Oftentimes when watching great athletic achievements or difficult sporting events, we are inspired to become more physically active. While most will not become elite athletes, understanding how these athletes became proficient in their sport can help us succeed in leading a healthier lifestyle.
Big Goals Aren’t Achieved In One Day, But Each Day Counts
When it comes to sporting events, think of the final as the tip of the iceberg. The audience gets to watch one moment that is the culmination of years of hard work, built on many smaller achievements that lead to this one event. Setting short-term goals is an important part in achieving your ultimate goal. This includes making and sustaining long-term lifestyle changes. Experts at Health Link British Columbia have a short article to specifically address settings fitness goals, available here.
Establish a Solid Foundation
A realistic lifestyle goal should take into consideration your lifestyle and support system. Check with your doctor as your current health may influence the type, intensity and amount of activity you should engage in or what types of diet changes you should make. Your healthcare provider may also suggest following up with them or suggest other healthcare professionals that you may need to consult. For example, a physical therapist may help manage existing injuries and reduce the risk of injury, while an exercise physiologist can assess your physical fitness level and help you develop a fitness plan. Dietitians can help assess your current eating habits and help you appropriately provide fuel, energy and fluids to achieve your goals.
Your support system may also include family and friends that can keep you motivated and provide insights into your health goals. Individuals that stick to plans when others are involved could identify a group or partner to be accountable to or find challenges to motivate themselves.
Off Days Don’t Mean You Should Give Up
Everyone has ‘off days’ and experiences challenges when trying to achieve their goals. In fact, well-trained athletes have to balance training, competition, scheduling recovery and staying fit in the ‘off season.’ In depth stories about athletes often highlight struggles that are not limited to training. It is not uncommon to occasionally feel you’ve lost time, focus or motivation and realize you didn’t accomplish your plan for the day. An occasional ‘off day’ is no reason to derail yourself from your goal. The American College of Sports Medicine offers tips for Finding Your Motivation For Exercise.
Fuel Your Goals
A common challenge and risk for losing motivation is balancing nutrition and energy for physical activity. Regardless of whether someone is an elite athlete or wanting to lose weight and be more physically active, appropriate nutrition and hydration is critical. Balancing energy and fluid needs requires considering activity amount and intensity, environmental considerations (including temperature and humidity), medications and recovery time. Ensuring adequate intake of all key nutrients will help an individual perform at their best.
It is also critical to consider fluid intake before, during and after physical activity since dehydration and hypohydration can reduce performance. This can also increase the perception of the intensity level of physical activity. Consuming the right types and amounts of nutrients and fluids for each activity is important. It may be helpful to read the tips provided by the American College of Sports Medicine on “Selecting and Effectively Using Hydration For Fitness.” As the handout notes, flavor, salt content and beverage temperature can help improve palatability and make it more likely that you consume enough fluids. For example, leisurely activities such a long walk or exercise lasting less than 90 minutes may require more fluid intake than calories. Consuming enough low-calorie sweetened beverages to avoid dehydration reduces the risk of consuming more calories than you used during exercise. For activities that are low intensity or less than 90 minutes, consider bringing your favorite low calorie beverage, packets of low-calorie beverage powder or flavor drops that you can add to your water along the way. Just make sure that water will be available and that you bring a bottle with you.
On the other hand, prolonged activities will likely require both sufficient fluid and calories. Some athletes find it challenging to eat foods during prolonged activities and consume sports beverages and gels instead, while others prefer consuming both foods and beverages to meet their needs. This preference extends beyond the activity when you have to consider ideal nutrition for recovery. It may be helpful to work with a dietitian that can help develop a personalized nutrition and hydration plan for you. The plan may include low calorie sweeteners and foods as well as high calorie foods to ensure the timing of your nutrient intake is ideal for your goals.
While tuning into your favorite sporting event might inspire you to lace up, it’s best to be prepared before you start any new workout regimen. Set small goals, consult your physician and remember that nutrition is the fuel that keeps you going.