For many, January is a time of ambitious fitness goals, gym memberships, expensive training equipment and fad diets. By February, of course, these goals are largely abandoned. Gyms become ghost towns, exercise gear gathers dust and kale smoothies become but bitter memories.
These New Year’s fitness resolutions are always started in earnest, yet often doomed to fail. Why? It’s because in addition to attempting to do too much too fast, without the right information and guidance, we enter catch-all, generic fitness and nutrition regimes that are not right for us as individuals. When things get tough and we don’t see results, the tendency is to quit.
With dedicated multidisciplinary teams behind them, this is something that professional athletes don’t have to worry about – their training and nutrition plans are quite literally built around them.
However, you certainly don’t need an army of mentors behind you to hit your fitness targets. Having coached numerous athletes, as well as cyclists of all ages and abilities, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to reach your potential. Here are a few of my top tips.
Take advantage of technology
Thanks to the many digital tools available today, working towards our fitness goals has never been easier. Fitness and nutrition apps, fitbits, on-bike computers and other sports tech are great at providing reminders, motivation, and training advice, as well as collecting the training data we need to help track progress and build customised training plans.
The downside of this abundance of choice is that apps and devices aren’t able to communicate and share data with one another to create an overall picture. With limited scope, these tools and devices can offer only generic training plans that don’t properly take into account individual needs. As such, following them can often result in over-training, injury or failure to achieve the goals you were hoping for.
To give yourself the best chance of success, you need to understand how the data detailing your health, fitness and dietary habits coincide, and learn how they can be harmonised.
Consulting a professional coach is the best way to turn your data into a balanced plan. However, if you feel coaching is impractical or unaffordable for you, try using a health and fitness platform that can combine all this disparate data. This way, you’ll be better informed to put together your own plan.
Google Fit uses smartphone or Android Watch sensors to track steps, sleep, and other data from compatible apps. Apple Health is similar, combining data from iOS apps and the Apple Watch, while other, similar platforms like Existare great options, too.
Spokes is another platform, this time designed specifically for cyclists at all levels, ages and abilities. By combining, analysing and interpreting data from sports technology, a team of professional coaches create fully personalised cycling & triathlon training and nutrition plans via 1:1 digital meetings.
These are just a few options, all of which should make your training efforts far more effective.
Find the activity that’s right for you
There’s more than one way to exercise and even the pros don’t keep to just one activity. Finding an activity that’s genuinely enjoyable and practical to do regularly, rather than simply as a means to get fit, will make it far easier to stick to.
As a coach, I’ve found that success all comes down to personalisation – what are the training goals, abilities and athletic passions of each person, and how might an activity fit into their lifestyle?
I’ll use my own passion, cycling, as an example. I think it’s well-suited to so many people because it’s both practical and enjoyable. Distance providing, many people can cycle to work, to the shops or between wherever points A and B are.
Cycling is also a great leisure activity, allowing people to unwind with an evening bike ride after work, enjoy the countryside at weekends, or indeed explore a new country whilst on holiday. And endurance cycling is a great choice if you’re looking to reach your peak fitness.
If you choose the activity you’re most passionate about, you’ll be far more likely to hit your training goals. So whether you feel good running, hiking, swimming, horse riding, playing basketball or whatever else, use it as a tool to supercharge your health and fitness.
Consider hiring a coach
It won’t surprise you that me, a coach, would recommend the virtues of coaching. However, let me start by saying that not everyone needs one – it really depends on the extent of your training goals. If you’re simply looking to begin a weekly gym session, go for a regular jog or a leisurely cycle, hiring a coach will be quite unnecessary.
It’s when your training goals are more significant that a coach becomes a more sensible option. In terms of training, dietary and equipment advice, the knowledge of a coach will always be more effective than what you can find doing your own research.
Coaches aim to help you reach your potential, pushing you out of your comfort zone, but in a safe and structured way so that you won’t suffer an injury or fatigue.
Sports psychology is integral to meeting your training goals, so a coach will also act as your therapist. If you’re struggling with motivation, going through a tough period in your life or feeling ill, a good coach will always help you to push through, change your fitness plan accordingly and keep you moving forward.
If you don’t have the opportunity to recruit a coach however, there are some other options. Start by working out what your own needs and goals are, and see how they might be met. You might find that you’re progressing just fine on your own. Similarly, as your passion for a particular sport grows, or you want to get more serious about training, you can always seek out a coach further down the line.
Sort out your diet
You’ve probably heard the phrase “you can’t outrun a bad diet” – it’s a statement that couldn’t be more true. But what constitutes a good diet? Due to so many conflicting arguments in recent decades, you’d be forgiven for not knowing whether high or low-carbohydrate diets are the best to follow.
In high intensity endurance sports carbs are your friend, while in low intensity activities, you might find fat a more effective partner. For day-to-day exercise, your body needs more protein to build muscle and increase metabolism. Eating a meal made up of fat or carbs – but usually not both, at least in equally large quantities – and protein after a workout might ensure your body is burning fat and creating muscle.
When it comes to weight loss, there’s a misconception around the role of calories. Many people who strive to cut calorie intake and increase exercise expect to lose weight, but just end up storing more fat. This is because the body retains fat stores if it isn’t getting good nutrition regularly. Some coaches and nutritionists even start clients on a ‘reverse diet’, where they increase the amount of food a client eats to kickstart weight loss.
If weight loss is your goal, be wary of fad diets that promise dramatic weight loss in a flash – they’re usually too good to be true. Plus, shedding weight rapidly can also lead to a loss of muscle mass with it. Rapid weight loss almost always isn’t sustainable and you might find you put the weight back on just as fast.
Diets which eliminate certain food groups should also be met with scepticism – the old cliché of a balanced diet still holds true. It’s always worth checking whether any claims are backed up by science and indeed how they might help your performance. You want to fuel your body, not leave it deprived of the energy it needs to excel.
So, when taking any weight loss and performance nutrition advice, remember that it’s unlikely to cater specifically to your lifestyle, physiology and performance goals. There’s no such thing as a one size fits all plan afterall, so be wary of diets based purely on anecdotal evidence.
Macro diets on the other hand work out exactly how many calories you need as an individual, either to lose weight, gain muscle, or maintain your current weight. They take into account gender, current weight, height, activity levels and more to tell you exactly how many calories you need per day, and how that should be broken down in terms of protein, carbs and fat.
Similarly, the Nutritionally Fit programme is a useful tool designed to help endurance athletes optimise their diets to support recovery, energy and general health. Just like any other part of training, understanding how diet fits into your overall fitness goals is key.
As the four-time Ironman world champion and world record holder Chrissie Wellington said, “perfection is doing the best in the context of your life.” You don’t have to be a pro, live at the gym, blow your savings on top equipment or live on protein shakes and raw eggs. You just need to be realistic about your commitment. Once you’ve worked that out, you can start to form a plan to make your own health and fitness the best it can be. Good luck!
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