We all want to be our fittest selves, but with so much advice floating around out there, it can be hard to hone in on what healthcare tips actually work. To make your life a bit easier, we’ve rounded up a number of our go-to healthy strategies, to help you reach your most ambitious fitness goals even quicker.
Say hello to H20
Whether you’re heading off to spin class, boot camp, or any other exercise, it’s always important to hydrate so you can stay energized and have your best workout. Electrolyte-loaded athletic drinks, though, can be a source of unnecessary calories, so “drinking water is usually fine until you’re exercising for more than one hour,” says Newgent. At that point, feel free to go for regular Gatorade-type drinks (and their calories), which can give you a beneficial replenishment boost. But worry not if you like a little flavor during your fitness: There are now lower- cal sports drinks available, adds Newgent, so look out for ’em in your grocery aisles.
Find the best fitness friend
A workout buddy is hugely helpful for keeping motivated, but it’s important to find someone who will inspire—not discourage. So make a list of all your exercise-loving friends, then see who fits this criteria, says Andrew Kastor, an ASICS running coach: Can your pal meet to exercise on a regular basis? Is she supportive (not disparaging) of your goals? And last, will your bud be able to keep up with you or even push your limits in key workouts? If you’ve got someone that fits all three, make that phone call.
Stock up on these
While there are heaps of good-for-you foods out there, some key ingredients make it a lot easier to meet your weight-loss goals. Next grocery store run, be sure to place Newgent’s top three diet-friendly items in your cart: balsamic vinegar (it adds a pop of low-cal flavor to veggies and salads), in-shell nuts (their protein and fiber keep you satiated), and fat-free plain yogurt (a creamy, comforting source of protein). “Plus, Greek yogurt also works wonders as a natural low-calorie base for dressings and dips—or as a tangier alternative to sour cream,” says Newgent. Talk about a multitasker!
Relieve those achy muscles
After a grueling workout, there’s a good chance you’re going to be feeling it (we’re talking sore thighs, tight calves). Relieve post-fitness aches by submerging your lower body in a cold bath (50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit; you may have to throw some ice cubes in to get it cold enough) for 10 to 15 minutes. “Many top athletes use this trick to help reduce soreness after training sessions,” says Andrew Kastor. And advice we love: “An athlete training for an important race should consider getting one to two massages per month to help aid in training recovery,” adds Kastor. Now that’s speaking our language!
Curb your sweet tooth
Got a late-night sugar craving that just won’t quit? “To satisfy your sweet tooth without pushing yourself over the calorie edge, even in the late night hours, think ‘fruit first,'” says Jackie Newgent, RD, author of The Big Green Cookbook. So resist that chocolate cake siren, and instead enjoy a sliced apple with a tablespoon of nut butter (like peanut or almond) or fresh fig halves spread with ricotta. Then sleep sweet, knowing you’re still on the right, healthy track.
Buy comfy sneaks
You shouldn’t buy kicks that hurt, bottom line! “Your shoes should feel comfortable from the first step,” says Andrew Kastor. So shop in the evening—your feet swell during the day and stop in the late afternoon, so you want to shop when they’re at their biggest. Also make sure the sneaks are a little roomy—enough so that you can wiggle your toes, but no more than that. They should be comfy from the get-go, but Kastor says they’ll be even more so once you have a good 20 to 40 miles on ’em.
Pick your perfect tunes
Running with music is a great way to get in a groove (just make sure it’s not blasting too loudly, or you won’t hear those cars!). To pick the ultimate iPod playlist, think about what gets you going. “I know several elite athletes that listen to what we’d consider ‘relaxing’ music, such as symphony music, while they do a hard workout,” says Andrew Kastor. So don’t feel like you have to download Lady Gaga because her tunes are supposed to pump you up—go with any music that you find uplifting.
When to weigh
You’ve been following your diet for a whole week. Weigh to go! Now it’s time to start tracking your progress (and make sure pesky pounds don’t find their way back on). “It’s best to step on the scale in the morning before eating or drinking—and prior to plunging into your daily activities,” says Newgent. For the most reliable number, be sure to check your poundage at a consistent time, whether daily or weekly.
Police your portions
Does your steak take up more than half your plate? Think about cutting your serving of beef in half. That’s because it’s best to try and fill half your plate with veggies or a mixture of veggies and fresh fruit, says Newgent, so that it’s harder to overdo it on the more caloric dishes (like cheesy potatoes or barbecue sauce–slathered ribs—yum!).
Combat cocktail hour
Is it ladies’ night? If you know you’ll be imbibing more than one drink, feel (and sip!) right by always ordering water between cocktails, says Newgent. That way, you won’t rack up sneaky liquid calories (and ruin your inhibition to resist those mozzarella sticks!). But your H20 doesn’t have to be ho-hum. “Make it festive by ordering the sparkling variety with plenty of fruit, like a lime, lemon, and orange wedge in a martini or highball glass,” adds Newgent.
Eat this, run that
When you have a 5- or 10K (you get to eat more with a half or full marathon) on your calendar, it’s important to plan out what you’re going to eat the morning of the big day—something that will keep you fueled and also go down easy. While everyone is different, “We always have good luck with a high-carbohydrate breakfast such as a small bowl of oatmeal with fruit or a couple of pieces of toast with peanut butter or cream cheese,” says Andrew Kastor, who also advises eating around 200 to 250 (primarily carb) calories about 90 minutes before you warm up for your run . And don’t worry about nixing your a.m. caffeine fix on race day. “Coffee is great for athletic performances,” Kastor adds, because it makes you sharper and may even give you extended energy. Talk about buzz-worthy!
Turn your cheat day around
Feeling guilty about that giant ice cream sundae you enjoyed at your niece’s birthday party? Don’t beat yourself up! It takes a lot of calories—3,500—to gain a pound of body fat. “So really, that one off day doesn’t usually result in any significant weight gain,” says Newgent. It’s about what you do the next day and the day after that’s really important—so don’t stay off-track. So be sure to whittle away at those extra calories over the next day or two, preferably by boosting exercise rather than eating too little. Starvation is not the healthy answer!
Run with this
Before you hit the road, make sure you’re packing these key staples: a watch to log your total time (or a fancy GPS to track your mileage), an iPod with great amp-you-up music, a cell phone if you don’t mind holding onto it, and a RoadID (a bracelet that includes all your vital info, $20; roadid.com). And on a sunny day, wear sunglasses. “They reduce glare, which can decrease squinting, ultimately releasing the tension in your shoulders,” says Andrew Kastor. And that’s a performance bonus, because relaxing them helps conserve energy on your runs. Hey, we’ll take a boost where we can get it!
Be a weekend warrior
You’ve been following your diet plan to the letter, but enter: the weekend. To deal with three nights of eating temptations (think: birthdays, weddings, dinner parties), up your activity level for the week. For instance, try taking an extra 15-minute walk around your office each day, suggests Newgent. Then, go on and indulge a bit at the soiree, guilt free. Another party trick? Enjoy a 100-calorie snack before a celebration, which can help you eat fewer munchies at the event.
Fun up your food
It’s easy to get in a diet rut, even if you’re loading up on flavorful fruits and veggies. The solution? Have plenty of spices, fresh herbs, and lemons at your cooking beck and call. “It’s amazing what a little dash of spice, sprinkle of herbs, pinch of lemon zest, or squirt of lime juice can do to liven up a dish—and your diet,” says Newgent. The best part: They contain almost no calories. Experiment with your dinner, tonight!
Up your exercise
How do you know when to increase your exercise? “The general rule of thumb is to up the amount of miles run, for races half-marathon length and longer, by 5 to 10 percent each week,” advises Andrew Kastor. See our training schedule at Health.com/yes-you-can, which guides you on how to increase your mileage.
Have a fruity ice cream sundae
Next time your family or friends decide to make an ice-cream run, don’t worry about being left out of the fun! Order a fresh (and super-refreshing) ice cream sundae, piled high with diced kiwi, pineapple, and strawberries. You’ll get a serving of delish fruit—no hefty calorie-laden toppings required.
Swap out your shoes
While we’ve all heard that running shoes break down after logging lots of miles (about 300 to 350), you may still be holding on to your fave pair. (They fit just right! They’re so cushy!) Not a good idea. “Glue has a tendency to break down under ultraviolet light, as do the other materials that make up the shoe,” says Andrew Kastor. So even if your sneaks have only 150 miles on them but are more than two years old, recycle them (try oneworldrunning.com or recycledrunners.com), because chances are they’ve already started deteriorating. And as a rule of thumb, always keep tabs on how many miles you’ve logged on them—tedious, but hey, you’ll be proud of how far you’ve gone.
Snag the right support
Sure, your yoga sports bras works great for downward dog—but when it comes to running, you’ll need one that’s designed to lock them in for all that pavement pounding. So what should you look for? “The best sports bras are loose around the chest so you can expand your ribs and diaphragm more effectively. But they should also be form-fitting,” says Deena Kastor, an American marathon record holder and 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist. Just make sure the cup is made of comfy material (like a soft compression fabric; look for descriptions that include the terms “breathability” and “compression”)—you don’t want to be itching at mile two!
Relieve those side stitches
You know it: a sharp pain just below the rib cage that always seems to pop up when you’re working out your hardest. It’s called the side stitch, and it can be a major nuisance—especially when it keeps you from completing a workout. To ease the ache (so you can get on with your run), take your fist and press it beneath your rib cage while taking deep breaths from your belly for about 10 steps. In about 30 seconds, the pain should subside, so you can get on back to (fitness) work.
Shake your way slim
Sick of that elliptical or bike or workout DVD? That means it’s time to mix up your routine! Our favorite way: Break a sweat by moving and shaking. Simply make a playlist with your favorite “cut a rug” tunes (“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”? “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”?), then turn up the volume, and start breaking it down. For even more fun, invite some gal pals over and get grooving (and laughing). The best part is that you’ll each burn about 200 to 600 calories per hour. Now that’s something to shimmy about!
Fuel for fitness
Planning on picking up the pace tomorrow? Eat food that will help keep you going strong. For breakfast, opt for a high-carbohydrate meal—one similar to what you’ll be eating on race day, so you can find out what foods digest best (for you!). Try a whole-grain English muffin or a bagel with peanut butter or a low-fat cream cheese. Then, have a well-rounded meal post-workout to help with recovery. Andrew Kastor’s favorite? One to two slices French toast with a side of fruit. “The protein-to-carbohydrate ratio is perfect for enhancing my recovery,” he says. We like that it’s super-yummy, too.
Say goodbye to peer pressure
Even if you’ve been eating right on track, it may be tough to stay on track if your partner, coworkers, or friends don’t share your healthy-eating habits. What to do? If your partner loves pizza, try ordering a pie that’s heavy on the veggies and light on the cheese—then supplement it with a side salad. Or, if your friends are having a girls’ night out, suggest a restaurant that’s got healthy appetizer options, instead of the typical fare of onion rings and cheese dip. And at work, instead of Friday baked-goods day, suggest a Friday “make it healthy” day, and swap in baked pears with cinnamon or mini fruit-and-nut muffins for brownies and blondies.
Savor your carbs
When trying to slim and trim, you may be tempted to take drastic measures like cutting out your carbs. But before you go and add dinner rolls and chips to your “no” list, remember that yummy foods like brown rice, pumpernickel bread, and even potato chips contain Resistant Starch, a metabolism-boosting carb that keeps you full for longer. And that’s great for maintaining a fit you because you won’t have to eat as much to feel satiated. So go on, rip open that (single-serve) bag of Lay’s!
Ditch your working lunch
Munching on your lunch while at the computer could lead to mindless grazing, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. People who ate their midday meals while playing a computer game ended up eating more cookies 30 minutes later than those who hadn’t been gaming. So carve out 20 minutes a day (we know, you’ve got a million things to do, but … ), and eat in your conference room (or outdoors!). Your whittled waistline with thank you.
There’s no denying it: Getting the fresh air from exercising outdoors is great! But along with it, you also get the harmful UV rays. To keep yourself shielded while still having fun in the sun, opt for a sweat-proof screen with SPF 30 or higher (look out for types that say “water-resistant” or “waterproof” on the bottle, terms regulated by the FDA), a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher, a lightweight hat, and sports shades. Also consider trading in your white tee and instead going for a shirt with built-in UV protection (a rating of 30 UVP is necessary to be awarded the Skin Cancer Foundation’s “Seal of Recommendation”; a white T-shirt has a rating of 10). And remember, the rays are at their brightest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so try to plan a before-or post-work sweat-session.
Slim up your snack
It’s hard to avoid that 3 p.m. stomach rumble, when nothing can stand between you and the office vending machine. And while it’s fine to eat something to hold you over until dinner (in fact, we encourage it!), some choices will help you keep on your weight-loss track—while others can surely derail you. So at the vending machine, instead of choosing that ever-so-tempting pack of Twizzlers, try a 100-calorie cookie pack or a Nature Valley granola bar. Better yet, bring a snack from home! We’re fans of sliced veggies dipped in hummus. Delish!
There’s nothing fun about chafing. You can get the rash (caused by moisture and constant friction) on your thighs, around your sports bra, and even under your arms, to name a few hot spots! To prevent the next occurrence, try rubbing on an anti-chafe stick like Bodyglide For Her Anti-Chafing Stick ($9; amazon.com)in any spots that have the potential to chafe. Moisture-wicking fabrics help, too, so if you have a few quick-dry shirts (Nike, Asics, and Under Armour all make ’em), save those for your long runs or tough workouts, when chafing is most likely to occur.
Find healthy fast food
Have to work late tonight and need dinner—in a hurry? Not to worry. If you find fast food is your only option, pull up the restaurant’s nutrition facts online before you go; you can make an informed decision ahead of time about what to order. “Nearly every quick-service restaurant has a relatively healthful option or two,” says Newgent. We’re thinking salads, chili, or grilled chicken. Some low-cal, healthy, on-the-run dishes: the vegetarian burrito bowl at Chipotle, the Bangkok curry at Noodles and Company, and the tomato basil bisque at Au Bon Pain.
Be a mighty maintainer
The end is here! Three cheers for all your hard work. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put on the brakes. To maintain your weight, you still have to make those smart choices at restaurants, work, and home. Look into getting a diet confidante, who you can chat with once a week about your eating highs and oh-no’s. And stick to using that scale so you can be proactive if a few extra pounds creep back on. Don’t let your exercise routine change, either, because even if you don’t have any more pounds to lose, you’ll still be working out your ticker. And we heart that!
Up your fiber intake
Along with protein and good-for-you fat, fiber is one of those nutrition elements that keeps you full and fueled all day long. And if you’re trying to get fit and shed pounds, fiber is your best friend. In fact, in one an American Heart Association study, participants who consuming 30 grams of fiber a day ended up losing weight and improving their heart health. So when it comes to staying healthy and slim, aim for that 30 gram fiber goal!
Work out in the morning
Sure, it can be a pain to drag yourself out of bed for a morning workout. But according to a study from Appalachian State University, opting for a 45-minute a.m. sweat sesh could cause a metabolic spike, helping your body continue to burn an additional 190 calories throughout the day.
Have a hearty breakfast
By now you’re probably tired of hearing how breakfast is the most important meal of the day—but this tired piece of advice couldn’t be more true! In one study completed at the Imperial College of London, participants who skipped breakfast were more tempted to reach for unhealthy, high-calorie foods later in the day. And in case you need more evidence to eat that a.m. meal, further research found that women had a larger drop in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) when they ate a hearty breakfast versus a small one.