Just minor changes in your everyday life or slight tweaks in your gym routine can be hugely beneficial for your health and fitness. Nothing can be worse than spending hours in the gym and having nothing to show for it. It’s all about training smart—knowing just what to do, and how much to do it. It’s equally important to eat right and incorporate simple changes in your food choices. Calculating your protein requirement (a minimum of 0.8g per kilogram of body weight, up to a maximum of 1.5g if you are training hard), making sure you have a pre- and post-workout snack ready, resting a particular muscle group for 24 hours between each workout—this can make all the diference. Follow our detailed plan for a fitter, healthier you in the coming year.
Vow that you will start your day with a good meal. A hearty breakfast changes the way you feel and train through the day. A meal consisting of whole oats, egg whites, fruits and milk is the ideal combination. The slow-release carbohydrate from whole oats, with the protein of egg whites, gives you a sustained release of energy through the day.
Get enough sleep! According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Indianapolis, your body needs at least 7-8 hours of sound, undisturbed sleep to repair and regenerate and go through the proper metabolic processes. Studies also show that people who sleep less than the required amount tend to put on weight.
Include “superfoods” in your daily diet. It’s not hard at all. Superfoods are easily available—mushrooms, tomatoes, almonds, oats, eggs, broccoli and spinach are some examples. Berries, avocado, quinoa, salmon and walnuts are a little harder to get, but they are worth the pain and money spent on them.
Avoid bad carbs such as refined flours, white pasta, pastries, white sugar, or too many potatoes if you want to lose weight fast or maintain it. In fact, there are three “white devils” which are part of our daily diet and do more harm than good—refined sugar, white flour, and processed white table salt. Stick to consuming 6g (around 1 tsp) of salt per day. Too much salt increases sodium levels in the body; an excess can lead to a host of problems like hypertension, high blood pressure, water retention, etc.
Up the intake of lean proteins like chicken, fish, turkey, soy and egg whites in your diet. If you are vegetarian and follow a training programme, supplement with a good whey protein shake.
Get a professional to evaluate and calculate your nutritional requirements. This involves a detailed session factoring in age, genetics, activity levels, ailments, physical limitations, etc., so you get a perfectly tailored plan for your body.
You need to eat to lose weight: Eat small amounts every 3 hours instead of three large meals a day. Aim for six-seven small meals in a day. Drink at least 2 litres of water a day and avoid alcohol. Alcohol is just empty calories that will slow you down the next morning.
Every two weeks, shock your body by changing the number of repetitions or by increasing the amount of weight you’ve been lifting. A general rule to follow for increasing muscle size is to perform six-eight repetitions per set of a heavy weight. For muscle endurance, pick a weight that will let you perform 12-18 repetitions per set. Lift progressively: For size, you should increase the weight only if you can perform the eighth repetition easily. Increase it just enough so that the eighth repetition now should feel like you require assistance to lift. Similarly, for endurance, performing more than 20 repetitions won’t achieve much, so increase the weight in a way that makes the 20th repetition pretty hard to lift.
Pick a sport. Cross training is the key to a fitter, leaner body. If you combine weight training, cardio sessions and weekend sports activities, you’ve got the perfect cross-training programme. Challenge your muscles by performing different activities to promote muscle confusion and the metabolic cost of each workout.
Vary your workout to avoid the plateau. Include compound exercises—these exercises work more than one muscle group at a time, and build balanced overall strength. They are great for your core. Try burpees, kettlebell swings, squats with shoulder presses, push-ups, etc.
Invest in the correct training gear. The right training shoe can boost your performance by a mile. Companies now provide adequate information at the customer level. Tips to keep in mind: Is the basic arch of your foot neutral, flat, or high? Is there a specific sport you need the shoe for, such as tennis, running, basketball, etc.? If you like to perform various activities, then you are looking for a cross-training shoe.
Ditch the sit-ups. The world’s most popular abs move is also the most useless. Core training is what you want to focus on. Deep-lying abdominal muscles, obliques (the muscles on the sides of the abdomen), and the muscles of the lower back form the core. Focus on moves like the plank and the sideplank; work on the Swiss ball, which gives the core muscles a thorough workout by destabilizing you. Include plyometrics (these are moves which involve short sudden bursts of jumps and kicks, but require strong knees and lower back muscles) in your routine.
Don’t just limit your workout on single stations at the gym which isolate the muscle group you are working on. Perform the same set of bicep curls standing with free weights rather than fixed machines to promote greater muscle activation. Include kettlebells, the TRX System, and don’t underestimate the power of body-weight exercises.
Don’t work out if you don’t have a pre- and post-workout snack prepared. These two snacks change the way you perform during training sessions and help refuel your muscles. A good pre-workout snack 45 minutes before your workout would include a slow-release carbohydrate like a fruit or a sandwich to provide a sustained release of energy during the workout. A post-workout snack should have a good amount of protein and carbohydrates, like eggs and toast or yogurt with cereal and nuts, to promote recovery and repair of muscles.
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Work towards improving your posture at your desk, during workouts and while you walk. Stand tall! Correct alignment and maintaining a neutral spine can prevent posture-related injuries. To find your correct posture, stand facing a mirror—shoulders should be slightly rolled back and relaxed, ears should be in line with your shoulders, belly button tucked in and core activated, and the spine straight and neutral. Put equal weight on both the left and right sides of your body, with the weight distributed a little more on the outer soles of your feet.
Include high-intensity cardio bursts in between your training sessions to challenge your heart rate and target your fat-burning zone. Dedicate two days a week for Interval Training and cardio sessions, followed by a five-set core strengthening regimen.
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Do “super sets” in the gym. They can be done any time your workout needs a little change or increase in intensity: A super set is two exercises done without any rest in between. This saves time and increases the intensity of the workout.
Sometimes supplements, such as high-strength vitamin C, ZMA capsules and a good multi-vitamin, are needed to improve performance and to build immunity and improve concentration. These are available over the counter, but it would be a good idea to run them by your physician to see what you are deficient in and how much you need. Just like deficiencies stop your body from performing at its peak, too much of something can also be harmful—for example, a surfeit of calcium can lead to fatigue, nausea, hyperparathyroidism, etc.
Know that you need adequate rest between each workout session for your body to repair and muscles to regenerate. This is based on the rule that a worked muscle needs at least 24 hours to rest and repair. So there is no point training your abs or your biceps every day—this will only lead to injuries. Alternate muscle groups for most part of your training (if you’re training heavy) unless you’re doing circuit formats. Allow a primary muscle to rest for at least 24 hours before you train it again.
Stretch for success: Make sure you include a flexibility programme in your workout schedule. It could be a class or two of yoga or just basic stretching. Regular training and incorrect posture can lead to tight muscles, which can further lead to injuries. Keep your muscles supple.
Finally, aim for consistency and balance, with food and training!
Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of The Bodyworks Studio, a personal training studio in New Delhi.
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