Just over a month ago I completed a 12 week fitness challenge which involved following a specific nutrition program and workout schedule. The entire experience was both great and difficult; I saw big changes in my body composition, increased strength and some serious muscle definition by the end. Once the challenge ended though, I was left thinking “Now what?”. So today I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at what to do once you reach a big goal and how to plan out your next steps.
I’d like to start off by sharing what the last month has looked like for me since the challenge ended. As this was a 12 week program that involved working out 5-6 days per week, it was recommended that we take a full week off from working out which I did. This is a habit that I had incorporated in the last few years and that I completely agree with, but the only problem is that I always feel totally bloated during that week off no matter what I do. Another unfortunate thing that I realized was that as soon as the 12 weeks were up, I started noticing that everyone around me was under the impression that since it was over I would just go back to the same eating habits that I had before. Suddenly, anytime I was invited out for lunch it was always for either fast food or something that was a little extra starchy than I was used to during the challenge, and anytime I’d be invited over to someone’s home, the food although delicious was a little extra decadent. So instead of one treat meal per week it wound up being more like three or four, in which I ended up just feeling heavy and really full. Although I appreciate the nice gestures and I don’t want to seem impolite, I also don’t want all of my hard work to go to waste either (it’s quite the conundrum). In terms of exercise, I went back to a four day weight training split with one day of either hot yoga or cardio each week. Again, this has unfortunately become a bit inconsistent as October has proven to be an excessively busy month in terms of evening work events, personal commitments and social gatherings, leaving some weeks with only 3 days worked out no matter how much I tried to schedule it in. On top of all of that, for the last week I have been fighting one of the worst colds of my life that has left me practically bedridden, incoherent and sleep deprived. Thankfully I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and am finally feeling my symptoms going away.
Now, I’m not saying all of this to complain or trying to make it out like everyone is against me because I know that’s not the case at all. What I am saying is that sometimes things get in the way and interfere with our intentions no matter what we do, but we are all in control of our own lives and the decisions we take to be healthy. For example, I could have easily said no thank you to the fast food and deserts and offered up a health alternative instead, likewise for bringing a healthy dish to someone else’s home whenever invited (it’s not only good for you, but it’s also the polite thing to do). My point is that since completing this challenge my biggest issue has been poor planning, so let’s take a look at some simple strategies to consider after reaching a big fitness goal in order to maintain the hard earned results and maybe even take it a step further.
Maintenance is probably the most difficult part of any regiment, that’s why diets in general don’t work or last; most people will gain some or all of their weight back and will lose some muscle definition. You get the body you’ve always wanted and maybe start thinking or hearing from others “One bite won’t hurt” or “A cookie isn’t going to change anything”. But when one bite leads two and three and so on, and this continues everyday it will add up and it will affect your body. So the number one priority when it comes to maintenance is staying on track with your nutrition; keep your meals clean as in no added sugar, eating every 2-3 hours, no more than 1 treat meal per week. Focus on lots of non-starchy veggies (this should fill up the bulk of your plate), lean protein, some healthy fats (small handful of nuts once a day or a tablespoon of olive when cooking) and whole grains. Try to focus on keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day, meaning that it’s not the best idea to have a bagel at breakfast or a bucket of spaghetti at dinner, instead have 1 serving of whole grains at each meal if that. Your total carbohydrates should account for about 40% of your daily dietary calories, but remember that vegetables are a carb, as are beans, legumes and fruit so these do add up. Think about volumetrics in that you can eat either a mountain of veggies or ½ cup quinoa, frankly I’d rather load up and take an hour to get through a mountain of food than a tiny sad portion of a complex carb. If you’re not sure how much you should be eating overall or what your macronutrient breakdown should be, than take some time out to calculate it and portion out your meals and snacks accordingly. Be careful of your total calorie count as well, don’t ever go below 1800 per day otherwise you’ll be losing muscle before you lose fat which is a big no-no. When you do go out to eat choose the best option you can and don’t be afraid to eat a veggie burger without the bun and order a salad instead of fries; at the end of the day it’s your body and you’re life so whatever other people may think of you and your regiment is their problem not yours, don’t let yourself be swayed by anyone. Always offer to bring something when invited to someone’s home for a meal and do your best to keep it clean without imposing on others.
For your workout regiment, try to take your current schedule into consideration when making your plan and go with what’s easiest for you. Weight training will definitely have the biggest impact on your body composition so aim for at least 3-4 days of weights per week. In terms of cardio 1-2 days per week minimum is a good way to go, and if you can squeeze it in on an extra day then go for it, just be mindful of how much rest you are getting and if you feel too tired or rundown then stick to the minimum only. Try to have at least one workout day per week where you try something that’s fun and enjoyable without being overly strenuous; I love taking ballet classes, hot yoga or going for a hike in a wooded area. Another great trick to always keep in mind is to always change up your routine every 3-4 weeks by either changing exercises, increasing the amount of weight that you lift or even just changing your grip on the weights themselves so as to avoid hitting a plateau. If ever you’re stumped for new ideas there are plenty of websites that offer great workout ideas, sample plans and how-to explanations.
Try to keep challenging yourself no matter where you’re at in terms of your physique; there’s always room for growth and improvement. If you’ve recently lost a lot of weight, then consider gaining muscle as your next goal, or if you’ve gained a lot of mass, then maybe try leaning out for fat loss. Once you reach a goal, acknowledge it, celebrate it and then set another one, this is a great way to keep you at your best. My next goal is to continue to build more muscle by increasing the weight that I lift a little bit each week. For those particularly busy weeks where I won’t be able to fit it a 40 minutes weight training session after work, I will instead opt for a 20 minute total body workout mixing cardio with body weight training before going to work. I also want to focus on more mindfulness and meditation as well, so going forward each morning I will set aside 15 minutes for a guided meditation to set the tone for the day and help me better appreciate being present. In terms of nutrition, I liked the plan that I had followed during the challenge; it fueled me for the intense workouts and I felt very well-nourished so I will be going back to that plan, but allowing for 1 treat meal per week. Whatever you decide to do be sure to tell others about this as it will hold you accountable and help you stay with your goal for the long haul. So for everybody reading this, hear me now: As much as I appreciate it (and I really do) please stop buying me junk food and taking me out for fast food, or if you do beware that I will most likely not be eating the bread on my sandwich or the fries on plate, this stuff just doesn’t make me feel good. Okay, your turn … make your goal and spread the word, accountability is key!
Start It, Finish It