By now, we all know the long-term health benefits of exercising - we also want to feel confident and comfortable both in and out of our clothes! Fitting it in to our busy lives is hard enough, but to what purpose if you aren't pleased with the results? It's devastating: you are working out 4-5 times a week, you are cutting down on carbs - you've even started to pass on the wine. So why are the results not reflecting your efforts? Well, fear not because we enlisted the help of Matthew Ploughman from Cardiff Sports Nutrition to help us optimise your work outs without spending more time at the gym. Because let's be honest - sometimes a Netflix marathon is a much more attractive option ....
Set yourself goals
In order to exercise effectively, you need to be clear on what you want to achieve. As a society, we are (thankfully) moving beyond 'weight loss' and have adopted a frame of mind where we not only want to lose fat, but be the fittest, healthiest versions of ourselves. Before stepping foot into a gym, or beginning to pound the streets, ask your self - what do you want to achieve through exercise? Do you want to lose fat, build muscle, increase your endurance or are you training for a specific event? Once you have an end goal in mind, you can break your journey down into milestones - this makes it appear much more achievable. It's incredibly motivating, once you have achieved each milestone you are far more motivated to carry on going to reach the next. Without a clear goal in mind, it's overwhelming to know how, when and how often to work out effectively - it's at this point of people give up, and who can blame 'em?
Don't cut carbs
Cutting out carbs is not the answer - we need carbohydrates to provide us with long-term energy reserves. However, being sensitive when it comes to the kind of carbs we reach for is the smart choice. Wholemeal rice and pasta, quinoa and sweet potatoes are all absorbed slowly by the body, providing good long-term supply of energy without crashing.
Make sure you meal prep
Providing our body with the adequate fuel is absolutely key to your performance during a workout. If you have not provided your body with plenty of water and nutritional foods throughout the day and before your workout, you simply won't have the energy to train hard. Eating a pre-workout snack that combines a source of healthy fats with unrefined carbs, such as an apple with some nut butter, or a protein shake mixed with almond or coconut milk eaten an hour prior to your exercise start time will provide you with a suitable amount of energy. You also need to refuel properly; the quality and timing of a post workout meal is one of the most important details in your routine because it will serve to build and repair muscle as well as replenishing energy reserves. Best practice? Have a protein shake within 30 minutes of exercising and then a nutritional meal 60-90 minutes after that.
By now, we have had the magic '2 litres' drilled into us when it comes to water, and when you are working out regularly this should be increased. However, the importance of H20 is still largely overlooked. It is a little known fact that by the time we feel thirsty, we are already 1% dehydrated, a loss of 1kg in fluid. It's also likely we experience feelings of fatigue, increased body temperature or even feel dizzy. A shocking fact is that when we reach just 3% dehydration, our strength can be reduced by as much as 10% and speed by 8%. "When you consider the efforts that are required to work out effectively, they can be greatly reduced if we fail to keep on top of our water consumption. By drinking the required amount of water throughout the day, we will not only curb any cravings and feelings of 'hunger', we will also stay alert and feel energetic enough to a full workout. In fact, scientists in the Netherlands found that individuals that suffer from severe headaches saw a vast improvement in quality of life by drinking seven glasses of water a day.
Let's not beat around the bush - we are going to sweat as we work out. We cannot get through an Instagram feed without seeing 'sweat is just fat crying', and while I'm not so sure on the truth in the statement, I appreciate the sentiment. When we sweat, we lose fluid as well as important electrolytes, so aim to drink 250ml water every 15 minutes throughout your work out and be sure to stay hydrated before you begin. For example, if you work out in the morning, aim to consume at least 500ml before you work out. If it's lunchtime, a minimum of 1 - 1.5 litres, and after work be safe by ensuring you have taken in around 2 litres throughout the day. If you do find yourself experiencing signs of dehydration, opt for a sports drink that contains electrolytes or add some rehydration sachets such as Dioralyte.
With regards to vitamins and minerals, supplements are not a substitute for a diet that is rich in fresh and nutritious foods. It may sound cliche, but there is almost no point in embarking on an exercise regime if you are not willing to overhaul your diet too. Many vitamins are also water soluble, which means they are eliminated from the body, as It does not store water soluble vitamins.
"We recommend our customers use an Omega 3 supplement, it offers a wide-range of benefits and absolutely contributes to our overall health as well as the quality of our workouts. It has an impact on cardiovascular health, inflammation and studies in the USA have shown that Omega 3 fatty acids stimulate protein synthesis - which effectively means your body continues to work out once you have physically stopped working out!"
An area that many women steer away from is using a protein supplement, for fear of becoming bulky. How can we assure you that this will not happen? Apart from reminding you that you are going to have to be lifting serious weight on a regular basis before you start looking like Arnie. All jokes aside, becoming super muscly rather than toned requires a lot of effort and you would need to be consuming more than a protein shake.
Actually protein aids fat loss. It takes longer for the body to digest and metabolise, meaning that your body is burning calories while it processes protein. It's also a satiating nutrient and leaves you feeling fuller for longer, reducing the risk of snacking on unhealthy foods or overeating! Protein underpins any strength training work that you do (and should be doing). It helps with the growth and repair of the muscles and gives you a lean, toned look.
As mentioned earlier, sipping a protein shake an hour before your workout will give you the energy you need without being too heavy, and having another within 30 minutes of finishing your workout will help to rebuild damaged muscles. There are plenty of varieties to choose from, with whey (milk derived from cows) being the most popular - be sure to so do your research or contact the supplier for some advice.
Another area many women never explore is supplements that are designed to increase our metabolism, for instance L Carnitine and L Glutamine - two supplements that will greatly increase your chances of success, regardless of your goal. Here comes the science bit: "L-Carnitine aids both losing fat and building lean muscle. L-Glutamine transfers long-chain fatty acids to the part of the cell that are oxidised for energy, it also reduces fatigue and increases strength, allowing you to lift heavier weights and conduct longer workouts without compromising effort," explains Matthew. Carnitine is synthesised naturally within the body and also has a number of health benefits from improving bone mass to heart and brain function. Glutamine is found in muscles, the blood and intestines and also serves as fuel for the immune system. When combined with exercise, the supplement of glutamine prevents naturally occurring glutamine from the muscles being used, preventing muscle deterioration.
Like hydration, I would hazard a guess and say that the majority of us are aware that we probably should be including stretching into our workouts, but when? And why? First off - do not stretch your muscles when they are cold because this can cause some nasty injuries from a minor strain to a painful tear. It's also reported that stretching a muscle prior to strength training can result in your strength actually being reduced. However, learning to stretch correctly can see an increase in strength and improve the recovery of muscles. If you are strength training, it is advised to stretch the muscle you have just trained in an 'extreme stretch' for 30-60 seconds before releasing up to three times. Research has shown that extreme stretching like this can enhance the release of growth hormones with the muscle tissue.
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