We have all had those mornings, especially after a good night out, where we’ve looked at our physique in the mirror and said, #$%*! We have all been late to an important meeting, have had to run up two flights of stairs, gotten to the top, and completely out of breath, said, #$%*! We have all instinctively picked up a shirt from the “Small” section, only to bitterly realize that we have outgrown our size by two full steps, and then, said, #$%*!
We have avoided any social gatherings, lost self confidence, made enemies with the outdoors, befriended the doctor, paid higher premiums for health insurance, and worse, even lost lives just by being unfit. But the reason most of us don’t get fit is not because we are merely lazy, but because most of us find it overwhelming. Any reasonable article on fitness will bombard readers with snazzy fit-lingo – muscle confusion, starvation mode, aerobic and anaerobic circuits, glycemic index, insulin spike, supplements, macronutrient percentages – all of which is just too much to understand for a busy person who has finally mustered up the courage to devote about an hour of his/her day to fitness.
But worry not, friends. I was once on the same boat as well, and am still puzzled by some of these words. Therefore, in this article, I will attempt to decipher the most important fitness words, explain how they work and put all the pieces together into the big picture of fitness.
What does being fit really mean?
We may all have different definitions of being fit. A professional athlete’s idea of fitness is to workout for 4 hours a day, while a stock broker’s may be a quick 30 minutes during the lunch break. There are a few things common though, regardless of how rigorous your fitness regime may be. Those things are: working out, eating healthy, sleeping well, and staying hydrated. These are the 4 things you MUST do properly, if you want to call yourself healthy.
Working Out: Muscles are the building blocks of your body, and are synonymous to your health. More is NOT necessarily better, but quality is. And for that, you need to work your muscles so that they are not prone to fatigue and illness. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice right? Well, consider working out as your muscle’s practice.
Eating Healthy: This is not only eating the right foods, but also eating the right portions at the right time. You may eat the healthiest meal in the world, but if you eat only ONE big meal a day, it won’t work (more on this later).
Sleeping Well: I am sure you have had to pull an all-nighter at some part of your life. How do you feel the next day? Like crap. There you go, that is the reason you need to sleep well. Your mind and body need rest and you should give it to them. Anywhere from 6-8 hours of sleep is considered healthy, 8 Hrs being the optimum option.
Staying Hydrated: More than 70% of our body is made up of water. And there is a good reason for that. Consider a fruit. How does it look when it is fresh and ripe, compared to wrinkled and dry? Same is the case with your body, especially your internal parts. It may not be as clearly visible on the outside, but your muscles, your vital organs, your skin, your bones, all need to maintain that hydration level to remain strong and for longevity. An average person loses about 2-4 liters of water each day. So it makes sense to put it back, right? Even better, put back a little extra. The recommended daily water intake is about 5-8 liters, i.e. about 1-2 gallons of water. You will be using the restroom quite a bit for the first week, but trust me, you will get used to it, and it will become all normal.
The Nutrition Label
Any food you eat is divided into macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, sugar, sodium and fiber, being the most important ones. The goal of eating healthy is to balance the proportion of these macronutrients. This may seem a bit daunting, but it really isn’t. The first step where you should start is the nutrition label.
Take a look at the this label. The first thing it says is the Serving Size. This is how much each serving should be. There is usually also another section that says, Servings Per Container, which basically means that this package or this box contains that many servings.
Then comes the Calories, which is the amount of energy you will get from a serving of this food. Then, the macronutrients are all laid of in their own sections.
Things to look for in a label:
Fat (0 – 10g)
Carbs (20 – 50g)
Protein (8 – 30g)
Fiber (1 – 10g)
Sugar (0 – 15g)
Sodium (0 – 500mg)
One place where people struggle is they try to find a single food that meets this criteria. Well, that will be pretty difficult. The idea is to mix and match foods so that if they had a combined food label, it would reflect the above recommendations. There will also be a lot of vitamins and minerals listed in the label. Well, you can pretty much ignore them.
I know you want the washboard abs, I do too, who doesn’t? But you cannot just workout your abs, or wear some creepy belt that vibrates promising to burn your fat. Well, all that it really burns in your wallet! Get rid of that mentality of taking shortcuts, of buying gadgets to do the work for you, or doing a thousand ab-crunches to get six packs – none of those work! Workout is divided into two parts and you need to improve both aspects to get fit, or look fit. Those parts are: Aerobic fitness, Anaerobic fitness.
Aerobic Fitness or Your Stamina/Endurance
It is called aerobic because it has to do mostly with your lungs, hence, the air. The better your lung capacity, the better your heart-rate and the better your stamina. Light logging, skipping, casual swimming, fast walking are all examples of aerobic workouts. The principle is pretty simple. You would want good stamina to do something strenuous for longer periods of time. When you do something strenuous, or harder, your muscles work more. When your muscles work more, they need more blood to circulate. When more blood needs to circulate, your heart beats faster so it can pump more blood. When your heart beats faster, it needs more oxygen. To provide more oxygen, you breathe fast so your lungs pump. And with each breath, how much air your lungs pump depends directly on your lung capacity, which can ONLY be improved by aerobic workouts. So that is the reason you need to run, bike, walk on the elliptical, whatever it is, get your heart racing and your lungs pumping.
Because your lungs and heart are the main workers in aerobic workouts, it improves their efficiency and helps prevent a lot of heart and lung diseases as well. However, since these are sort of light workouts, they do not do much to help the muscles. That is where anaerobic workouts come into play.
Anaerobic Fitness or Your Strength
Unlike running or cycling, when you have to lift a heavy furniture, or climb stairs, or pull yourself up a tall wall, you do not use your lungs or heart, you use your muscles. That is the reason why when you do 20 pushups, you don’t get short of breath, but rather, your arms will start to burn. This burning sensation is when your muscle is very heavily used, and unlike aerobic workouts, the heart is just not capable of pumping blood fast enough to attend to the issue. Therefore, the body completely ignores the heart and lungs and switches to anaerobic mode, where it uses lactic acid as energy. And, lactic acid is the form that body fat converts to when it needs to be used as energy.
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic in terms of Fat Loss
So which one is better? Both. Aerobic workouts, burn fat as you perform them. If you run for an hour, you burn for an hour. Anaerobic workouts, like lifting weight have the effect of burning fat even up to 48 hours after the workout, as it increases muscles, as well as your metabolism. A combination of both aerobic and anaerobic workouts results in amazing fat loss and very visible progress.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is a fancy term used for your body’s rate of turning food into energy. It is pretty evident that we eat for energy, or to pretty much stay alive! Your metabolism is what defines how and where the food you eat is used. Your muscles support your body, so they need energy to just maintain themselves, more if they are growing. This is done with the help of all the proteins you consume. You also need energy to perform actions such as run, speak, even sleep. This energy is used up from the carbs. And when you perform those actions, you need cushioning in your joints, this is achieved through fats, but be careful, only the healthy fats like olive oil, fish oil, nuts and such, not fat from meats or fried food!
But at the end of the day, say you consumed 2500 calories, out of which 20% was fat, 40% was carbs and 40% was protein. And your muscles, the work you did, your joints only used of 1500 of those calories as energy. What happens to the remaining 1000 calories? THEY ARE ALL TURNED INTO FAT! Why? Because fat is our body’s reserve energy. When there is no energy to use from carbs, or proteins, it uses the reserve energy, i.e. the fat. Pretty interesting huh? So to lose that belly you need to make sure your body had used up all other resources for energy and has moved to fat. How do you do that? Raise your metabolism!
Food is combusted by the body in a certain order. First carbs, then protein, then fat. And that is the reason we have the tendency to gain fat so easily, because it gets burned last! We can reverse this order somewhat by raising our metabolism. The more you workout, the more quality your muscles have, and the more carbs and protein it uses up. And since the carbs and protein are all used up, the only source the body has left, is fat and that is exactly what it uses as energy. As simple as that! This can ONLY be achieved through anaerobic workouts, so that is why it is so important to workout with weights.
Any diet plan that tells you to skip a meal will NOT work, period. Your body is a machine – it consumes food, turns to energy. There should be a perfect balance between this. If more food is consumed than what can be turned into energy, you become unfit. Therefore, the goal is to eat small, yet balanced meals several times a day so that the consume-burn cycle keeps going. When this happens, the body gets used to getting food and burning that same amount frequently and eventually stops storing fat as a reserve. When a meal is skipped though, that cycle is broken, and hence the body immediately lowers the metabolism and stores fat as a reserve – this is called starvation mode. A common example is skipping breakfast. When you skip your breakfast, you essentially are without food for more that 15 hours. That is a long time for the body to go without food, and as a result, it promotes fat storage and your goal of fat loss is severely hindered. The best diet is:
- One the never skips a meal, especially breakfast
- One that has 4-6 meals in a day
- One that tries to balance 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% healthy fat in each meal
- One that includes 1-2 gallons of water
- One where the total calorie intake is equal to or less than what can be burned by regular activity and workouts
Supplements are often overlooked but are essential. Although there are 1000s to choose from, only a few are really important.
Multivitamin: Do yourself a favor and take 1-2 caps of a good multivitamin everyday. This will give your body all the necessary vitamins and minerals that are impossible to track with every meal.
Whey Protein: Take some protein because it is expensive and difficult to get all the protein you need just from food, especially if you are a vegetarian.
Fish/Flax Seed Oil: Save your joints, and take these. They will thank you later.
Skipping Meals: I already talked about skipping meals. Yes, you will become thinner if you skip meals, but you are merely losing muscles, and hence the appearance of being thin. You are NOT getting healthier and in fact becoming more susceptible to weakness and diseases! Do yourself a favor, DO NOT SKIP MEALS. The better way to lose weight is through a balanced diet and workouts.
I Never Gain Weight: There are two body types – Endomorphic, one that gains weight easily and Ectomorphic, one that has difficulty gaining weight. Ectomorhps, the skinny ones, just because they don’t gain weight, believe they are greatly fit. This is incorrect. In fact, they are weak and lack muscles, it is all bones and fat, often called skinny fat in the fitness world.
I have muscles: The endomorphs on the other hand, because they get bigger, believe that they have lots of muscles. This is incorrect as well. This me well be 70% fat, given a definition by the 30% muscle that exists beneath. Be careful!
How It All Comes Together
You wake up in the morning. You have not eaten since 8 PM last night. Your body is already thinking of storing some fat just incase. You eat a good breakfast and save yourself of the unwanted fat storage. Your breakfast consists of good cereals (Special K, Kashi or Oatmeal), some whey protein, fat free milk and a banana. This is enough protein and carbs to get you started. A couple of hours later, you eat a granola bar that gives your body enough energy to keep going till lunch. You have been using your mind to solve this intense problem at work, you need it. At lunch, you visit subway and get a whole wheat chicken breast sandwich without cheese. This will give you enough carbs to last the entire day. A few hours later you take some fat free yogurt with some berries. This is refreshing as it is 2.30 PM when your body is hitting those sleepy tides. Get some coffee as well, it will prep you for your workout after work. You get home, and make a protein shake. Some fruits, some yogurt, some protein and milk. This will give that energy boost you need. You drink half of it before your workout, half after so that it helps in muscle recovery. Around 8 PM, you eat some low fat sautéed or baked meat with some veggies so that you keep the fat and carbs low but the protein high. This recovers your muscles while you sleep but prevents from unburned food that may turn into fat.
There you go! You ate about 6 times in the day, you worked out for an hour (aerobic one day, anaerobic the other), you slept for 8 hours and drank 2 gallons of liquid while maintaining your total calorie intake. You kept your metabolism high and never went into starvation mode. It is as simple as that!
I hope this was not too confusing. Eventually it is all about balance, supply and demand. Balance your diet, supply only and all that your body demands. Waste excess through workouts, and strengthen yourself. Ready to try it out yourself?