Major setbacks are awful; they take a huge toll on you both physically and emotionally. Whether you’re derailed due to serious injury, surgery, illness or personal reasons, this will definitely impact your day to day routine especially your appetite, diet and ability to exercise. The worst is when you’ve really been on a roll in terms of your regiment and you’ve been working out hard and consistently while maintaining a well-balanced diet, in other words you’ve developed a long term healthy and fit lifestyle, and then suddenly it all comes to a screeching halt. This is pretty much what happened to me about six weeks ago and it’s been a struggle ever since. I went from injury to illness to being hospitalized to major personal issues within the past month and a half. Today I’m going to share some strategies that I’m using for getting back on the right track in the healthiest way possible.
The first and most important (and obvious!) thing is to consult with a medical professional that you are in fact cleared to start exercising and eating a nourishing diet. I cannot stress this enough; make sure to follow the doctor’s orders to a T whether they suggest just physio therapy, light stretching, short walks or certain foods to avoid, do not deviate from what you are told. If you do, it is a recipe for disaster and will probably only put you right back to where you started, negating any potential progress. Once you are given the green light, start with very basic exercises and movements, think dynamic stretching, yoga poses followed by some static stretches and a quiet meditation. This should last no more than 20 minutes, but another good option is to also include 5-10 minute walks each day; not full on race-walking, but just a leisurely stroll to get the blood flowing. It may seem too easy when you think about, but start with this and see how feel; you may be surprised with how you’re body reacts in terms of how strenuous or tiring these movements feel. The first day that I tried to just do some very simple stretches, I found that I felt tired and my muscles were very tight. Needless to say, this is a big change from five day per week training splits and weekly hot yoga classes, but progress takes time. When you are ready (after about a week or so), start incorporating some body weight strength training exercises like squats, lunges, push ups and plank, but go easy on yourself because it will take time to build up your strength again, so don’t do more than a few sets of 10 reps of each exercise. From there, each week aim to increase your challenge by either upping the number sets/reps or by starting to add weighted exercises as well. Gradually over the span of several weeks and months you’ll get back to where you were and then some, but don’t overdo it; if you start to feel tired, any strains or any pain then you need to stop and consult with your doctor again for alternative solutions. The important thing here is to slowly build up your strength and to not take any short cuts. As always be sure to start any training with some dynamic stretching and a few warm up sets and end your workout with some static stretching to prevent injury and soreness.
Nutrition will have the biggest impact on getting back to a healthy lifestyle, but I find that it’s always the hardest part to get down packed. Food nourishes and fuels you for the day and I know that this was the biggest reason as to why my muscle mass has gone down so much. My nice defined abs have gone a little soft, my beefy quads have now turned into skinny thighs and my muscular arms are looking a little puny. Unfortunately this is mostly from being under nourished and not taking in enough calories to support my weight. To avoid tummy troubles, start by phasing out one simple carb for one easy to digest complex carb each day. For example, start with a small portion of squash or sweet potatoes instead or white rice or pasta, and then switch to whole grain toast instead of the white stuff, and so on. When it comes to vegetables in general start by slowly adding in leafy greens salads with tomatoes, or cooked mushrooms with onions and then move on to the cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Keep your portions small though, the last thing that you want is to end up spending your afternoon in the bathroom. Your body needs to slowly adapt to taking in fiber again and it can be a bit harsh for you to digest it at first, so pay attention to how you feel and how your body responds. Drink lots of water throughout each day and avoid stimulants like caffeine especially from coffee, tea and soft drinks as these can cause indigestion and heartburn. In terms of protein I strongly suggest that you hold off on any protein powders or fatty meats as these can also be tough on your digestive tract. Instead opt lean proteins such as tempeh, tofu, seitan or if you choose to eat animal proteins go for lean meats or non-fatty fish. Start to also minimize your added sugar content as well including any “natural” liquid sweeteners or artificial sweeteners and try not to consume too much fruit unless right before or after your workouts. Remember that at this point your body doesn’t need that much fructose from fruit in order to support itself, you should be getting plenty enough vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants from your vegetable intake with less sugar than you would from fruit.
When trying to get back into to a regiment with the aim of losing fat while building muscle, consistency is key and it’s important to be patient and stay focused along the way. All of those small and gradual steps that you take will help you to slowly get back to where you once were and go even further than before. Your day to day routine may have changed and you may have either more responsibilities or priorities than before, but taking care of yourself still needs to be part of your life. If you are swamped all the time and feel overwhelmed then let this be the one thing that you do for yourself and make it something enjoyable. Try some new simple recipes, maybe take a class at the gym or find a nearby hiking trail to walk with a friend. With time you’ll get back into a solid routine and feel like you again, so start small and always keep at it.
Start It, Finish It