Now that the warm summer months are just a dim memory and the hectic holiday season looms, you might feel your passion for fitness sliding down the priority list.
Don't let it happen! You worked too hard this year to backtrack over the holidays. With a few simple strategies, the holidays can form part of a healthy yearlong lifestyle.
1. Make A Goal Switch
One of the best ways to encourage better fitness in the colder months is to change your goal. Chances are that all summer long you were focused on getting leaner or, at least, maintaining your lower body-fat percentage so you would look good in bathing suits and shorts.
Now that winter is here, and the clothing layers are piling up, refocus on adding more lean muscle mass with our fall muscle-building guide. You may gain a little fat with it, but since you won't be sporting a bathing suit anytime soon, that's not a big concern for the time being.
2. Expand Your Meal Options
Nothing can get you off calorie control faster than a boring diet. One way to avoid food boredom is to choose seasonal foods. Instead of the usual grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, and brown rice, try seasonal foods like pasta with chestnuts and sage, spicy scalloped rutabagas, and a slice of pumpkin million-dollar pie.
Fall and winter crops are beautiful and delicious. They're incredibly healthy, too, providing an array of antioxidants that combat oxidative damage and support a healthy immune system.
3. Get Re-energized by Change
As the pace of commitments picks up during the holidays, you can get too pooped to hit the gym. A great way to get out of this rut is to switch up your plans.
Getting a new workout, entering a transformation contest, or taking lots of progress pictures are all ways to rejuvenate and recommit yourself to your fitness routine. The best way to combat gym fatigue is usually to just tackle the problem head-on, instead of coming up with endless reasons to avoid exercise.
Don't forget about your sleep and nutrition, along with other elements of good recovery. Nailing these other parts of your life will keep you charged up for those trips to the gym.
4. Eat More Meat
If you want to stay as lean as possible in the cold months ahead, bump up your protein intake. Adding more protein to your diet encourages fat loss by not only reducing feelings of hunger, but also by burning extra calories.
Protein has a high thermic effect, which means it takes your body more energy to digest protein than it does to digest carbs or fats. So, you burn extra calories simply by making protein a larger part of your fall and winter diet.
It's not all about the main course, though. Try these rich, seasonal, and macro-friendly desserts to bump up your protein consumption. Aim for 1 gram or more of protein per pound of body weight per day.
5. Plan Ahead to Save Time and Energy
When life gets busy, nothing helps you more than defining a healthy meal plan. If you don't have a plan, you may end up making lots of trips to the vending machine or fast-food joint, neither of which provides the kind of nutrition you need to stay lean and healthy.
Next Sunday, take some time to plan your meals for the week ahead—maybe using this 7-day meal plan as a guide. Get your food shopping done and make up your first few meals in advance, and you're ahead of the game as you manage your busy life.
6. Indulge the Smart Way
Cravings happen. There's no point in trying to fight off every single one because, sooner or later, you'll give in. And if you've been following a highly restricted diet, you might give in in a big way.
Instead, learn how to indulge the smart way. Make sure that before the next craving hits you have healthy snacks on hand—foods that will satisfy the craving and nourish your body. Having some protein pumpkin parfait on hand makes it much easier to say "no" to that calorie-loaded pumpkin spice latte at the local coffee shop.
7. Eat for Superior Performance
When you plan your meals, pay special attention to seasonal foods that can boost your gym performance. Incorporate these foods more often into your meal planning and you'll notice a big change in your performance levels.
Take care of your pre- and post-workout needs as well. Are you taking in enough protein and complex carbs before your workouts? Are you optimizing muscle glycogen replenishment and repair with the right type of protein source immediately following training? Is your calorie intake around training adequate to support the volume load you're trying to complete?
You can put in as much energy in the gym as you want, but if you're not supporting that effort with the right building blocks for tissue repair, you aren't going to get very far.
8. Try New Fall Activities
If you're naturally an outdoorsy person, you may dislike the thought of being confined to an indoor gym for many months to come.
To stay on the fitness path, try a few fall activities. Go rollerblading if you didn't get the chance during the summer, or do some circuit training in the park. Then there are the winter sports. You can motivate yourself to work out now by thinking about all the calories you hope to burn in the snow—assuming you get some this year.
Getting fresh air for your workout is invigorating. What's more, you may find that it also helps you sleep better later that night.
As an added benefit, it won't be so hot that you risk overheating, so now might just be the perfect time for that outdoor workout program you've wanted to tackle.
9. Catch Up on Your Sleep
Now that it's getting darker earlier, use this to your advantage. You may grow more tired earlier on in the evening as the days get shorter and your melatonin production goes up. This presents the perfect opportunity to catch up on sleep you may have missed during those late summer nights.
While it may not seem like sleeping will help you stay fit, there is a strong connection between the two. Getting enough sleep is paramount for proper recovery and will also help maximize insulin sensitivity, reduce food cravings, and help you maintain a higher metabolic rate. These are key for keeping your body weight in check.
10. Clean Up Your Yard
Finally, with the leaves falling from the trees in preparation for winter, use this as a workout opportunity. Raking leaves and doing that last grass cutting of the season are both great ways to burn calories without hitting the gym. And what better way to prepare for shoveling snow?
- Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Lejeune, M. P. G. M., Nijs, I., Van Ooijen, M., & Kovacs, E. M. R. (2004). High protein intake sustains weight maintenance after body weight loss in humans. International Journal of Obesity, 28(1), 57-64.
- Belko, A. Z., Barbieri, T. F., & Wong, E. C. (1986). Effect of energy and protein intake and exercise intensity on the thermic effect of food. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 43(6), 863-869.
- Buxton, O. M., Pavlova, M., Reid, E. W., Wang, W., Simonson, D. C., & Adler, G. K. (2010). Sleep restriction for 1 week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men. Diabetes, 59(9), 2126-2133.