On the path towards the physique you’ve been dreaming of, health seems to become an afterthought. However, I’ve learned that it should be the first thought and incorporated into the journey towards getting fit. You only get one body and don’t let your health fall to the wayside until you don’t have it. There are many different diets, ways of training, and supplements out there and it’s hard to sift our way through all of the marketing and propaganda to figure out what is best for us. Being healthy isn’t simply about what you are putting into your mouth, but a lifestyle.
1. Eat Carbs & Healthy Fats
Carbohydrates and healthy fats are the fuel that gives us energy to live our daily lives and power through a challenging workout with lifting weights or HIIT or even steady state cardio. I have heard of many diets that consider carbs to be the devil. Glucose is an important aspect of building muscle and achieving muscle hypertrophy – the goal, right? Do not fear the carbs, enjoy the carbs, love the carbs and know that carbs will be super useful in building muscle as well as speeding up your metabolism. It’s been my experience that it’s not complex carbohydrates that are the problem, but the kinds of carbs that are eaten. Eating the correct kinds and amounts of complex carbs will fuel your body and burn fat. A rule of thumb to follow is avoid processed complex carbs, like white bread, and fill your plate with metabolism boosters. Complex carbs like couscous, quinoa, sweet potato, oatmeal, Ezekiel bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice all are very healthy for you and help speed up your metabolism to make your body more proficient at building lean muscle mass and burning more fat.
Healthy fats are an excellent metabolism booster in appropriate ratios in your diet. Even saturated fats are an important aspect of your diet because they assist in hormone regulation and even joint health. I’ve found that some fats are mistakenly and incorrectly incorporated into diets as protein or carbs. For example, peanut butter is commonly mistaken as protein, which this food does contain plenty of. BUT, two tablespoons of generic peanut butter packs nearly double the grams of fat as it does protein with a macro count of fifteen grams of fat, eight grams of protein and seven grams of carbs. Other healthy fats to include into your diet can be: coconut oil, almond butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocado or raw almonds. Twenty percent of your daily caloric intake coming from healthy fats is a great starting point, but can be increased per the individual and how their body reacts.
2. Don’t Forget Fruit and Veggies!
Fruit tends to get a bad rap because it contains sugar, even though its naturally occurring fructose and not sugar cane. Understandably, bananas are a prime example of a fruit that packs a ton of carbs and loads of sugar. But, there are plenty of fruits available that have minimal sugar, low carbs and loads of health benefits. Did you know that fruit antioxidants are determined by their color? All different kinds of berries are packed with health enhancing antioxidants that ward off disease and promote a healthy immune system. My favorite fruit happens to be berries due to the low fructose levels and relatively low amount of carbs, but apples are also tasty and low in sugar – specifically, Fuji apples are among the lowest in naturally occurring fructose. For health, it is important to get two serving of fruit daily to deliver your body all the health enhancing antioxidants you can!
Vegetables are under eaten as well. Although fiber isn’t digested by the body, it plays a role in intestinal health. Three cups of veggies per day is a heathy portion, which can be spinach, broccoli, asparagus, squash – all veggies low in sugar and high in fiber. Vegetables high in fructose, such as corn and peas, should be eaten sparingly if you want to avoid a higher sugar intake.
3. Diversify Your Workouts
Everyone’s bodies are comprised of different muscle tissues that are activated and targeted by different styles of training. There are slow twitch muscle fibers that are targeted and adapted to moderate intensity workouts for long(ish) periods of time. And, your body has fast twitch muscle tissue, which performs best during intervals of high intensity and then a period of rest. Cardiovascular exercise is a key example of this concept of diversifying workouts. HIIT is amazing to really activate and work fast twitch muscles with bouts of high intensity and periods of rest. Whereas steady state cardio, that can pass the “talk test,” will dig into and work the slow twitch muscles. Although there are arguments for one kind of cardio being better for preserving muscle mass than the other, each kind will efficiently work the different kinds muscles in your body. Why not do both? Use both kinds of cardio during your weekly split. On days that you’re gassed from lifting, do steady state cardio afterwards for a half hour. And, on non-lifting days, give your all on twenty to twenty-five minutes of HIIT. Using both methods of cardio will activate both kinds of muscle tissues and you reap the heart health benefits of it all. Along with diversifying what you are doing, I cannot stress enough that you have to listen to your body.
Lifting heavy is my way of life – I used to have the mentality that if I don’t lift as heavy as possible, then my work out wasn’t successful. It’s pretty foolish to believe this because pushing yourself to the point of injury is ridiculous. A successful workout isn’t about hitting a new PR every time you work a muscle group, but training in a way that produces the outcomes you want. I have learned the hard way that listening to your body is one of the most important aspects of bodybuilding. I understand the concept of ‘no pain, no gain,’ but hurting yourself in the process isn’t the intended outcome. I’ve found that it’s in the recovery of muscle and training smarter, that produces the results I want faster. Don’t lift injured, if you have a sprain – take a break! It’s not about hitting all your weights and every rep in the log book, but more about producing results and remaining healthy. This is the only body you get, treat it with the respect it deserves, fuel it with proper nutrition by eating for health, allow for muscle repair and injury recovery and take good care of it!