A couple of things I really like are efficiency and great value. I like it when things are moving forward at a good clip and when the return is better than expected. Who doesn’t like that though, right?
This is no different than our health and fitness. For most the obstacle to better health and fitness comes down to time and finances. We don’t make the time for fitness and exercise and we would rather spend our money on other things.
The truth is that the fittest people in the world have the same hours as the rest of us. It’s what we give our time to, or don’t, that fills up our day.
So with that being said I wanted to give you 11 tips to get lean. And the cool part is these things won’t cost you an extra dime. Plus as your health improves you’ll find you have more time in your day. You see what I did just there, right? Solve one problem and provide a solution for another as well.
Anyways on with the tips.
- Minimize liquid calories – If our goal is to be as lean and healthy as possible we’ve got to be mindful of the calories we drink. This can be a chai tea in the AM, a coffee with cream and sugar, a store bought smoothie or any of the other ways we can drink calories. The truth is we only need water. Sure a red wine on occasion or a beer at a BBQ isn’t going to derail your results completely. Just be aware of what you are drinking. And guess what? When we cut back on your liquid calories we’ll find you have an extra $5-10 per day by opting out of the drive-thrus and coffee shops.
- Eat meals without snacking – Were you ever into bodybuilding? If so, you’ll remember hearing the you needed to be constantly eating. This was to keep blood sugar stable and prevent crashes. This was to stoke up our metabolism. And this was to ensure our pool of amino acids was always fully topped up. What this has led to is people eating constantly. We finish breakfast and have a post-workout shake after training. Mid-morning at work we break out the Greek yogurt and fruit and nuts. Lunch is always broccoli and chicken. There’s usually a protein bar mid-afternoon with a pre-workout drink. After training we have another shake followed by a dinner of beef, yams and a spinach salad. Quality and health-wise there’s probably nothing wrong with these foods. But in terms of total calories it’s probably overboard for the average person. And the average person isn’t competition in professional bodybuilding. So dial back all the snacking in between meals.
- Eat just enough – When we were young kids we were always told to ‘finish your plate’. And while most dinners didn’t end with dessert, there was no way we would be expecting a treat after if we didn’t finish. I can even remember not finishing a meal and being served the same at the next meal. And I don’t mean eating left overs again at the next meal but the exact plate that wasn’t finished at the previous meal. I guess this is a bit of a carry over from wartime/depression era families where everything was used and/or saved. You didn’t throw out or waste. Instead we should look to at a little more slowly. Eat in the company of others. Take some natural breaks for conversation. And stop before you feel full. The message of satiety is a little bit delayed. Sometimes after resting for 15 minutes you’ll notice you are full.
- Eat more protein – I’m reading a book on longevity and the author recommends eating less animal protein. And there may be some benefit to that. But his overall daily recommended amount of protein is quite low at 0.3 grams per kg of mass. There is enough evidence that increasing our protein intake helps with maintaining muscle mass, supporting our immune system and helping us feel full (see point #3). If you’re open to it, consider eating more fish and seafood to bump up your protein.
- Eat moderate fat – Fat has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 grams for protein and carbs. So every gram of fat has 225% more energy than carbs and fat. We’re not suggesting to stop eating fat but rather be aware of the calories that come with it. An average size avocado can contain 300-400 calories. And this is usually spread on top of toast or to accompany an omelet pushing the whole meal calorie heavy. The other thing to be aware of is that a food that is fat-free with typically have an extra dose of sweet to make up for this.
- Eat more vegetables – Very few people who eat enough vegetables have problem with their weight, health and or performance. Vegetables supply so many vitamins, minerals, fibre, hydration and more. And this helps to decrease the energy density of our food.
- Be selective with snack foods – If you love chocolate, you should eat some chocolate. And if you have a favourite flavour of chip it’s ok to have these. But indulge while considering how often and to what extent you do. Do you have a treat daily? Is it more than one when you do? There’s a huge difference between having a scoop of ice cream once a week after dinner than to having a big soup bowl every night. As well, there’s a difference between having a large milk chocolate bar versus a square of extra dark chocolate.
- Feel hungry before eating – Do you know the best time to ski at a busy hill besides first tracks? It’s over the lunch hour when everyone heads in for lunch. Very few of those skiers breaking for lunch were up for the first chair of the day. But as the clock nears 12 pm the lifts and runs empty as everyone is conditioned to stop for lunch. We are then eating out of psychological rather than physiological hunger. Going forward wait until you are hungry before eating.
- Eat less processed food – If food comes in a package it usually requires preservatives to maintain freshness and flavour. In other words, the food gets shelf life at the expense of your life. One of the exceptions to the processed food rule would be frozen fruits and vegetables. Life can get busy and make it tough to always eat fresh food. This is when planning and a little meal prep can go a long way.
- Drink enough water – When the weather warms up we are mindful of drink enough water. But during the spring and winter we can sometimes fall out of the habit. And if you’re a swimmer (cough, cough there are a few swimmers I’m thinking of) you need to have your water bottle on the pool deck. Because our bodies are cooled by the water and most pools are indoors we don’t heat up the same way as other sports. Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to be hydrating during practice. As to how much you should drink measure this based on the colour of urine and sweat loss after exercise. Urine should have a light or faint yellow colour. It doesn’t have to be completely clear and void of colour. And it shouldn’t be dark in colour. After exercise drink 2 cups for every pound of water loss. And over the course of the day you can aim for 6-8 glasses. Drink 1-2 glasses upon rising, one mid morning, 1-2 at lunch, one mid afternoon and another 1-2 at dinner and monitor urine colour.
- Journal what you eat – When you write things down you can make improvements. Want to be wealthier? Track your expenses and income for a few months to see where the money is coming and going. Want to get better grades? Obviously you take notes in class but then review your grades and see what your GPA is at various points and work on the classes with your lower grades. And if you want to improve your health start writing down what you do in the gym, your sleep and your nutrition. With your nutrition you want to record what you eat, when and how much. Make sure to include the details so rather than just saying toast for breakfast including how many slices, what type of bread, what you put on it and the time.
If you notice a theme with these tips none of them require any extra time or investment. Sure tracking your nutrition may take a few minutes the first few times but then it gets pretty easy and automatic. Keep a journal close at hand, or use your phone, and enter what you ate.
With the eleven tips above a number of people will be wondering which one is the best tip? This is kind of like asking which piece of cardio equipment is the best? In the case of the list above start with one habit and not eleven. Don’t try and do all eleven of these things at once. Instead go through the list and eliminate the habits you are already doing. Of the habits that remain pick the one that is the easiest for you to start doing. Then start tracking this habit for a week by simply marking whether you did the habit or not. For example, if your goal is to drink more water, start recording how many glasses you drink per day. A successful day is when you record the number of glasses, when you increase the number of glasses, or both.
At the end of the week review what you did. What did you learn? On the days you improved a habit what circumstances led to success? On the days that didn’t goes as planned, what happened on those days? Reviewing in this way will help you see patterns that can help you make traction and get ahead with your habits. And pretty soon this habit will become routine. At that point go back to the list and pick your next habit.