Friday, September 26, 2014

Recipe for a Better Looking, Stronger, Healthier Body

As an athlete and trainer I take my health pretty seriously. A big part of health is diet. Of course as with anything there has to be balance. If you are one of the few people that has perfected the art of never cheating on your diet then congratulations - you can move on from reading this article. I can't help you if you're perfect because I am not perfect. I am a person who loves to eat that strives to balance the demands of time: family, training, work and social activities all while trying to make good decisions along the way.

This article is for athletes and health conscious people that care more about just looking good. If you want to look good and that's your only motivation there are a number of "get skinny quick" diets out there, which include the ever popular juice and shake only cleanses. I can't help you with a quick fix. The fact of the matter is that being skinny alone does not have any indication of your health. There are skinny people that are very unhealthy and/or malnourished. My personal opinion is that being lean and strong is more much healthy and important to having a long, quality life.

Much like Google's search algorithm, good health is not one component alone but rather a blend of components that add up to make the best possible result. You can think of it as a recipe of sorts for a stronger, healthier body that is also better looking. Below is a list of suggestions to get your health and your body to where you want to be. The balance and importance of all these things is up to you. Don't expect huge changes overnight and don't allow temporary setbacks to derail you. Health and fitness is a lifelong commitment.

The Recipe:

On eating:
  • Decrease your caloric intake: If you're trying to lose weight an overall decrease in calories is needed or else you will NOT lose weight. For athletes this can be tricky. You can't really lose weight training for and competing in endurance sports for example. If you've ever tried to go for a long run on a day where you skipped or had very few carbs to sustain your workout you'll likely recall that feeling of fatigue and yuckyness often described as "hitting the wall". So lose weight in the "off" season in part by cutting calories.
  • Drink more water and non-caffeinated healthy drinks such as herbal tea
  • Cut out the sugar and not only that but the fake stuff. Splenda is not as healthy for you as the makers of Splenda want you to believe. If you must use sugar consider using the organic cane sugar in small amounts. I've recently switched to organic coconut palm sugar. You can also use Stevia and Agave or pure honey.
  • Read labels - Never believe what the packaging says. They lie. Be educated on what you put into your body. Sugar has over 50 names. And know if it's GMO-free. What are GMO's you ask? Google it. 
  • Less Meat - Vegetarian diets are not for everyone. Eating meat is fine if the quality is there. Do not just eat "junk" meat. Eat organic, hormone-free, free range, lean high quality meats like poultry and lean beef. Limit meats with less nutritional value and saturated fats such as pork. Even if you are a meat eater you can cut back your intake. Experts recommend eating meatless at least one or two days a week now. 
  • More Fruits and Veggies - That old saying "an apple day keeps the doctor away" had to come from somewhere. Eat fresh, organic or cleaned, raw fruits and veggies. Try to eat at least a few servings of each  day mixing colors and varieties. Beets for example are excellent for your health and have been shown to increase your aerobic endurance and stamina. Greens and berries help fight off cancer and lots of illnesses.
  • Good fats - your body DOES need fats to run properly but not the fats you get in a fried cheeseburger and fries. I'm not saying you can't indulge when the mood strikes you just make it a treat. The good fats come from wild fish like salmon and tuna, olive oil, avocado, raw nuts like almonds and cashews, peanuts and seeds.
  • Cut out the junk - if it comes in a box in the middle of the grocery store it is not a whole food. Limit your intake of these convenience snack foods and meals.
  • Less Dairy - as delicious as it is limit your dairy intake. It is processed. There are many good alternatives these days like almond milk, coconut milk, organic soymilk. I'll never give up cheese entirely but I know I can't eat it all the time. It's nutritional value is overrated and it is a fatty food and not in a good way.
  • Ditch the crappy wheat - the only wheat bread you should EVER eat is sprouted, whole grain. Otherwise look for gluten free options. But remember while gluten free is better than wheat gluten free does not equal guilt free. Watch the carbs!
  • Alcohol - this is a tricky one for craft beer lovers like me. Lately I've been trying to drink the lighter, fractional IPAs during the week, having a glass of red wine or abstaining. Alcohol of any form does add on the calories so if you're watching calories you either have to cut back here or somewhere. I've been known to forego the bread and have a beer but that's just me.
On exercise:

  • Do it daily: Exercise at least five days each week. Don't make excuses just do it. 
  • Cardio + Strength: Alternate cardio and weight training. For runners and triathletes I know it's easy to let the weight training go but it is essential to injury prevention and also to looking and feeling stronger and better. All the cardio in the world won't work for the majority of people. Mix in some yoga, pilates, free weights - whatever you like just get the core work in at least 2-3 x week in the off season and 1-2 during the season.
  • Try new things for better results: repetition does not necessarily lead to the result you might think it does. Try new things. Confuse your muscles and see the results. 
  • Fueling for workouts: Fuel any workouts over an hour. For anything under use your discretion. For hard and long workouts be sure to fuel after with a blend of carbs and protein for cardio and protein for strength work.
On wellness:
  • Listen to your body: rest when you need rest, are extra tired, fighting a cold, etc. Don't push through to your detriment. 
  • Quiet your mind: take some quiet time each week to decompress, meditate if you're into that or else just relax and enjoy something like a good book or whatever helps you feel peaceful and relaxed. Our daily lives are hectic and we deserve and need this time to rejuvinate.
  • Take high-quality supplements: just as with your food read the label for your vitamins and supplements. You should at minimum take a whole foods multi-vitamin, fish or flaxseed oil and vitamin D if you live in a region like Ohio where the sunlight is limited especially in the winter months.
As you can see a large part of how you look and feel is related to your diet but exercise and wellness are also important to your overall health. Commit to continuous improvement. You may never be perfect but you can improve little by little.

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