2020 has certainly been a trying year for just about everyone. I know it has been for me and my family as we’ve had many challenges face us this past year. That being said, one positive aspect 2020 brought for me personally was I was able to focus on my own health/fitness and am now in the best shape of my life!
What I’ve learned this past year may not make me an “expert” but I do feel it could benefit others who are wanting to make similar changes for 2021. Thus, below are my top 10 health/fitness tips to help anyone wanting to improve their health, their body, and their life perhaps starting this year!
1) Make Permanent Changes (Not Temporary Fixes)
- Before beginning, I needed to ensure any change I made was manageable and permanent–not a drastic temporary fix. I’ve often seen people go on extreme diets only to get burned out and quickly return to their former ways. Therefore, if I wanted to make lasting progress, I had to make realistic, manageable changes I could maintain for life. To achieve this end, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with a bunch of changes all at once. I needed to make one small change and once I mastered that, add more as necessary. The rest of my list includes many such changes but these were often realized weeks apart allowing me to manage my progress without getting frustrated, overwhelmed, and burned out…
2) Set a Goal
- Prior to making any change, I first needed to identify my specific goal, which would then guide what specific changes I needed to make. This could’ve put me on a plethora of pursuits–from losing/gaining weight, to increasing performance on a certain athletic skill/exercise, to countless more. What I landed on was decreasing my body fat percentage to 15%. This would require I lose fat while also gaining muscle mass at the same time. It’d also require I find an effective way to measure my body fat percentage as it’s not a typical target you can measure with a simple scale. There’s lots of ways you can measure body fat percentage but I use (and recommend) an inBody H20N scale. These things are awesome and well worth the investment!
3) Track Your Progress
- One big thing I’ve learned is the mirror can be deceiving. Therefore, it was ESSENTIAL whatever goal I made had to be measurable. As stated previously, my inBody scale would allow me to measure my body fat percentage effectively. Additionally, I needed to track my progress in the weight room for if I wanted to gain muscle (again, to decrease my body fat percentage), I’d need to be progressively increasing my strength/muscle mass via the weight room. Tracking my progress would allow me to ensure I was making improvements over time, make adjustments if I wasn’t, and help me stay motivated as I saw improvements. As a side note, I believe in the concept of evaluating progress over two week increments–that is to say you’ll feel progress in two weeks, others will notice your progress in four weeks, and you’ll be able to see progress for yourself at six weeks–so patience was a must!
4) Diet to Lose Fat, Workout to Gain Muscle
- Much to my initial chagrin, I found the old saying is true–“you can’t out exercise a bad diet” when it comes to fat loss. From my research, a typical workout will burn about 300 calories–which is simply not very much when you look at food (for example, 300 calories is about one small peanut butter sandwich). Therefore, I didn’t begin to see real progress in regards to fat loss until I began controlling my diet. Conversely, if your goal is to gain muscle or to increase your athletic performance in a certain area, working out has to be your focus as it forces your body to adapt and improve depending on your training plan. Thus, diet and exercise both have their place depending on what your goals are. For me, I wanted to both lose fat and gain muscle, which meant I needed to focus on both areas to see the progress I wanted.
5) Control Your Calories (for fat loss)
- Another old saying I’ve found to be accurate is that when it comes to fat loss, “calories are king.” I formerly believed the quality of your food mattered more than the quantity–leading me to eat an excessive amount of “healthy” food to eradicate the slightest signs of hunger. Sadly, this was simply not effective as I didn’t begin to meet my fat loss goals until I learned to control my calories. Some insights that have helped me master this endeavor:
- Calculate the number of calories you should consume a day by taking your current body weight and multiplying by 12 (if 12 is too low, start at 15 and decrease from there as you progress)
- Value your calories. Your caloric intake should be limited so make sure you enjoy the calories you do consume. Don’t waste your calories on food you don’t like, mindless snacking, or beverages
- Make a plan. Find some “go-to” meals you enjoy, calculate the calories in each, and have those as your regular food/meals on typical days. For me, I have a combination of meat dishes, eggs, protein bars, Greek yogurt, and fruit just about everyday (adding up to about 2200 calories, 200 g of protein)
- Stay hydrated. Drinking the proper amount of water has many benefits including increasing your metabolism and helping you feel fuller throughout the day. I recommend drinking water immediately upon waking each morning to get your day off to a positive start!
- Intermittent Fasting has many benefits but it’s greatest is its ability to help you control your calories
6) Understand Hunger (for fat loss)
- Another misconception I formerly believed was that if I was hungry at all, my body would go into “starvation mode” and would start storing fat rapidly. This was a misguided understanding of hunger. Now, do understand I firmly believe everyone should eat regularly every day; however, having temporary periods of hunger throughout the day is not a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue it’s a good thing if you’re wanting to lose fat. How can your body tap into its fat stores if it’s constantly using energy through a constant supply of food? Being hungry is certainly uncomfortable, but if you look at it as simply a temporary period where your body has the opportunity to eat some stored energy (fat), it can be useful. Again, long-term sustained hunger isn’t what I’m recommending here, but short-term, planned, temporary hunger with a purpose in mind.
7) Ditch the Intense Cardio (for fat loss)
- This is a concept I wish I learned long ago, but you don’t need intense cardio for fat loss! In fact, unless you either enjoy intense cardio or are training for some sort of cardio-related endeavor (a race, a basketball team, etc), I don’t see much point in doing intense cardio at all. As stated earlier, if your goal is to lose weight, your diet plan is going to be far more efficient and effective for doing so. In my estimation, intense cardio is more likely to burn you out on achieving your goals than it is at burning all your unwanted calories. Did you know you burn about as many calories walking a mile than you do running one? Doing light cardio such as walking is much more enjoyable and sustainable for most people’s cardio needs.
8) Hit the Weight Room (for muscle gain)
- If your goal is gaining strength/muscle mass, strength training via weights is a must. Again, create a plan that is realistic and sustainable. The quality of your workout shouldn’t be measured by how miserable it is–that is to say if you’re keeled over and exhausted after every workout, I believe you’re not being efficient, you’re overly focused on “cardio,” and you’re more than likely going to get burned out long-term. Upon mastering proper form, my recommendation is to focus on progressive overload (increasing weight, reps, and/or sets) on these main lifts: dead-lift, squat, bench press, pull ups, and push ups. Ample rest is also vital as your muscles can’t grow if they’re constantly being put to work. As a reference, I only workout 3-4 days a week and each workout only takes about 30-40 minutes a session.
9) Eat Ample Protein (for muscle gain)
- It’s common knowledge that protein is the key macronutrient when it comes to building muscle. Aim for about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight if you want to reap the maximum benefits of your strength training plan. If you’re also trying to lose fat while gaining muscle, be sure to do so while staying under your daily caloric allowance (calories should be your priority over protein intake). Additionally, I’ve found creatine to be a useful, safe, and well-researched supplement to help increase muscle mass if you’re so inclined. Do note it’s simply an optional supplement.
10) Be Easy On Yourself
- Perhaps the biggest tip I can give anyone is to be flexible and easy on yourself. An easier plan you can stick with for the long-term is FAR superior than an intense, super strict plan you won’t likely maintain. Treat yourself to 1-2 cheat meals a week. This allows you to continue enjoying the foods you love, indulge every now and then, and gives you something to look forward to. I purposely treat myself to one dessert a week (I love sweets for whatever reason) and have found I savor and appreciate the food more this way rather than when I was regularly stuffing my face with it at my leisure. Most importantly, whether it be with your diet or your workout plan, understand you won’t be perfect, you’ll at times give in to temptation, and you’ll slip up. But it’s okay! Recognize you slipped up, give yourself some grace, and promptly get back on your plan. You don’t need to punish yourself through temporary starvation or some intense crazy workout. Consistency is the key and you’ll be fine as long as you get back to your well-thought-out plan as soon as possible.
As I mentioned earlier, my initial goal for myself (when I weighed 210 pounds and was over 21% body fat) was to get to 15% body fat. After learning and incrementally making the changes described above, I’m now at 180 pounds, 12% body fat, and am in the best shape of my life!
Whatever your goal is, my recommendation is to pick one of the above changes to focus on, track your progress, and then if/when your progress plateaus to add a new change as needed. I would NOT recommend trying them all at once (again, that is not what I did and not what I see working for most).
However you proceed, my prayer is you stick with it and make 2021 the year you step into your best self–both physically, emotionally, and spirituality. I’m highly confident you can and won’t regret it!
*Please advise I’m no dietitian or personal trainer; these are simply steps I’ve taken that have worked for me. If you’re someone who has preexisting health concerns or are wanting to make drastic changes, please be sure to consult a doctor before proceeding.