Only weeks away to official start of summer (a.k.a. Memorial Day BBQs), this is the time then many people will really start dialing in their nutrition and training programs. Here are 5 keys for getting in peak physical condition by the time summer rolls around.
Train Hard, Recover Smart
When I first started weight training as a teenager, I thought fitness was as simple as going to the gym, training as hard as I could for as long as I could. This does work to some extent when you are 16 years old, but for the rest of us, the road to getting in peak shape is equal parts training and recovery.
The harder you train, the smarter you need to recover.
Training is physically damaging. In fact, the harder you train the greater the amount of the stress hormone cortisol your body will release (don’t worry, this is good). When your training is over, recovery starts. All of your muscle growth occurs during this recovery period.
The easiest step you can take for smart recovery is a post-workout protein shake. Having a protein shake (20-40g depending on your body size and the intensity of your training) shortly after you finish training is a calorically efficient way to curtail the muscle destroying effects of your training session while also jumpstarting the muscle rebuilding process.
Within the next 1.5-2hrs have a solid meal containing both protein and quality, minimally processed carbs (i.e., brown rice, potato, squash, etc.). This follow-up meal further feeds your muscles the protein they need for recovery while also beginning the process of replenishing your muscles’ carbohydrate stores.
This one-two step for recovery is as effective as it is simple.
Prioritize Red, Green, and Blue
Fruits and vegetable have traditionally been downplayed in the fitness world - the focus has traditionally been on optimizing protein and eating more or less carbs (carbs being used as a synonym for potatoes, breads, grains, and pastas). While protein is very important (see previous key), fruits and vegetables are just as essential to your success. They provide the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and carbohydrates that your body needs to properly recover and optimize performance, while making eating a calorie-controlled diet easier.
When you sit down to eat a meal, always make sure that you are prioritizing fruits and vegetables - especially those that are red, green, and blue. Red and blue fruits and vegetable are going to be loaded with not just vitamins and minerals, but antioxidants that help fight inflammation and some of the cellular stressors brought on by intensive training. Green vegetables generally have a very high internal water content. This means that you can eat a lot of them without consuming a lot of calories. Eating high-volume, low-calorie foods is a key strategy for being successful on a reduced-calorie diet.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Blackberries (they are really dark blue!)
- Red Peppers
- Brussels Sprouts
Use Weekends to Make Gains
The weekends are your time to shine and make extra gains towards your goals, but unfortunately, the weekends are when most people regress. The diversion from the regularity of the weekday schedule combined with the temptations of additional foods and beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) that are usually not around during the week, make the weekend a time where most people get less sleep and consume more calories.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that clients can mentally separate their activities during the week from those on the weekend. This disconnect breeds frustration when results start to slow. If you ate and drank whatever you wanted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, would you be frustrated that you weren’t reaching your fitness goals?
Probably not, you’d know that you needed to tighten things up on Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite this, we are all quick to hop off the diet and exercise train from Friday night until Sunday night without really thinking about how it is impacting our progress.
This is why I recommend that you get extra proactive when it comes to the weekends. Use them as a time to double down on your efforts. Use the weekends to: get extra sleep, dial in your diet even more, sneak in an extra workout. All these activities will help rejuvenate and recharge so that you go into Monday with a ‘hell yeah’ mindset vs a ‘what did I just do’ one.
Cardio for Calories and Recovery
Don’t just treat cardio like it is all the same. Instead, you’ll be better served by separating your cardio into 2 main buckets - cardio for burning calories and cardio for recovery.
Interval-based cardio, especially the high intensity kind, that alternates between 30-90 seconds of near maximum effort with 30-120 seconds of recovery (a 1:2 work to recovery ratio is a good place to start) for 5-8 rounds is prime cardio for burning calories. This is the kind of cardio that will support fat loss. 5k runs and 60-minute slow jogs will not.
However, lower intensity, longer duration is great for recovery - both physical recovery and nervous system recovery. Keeping your heart rate in the 120-130 beats per minute range during these longer sessions will strengthen your heart muscle, help lower your resting heart rate, and support lower blood pressure. These recovery cardio sessions are effective even just once per week but if your schedule allows, you can add a second.
Double Down on Sleep
Sleep is really your secret weapon. It seems strange to say that literally not moving is your secret weapon for getting in great shape but it’s true.
Research shows us that inadequate sleep messes with our minds when it comes to making the right food decisions - increasing our desire for sweets, treats, and higher calorie foods while also significantly increasing our sugar intake.
Lower levels of sleep also negatively impact our metabolism. Just one night of short sleep impairs optimal function of the fat-loss hormone leptin. Insufficient sleep can also lead to a slowing metabolic rate and the impairment of how our body uses and processes carbohydrates.
Research looking at lower levels of sleep and negative metabolic repercussions can be a little depressing since just one night of short sleep (approximately 4hrs) can have significant detrimental effects. However, we need to be in it for the long game. Bad nights of sleep happen but taking the effort to slowly regain those lost hours over the next couple nights can help mitigate the negative effects.
In the end, getting good, consistent sleep is about making the decision to setup your life so you can get 7-9 hours each night, just like the decision you made to eat protein at every meal.