“Greatness is a lot of small things done well. Day after day, workout after workout, obedience after obedience, day after day.” Ray Lewis
Image by Shea Huening
Today we are drowning in information, but starving for wisdom. Most of us have the knowledge of the world available to us in the palm of our hand. A lack of information isn’t the problem. A lack of common sense is the problem. Nowhere is this truer than in the fitness industry.
You might be reading this with the hopes of validating your current program. You want to know if it meets a scientific litmus test for determining its effectiveness. You might be reading this to discover the five characteristics of an effective program. I am sure you could find an article like that, but this isn’t it. I conducted a Google search and wasn’t disappointed.
The litmus test for determining if a program is effective is simple. Is your diet and exercise program sustainable? That’s it. If your program is sustainable, then it is effective. So many people fall into the trap of doing a program. The whole mentality of “doing a diet” or workout program is flawed. It implies a task that has a beginning and end. Staying fit is a journey, not a destination. Fitness isn’t something you do, it is something you live.
If your program isn’t sustainable, your results won’t be either. It’s unreasonable to think otherwise. That is why I focus on developing small daily habits. When it comes to fitness and life, small and sustainable gains are the key. It isn’t what we do once in a while that matters, or even what we do for 12-weeks. It is what we do consistently, day after day, week after week, year after year. Staying in shape is a lifestyle.
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” Jim Rohn
If you want lasting results, ensure your program is sustainable. Every fitness program has two elements, diet, and exercise. If you need to lose weight, diet is the key. If you set your goals on the MyFitnessPal app, accurately log your food, and don’t exceed the caloric intake, it calculates, you will lose weight. Don’t try to out exercise a bad diet or fly blind by not logging your food. For you to lose weight through exercise alone, you would have to run approximately 25 miles a week or walk 45 miles. If you want to run the numbers for your specific bodyweight, Runner’s World wrote a great article on the topic.
Energy balance is how you gain or lose weight, but we become fit through exercise. Exercise should primarily be done to improve performance, not weight management. It is possible to stay thin without exercising, but you will not become fit. If you want a strong lean capable body, you need to exercise.
Too many people get this wrong. I see a lot of overweight people working hard on cardio, but neglecting to eat mindfully by logging their food. I see skinny guys working hard in the weight room, but neglecting to eat enough calories and protein to build muscle. You cannot build a house without bricks. You can have the best blueprint, the most skilled workers, but without raw material, you aren’t going to build anything. Gaining and losing weight is a numbers game. If you create a deficit, you lose weight, if you create a surplus, you will gain weight. This is scientific fact.
We need to find a diet and exercise program that suits us. I eat small meals in the morning because I am not hungry in the morning. I save my larger meals for times when I am hungry. It isn’t when you eat your calories, but how many you eat. This is science. It isn’t how often you eat, or when you eat that matters, it is how much you eat each day that matters.
Your muscles are not snowflakes, and frequent eating has not been proven to increase your metabolism. Eating high protein food does increase your metabolism because your body burns calories digesting the food; this is called the thermogenic effect of food (TEF).
Protein has the largest TEF. Approximately 30% of the calories consumed from protein will burn during digestion. About 10% of the calories consumed from carbohydrates will burn during digestion, and 5% of the calories consumed from fat will burn during digestion. Eating a high protein diet helps with appetite control; but how many meals you eat, three vs. six meals does not affect your metabolism as demonstrated in a study by the University of Missouri. [i]
Another study conducted by the University of Ontario, found no significant difference in average weight loss, fat loss, or muscle loss, among study participants who consumed a hypocaloric diet spread out over three meals vs. those that ate three meals and three snacks each day.[ii] The studies demonstrated what you would expect; large meals produce a greater thermogenic effect than smaller meals when macro ratios are constant. The ratio of metabolic increased was proportional to the size of the meal. Thus, there is no benefit to smaller or larger meals.
I prefer strength training to cardio training, so I spend more time lifting. Any exercise burns calories, but strength training helps us to preserve muscle and reshape our bodies. Learn more, Why you should prioritize strength training, especially on a diet (UPDATED with FREE workout program log).
If you prefer cardio training, I suggest you spend more time doing cardio. I believe we should balance out our programs, but there is no one size fits all. Do what you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy your program, it won’t be sustainable, and neither will be your results.
Spend most of your time doing what you enjoy. If that is playing basketball during your lunch hour, do that. If it is Brazilian jiujitsu, do that. The only caveat I would suggest is that you spend a little time doing some strength training. This is because without strength training your muscles will begin to waste away as you age. The condition is called sarcopenia, learn more, Why your Metabolism Slows Down as you Age and How to Prevent it!
An example minimalist strength training program would be one set Dips, one set of Chin-ups, one set of Bulgarian split squats, and one set of One Leg Hip Thrusts performed two to three times a week. This routine should only take about 5-7 minutes to perform. Focus on good form and generating a strong contraction in the muscle. Perform as many repetitions as possible. When you can exceed 15 repetitions add weight. You can add weight using a backpack. You don’t even need any equipment to begin strength training, THE NO EQUIPMENT, NO EXCUSES WORKOUT
I believe the 3 Keys to an Effective Program are:
1) Sustainability: If you cannot sustain your diet and exercise program as a lifestyle, any results you achieve will be temporary. You must be able to fit exercise into your daily schedule. You want to choose a diet you can adopt as a lifestyle, not a temporary, quick fix approach to weight loss.
2) Likeability: The more you enjoy your eating and exercise program, the more consistent you will be. Find pleasure in the process. Instead of focusing on what you cannot have, focus on what you can have. Savor your food. Enjoy your workouts.
3) Variability: Vary your workouts. You cannot go hard all the time. Vary the intensity of your workouts. Vary the length of your workouts. A 10-minute workout is a million times better than a missed workout. Don’t let great be the enemy of good. If you feel burned out, take a walk instead of doing your normal routine. Don’t make exercise drudgery. Change up your routine from time to time. Don’t allow your workouts to become stale.
Best Wishes and Best Health!
Start SMALL, dream BIG, build MOMENTUM! Do BETTER today, be BETTER tomorrow. Change your habits, change your life!
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[i] Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, Campbell WW, “The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men,” Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Apr; 19(4):818-24. doi: 10.1038/oby.2010.203. Epub 2010 Sep 16.
[ii] Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, and Doucet E, “Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet,” Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr; 103(8):1098-101. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509992984. Epub 2009 Nov 30.