When it comes to building muscle and staying lean, we often get a caught up in the technicalities of nutrition and training and forget to focus on the basics. These 8 simple steps are our non-negotiable daily practices for achieving and maintaining optimal physical fitness.
1. Eat whole foods
When it comes to food, fresh is always best. Fresh fruit, vegetables and grains are rich in phytochemicals, the plant chemicals that have protective and disease preventive properties, and contain more vitamins, minerals, fiber and beneficial fats than processed foods. Processed foods often have extremely high sodium levels, contain unwanted additives and preservatives, sugar, trans fats and artificial colourings that are difficult to digest, put the body under stress and slow down your metabolism. They are generally also lower in fibre which can lead to overeating as you won’t feel full as quickly as you would with high-fibre foods.
2. Focus on your macro balance
Understanding macronutrients is key to getting the balance right. Your diet needs to include carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats in order to fuel your body and for your metabolism to perform at its best. Make sure you are including all macros in your daily diet.
3. Focus on your micronutrients
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are required in small doses by the body for healthy growth, development, disease prevention and optimal wellbeing. Deficiencies in minerals such as iron, folate and zinc can cause serious problems and have been linked to an increased risk of obesity, so be sure to get your daily dose.
4. Stay hydrated
We can’t stress enough how important it is to drink enough water each day! Adequate water is crucial for maintaining the function of every system in your body including your brain, heart and muscles. It promotes cardiovascular health, keeps your body cool, assists muscles and joints to function better, keeps skin plush and supple, and cleanses your body from the inside out. Drinking fluid during exercise is necessary to replace fluids you lose in sweat. This reduces the risk of heat stress, maintains normal muscle function, and prevents performance decreases due to dehydration. Keep a refillable water bottle on you at all times to ensure fresh water is always in reach.
5. Choose a high quality plant-based protein supplement
Getting enough protein in your diet is essential for healthy muscle growth, repair and metabolism function. When we exercise, our protein needs increase significantly so plant protein powders are an excellent source of protein if you aren’t getting enough each day. Consuming enough protein can boost your metabolism, reduce your appetite and help you shed body fat without losing muscle. More so, plant-based proteins contain no allergens and are full of gut-loving fibre for maintaining healthy digestion. They are also naturally low in cholesterol and sodium. Enjoy in a shake, blend into a smoothie, mix in your porridge or bake with for healthy snacks.
6. Mobility and flexibility
Get moving and get stretching! Frequent, consistent movement and physical activity is needed to use up our energy stores and build muscle. With flexibility, the more range you encourage in your body, the more muscles you will engage and use when working out and therefore, more calories will be burnt. Allocating time to focus on mobility and stretching is a great way to encourage body awareness and help take your overall fitness to the next level.
7. Supplement with creatine
Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells that helps them produce energy during heavy lifting or intensive exercise. Taking it as a supplement to boost the natural creatine stores in your body can be extremely beneficial for increased strength, cognitive skills and managing glucose levels. It allows you to work harder, and achieve more and indirectly acts a fat burner, because the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn during and after your training sessions.
8. Calm down to firm up
Cortisol can be seen as nature’s built-in alarm system – it is your body’s main stress hormone that plays an essential role, but when in excess can do more harm than good. When the body is stressed in fight or flight mode, it is drained quickly and clings on to reserves like fat, hindering you from being as lean as you could be. Reduce your cortisol levels by doing deep belly breathing or practicing yoga to bring better balance into your body. Rest and stillness is when the body is able to repair and recover mentally, physically and emotionally. Adequate rest and recovery also means you are able to tackle your workouts with more zest and energy each day.