When it comes to getting in shape, losing weight or improving athletic performance, consistency is always key. In order to see improvements, we have to consistently integrate the habits that will help us reach the desired outcome into our everyday lives. In other words, if you want to see results it’s important to work at all of the different factors that play a role in supporting your success. In this case, that includes everything from your nutrition and sleep habits to your posture and stress levels. When you’re not at the gym, make sure to focus on these important habits in order speed up the process and achieve optimal results.
“After you exercise your muscles are more sensitive to amino acids and will begin the process of protein synthesis, meaning you should supply them with some amino acids via a protein-rich food or a protein shake,” said certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach Henry Halse. “Make sure you get at least 20 grams of protein to maximize the response. If you don't consume protein the body will break down other muscle tissue to help build the muscles you just worked.” This is especially true for any type of resistance workout, like weight lifting or bodyweight training.
“It's important for everyone to get tons of low-grade physical activity every day, such as walking or stretching,” Halse said. “This will increase blood flow and help you burn more calories. It will also help your joints heal faster if you constantly move them. Humans were meant to move most of the day, so sitting is counterproductive to all of your fitness goals, even if you want to build muscle.”
“Make sure your diet supports the work you are doing at the gym,” said Dr. Ellen Albertson, Ph.D., RDN, CD, a psychologist, nutritionist and founder or SmashYourScale.com. “Have a small meal or snack both before and after your workout that contains both carbs and protein. Carbs are necessary to fuel and build muscle and protein is needed for growth and repair.” She suggests maximizing your nutrition by making sure to plan out your daily meals and snacks. “Put together a meal plan and shopping list so you’ll have the fuel you need to succeed,” she added.
Once you're out of the gym and done with your workout, your body goes into recovery mode, trying to repair any damage done to your body,” explained Chris Cooper, a Precision Nutrition coach and a NSCA certified fitness professional. “In addition, a great night’s sleep keeps our hormone levels in check. There’s no better recovery tool than sleep. When we get restful sleep our body repairs all the ‘wear and tear’ we experience throughout the day. Our tissues are able to regenerate and our brain can process and learn from our day’s experience.” He put it this way: if your body was like a battery, sleep would be its charger. If you don’t get adequate sleep, you won’t be able to operate at full capacity in order to reach your goals.
Our bodies are made up of mostly water, which is part of the reason why staying adequately hydrated is so important for everything from good overall health to optimal performance in the gym. But be sure to carry a water bottle with you wherever you go, not just when you’re working out. By making sure to drink enough water throughout the day you can stave off fake hunger cues (often we mistake thirst for hunger), keep your metabolism working properly and increase your energy levels.
Stress affects hormones that play an important role in everything from our appetite control to sleep habits and how we store fat. And when our levels are high it can wreak havoc within our bodies. Luckily, exercise is one of the best ways to reduce and manage stress, so if you’re spending time in the gym you’re already taking preventative measures. But to set yourself up for optimal results, it’s important to keep stress in check regularly throughout the day.
“The biggest thing anyone can do outside of the gym to see faster results is to train their willpower,” said Kara Zakrzewski, a mental toughness and performance coach and CEO of Mental Toughness Inc. “This willpower will support them to both make it back to the gym at their next occasion and will also prevent them from reaching for that treat as a reward for their most recent workout. After an intense workout, your willpower can waiver—you’re hungry so you eat more and you're tired so you rest more.” She explained that training your willpower is all about repositioning your mindset. “And believe it or not, this is a highly trainable, and also highly overlooked, component of a balanced health and fitness regimen,” Zakrzewski added.
“Don't over-compensate with calories despite an early morning workout,” said Amy Hendel, a health and wellness expert and author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families. “If you are sitting much of the day, even after a vigorous workout, you are probably not burning as many calories in a day's ‘total efforts’ as you think.” This idea also connects to Zakrzewski’s point about mental toughness and food rewards. She pointed out a recent report by Time Magazine that investigated whether or not exercise might actually prevent us from losing weight. “What the research seems to show is that those people who exercise intensely actually seem to choose more sedentary options the rest of the day and also are more inclined to reach for extra treats throughout their day, validating their choice with the fact that they really pushed themselves in their workout,” she explained. “In other words, people often negate their positive workout effect shortly thereafter by their poor nutrition or overall physical activity choices outside of the gym.”
“How you sit, stand and move throughout the day has a greater impact on how your body looks and feels than your most intense class at the gym,” said Karen Nuccio, a movement specialist and creator of the Warrior Strategy. She explained that by sitting slouched at our desks, dragging ourselves as we walk and spending after-work hours slumped on the couch, we’re essentially negating any of the positive effects gained from our time spent in the gym. “If we simply engaged our bodies consistently throughout the day—sat at our desk with an engaged core, walked up the street and stairs and activated the muscles on our limbs, rather than drag them about, breathed in and out so that oxygen actually fed the body properly, and hydrated properly—this small effort exercised consistently would do more to raise the baseline of health and fitness more than any single class a day ever could.”
Even when you’re snacking on nutritious foods, if you’re not paying attention to portion size you could be consuming more calories than you think. “Even the healthiest of snacks can add more than a meal's worth of calories before you realize it,” says NASM certified personal trainer Kat Whitfield. Her healthy snack example: celery and peanut butter. “The celery may not contain many calories, but the peanut butter sure does. One tablespoon turns to two turns to three...before you know it you've eaten 360 calories in just one snack.” Avoid this habit by portioning out your snacks and meals and putting food packages away before eating so you’re not tempted to consume more than one serving size.
Research on the topic is still relatively new, but several studies have shown that disconnecting, even for short periods of time on a day-to-day basis, may help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even increase your creativity. In other words, putting down your phone, taking a break from Facebook and disconnecting from your email every once in a while is probably good for your health, and especially for reducing stress which means you can keep hormones that promote fat storage and appetite increase in check.