All too often when someone decides to start a fitness program, the desire to strengthen and build muscle is coupled with a strict diet that leaves your body with a calorie-deficit. However, the goal of increasing your strength and the goal of loosing weight can often counteract each other, leaving you feeling tired, over-worked and frustrated.
When your focus is on producing a caloric-deficit in your diet (the equivalent of eating less calories than you burn in a day), your body is triggered into survival mode and begins to slow the metabolism and reduce the regeneration of your muscles. Therefore, all that kettlebell swinging you just did for an hour might have been a good workout to get your heart rate up and develop a nice sweaty sheen, but if you haven’t fed yourself enough calories to cover all that huffing and puffing (or since it’s kettlebells, a lot of loud grunting), then you won’t be improving the muscle mass you’re hoping to build for those abs, lats and glutes.
Muscle mass is so much more important to be focusing on! It is not only one of the most important indicators for health and longevity, but it increases your metabolic rate, so you can actually add that cupcake into your diet without worrying about how many calories you’re eating (which you shouldn’t be focusing on anyway).
So, what do we do in this predicament of mind versus body? How do we conquer our primal state and build lean muscle? First things first, focus on your strength training routine. Especially if you are just starting out, it’s important you don’t drastically change too many things in your life at once so that your body has time to adapt properly to a new routine. This will reduce your chances of burning out and increase the likelihood you will maintain your program. Make a commitment to take 2-3 classes a week that fit into your schedule in a convenient way that’s easy for you to maintain. For example, if you aren’t a morning person and tend to press that snooze button 5 times before waking up, maybe Charlene’s 6:00AM kettlebell class is not the best option for you. You may be able to force yourself for a week or two, but eventually, that snooze button will win again. Instead focus on after work classes, or perhaps the Lunch Express at noon to get in a quick intense workout during the day. Play around with classes and times until you find what works best.
Second, make sure you are eating enough! Throw that diet plan and calorie counting out the window. Instead, focus on all those things your Mom has been telling you for years. Get enough sleep (I can’t STRESS how important this is!!), drink enough water (aim for 90 ounces since you will be sweating in all those classes and need to replenish the water lost), and eat your fruits and vegetables (add a fruit or vegetable into each meal or snack to increase your intake). Instead of paying attention to calories, pay attention to your stomach. Are you hungry? Are you full? Do you feel light-headed or tired? And by all means, if you’re hungry, then eat!
Lastly, feed your workout. Eat a small snack a half hour before taking a class and within two hours after taking a class. Focus more on carbs before your workout and protein after the workout. This will provide your body with the nutrients required to build your muscles without causing an internal freak-out and triggering your survival mechanism.
Here are a few suggestions of great snacks to eat before and after a workout:
1 hard-boiled egg
Apple or banana with 2 tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.)
1 string cheese
Handful (1 ounce) of nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.)
1 cup of yogurt with fruit and/or ¼ of low-sugar granola
Cottage cheese with fruit or tomatoes
¼ cup of hummus with vegetables
½ cup chicken salad