I hope the clean eating and exercise plans that have gyms heaving every January are still being maintained as we head deeper into February. For regular ‘gymmers’, January is met with a sigh of “here we go again”. Sunglasses are optional as gyms nationwide are swarmed with eager new clients dressed head to toe in spanking new gear, with colours ranging from black to neon and every print & pattern in between. Then February arrives and the peak times suddenly begin to resemble less and less like a sports themed nightclub plugging with protein shakers instead of alcohol! By the time the Spring rolls around normality usually ensues.
Unfortunately, for many, the fervour they tackle January with is often diminished by the time they hit Spring. We’ve all heard the stories. “I was up at six am four mornings this week at the gym, then I went out running every evening” and their new diet has rendered the need to chew redundant – as they juice everything possible in their Nutribullet! I certainly admire their enthusiasm… but it’s not smart. It simply isn’t sustainable, and exposure to such increases in exercise training in short periods of time increases the risk of injury. Strained muscle coupled with poor sleep and inadequate nutrition… “ah sure, the gym wasn’t for me anyway!”
I often get asked for advice on diet and exercise by people who consider themselves a regular Joe or Mary. Not necessarily aiming to be the next Katie Taylor, but they do want to get fit and look better. Now, more than ever, there is a massive push towards being fit, strong and healthy, and that is awesome! Like any trend (and I hope this move far outlasts being a trend), it brings out all sorts of opinions from ‘experts’, some more renowned than others.
The advice I would give anyone is simple. Make small changes to your lifestyle, the incremental changes are much better than wholesale changes trying to overhaul your lifestyle in a week! The World health Organisation (WHO) has guidelines that each adult should exercise at a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity every day. Moderate intensity equates to being out of breath to the point of being unable to complete a sentence; being sweaty and having your heart rate up. These are the bare minimum guidelines to be a healthy adult. Sounds simple? You would be surprised how many don’t hit that mark. If you can commit to half an hour everyday it is half the battle, and you can then gradually build up the intensity of whatever exercise regime you are following.
Another helpful tip is to do have a training buddy or group. If you regularly make a plan with someone to meet up for a class or running session, you are more likely to turn up on the days when you just don’t feel like it. I know myself, it was hard to train alone over Christmas when I was away from organised team sessions.
‘Diet’ is a word I have issues with. It suggests that it is for the short term, and again, not sustainable. Instead focus on your nutrition, what you ingest on a day to day basis. In the simplest of terms, be aware of what nutrients your body needs, in what quantities, and the foods that have them. The three main components of a healthy daily food plan are carbohydrates, protein and fat. We need carbohydrates for energy. You should fuel with wholegrain carbohydrate before exercise.
Fat is necessary but the majority of dietary fats should come from unsaturated sources such as oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. Protein is essential for muscle repair and recovery and should be eaten throughout the day. Turkey, chicken, fish, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein.
Sports supplements play an important role in supporting the build and repair of muscles, and to aid recovery. Whey is the type of protein that is most quickly absorbed by the body, and should be consumed immediately after an exercise session. Products such as chocolate milk can offer a simple alternative to whey protein for the standard ‘weekend warrior’.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Personally, I would have considered myself to have a fairly good diet but the Irish nutritionist Nora Ní Fhlannagain wasn’t long deflating that bubble! My problem wasn’t necessarily the type of food I was eating, as much as the quantities. Apparently, my portion sizes equated to a recommended amount for a family of four!! We had a particularly arduous debate over my reliance on consuming four Weetabix (five on match days) every morning without fail. In my mind, it had done me no harm in getting me to where I was, and I didn’t quite resemble a baby elephant either. Slowly though she has changed my breakfast habits to match whatever level of activity or training I will be doing that day. But if Weetabix suffer losses at the end of this year they can talk to Nora…
Everything in moderation including moderation is a handy life motto. Be aware it isn’t easy to change a habit and we all have relapses. Cheat meals or little treats are necessary in order to keep the wheels on the bandwagon. Even with treats, it is important to be informed about what you are eating. Everywhere we go we see labels such as ‘organic’; ‘raw cacao’; ‘gluten free’ followed by brownie; caramel slice; cake; flapjack etc. Don’t be fooled. If it is a dessert or treat, regardless of whatever far flung island its plant originated from, it quite likely still contains sugar and fat. If you want some chocolate, go to the local shop and buy your favourite bar (some bars with lower calories include Curly Wurlys and Purple Snacks). They will probably taste better and are cheaper too. Try not to eat a multipack though!
I don’t claim to be a nutritionist; these are just some of the basic guidelines that we should all adhere to, for a healthy body. Likewise with exercise, simplicity is key. You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. Make small, simple lifestyle changes and you are more likely to stick out January, February and beyond. Prove the regular ‘gymmers’ wrong, because they are all betting they won’t see you in a few weeks!
Louise Galvin is a member of the Irish Sevens squad, Munster Championship winner with the Kerry Ladies GAA squad and former national league winning basketball player with UL. Follow her on twitter @lougalvin4