by Shannon Clark Bodybuilding . com
Looking to kick your fitness and nutrition up a notch? Rather than attempting a complete and instantaneous overhaul, try taking smaller steps over time. Easing into your new health plan will make changes easier to stick with for the long haul.
By using any combination of these 44 tips, you can kickstart your health regimen for the better. Try to integrate 1-2 tips each week for subtle, yet noticeable, benefits. After a few months, you'll be leading the healthy lifestyle you always wanted.
1 START YOUR DAY WITH A GLASS OF LEMON WATER
At this point, you've likely been drilled on the importance of adequate hydration. Whether you adhere by the old-school 8x8 rule, or follow the Institute of Medicine's recommendation of 13 cups per day for men and 9 for women, you know that water is essential for daily function. Water flushes out toxins and delivers nutrients to cells, but guzzling down jugs of water can be a daunting process. So, why not make it more palatable with a squeeze of lemon?
In addition to giving your water some flavoring, lemon works as an excellent cleansing and detoxifying agent. Lemons are also a good source of folate, potassium, and vitamin C. Plus they're a great source of antioxidants and electrolytes without the added calories.
Take that, Gatorade.
2 MEDITATE AT LEAST THREE TIMES EVERY WEEK
Sometimes, just tune out the world and focus on you. At these times, meditation is essential. A simple 10 or 15 minutes of breathing deeply and emptying your mind of negative thoughts can be enough to achieve an increased sense of inner peace and balance.
Meditation has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, while improving cognitive function to help you lead a more focused life. You'll likely find it helps boost your clarity and makes you feel more in control.
3 INCORPORATE SQUATS INTO YOUR WORKOUT
Nothing engages the posterior chain—the calves, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back—quite like the squat. In addition to being an overall muscle and strength builder, squats help maintain mobility and strengthen bone and connective tissue, thus boosting joint support. Squats also mimic everyday actions, such as bending down to pick up a bag of groceries.
Make the most of your squats by going low and breaking parallel. Full range of motion brings the glute muscles into play.
4 BUILD YOUR MEALS AROUND LEAN PROTEIN
Your meals should always feature a lean source of protein. Protein is a must to protect against the loss of muscle mass, help boost metabolism, keep blood glucose stable, and ward off hunger. Aim for at least 10 grams of protein with each snack you consume and 20-30 grams with each main meal.
5 FOCUS ON POSITIVE GOALS
Stay on track by putting your energy toward "do's" rather than "do not's." Focus on the positive things you want to do, not on the negative things you hope to avoid. Cut out negative thoughts and put all of your energy toward positive actions. Think positively and success will be yours.
6 SEEK OUT A MENTOR
Find a role model you can look up to—whether it's someone you know personally or someone you look for support from online. In addition to giving you the motivational push you need on those extra hard days, mentors can help keep you on track, push you in the right direction, and offer encouragement along the way.
7 IF NEEDED, BOOK A PERSONAL TRAINING SESSION
Don't be afraid to get the help you need. If you think you'd benefit from a trainer or coach, hire one. Trainers can help you get started with a routine which caters to your fitness goals, while giving you tips on proper technique and form. Even if you don't stick with it for the long term, trying out a trainer can help you get your feet wet at the gym.
8 SCHEDULE AT LEAST ONE FULL REST DAY EACH WEEK
Working out puts stress on muscles and breaks down tissue and fibers; resting allows them to rebuild. If your program doesn't include enough rest, you won't fully recover. Remember that you gain strength during rest. Schedule at least one day of complete rest day each week, and pair harder sessions and heavy days with 1-2 lighter workouts per week.
9 SUPPLEMENT WITH OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Few nutrients are as healthy as omega-3 fatty acids. They may help curb joint pain, lower elevated triglyceride levels—which put you at risk for heart disease—and lower inflammation. Yet most people don't get enough of them. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning they're not made in the body. They need to come from your diet. When possible, try to incorporate omega-3-rich fish such as anchovies, bluefish, herring, salmon, and sardines into your meals. If you're not meeting the recommended 1.6 grams (men) and 1.1 grams (women) per day, supplement with 3-6 capsules of fish oil daily.
10 PLAN AN ACTIVE DATE NIGHT
Rather than succumbing to weeknights spent on the couch, get active! Couples who work out together are more likely to stay committed to leading the healthy lifestyle. You'll also share the added benefits of lowered stress, better sleep, and a better body. Plus, you'll have a built-in support system to help you push through those gruelling workouts.
11 COOK WITH GARLIC
A good source of vitamin B6, garlic is a great source of free-radical-fighting antioxidants. Start incorporating garlic into the dishes you prepare. It'll give your food a flavor punch while eliminating the need for high-calorie condiments and sauces.
12 FEAST ON SALMON
Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fats and will provide you with a quality source of lean protein. One of the most nutritious forms of seafood on the market, salmon contains 19 grams of protein per 3-ounce portion. Try adding it into your diet twice each week.
13 DIG INTO DAIRY
Dairy-rich foods can help boost fat loss, especially when it comes to whittling your middle. Beat the belly bloat by consuming at least two servings of low-fat dairy products daily. The added calcium will also give your bones a boost—even more reason to add them to your meal plan. Choose items like low-fat yogurt and milk, which are rich in both calcium and leucine, to burn fat more efficiently.
14 REACH FOR PROTEIN POST-WORKOUT
Your muscles could use a helping hand post-workout. The protein you serve up will help kickstart the repair process, ensuring it moves along smoothly. But which type of protein should you go with? According to a study from the University of Texas Medical Branch, a mixed bag of whey, casein, and soy could be your best bet. This blend of proteins extends the amount of time muscles are exposed to amino acids, increasing growth and recovery rates.1
15 SNACK ON BERRIES
The next time you crave something sweet, pass on the candy and ice cream and opt for berries instead. Berries are hands-down some of the healthiest foods you can eat. In addition to neutralizing free radicals, promoting urinary tract health, aiding with digestion, and fiber, berries—specifically blueberries—have a high antioxidant capacity.
16 DRINK GREEN TEA
Some mornings, nothing beats a hot cup of Joe. But on days when you seek something a bit different, reach for a cup of green tea. Green tea boosts metabolism, provides excellent antioxidant protection, and provides a slight caffeine-powered energy boost. It might even boost brain and heart health. Try drinking 2-3 cups per day for optimal benefits.
17 PRACTICE YOGA
You don't have to be a full-fledged yogi to know that yoga's benefits extend beyond the mat. Round out your exercise plan of cardio and lifting with two sessions of yoga each week. The combination of stretching, deep breathing, and relaxation can produce a greater sense of calm. Yoga may help ease lower-back pain and lead to longer, more restful sleep.
18 DIG DEEP WITH A MASSAGE
A deep tissue massage is an excellent way to bring about optimal recovery and reduce your risk of injuries. Treat yourself to one after you crush a seriously hard workout. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, deep-tissue massage is an effective way to relieve chronic pain because it increases blood flow throughout the body. Deep-tissue massages have also been shown to ease stress and tension. Over time, they might even help break up scar tissue.
19 SET SHORT-TERM GOALS
Looking to put on 20 pounds of muscle, drop your body fat by 15%, or set a new PR? While your final goal might be lofty, it's best to set smaller, more manageable goals to start. "Building a strong, lean, muscular physique takes years, so set shorter goals to keep yourself motivated," says fitness athlete Justin Woltering. "An extra 10 pounds on a lift or another pound on the scale can keep you going when you're trying to get big. If you're dieting, seeing even a little bit of new definition can help you stick to your plan when things get rough."
Don't let yourself fall off track because your goals are too large. Smaller goals make progress feel more achievable.
20 BAKE WITH COCONUT OIL
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides which can be used for energy immediately. They may also help boost heart health and improve your complexion. Use coconut oil to replace butter when baking or cooking, or use it as a topical skin treatment for added moisture and skin softening.
21 INCREASE YOUR FIBER INTAKE
Fiber helps with weight loss but, even if you like the number on the scale, fiber can help promote digestive health. Fiber also helps you feel fuller longer, and has been shown to regulate blood sugar and lower blood cholesterol. Nuts, apples, and even kiwis are rich in fiber, and just one tablespoon of chia seeds packs in six grams of the digestive aid. "Eating sufficient fiber each day is critical to your colon health, which is vital for keeping your immune system strong," explains Dymatize athlete David Morin.
22 ADD IN FLAX SEED
Next time you're tempted, pass on candy sprinkles and reach for the flax seed instead. Flax seeds are high in fiber, rich in omega-3 fats, and deliver 0.6 grams of protein per teaspoon. Sprinkle these onto a bowl of yogurt.
23 AIM FOR 8 HOURS OF SLEEP EACH NIGHT
Missing out on sleep has been associated with childhood obesity and overall body fat increases.2 If you aren't sleeping well, your hunger will be higher, your insulin sensitivity will go down, and you'll be less likely to stick to your diet plan. Sleep deprivation also impairs immune function, memory, learning, and mood.3 Long story short, sleep a minimum of eight hours every night.
24 INDULGE (IN MODERATION)
It's OK to treat yourself, as long as you do so in moderation and keep serving sizes under control. If you're too strict, you'll never follow a plan for the long haul. Don't resort to fad diets or extreme calorie restriction. Instead, maintain a balanced diet that's optimal for long-lasting results. Make sure to get a good dose of all three macronutrients—proteins, carbs, and fats—and eat clean roughly 80 percent of the time. Incorporate a well-deserved, once-a-week cheat meal into your nutrition plan.
25 TRY NEW ACTIVITIES
Nothing breeds boredom like complacency. Changing up your choice of exercise is one of the best ways to stay committed and coming back for more. New activities will keep your interest, continually challenge your body, and put your muscles to the test.
26 ADD FROZEN BANANAS TO YOUR SHAKE
Adding a frozen banana to the mix is a great way to boost the texture of your smoothies, giving them more of a milkshake-like consistency. In addition to adding froth to your shake, bananas provide your body with potassium and complex carbohydrates—fuel for a hard gym session.
27 FOCUS ON THE MIND-MUSCLE CONNECTION
Many people rush through their exercises, trying to hoist as much weight as possible. In doing so they end up recruiting muscles they don't need to be working and missing muscles they should be targeting. Instead, drop the weight by five pounds and focus on form, as well as on contracting the necessary muscles. Once you master the lighter weight, consider adding more.
28 CHANGE YOUR CARDIO
Avoid overuse injuries by changing the mode of cardio you regularly do. If you always run, try cycling. If you always cycle, give rowing a shot. This will challenge and engage a new set of muscles.
29 LIMIT ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Artificial sweeteners are calorie-free, but that doesn't mean they're healthy. They're man-made substances you put into your system, so keep them to a minimum. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose have been associated with everything from reduced growth rate to diarrhea. Researchers at Purdue University even found that artificial sweeteners make your body less able to regulate energy, which is why even the fake stuff can lead to weight gain.
30 GET INVOLVED IN AN EXERCISE YOU LOVE
Nothing is more important than finding an exercise you enjoy. If you don't enjoy your workouts, you won't succeed, no matter how great the plan. Take classes, join a running group, or take a lap around the pool in a swim class. Try different workouts until you find your true calling.
31 LEARN FROM FAILURE
Try to learn from your mistakes without letting them bog you down. A setback only becomes a setback if you fail to learn from it. Use the experience to help you grow and better yourself in the future. See past failures as opportunities to empower yourself and achieve greater success the second time around.
32 CLEAN OUT YOUR CUPBOARDS
If it's available, you'll eat it. Keep temptation at bay by bypassing unhealthy food at the market. By shopping the perimeter, and not letting that gallon of Ben & Jerry's make it past the freezer case, you set yourself up for success later on down the line. Implementing this first line of defense is one of the simplest ways to stick to your diet program.
33 LIMIT PORTIONS WHEN DINING OUT
Enjoy your time out with friends—just be mindful of portions. Going for a half order rather than full is the best way to practice instant portion control. If the joint allows only full orders, ask for half of the meal to be packed up before it's brought to your table.
34 KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE
Always keep the future in mind and realize that while the actions you take today might not be noticeable until the distant future, they'll eventually come to light. Don't give in to short-term wants at the expense of long-term goals. "Think about doing something today that your future self will thank you for," says Dymatize fitness athlete Sierra Merchant. The ability to focus on long-term outcomes can make the difference between fitness success and failure.
35 INVEST IN TUPPERWARE
If nutrition is 80 percent of the battle, Tupperware needs to be in your arsenal. Shell out for sturdy containers that can hold all of your prepped meals and snacks. If you spend a lot of time on the road, consider purchasing a cooler to take with you. That way, you'll never be without nutritious eats and won't succumb to gas station grub.
36 USE A FOOD SCALE
One of the biggest reasons people fail to see weight loss progress is because they inaccurately measure their food. So, use a food scale. Having an accurate measurement of the calories you're consuming is the best way to know precisely what you put into your body.
37 SUPPLEMENT WITH BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAS)
Water tastes a bit bland? Add in BCAAs. Liquid BCAAs deliver more than just a flavor punch. BCAAs reduce muscle breakdown, increase protein synthesis, and might even help improve workout intensity. Supplement throughout the day—and even during your workout—to boost recovery and increase your workout intensity.
38 LEARN YOUR BODY'S NATURAL RHYTHMS
Don't feel completely bound to someone else's workout program. What they created might not match your strength or physique goals. Remember that there are many ways you can go about building your goal body, and don't think you have to use any one given exercise to reach your goals. "Ultimately you have to find the form that works for you," explains Woltering. "Learn what works for you and use it to your advantage."
39 LIMIT YOUR ADDED SUGAR INTAKE
While overindulging in fake sugar can spell disaster, adding a bunch of real sugar to your diet is even worse. The sweet stuff can easily add pounds to your waistline and subtract years from your life if you overdo it—can you say type-2 diabetes? Banish it from your diet as much as possible and you'll experience an immediate health boost.
40 TAKE CARE OF YOUR JOINTS
Heavy lifting is safer than many people think, but you need to be mindful of your approach. "Keep your joints warm and cushioned with elbow sleeves, knee sleeves, and a belt when necessary," Woltering recommends. "You can also keep inflammation down with salmon, fish oil, and other omega-3-rich foods."
41 PASS ON PROCESSED CARBOHYDRATES
Processed carbohydrates are some of the worst things you can put into your body. They're associated with weight gain, poor heart health, and weak overall nutrition. The more processed carbs you eat, the greater impact they have on your blood sugar levels, and the more insulin resistant your body may become.
Insulin resistance can lead to type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and, eventually, heart disease. If the item you're looking to eat has an ingredient list a mile long, never buy it again.
42 START THE DAY WITH PURPOSE
There's a way to limit those scatterbrain moments when you're staring aimlessly at the ceiling, fumbling around with papers, or letting the day slip by without any sense of accomplishment. How? David Morin recommends that you set goals for the day before the day starts. Even consider taking up pen to paper and turning your vague checklist into something tangible. This way, you know precisely what you want to achieve before the day's end.
43 TREAT YOURSELF TO DARK CHOCOLATE
If you're a chocoholic, rest easy knowing you can indulge and still stay on track. Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants ... so if you need a cocoa fix, reach for a square! Just remember that it's high in calories, so be mindful of portion control.
44 DRINK ALCOHOL ONLY IN MODERATION
Alcohol is something that many people struggle to give up, but, if you want optimal results, limiting your intake is a must. Go non-alcoholic whenever possible. If you're hankering for a sip, go with something lower in calories and sugar . Opt for vodka and light soda or a minty mojito as opposed to a cream-based White Russian or sugary Jack and Coke.