I’ve come a long way from the effeminate, skinny kid I was growing up. I’m still there mentally, but from what I hear, I’ve grown into quite a guy. For that I can thank nearly 10 years of regular exercise and attention to my diet, both of which have evolved slowly and thoughtfully. A friend recently asked if I would provide some tips and principles I utilize to keep myself in shape. I wanted to be thorough, and open it to the wider audience of this space.
First, I will say that everyone is capable of exercise, no matter disability, ailment, or condition. There are injured soldiers returning from war missing limbs, yet they skateboard and run ultramarathons. Quite similarly, everyone is capable of eating well. Fresh food made with unprocessed ingredients is all around us, you just have to look.
With that, here are some big topics and tips to keep in mind when tackling them, if you’re looking to make a change.
- Diet Â ~Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels~
- Carbohydrates are not ‘the enemy’ – you need them to operate efficiently. That said, they should be eaten with timing in mind. Don’t have a bunch of pasta or bread before you plan to go to bed, or sit at your desk all day. You want to use those carbs for something – so eat them at breakfast before the day begins (they jumpstart your metabolism), or right before exercise. Key foods: multigrain toast, quinoa, fruit, granola, low-sugar cereal
- Fiber is good because it slows digestion (doesn’t spike blood sugar). Higher-fiber foods sustain your body longer. Start looking at the food labels of your favorite foods, to see how much fiber you’re getting daily. Your bowel movements will be a clue too :)Â Key foods: multigrain toast, steel-cut oatmeal, almonds, apples, veggies
- Protein is key for everyone, not just those trying to build muscle. Protein also sustains your body longer, and makes your muscles happy. If you’re trying to gain weight, I’ve heard that you need to eat as many grams of protein per day as the number of pounds you wish to weigh (i.e. 200g/day to eventually weigh 200 lbs), although I don’t stick to that rule hard-and-fast.Â Key foods: organic chicken, lean red meat, low-sodium prime fillet canned tuna, egg whites
- Sugar is best if it’s unprocessed. That means honey, agave nectar, and fruit. Try satiating your sweet tooth with these instead of refined sugars.Â Key foods: bananas, apples, dried apricots
- Some other foods I like and eat often as well: fat free cottage cheese, veggie burgers, raw walnuts, tilapia, pineapple, almond butter, honey, and almond or soy milk. And of course, powdered protein made of hemp, chia, rice and soy.
- Some things I have in lieu of similar vices: flavored seltzer water (Canada Dry, Seagram’s, Lacroix) instead of soda, dark chocolate chips (Ghirardelli) instead of milk chocolate or other candies/sugar.
- I’ve been trying the caveman diet lately and have really enjoyed it so far. It’s sticking to lean meat, fruit, veggies, and legumes (beans, nuts). Minus fiber bread in the morning, I’m doing pretty well!
If you’re coming from a custom of unhealthy foods, I suggest picking a single meal to change at a time. Make breakfast healthy, and then once you’re in that groove, change lunch, and then dinner. Start thinking ahead…
- Pack snacks so you’re not caught out and hungry
- Consider when you’ll really have time to eat, and plan accordingly
- Many healthy snack mixes of nuts and dried fruit or dark chocolate can be bought in bulk from health food stores.
- I have taken my lunch to work since I began working full-time. Most chain restaurants use so much salt and sugar in their meals…it’s scary.
- If you don’t enjoy cooking dinner at home, consider healthy take-out. Locally, FitLife Foods has three locations with a wide range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates that are simply packaged and stay fresh for 2-3 days. Average price is around $8 per meal.
Many professional trainers suggest having one cheat day a week, when you eat whatever you want. I have one cheat meal a week, as I rarely feel the need to gorge myself for an entire day. This will also help transition from crap foods to better ones. Try to stick to the same day each week, instead of declaring a day “cheat” after you’ve already started eating badly.
And, because I know everyone is wondering…alcohol. I know most trainers and health nuts advocate no alcohol at all, but for many that is also unfathomable. I stay within some simple guidelines: two light beers in one ‘event’ (dinner, party, cookout, etc.) or two vodka-club sodaÂ cocktails if I’m going out. As always, choose high-quality liquor, stick to clear and sugar-free, and always have several glasses of water before bed to avoid any hangovers. No one is perfect, and for many alcohol is essential for socializing and networking.
- Joining a gym and expecting to learn by osmosis won’t cut it. If you’re serious, do a lot of online research before you go, or consult a friend who exercises. Or, hire a trainer, but be prepared to pay. Locally, I know a number of good trainers.
- If you’re already on the gym path, the thing I stress the most is variety. It’s great to focus each workout on a part of your body (arms, legs, core, etc.), but even within that structure, you have to do different exercises. Change your arm workout every time you do it and you will see greater results (and you won’t be bored either!).
- I usually do weight training for two days and then take a day off. That’s 4-5 days a week in the gym, which for many people is not feasible. If it’s a choice, your priorities will drive your decision to go to the gym and get in shape. If you have no flexibility, finding alternate ways to work out will let you achieve goals without making major changes to your schedule. There are plenty of ways to work out at home, with minimal equipment or investment.
- Being flexible is a valuable quality. Exercise at different times of the day, and do different things. If you’re always on the treadmill, try the elliptical. If you’re a runner, try swimming. If you only push weights around by yourself, try taking a class. Most gyms offer a range of classes, from yoga to spin to boot camp. Everything has value, to teach you your strengths, weaknesses, and expand your exercise horizons.
- I’ve found that even if I try something and don’t like it, at least I know what to expect in the future, and I can integrate elements of what I did like into my regular routines. Since beginning to exercise regularly, I’ve done or taken:
- Boxing class
- Kettlebell class
- Tough Mudder race & training
- I subscribe to Tyler Sarry’s YouTube videos to get good ideas. I also have the FitnessBuilder app on my phone. Use whatever channels you can to be inspired at the gym.
It seems like a lot, I know. But with great effort you get great returns. Health and fitness don’t happen overnight, but neither do most rewarding self-improvement undertakings. And no one is perfect – even the experts cheat sometimes. Live a little, but be accountable to yourself, and you’ll do amazing things.