By: Jennifer Fleming, PhD, MS, RD, LDN
Like most Americans, busy schedules dictate our days and consequently, we have lost touch with listening to our bodies. We spend too much time sitting — in our cars, at our desks or on the couch – and not nearly enough time simply moving. Just recently, a friend told me that because she has not used her car these last few months, when she attempted to start it, it wouldn’t! Our bodies are similar, the less we use them the less likely they are to move.
Not matter what the situation, being active often requires extra creativity and self-motivation. I remember the day when someone asked how I stayed motivated to go out in the woods and run for hours at a time. Despite my absolute love for it, there are times in which my motivation wanes. I learned and shared that this is normal. During these times, I use a Behaviors → Feelings approach. I do the things that make me feel the best afterward even if it’s not what I initially wanted to be doing. I am happy to say that I have yet to come back from a run that I initially didn’t want to do, and regretted it. In fact, it’s made me feel better almost every single time!
So, don’t waste an opportunity to get one step closer to reaching your health goals just because you don’t feel motivated in the moment. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking that first step, no matter what.
Start by finding activities that you enjoy. There is little point to begin jogging or biking if you hate it. Personally, the thought of running on pavement hurts just to think about, but put me in the woods and it feels less like running and more like a new adventure every time! If you want to become and stay active, you need to practice the physical activities you enjoy and will look forward to doing as often as possible. Keep in mind, sometimes enjoyment doesn’t come during the activity itself, rather it pops up after you finished. You feel stronger, more capable, and more accomplished. It’s important to remember the good feelings these activities generate!
However, if just thinking about adding activity into your already busy day makes you want to take a nap – you are not alone. Ironically, sometimes it takes the act of expending energy to gain energy. In other words, being consistently active, while also properly refueling your body, makes us feel more energetic throughout the day.
Unfortunately, for many, proper nutrition, especially as our activity levels increase, is an afterthought. As you increase your activity level, you can help to give your metabolism an added boost. What does this mean? For most people, it means increasing your caloric intake of the right foods, at the right times.
As a general approach, aim for eating at least three meals and two snacks (as needed) throughout the day focusing on whole foods. Macronutrients, otherwise known as carbohydrates, fats and proteins, are utilized in different amounts depending on the type of activity you are doing. At a moderate intensity, you are typically burning equal amounts of carbohydrate and fat. As the intensity level increases (either because of length or effort), your body reaches a point where it starts to need quicker sources of energy, and it burns more carbohydrate. Throughout all intensities, protein use remains relatively low but consistent.
The carbohydrates your body uses during activity are stored in the liver and muscles in a form called glycogen. Therefore, on days where you are very active you will want to increase your carbohydrate consumption following the activity, in order to replenish glycogen stores. In particular, your muscles are most primed to take up carbohydrates up to two hours afterwards, so taking advantage of this replenishment window is key to proper recovery. Simple snacks include banana and peanut butter, fruit and yogurt or chocolate milk.
Muscles incur micro tears that can cause soreness and inhibit your ability to recover properly. You can aid your body in a quicker recovery by combining protein sources with your carbohydrates for optimal recovery. Muscle-protein synthesis is highest one to two hours after activity, making this the best time for consumption. Good post-workout protein sources include nuts, seeds, yogurt and eggs.
As your activity level increases, adequate consumption of vitamins and minerals is important to help the body repair and recover. In particular, vitamins B and C are not stored in the body and need to be replaced every day. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride, which are lost in sweat, are needed to help prevent muscle cramping and support cellular and brain function. These vitamins and minerals can be replaced through fruits, vegetables and lean meats. If needs are not being met, supplementation is a good alternative. I like SuperBeets as a supplement choice because I am confident it will actually provide the nutrients and functional benefits I am looking for. As someone who promotes the whole food approach, I take supplements with caution, but some foods, such as beets, are difficult to consume in the amounts needed for maximal benefit (especially when you dislike the taste!). I chose the SuperBeets brand because it is research backed, it is a high quality product, I can tolerate it and it works! So, start now and take some time to engage in all the activities that you never had quite enough time for secure in the knowledge that every little step forward will contribute to your health and well-being.