So, I’m going to try and keep posting every Monday on this topic. Last week I laid out some steps to setting a goal for this year. Today, I’m gonna give you what I think are the best ways to start working towards that goal. Up to this point, the only real work you’ve done is research and maybe paid some money to enter a race. Thats can be challenging all on its own, but the next step is even harder. Many people set a goal far too quickly and are so eager that they jump with both feet into the worst possible training for themselves only to burn out and hate exercise within weeks of starting off. So, how do you not follow in the same footprints? That’s easy, just follow some very simple steps:
Step 1: Sleep Properly
Sleep is the most important thing for anybody especially athletes. Sleep determines recovery, which dictates ability. Most people have horrible sleeping patterns. They either sleep too long, too short, go to bed too late, eat right before, have children, or maybe their job requires overnight hours and lots of travel. No matter what, there’s a solution to your sleeping problem. This is where gizmos and routine can totally change your life by increasing sleep quality, which in turn increases energy, speeds physical recovery, reduces stress, increases brain output, etc. What I’m going to describe to you will have nothing to do with your bed. First, make sure you stop drinking caffeine after 2-3pm. Second, try to eat your last meal at least 2 hours before bed time. Try to keep this time consistent for the weekends and maybe change it up during the weekend so you can stay out and have fun. After dinner, take a cool shower. If you tend to wake up and shower, that’s ok, but a 5min cool shower at night will do wonders for your body and start to put you in sleep mode. Make sure all lights in your house are out about 1 hour before bed. You can still watch TV, but you want the surrounding environment as dark as possible. Some people may have seen those Blue Light blocker glasses. They will help when watching your TV or working on your computer at night, but not 100% necessary. Regardless of what you’re watching, make sure you stop about 15mins before bed. Most of us have DVR’s, so just finish it later. Watching a late night football game or whatever every once in a while is ok, but don’t make it a habit. Take about 100-200mg of magnesium chelate or citrate 30-60mins before bed. Some people use something like a Natural Calm before bed which is sort of the same thing. You should also eat a little snack at this time too. Something that’s primarily carbohydrate based. Ok, now it’s time for actual sleep. Make sure your room can be as dark as possible. Use light blocking shades or curtains or eye covers if you can. Also have the temperature on the cool side, but not too cold it forces you to put on a bunch of layers that forces you to wake up and take off. Gadget #1 to use is some sort of sleeping app for white noise and binaural beats/isochromatic tones. Typically you want some type of noise to drown out other creeks and whatnots during the night, but underneath that you want to use a special tone to manipulate your brainwaves for better sleep. Binaural beats work great, but they can only be used with headphones, however, isochromatic tones can be used with a speaker. I use a bluetooth speaker positioned behind my headboard. Try to not keep your phone under your pillow or very close to you if at all possible while you sleep, because that can screw with your brain waves and body chemistry. As you’re lying there, try to clear your mind. Humans have a tendency to think about what’s coming up tomorrow. It doesn’t matter because most of us can’t remember what we thought of just before we slept and rarely there’s anything you can do about it while you’re in bed anyways. Just let thoughts slip away as you listen to the sound. Once your asleep, if you do wake up, do whatever needs to be done to get back to sleep asap. If you need a pee break, do that and go right back to your bed. Same with a drink. Now to wake up, here’s another gadget. Try using an alarm clock with a building noise level and specific sound increments or a daylight alarm. Most of these start the waking process about 30mins prior to your alarm time in order to lull you out of your sleep. The trick is, once you’re awake, allow the alarm to finish it’s cycle. Don’t just hop out of bed and get the coffee brewing. Give your body some time to fully awake.
Step 2: Take Colder and Faster Showers
Why is this important. Well, first of all it’ll save you some money and time. Secondly, colder water is better for healing sore muscles and injuries. Lastly, there is some thermoketeogenic effect from this that will actually help to burn fat. Look it up because I won’t cover it here. You have to be careful about the water temperature. If it’s this time of year where outside temps can drop very low, you don’t want to give yourself pneumonia by taking a freezing cold shower. Start off by using a sharpie to mark where you normally take showers at. Then, over the period of weeks and months slowly take the temperature down. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your body adapts and how normal it starts to feel. This is very important for swimmers and triathletes. You have to be prepared for those early season races that have chilly mornings and hot afternoons. Even with a full wetsuit, if you’re not acclimated, you will go into shock. The faster part of the shower is start getting yourself used to speed. That’s the endgame in all this training stuff and the more time you give yourself to train, the more speed you’ll develop.
Step 3: Change Up Your Diet
This is the biggy. Look, no matter you do in the gym or on the track or in the pool or whatever supplements you take, your diet is what will make you look and feel your best. I’m not saying that you have to go vegan, but if you’re American, you’re probably gonna have to change a great many things. First, go through your fridge and cupboards and just read the labels of what you already have. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, write it down somewhere and look them all up at once. You’ll be shocked by what you find. Next, look at what condiments, “sides” , and snacks you eat a lot of and find a healthier equivalent. Maybe substitute quinoa for rice, fresh vegetables for frozen, spinach for lettuce, sourdough or gluten free bread for white bread, rice/flax crackers for potato or corn chips, sparkling water and juice for soda, almond butter for peanut butter, coconut oil for vegetable oil, etc. Make your meals as normal with these new substitutes. If something just doesn’t taste right, adjust or switch something out again, but DO NOT go back to the way you were eating. If there’s something seasonal in the produce section, try it out and see the difference. As for the balance of meals, there’s been a huge debate on how many meals, which is most important, what should calorie sources be, etc. This again is different for every person depending on what they’re goal is, but over the last 5 years there is a growing number of studies that show a lower carb/higher fat and protein diet of three balanced and spaced out meals a day is best. If you can, stay away from gluten even if you’re not gluten intolerant, using high heat cooking (this is really tough but can be done), and using the microwave. First off, the microwave should never be used to cook food, only to re-heat. Second, DO NOT reheat anything in plastic or styrofoam. Put it on a plate or into a bowl and use the low heat setting. If you like popcorn, make it on the stove or get an air popper. Popcorn is a “superfood” but only if made right. Coffee should be of high quality and organic. You can taste and feel the difference. Another tip, throw out all of your teflon, aluminum, and cast iron pans. They’re actually killing you. Find a restaurant supply store that sells steel cookware. It may be a pain to clean and take a little while to learn to use, but it will last longer, be cheaper in the long run, and your food will taste better. Oh, and for you beer lovers, Widmer Bros. makes an outstanding lager and pale ale in which they removed most gluten. Get some at your local beer distributor.
Ok, that’s enough for now. Without the right base, your body will fall apart during any activity. For you veterans out there, this may give you that ability to go to the “next level”.