We all start out somewhere.
The road to a lifestyle change can be difficult for a number of reasons. Maybe you were raised eating fast food and watching television throughout the day, or perhaps you’re just starting out weightlifting after a lifetime of long distance cardio or dance. We all have questions: Which foods should I eat? How many days a week should I work out? Which equipment should I use? And supplements? What is a macronutrient? Luckily for you, this guide has been designed to address these common questions, and to help you avoid being misled by shady, unreliable internet articles.
First, let’s talk about getting active.
Routine exercise is wonderful for the body. Benefits include (but are not limited to) increase of metabolism and energy levels, feelings of satisfaction due to the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, decreased body fat and blood pressure as well as bolstered pride in oneself which can lead to increased productivity and an overall better outlook on life.
Here are some tips to start you off:
- Aim for increased performance.
- When you reach a goal, set a new one.
- Consistency is key, in both diet and fitness.
- When you feel like giving up, remind yourself why you started.
- Step out of your comfort zone. If it’s comfortable, it won’t change you.
- Fad diets don’t work for everyone, and aren’t sustainable
- It IS possible.
A healthy lifestyle consists of two separate parts—exercise and proper nutrition. It is common for one to think that simply implementing a fitness routine will compensate for a poor diet, but this is a fallacy. Here’s a ratio to put it in perspective: 10-30% exercise + 70-90% nutrition = 100% percent foundation. Without proper nutrition, you can’t assure proper recovery or energy levels in order to support your fitness regimen and are consequently less likely to undergo satisfying change.
TIP: Use a free diet tracker such as MyFitnessPal (phone app) to easily keep track of your macronutrients and calories. Similar free applications exist to track your workouts, but a simple notebook will suffice to gauge progress.
Remember, consistency and moderation are key in all aspects of life—this is no exception.
Determine what your goal is. Are you trying to build strength? Endurance? Are you aiming to build muscle, or simply shed those extra pounds and get in shape? Regardless, your routine should be consistent. Start with three days out of your week and make time for them. Wake up an hour earlier or go right after work (without stopping anywhere else). Skipping an episode or two of your favorite show could mean the difference between achieving your goals or backpeddling. You want to feel better—stronger, more energetic, and to be proud of your body—so don’t give up! Three days a week is easy to factor in, whereas overloading your schedule with 5-6 days straight out of the gate can sometimes result in feeling over encumbered; this will inevitably lead to the collapse of your routine. Remember: every step in the right direction is a positive one—whether small or large. There’s no need to rush if you’re putting in real effort. So long as you keep with it, you will get there in time. This being said, the journey isn’t easy; it takes work, but the return is well worth your investment.
A solid, well-rounded routine consists of both anaerobic and aerobic exercise.
- Anaerobic– exercise which is dependent on energy stored in the muscles rather than oxygen.
- Heavy weight lifting
- High intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Aerobic– exercise dependent on oxygen transported and absorbed by the cardiovascular system.
- Endurance training
- Long distance running
However, this depends on your particular goal. Maybe you want to train for powerlifting competitions, in which case too much aerobic activity could hinder your progress. Likewise, too much anaerobic training could hinder the progress of an aspiring marathon runner due to increased muscle mass and fast-twitch muscle fiber soreness. Once you’ve determined your desired fitness niche, find a balance which supports that niche.
- Determine your personal goal.
- Take small strides at first and establish a routine.
- Hone in on your goals and continuously develop new ones to conquer.
- For general health, aim for a manageable schedule to assure continued progress.
This is the hardest part of a lifestyle change. Life is busy, and so it’s difficult to pass up on quick meals from your local fast food stop on the way home from work. Soda tastes good. Donuts do, too. But the problem lay not necessarily in the foods that we eat, but in one’s inability to establish moderation. Fast food becomes a daily thing, often multiple times a day. Many choose sodas or energy drinks over water due to sugar’s highly addictive qualities. So, in order to become healthy, we must manage ourselves. It takes willpower to make healthier diet decisions, and more often than not people have no idea where even to begin.
Keep in mind that treating yourself occasionally won’t ruin your diet. In fact, allowing yourself to have something “bad” once in a while will strengthen your resolve to be healthy as well as bolster your appreciation for a time-to-time splurge. Completely ridding your diet of foods that you enjoy will create a typical New-Years-Resolutioner situation; in this case, relapsing can be a serious threat to your goals, and often permanently dissuades newbies from healthy living.
Here are some Dos and Do Nots of a healthy diet:
Do cook 80 or more percent of your meals at home.
- Cooking your meals at home ensures that you know what you’re eating and bolsters your overall health regimen.
Do NOT rely on fast foods or boxed meals to provide the necessary nutrients to support a fitness routine and healthy lifestyle.
- Just because the chicken is “white meat” doesn’t equate it to the nutrient quality of a home-cooked chicken breast.
Do eat plenty of vegetables such as leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula), as well as nutrient dense foods including quinoa, sweet potatoes and lentils.
- Your body needs a balance of both macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (trace vitamins and minerals) to function properly and fortify overall health.
Do NOT have a cheat meal every day.
- Cheat meals are a great reward system within reason, but if you don’t feel you’ve put in enough work or if you consistently go overboard on cheat meals it can hinder your progress and sometimes lead to backpeddling (weight gain, decreased willpower and resolve, increased cravings).
Do pay attention to how foods affect you.
- Did it make you feel lethargic? Bloated? Did it enhance or hinder your fitness routine? Everyone’s body is fundamentally the same and simultaneously different. Ethnic background and biology determines how consumption of certain foods will affect you. If something doesn’t work for you, try something new.
Do NOT pay for a fad diet or cookie cutter diet plan.
- To relate to the previous statement, we are all fundamentally the same and yet different. What works for someone else may not work for you. It’s better to invest in a plan written to address your personal needs and goals than to risk your dime on the word of someone you’ve never met and best to learn how to plan for yourself!
Do give it time.
- The best diet will yield steady results congruent to your fitness routine. Make changes when necessary, but when you get discouraged (as all beginners do), remember why you started. Patience, resilience and consistency separate those who fail and quit from those who fail and try harder to succeed.
If you have no idea where to begin, focus first on simply counting your calorie intake.
- A moderate caloric deficit (meaning burning more calories than you intake throughout the day) will ensure consistent weight loss.
- A moderate caloric surplus (meaning consuming more calories than you burn throughout the day) will ensure consistent weight gain.
Once you’ve gotten used to the idea of counting calories, hone in on your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats)
- Maintaining a proper balance of macronutrients while exercising either a moderate caloric deficit or surplus will ensure enhanced progress either in fat loss or muscle building. Adjusting your macronutrients can often mean the difference between achieving your goals or hitting a plateau.
- A proper macronutrient ratio will also bolster hormonal balance and other bodily functions.
(Definitions as found on https://www.naturalbalancefoods.com/community/dietary-needs/what-are-macronutrients-micronutrients/)
Protein- Any nitrogenous organic compound consisting of large molecules composed of long chains of amino acids (each linked to its neighbor through a covalent peptide bond) essential to all living organisms, especially to body tissues (muscle, hair, collagen, as well as enzymes and antibodies).
Carbohydrate- Molecular compounds made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Sugars, starches and fibers which provide fuel to the central nervous system and energy to working muscles. They are comprised of small chains of sugar which the digestive body breaks down into glucose. They help to prevent protein from being used as an energy source and enable fat metabolism.
- Primary source of energy for the body
- Simple carbs- quickly digested; good for bursts of energy; can spike blood sugar
- Complex carbs- slowly digested; provides sustained energy
- Fiber- essential for digestion; promotes healthy bowl movements
- Some quality sources-
- Complex- Oatmeal, red potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, beans and lentils
- Simple- White rice, bananas, mangos, pomegranates, honey and low sugar Greek yogurt
- Fiber- Lentils, beans, oats, quinoa, almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, pears, avocado, apples, bananas, beets,
Fat- The primary function of fat is as an energy reserve. The body stores fat as a result of excess calorie consumption. After about 20 minutes of exercise, the body uses calories from stored fat to keep going. Fats help the body absorb necessary fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) and helps to keep hair and skin healthy, insulates the body, protects organs and fills fat cells.
- (“Good” fats) provide healthy cholesterol to support cognitive function, heart health as well as support a number of other bodily functions.
- Some quality sources- avocados, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, nut and seed butters, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseeds, salmon, tuna, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, eggs
- Don’t fall for fad diets or online cookie cutter plans.
- We are all fundamentally the same and yet different. The same goes for our nutritional needs. The best diet is one you will follow, and one that works for you.
- Try to limit your cheat meals to prevent hindering progress.
- Starting out, set a caloric goal that yields results and then hone in on macronutrients to enhance progress further.
- Each macronutrient provides a specific and important function for the body.
- Patience, resilience and consistency separate those who fail and quit from those who fail and try harder to succeed.
Once you have established your 100% foundation, supplementation can help you excel even further. Supplementation, by definition, is anything added to or extra, meaning: the right supplements can push you beyond your 100% foundation, as well as increase longevity and rapidity of the results you are seeking. This being said, supplementation is meant to support your foundation, not replace or undercut it. Adopting a supplement plan without practicing healthy eating habits and routine exercise can lead to unreal expectations, impatience, and further backsliding.
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified dietitian, but I have spent a great deal of time (over eight years) working in the fitness industry as well as acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary for achieving success in healthy lifestyle changes, concerning both diet and exercise. That said, you should always consult qualified health professional before starting any exercise and/or nutritional program.