In coaching for sports like swimming, or running we are always looking for ways to help an athlete become better, and this applies to general health and fitness too. It comes down to complexity, and for things like swimming or running or golf, the problem is that there are so many things to consider. If someone is a novice swimmer or runner and I am watching them, I begin to make a list of things that need to be worked on; arm recovery, underwater pull, body roll, kick, balance, rotation, breathing mechanics, head position, body position, etc, etc. After watching for a while, I start to look for the one thing, that will change everything. It could be that we need to ignore many of the problems and just resolve the biggest one, so an athlete might have 2 or 3 weeks of just kicking drills before we can move on to the next ‘one thing’.
Like I said, this applies to general fitness and health as well, for a variety of reasons. Being fit and healthy and dropping some body fat is a complex process. There are so many things to consider and so many possibilities. Step one is to identify them all, and give yourself a rating, and then decide which item is the ‘one thing’. We start with just recording the data.
Let’s start with the easiest one: hydration. How much water do you drink? How much coffee? If you drink coffee, what do you have in your coffee? Do you drink other things, like juice, wine, beer, milkshakes, tea, etc? What is your daily intake of liquids? Write that down.
Next, let’s go with exercise as the next big thing. How much do you move your body, and with how much effort? Do you walk each day? Only some days? Do you make time to strength train? How often? Do you perform cardiovascular exercise regularly? If so, how much and how hard? Is it challenging or casual? Is your job physical and constantly changing, or the same thing all the time?
How about recovery and rest? How much sleep do you get each night? Is it consistent? Do you go to bed and then get up in the morning at the same times or does it fluctuate? Do you sleep in 90 minute increments? Do you wake feeling well rested? Do you snore? Do you have a nap during the day? Beyond even sleep, do you take a day off after a really tough workout so you can heal up? Do you get massages, take hot Epsom salt baths, stretch or do Yoga? Do you have an injury that you are ignoring? Do you take a good multi vitamin to give your body all the micro nutrients it needs to be at optimal levels?
Next comes nutrition. What do you feed your body? Fast food, or home-made meals? Organic fruits, vegetables, proteins and such, or bulk processed food on sale? Do you get in a decent balance of proteins, fats and carbs, or just slam in whatever you can manage? Do you get in enough calories to support your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) or perhaps you aren’t even sure what that is. Do you get in enough protein? Many people are deficient. Do you eat too many carbohydrates? Carbs are the most plentiful food source and we all tend to eat too many of them (things like sugar, breads, fruit etc). Do you eat healthy fats, or processed fats?
Elimination comes last in this list. Not the most popular to discuss, but important nonetheless. How often do you poop and what quality is it? Does it really smell? Is it greasy, loose, hard, etc? (trust me, this is important stuff). How often do you pee, and what colour is it? Do you sweat some every day?
OK, now that you have a self-assessment, let’s set up some goals, and get to the final step.
Hydration – you should be getting in at least 2 litres or more a day of water, more if you are a coffee or alcohol drinker. If you have your beverages with lots of extras like cream and sugar, that affects your health and your waistline.
Exercise – you should be doing some sort of strength based work 3-4 times a week, and cardio another 3 days a week, with one day off. The workouts should be challenging and ever changing.
Recovery and rest – This is all about balance and you want to be sure that you are getting enough rest for your needs (and we are all different). Quality matters, as does quantity. If you are exhausted and sore all the time, you have a problem.
Nutrition – This is the most complex element, but in general, a balance of proteins, fats and carbs that is at or above your BMR on a daily basis. The less processed the better for all the foods you eat. Also in the nutrition category, high quality multi vitamins are a great idea.
Elimination – should be daily for both #1 and #2. Pee should be fairly clear and not smell bad, poop should be about the size of a smaller cob of corn, held together and not too loose or too compacted.
So given those really general parameters, how did you fare? What is the one thing among all of those that you could change; that would change everything? Perhaps you eat well, exercise, drink water but are exhausted all the time. Maybe a simple shift in your recovery is all you need to change everything? If you felt that all of the items were in need of help, then start with water. It’s the easiest, and once you have that habit repaired, look at food or exercise next. By eating better, and moving your body, you will have more energy and sleep better, plus eliminate better too! There is a cascade effect with each thing affecting all the other things.
Pick the one thing, that will change everything.