by mid-morning and they end up reaching for snacks.
- Try Zinc and Magnesium combined with 5-HTP (precursor to serotonin) can have a calming effect and benefit sleep. If you're on any anti-depressant medication, check with your doctor if its ok for you to take 5-HTP.
If you struggle to fall asleep:
- Dim the lights and stay off your phone/tablet/tv in the 2 hours pre-be time. Every channel and TV app has On Demand functions now anyway, so the TV timing is no longer an excuse.
- Try reading a good book to tire you out, and if that doesn’t work, try reading scientific studies. That definitely works.
- Don’t drink coffee or caffeinated teas past early afternoon.
5) CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRAINING: Strength is never a weakness
- Despite popular belief, cardio is not an effective way to get in shape for Summer. In fact it’s one of the worst. Be aware that the 80/20 rule applies here, so the lion share of fat loss will come from your consistency in dietary choices over your training.
- Resistance training (lifting weights) by far surpasses running spin classes or other forms of cardio due to the increased rate of calorie burn for 48 hours after the lifting session (E.P.O.C). The cardio sessions may burn more calories during the session but they get none of this ‘after-burn’.
- Gaining lean muscle tissue – or ‘toning’ if the word ‘muscle’ deters you – keeps everything outside your swimsuit firm and keeps you inner furnace burning more calories indefinitely.
- Some class-based training can be useful, especially for the community and motivational aspect, but be cautious of too many high intensity classes that aim to leave you dead after each session. Recovery can become compromised and that can lead to injury. Recovery is key remember. See Sleep above.
- Prioritise mobility and a great variety of movements in your training. These keep potential injuries at bay and can instantly improve your posture -another underrated method to maintain compliance and instantly improve appearance.
Once you find a training plan or coach that suits you, and as your confidence in the kitchen grows, practise consistentcy. The best plan is the one you can follow, so don’t plan 6 training sessions on your first week if you’re a beginner. Plan what you know you can achieve in week 1 and build from there.
Don't make a goal of having Instagramable – allegedly 15 minute meals – in your first week. What you cook may not look pretty, but does it contain a mix of single ingredient real foods? If yes, then you’re winning.
7) PEERS: You are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time around
Steer clear of negativity . Who you spend your time with will either help or distract you from your journey. Align yourself with friends with similar goals -or befriend new ones at the gym! The seemingly innocent comments you may hear from friends, work colleagues and family like “hey you need to treat yourself more” or “live a little, one drink won’t hurt” are less about offering you advice and more about comforting themselves, probably because they don’t have the willpower to do what you’re doing. So choose your supportive friends wisely. Then use your lessons of success to spread positivity.