Stay on Track With Your Fitness During Stress

Stay on Track With Your Fitness During Stress
23 Nov

 Posted by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA – Vice President, Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness 

Take a walk to reduce stress.

When life delivers difficult situations, you must learn to find your balance and stay on track.

Today, I want to share a personal experience with you—one that involves a stressful situation where I found myself hardly eating and being inactive for several days.

It made me realize what an impact emotional wellness has on our health and fitness goals. We need fuel, we need to be active and we need to find balance, even when life poses challenges.

I’m always the first to tell people that being active will boost your positive emotions during times of stress; however, I found myself in a situation where I wasn’t following my own advice.

I didn’t even realize I wasn’t being active until my daughter asked me why I hadn’t been dragging them on a family walk with the dogs, and why my yoga mat and weights weren’t in the family room (they usually take up space). Her concerned tone made me jump up, get my three other kids ready, put leashes on the dogs, pack some healthy snacks and go on our family walk.

We were out for three hours and, I must admit, our family walk made me feel less stressed. I realized that it was time for me to follow my own advice and write some tips on how to keep balanced during challenging times. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to lead by example and show my children that you must get outside and be active, even during times of stress.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has gotten off track due to stress, so I want to share some ways to tackle emotional stress without taking it out on the body. First, ask yourself some questions to help you keep your health and fitness goals on track:

  • What is your go-to safety mechanism when dealing with a stressful or emotional situation?
  • Are you a stress eater or someone who fasts during times of stress?
  • Do you sit around, or do you exercise to keep your mind off the issue at hand?

I have been at all ends of the spectrum when it comes to how emotions have affected my body and exercise habits. When I was balancing my young triplets and a toddler, I found myself reaching for sweet foods and coffee to make me feel better. It led to weight gain and a lack in confidence. During times of emotional stress, I find that I don’t eat enough. My reason for writing a fitness post about feelings is because life often throws us stressful situations. How you deal with them can truly impact your health, your weight and your fitness goals.

Not finding balance during stressful times can have major consequences on health and well-being. Here are some tips to help stay focused when your emotions get the best of you.

How to Get the Stress Out

Keep a list

Writing out a to-do list is a great way to make sure you accomplish all of your tasks. Checking things off your list will also make you feel good, and ensure you don’t add any more stress by dropping your responsibilities. Even if your mind is preoccupied, your to-do list will ensure you don’t forget things.

Plan your meals

I’ve found that planning meals in advance can mean that you don’t find reasons to skip eating or reach for junk food. Put grocery shopping on your to-do list and fill your list with loads of fruits and veggies. It’s essential for your body to get proper fuel during stressful times.

Plan fun activities

Looking forward to something can help boost your mood. It can be something as simple as a yoga class, or a bowling night with friends or family. Just as long as you plan to get out of the house for a little while, it can make a difference in the way you feel.

Make time for a walk

Whether you’re at home or at the office, schedule regular walking breaks. Not only is it a way to clear your mind and get some fresh air, it’s the perfect way to get active when you have other things on your mind.

Spend active time with friends and family

Spending time with loved ones during stressful times may help keep your mind off the root of the problem. Active time is much better than simply sitting around, because it’s less of an opportunity to start snacking or pondering unhelpful thoughts. Spending time with loved ones will also give you the emotional support you need during difficult times.

Avoid unhealthy snacks

Eating sugary foods will only give you a temporary feel-good moment. The extra sugar in your system may temporarily boost your energy levels, but it’s always followed by a crash. My advice is to snack on healthy protein-rich foods.

I hope you can use some of my tips to help stay on track next time you have a stressful situation. Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical health. The two seem to be linked pretty closely, so be aware of your actions and try to protect your health.

 

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How to Build an Achievable Fitness Plan

How to Build an Achievable Fitness Plan
26 Sep
 Posted by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA – Vice President, Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness  0 Comment
 
Create a fitness plan with attainable goals.

Do you have a fitness plan? I think you need one, and these are my tips on how to kick-start your year with a renewed commitment to stay in shape OR get in shape.

I know that starting a new fitness plan can be daunting, especially if you haven’t worked out in a while or you’ve started and stopped before. But with a new approach and a determined attitude, success may be closer than you think.

The most important first step to becoming fit is making a workable fitness plan—otherwise it’s too easy to lose focus. Ask yourself these five questions below and make sure you answer them completely honestly.

1. What are your bad health habits?
Your answers might be poor eating, having too many snacks or sitting down for too many hours.2. Where do you rate yourself on a scale of 1-10?>
One being completely out of shape, breathing heavily while doing daily tasks; 10 being perfect fitness.

3. How much time do you currently dedicate to exercise or activity each week?
And is it enough? Would you like to be more fit and do you want to have more energy?

4. What three fitness activities do you most enjoy?
Be honest. Do you like walking, exercise classes or simply playing outdoors with your kids? Don’t hold back from putting something more adventurous down as a bonus answer. You can work up to high-powered activities as you build your fitness.

5. What roadblocks have caused you to lose focus in the past?
Maybe you’ve stopped exercising because you’ve become busy at work, or your routine was interrupted and you didn’t get back into fitness. Put down anything that derailed your plans.

Now, let’s use your answers to make a fitness plan

You can decide to fix just one thing at a time so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. Let’s go through your answers and build a fitness plan you can stick to all year. You don’t need to aim too high. Right now, we just want to improve on where you are now.

Overcoming bad habits

If you eat unhealthily, then you should focus on making your next meal more healthy. You can’t change what you’ve eaten in the past, but you can make sure your next meal meets all your nutritional needs. Approach fitness in the same way: focus on your current or next workout and do the best you can. Decide right now when you are going to do an activity—or even go and grab your running shoes and prepare for an activity session as soon as you finish reading this.

Your fitness rating

It’s good to know where you are, but you also need to think about where you want to be. I’d like you to aim for two points higher than your current number. So, if you rate a five, then your fitness plan should slowly take you up to a seven. And if you’re already at level 10, then I know you’re ready for any challenge, but maybe you could diversify? Think about whether there are any areas you could further develop or learn to love more?

Your exercise routine

If you want to give more time in your life to exercise, then try to increase your exercise habits by 10 minutes per week until you reach at least 30 minutes of activity a day. Exercise doesn’t have to be daunting: if you currently sit down in an office for long periods, then promise yourself that you’ll go and visit a colleague instead of emailing at least twice each day. Or, plan a walk straight after work—even if you only go around the block, then at least you’re out and about. As you build your fitness plan, you’ll soon see that adding 10 minutes of activity here and there can make your day more fun, and that has to be better than thinking of exercise as a chore.

Choosing an activity

You can start out by only doing the activities on your list—the ones you listed in answer to question four. The start of your fitness plan is not a good time to try new types of exercise, so focus on your favorites—they’ll help you feel confident and comfortable for the first few weeks. Activities like walking, jogging and body-weight exercises are a great way to start out. I love the phrase “Don’t run before you can walk,” because a slow and steady approach builds results that will last.

Avoiding roadblocks

If you find yourself always stumbling because of one particular obstacle, then avoid it. It sounds simple, I know, but if you always plan early morning workouts and you can’t get out of bed, then consider lunchtime or evening sessions. You know yourself and your fitness plan needs to be tailored to who you are, so don’t pledge to do something that you won’t enjoy—because then you’re less likely to succeed.

Finalizing your fitness plan

Now you should have everything you need to create a fitness plan that meets your needs. You know what you want to achieve, how you what to achieve it and why. You even know what might knock you off course. With your fitness plan, be kind to yourself and choose an easier route that you know you will be happy navigating over the long term.

Once you have gathered all your thoughts, why not write them out clearly? For me, transferring my thoughts to paper helps to make them concrete. And if I have my goals written down, I know I can’t ignore them. Place your fitness plan somewhere prominent to remind you of your starting point and your aims. I recommend sticking it on the fridge, because keeping it visible will help to keep you motivated. I also always keep an exercise journal, because it’s a great way to track my progress. And when it works, you want to be able to remember how you did it.

7 Exercises That Will Have You Feeling and Looking Good

26 Sep

 

 Posted by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA – Vice President, Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness  0 Comment
 
Strength your core with forearm planks

Let’s be honest – sometimes, our goals are tied to looking and feeling a certain way in our clothes, whether it’s a new dress or that pair of jeans in the back of your closet – and that’s okay.

The truth is, when you feel great, you radiate confidence, which can go a long way in influencing how you look – not just in that dress, but overall. Wondering what you can do to feel and look your best? Try this three-step approach that focuses on toning your physique, eating right and the importance of stretching and standing tall.

Let’s get toned

A well-balanced exercise plan contains both cardio and resistance training. Here are seven moves to add to your routine and help you feel confident and strong.

Multi-directional squat with bar – this exercise challenges your coordination, engages your glutes and works your inner thigh muscles. As an added benefit, lower body exercises burn significant calories.

Box jumps – this total lower body cardio move engages your glutes and challenges your calves and core muscles.

Burpees – this total-body mix of a squat, step-back, plank, push-up and jump is intense, but it can help enhance your coordination and strengthen several muscles at the same time.

Curtsy lunge followed by single leg deadlift – this exercise focuses on the outer glutes and the hamstrings.

Forearm plank (hold for 60 seconds) – this exercise is great for pulling in and strengthening your core. Take deep breaths and be sure you’re not putting too much pressure on your neck or back. Try to let your abs do most of the work.

Pike roll with an exercise ball (hold for 30 seconds) – this is a great move for toning your shoulders and abs. Get into a push-up position with your feet placed on an exercise ball instead of the floor. The closer the ball is to your abs, the higher the difficulty. Keeping your abs tight, press your hips up towards the ceiling. Then, come back to your original straight position. Keep your back flat throughout this exercise.

You’re eating right, right?

If you want to see differences in your physique, you’ve got to be dedicated when it comes to your eating habits. The best workout program in the world won’t give you the results you want if you’re not paying attention to what’s on your plate. For tips on jump-starting a new plan, go here. To find a meal plan that’s right for you, check out this guide. And, if you find you need help getting your hunger under control, check out these tips.

Sit up straight

Who hasn’t found themselves hunched over their computer during a long day? Focus on pulling your shoulders back and try to incorporate regular yoga stretches into your day – this can really help lengthen and streamline your posture. And if you’ve made it this far, go ahead and reward yourself with a good stretch.

Whether it’s a new dress that’s motivating you or just a desire to feel your best, you’re on the right track. Go ahead and give these confidence-boosting healthy habits a try. Don’t feel like you need to do them all at once, either. Change creates change, so start with small changes (like posture) and work your way up to bigger ones (burpees, we’re looking at you).

Why Carbohydrates Are So Important for Athletes

08 Sep
 Posted by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training  0 Comment
 
Take in carbs before and after workout.

Carbohydrates are the best fuel for the body’s engine, more so than proteins or fats. The right carbs taken at the right time are key to good athletic performance.

Carbohydrates are the most important source of fuel in an athlete’s diet. And yet some athletes experiment with popular low-carbohydrate regimens, mistakenly believing that these diets will somehow “train” the body to burn more fat for fuel, or that carbohydrates interfere with the body’s ability to burn fat. But carbohydrates are a critically important energy source during exercise. In fact, the body cannot use fat for energy unless carbohydrate is present.

Why Carbohydrates Are So Important for Athletes

Carbohydrates are the fuel that makes the body’s engine run, and athletes need plenty of carbohydrates before, during and after exercise.

While fats can be (and are) used as a source of energy, the main function of the carbohydrates you eat is to supply energy to cells. This is particularly true for high-intensity exercise, the level at which most athletes train and compete.

The body generates energy from carbohydrates much more rapidly than it does from fat, and the brain and central nervous system rely exclusively on carbohydrate for fuel.

It’s often said that “fats burn in a carbohydrate flame” in the body. What this means is that in order for fats to be broken down completely to result in the release of energy, carbohydrate breakdown has to happen simultaneously.

This is because one of the products of carbohydrate metabolism is a substance called pyruvate. Pyruvate plays a critical role in the release of energy from fat. Without enough carbohydrate in the diet, pyruvate production drops, which impairs the release of energy from fat.

Eating enough carbohydrate is also important because it helps prevent the body from using protein for energy. While your body can use protein to supply energy, the protein you eat supports many more important functions in the body. Its primary role is to build body proteins such as muscle, bone, skin, hair, enzymes and hormones.

If you were to burn protein as an energy source, it would impact the body’s ability to perform these more important functions.

How Carbohydrates Fuel Activity

When you digest the carbs in the foods you eat, the end product enters your bloodstream in the form of glucose, or blood sugar. This is then transported to the cells to be used for energy.

Any glucose that is not used immediately can be converted into a storage form of carbohydrate called glycogen. Glycogen gets stashed away in your liver and muscles where it can be tapped into during activity.

Working muscles require a steady source of fuel, which can come from both the bloodstream and from the glycogen that is stored away. But there’s a limit to how much glycogen your body can store. If activity lasts long enough, the glycogen stores can become depleted. That’s why it’s so important to fuel properly—and regularly.

Athletes Need Carbohydrates Before, During and After Exercise

For the average person, a well-balanced diet will usually provide enough carbohydrate to fuel daily activity. But athletes who train hard know that they need to properly fuel up before starting out, and to keep the carbs coming in during activity and to refuel properly afterwards.

If your regular workouts are strenuous and longer than an hour or so, here are some tips to keep your performance at its peak:

Before starting out, it’s a good idea to ‘top off the tank’ with some low-fat, high-carb foods to help maintain blood sugar, particularly if you exercise first thing in the morning. The best choices are foods that are easy to digest like a smoothie, a carton of yogurt or a small bowl of hot or cold cereal. Low-fat and low fiber foods are best to help avoid any stomach upset. Foods with fat and fiber delay digestion time, so they’re better eaten after exercising. If it’s hard for you to eat much in the morning, start with something small and light like a few bites of banana or a slice of toast.

During activity, specially formulated sports drinks can help keep your tank topped off.  In addition to providing much-needed fluid, sports drinks are designed to provide the amount of carbohydrate recommended during activity (30-60 grams an hour for the first few hours). That’s about the amount in a liter of a typical sports drink. For longer events, some people also carry foods like low-fat cookies, sports gels, gummy candies or cereal bars for an extra boost of carbohydrate.

Refueling after a workout is critical—most of the stored glycogen will have been used up. Since your muscles are craving carbs, they’ll take them up readily and store them away for the next bout of activity. This is the time to load up on higher fiber carbs, since digestion time is no longer a concern. A dab of protein helps repair muscles, too, so ideal recovery foods include both protein and carbohydrate. It’s also important to refuel within about 30 minutes after exercise to maximize the effects of protein and carbohydrate on muscle recovery. Specialized recovery foods and beverages are convenient. Otherwise, work in plenty of healthy carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and dairy products. A sandwich on whole-grain bread, a protein shake made with milk, or a bowl of lentil soup with a piece of fruit are all great post-exercise meals.

More:

What to eat after your workout

What to eat before you work out

How to find your best workout

For Athletes, Meal Timing Is Key to Good Performance

08 Sep
 Posted by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training  0 Comment
 
Find the right balance of nutrients for performance.

When I was a child, I loved to spend summer days swimming in the pool. I used to get really annoyed at my mom, who always insisted that I wait an hour after lunch before diving back in so I wouldn’t “get a bellyache.” At the time I thought she was being unreasonable, but it turns out her advice was scientifically sound. When you’re doing strenuous exercise, paying attention to what you eat and when, it can have a big impact on your performance.

Athletes are usually on a constant quest to craft the perfect diet to give them the winning edge. While many athletes go through a bit of trial-and-error with their diet until they come up with a plan that works for them, there are a few key points that all athletes should keep in mind when trying to match their meals and snacks to their activity.

    • •Carbohydrates are primarily what the body relies on for energy. But the body needs a fairly steady source from the diet, since there’s only so much carbohydrate the body can store (in the form of glycogen) in the muscles and the liver.
    • •It’s important to ‘top off the tank’ with some carbohydrate before an athletic event. But in choosing what to eat, the athlete needs to consider how much time they have to digest before activity starts.
    • •Foods high in fiber and fat delay digestion time; it’s best to save them for after the event.
    • •Light or liquid meals digest more quickly than solid ones. For athletes who have only an hour or less to digest before an event, a smoothie or a carton of yogurt would be easy on the stomach.
    • •If there’s an hour or two before the event, then a lighter, solid meal—some cottage cheese and toast, a bowl of low fiber cereal would work. If there are three hours or more until the event, then a regular meal will do.
    • •During continuous activity that lasts longer than an hour, athletes need to keep the carbohydrate coming in. Specially designed sports drinks are ideal for this purpose, since they provide fluid and salts as well as the right amount of carbohydrate to keep muscles well-fueled. Some also provide small amounts of protein, which help with muscle recovery.
    • •Post-exercise, the body is ready to take up plenty of carbohydrate to replenish the stores in the liver and muscles. Ideally, athletes should try to eat within 30 minutes or so after the event is over. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and dairy products are all terrific recovery foods. That’s the time to load back up on the higher fiber carbs, since digestion time is no longer a concern.
    •Whey and casein—proteins derived from dairy products—are also needed after exercise to help promote muscle recovery. A sandwich on a whole grain bread with a glass of milk, some yogurt with a piece of fruit, or a protein smoothie made with milk and fruit are all post-exercise meals that would fill the bill.