6 Foods and 3 Exercises to Help You Meet Your Fitness Goals This Year

Man and woman running image

Find Out How to Achieve Your Fitness Goals

You want to be fit. We all do. But putting down that slice of pizza and the beer bottle is not enough. You have to change your lifestyle and create a habit of healthy eating and exercising. Those who are fit are not due to good luck, birth order or family heritage.

You may scoff when you see the super slim next door neighbor who seems to inhale zinger burgers and not put on weight. But being slim is not equivalent to being healthy and fit. You may be slim and find lifting a pencil too difficult and you may be plump and be able to run a mile. Buddha has said “To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

To be fit you have to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Stephen Covey’s theories on learning from the habits of successful people in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People suggest that by emulating the habits of successful people, anyone can enjoy the life he or she desires. Learn the habits, adopt the habits, practice the habits and enjoy the success. It really is that basic.

The majority of fit people say they eat virtually the same meals every day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and beverages all belong to a limited menu which allows “careful” eaters to easily predict their daily calorie allotment. A predictable menu becomes habit forming and you learn to develop a taste for healthy foods.

If that sounds too restrictive to you, allow for a more variable menu every day but incorporate foods that are rich in nutrients and proteins that build muscles. To achieve your fitness pinnacle you need to build your diet around super foods. Foods that are full of nutrients that fight diseases and build muscles such as:

  • Water

Water may not seem like food to you but it is the single most important beverage in your life. We cannot overemphasize the importance of remaining hydrated and maintaining an adequate intake of water.

Drinking enough water is essential. 30% to 59% of US adults who try to lose weight increase their water intake. Many studies show that drinking more water may benefit weight loss and maintenance.

Studies analyzing the effect of drinking 0.5 liter (17 oz) of water found that drinking water increases the amount of calories you burn while resting (doing sedentary activities) which is known as resting energy expenditure. In adults, resting energy expenditure has been shown to increase by 24% to 30% within 10 minutes of drinking water. This lasts at least 60 minutes. In the case of overweight and obese children, drinking cold water increases resting energy expenditure by 25%.

Another study found that overweight women lost 2kg (4.4 pounds) over a 12 month period when they increase the intake of water to more than a liter a day. This weight loss was independent of working out and eating healthy, making water one of our “super foods”.

People who are fit drink at least 6 to 8 12-ounce glasses of water per day (not including the water needed during exercise). But it needs to be noted that it is possible to drink too much water, which dilutes the body’s electrolytes (potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium). Don’t drink more than a gallon a day unless you are also replenishing your electrolytes.

  • Beet Juice

Recent research shows that beetroot juice may be more effective at boosting energy than caffeine! When UK researchers asked male athletes to down either 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice or a placebo, those who gulped the real thing cycled for up to 16% longer, an effect scientists say isn’t achievable by any other known means, including training, making beet root, another one of our “super foods”.

A study published by the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology confirmed that beet juice can vasodilate blood vessels while you’re resting and working out.

Beets are a nitrate-rich food which allows for more pumps during a workout. For the study, 14 healthy men drank beet juice and nitrate-depleted beet juice for 15 days. During those 15 days, each person’s blood pressure and rate pressure product (RPP) were taken at rest and during exercise.

It was found that beet juice increased blood plasma nitric oxide levels which widened the blood vessels for a greater blood flow throughout the body. The greater blood flow puts less stress on the heart during intense workouts, which allows for a longer workout and greater muscle pumps. Also, a greater blood flow means more nutrients hitting your hard-trained muscles that allows for more growth.

Since beet juice is a potent vasodilator, add the juice to a pre-workout smoothie. To bolster your performance, invest in a juicer and grab some fresh beets. Or look for bottled beet juice, which can be sipped straight or blended with other fruits.

  • Dried Fruit

Dried fruits, such as figs and raisins, are high in natural sugars and give a concentrated source of carbohydrate. Not only are they great energy boosters, they also provide fiber, potassium, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, hence they belong in our group of “super foods”.

Dried fruit selection image

They are a great natural substitute for energy gels during long races as they have plenty of high GI carbohydrates to give you energy. One serving of dry fruit can be roughly three dried figs. One or two servings before a race and a couple more for every hour of running should provide you with enough energy to keep on running. However, keep in mind to experiment with them well before the race to avoid gastronomical discomfort surprises while running.

Almonds in particular are a delicious and versatile source of protein, fiber and the antioxidant vitamin E. They also have an ability to block calories and are a good source of magnesium, a mineral your body must have in order to produce energy, build and maintain muscle tissue, and regulate blood sugar. The composition of their cell walls may help reduce the absorption of all of their fat, making them an extra-lean nut.

  • Ginger

Sore muscles after an intense workout feel good. There is a sense of achievement that comes with the pain, making the soreness almost rewarding. However, intense aches just plain hurt and act as a disincentive for continuing with the exercise regime. Ginger is a good solution to this problem.

Ginger contains pungent pain-relieving chemicals such as gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. One study suggested that consuming half a teaspoon of raw ginger lessened next day muscle sores by 25%. You can also drop a few slices of fresh ginger into your tea while it’s steeping or use ground ginger in a marinade for chicken or beef. A research in the Journal of Pain suggests that it can even be more effective than popping NSAIDs, making it one of our “super foods”.

Furthermore, Ginger is antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory which is why it has been used in Chinese medicines to treat a variety of ailments from diarrhea and nausea to asthma and arthritis. Ginger is great for healing illnesses, imbalances and keeping intestines healthy.

  • Tomatoes

If you want to fuel up for your spin class, try having a virgin bloody Mary. As per research published in Nutrition Journal, drinking five ounces of tomato juice for five weeks reduced free – radical damage from an intense cycling test.

Tomato juice has lycopene which is an antioxidant that soaks up tissue-damaging compounds which will help pump your legs faster and faster in tomorrow’s spin class. Lycopene also makes skin less sensitive to UV light damage thus reducing wrinkles and fine lines, hence tomatoes is a “super food”.

One cup or 150 grams of raw, red and ripe tomatoes is a good source of Vitamins A, B6, C, K, potassium and folate (a natural-occurring folic acid). Tomatoes are low in saturated fat, calories sodium and cholesterol.

They provide niacin, thiamin, phosphorus, magnesium and copper, all of which are necessary for your health. One serving of tomatoes gives you two grams of fiber, which is 8% of the daily recommended amount. Relatively high water content makes tomatoes a filling food. They also offer protection against high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.

  • Leafy Greens

We have saved the best for the last. Leafy greens are invaluable and irreplaceable for a healthy diet. Not only are do they have cancer preventing carotenoids; they also have low calories that fill you up without adding to your waistline.

With free-radical-busting antioxidants, digestion-promoting fiber, plus a whole army of vitamins and minerals, broccolikalespinach and green cabbage are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you’ll find in the supermarket. They are also a great source of folate which is thought to be good for heart health and for women hoping to conceive. Hence all leafy greens belong to our “super food” category.

When it comes to bone-building calcium, plant based foods such as broccoli and kale offer a healthy dose and can be a good alternative to dairy products. Low calcium levels make you more vulnerable to stress fractures, particularly if you do endurance sports, so make sure you get enough calcium in your diet.

Similarly spinach is loaded with fiber, calcium, and virtually your entire day’s recommended dosage of beta carotene, a nutrient vital for immune-system health and good vision. If you can’t stand spinach plain, Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., author of Diet Simple, suggests dropping it into burritos, pasta dishes and canned soup.

So we know what foods we need to incorporate in our diet to be fit, healthy, be able to exercise longer and also recover from strenuous workouts. However, eating healthy food alone is not enough to shrink your waist and replace fat with muscle. These 3 exercises, combined with healthy food, should be able to help meet your fitness goals this year:

  • Run

Cardio is an essential part of any exercise routine and the easiest form of cardio is walking or running. It builds strength and endurance, torches calories and melts away fat. It is also the most versatile and can be carried out at home on a treadmill, at gym, around the block, and while travelling.

Start by walking and work your way up to power walk, jog or straight out running. From helping you lose weight and de-stress to lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk of many chronic diseases—going for regular walks is one of the best and easiest things you can do for your health, says Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of the new book The Doctor on Demand Diet.

Running keeps your heart healthy, improves your mood, staves off sickness, and aids in weight loss. While walking can provide many of the same health benefits associated with running, a growing body of research suggests running may be best for weight loss. People expend 2.5 times more energy running than walking, whether that’s on the track or treadmill. So for a 160-pound person, running 8 mph would burn over 800 calories per hour compared to about 300 calories walking at 3.5 mph.

  • Plank

Plank exercises are one of the most effective and beneficial kinds of exercises that help strengthen all your muscles from top to the bottom of your spine. These exercises make it easier for you to bend, rotate, stand, and rise from a lying down or sitting position. Not to mention, planks also strengthen your legs, arms, glutes and shoulders giving almost your entire body a workout in seconds. The longer you can hold the plank position, the more resilient your lower back will be to injury, and the better your abs will look once you burn the fat off them.

Man planking image

The best part is that you don’t need any equipment. And you can amp up the intensity by widening your stance and bracing yourself with your hands instead of your forearms and elbows. Keith Scotts, a strength coach in Medford, N.J. recommends conquering the plank before you attempt any heavy weight exercise.”The plank helps develop strength in the core, shoulders, arms, and glutes,” says Scott, making it a great prerequisite for lifting heavy weights or playing intense sports. “Even though you aren’t moving or lifting weight, you have to constantly squeeze your abs to hold the position—most people can’t last 30 seconds on their first attempt,” he adds.

  • Interval Training

Interval Training is not an exercise itself so much so as it is a method of doing exercise. You can incorporate interval training for any part of the body you want to develop, whether it is chest exercises or exercises for muscle gain or growth.

Interval training is doing almost any type of exercise but at a variable pace. For example, if you are walking or doing push-ups, vary the pace of the exercise. You can walk normally for a minute or so, and then speed up a bit and then return to normal speed several times.

For exercises like push-ups, do a few slowly and do others more quickly and, like walking, repeat these faster and slower intervals times. Interval training helps the body to adjust its aerobic system (heart rate, breathing, and metabolism) to burn more calories to lose weight and strengthen muscles. The basic idea is to vary the intensity within your workout, instead of going at a steady pace.

Interval training involves a cycle of intense bout of physical activity, then a period of recovery, and then again a bout of intense physical activity and so on. Interval training is not really appropriate for beginners but there are many methods of low level interval training regimes that beginners can try.

Keeping fit and staying healthy is a life long journey. Some simple tips to keep in mind every day include eating your breakfast without fail. It is true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and there is more than one study that indicates that people who skip breakfast tend to lose less weight.

Another point to keep in mind is doing something is always better than doing nothing. So if you can’t commit to eating spinach every day, try for at least once a day or once a week. Similarly, if you can run 30 minutes every day, at least incorporate a ten minute walk in your routine. Remember, being fit can be habit forming, but only if you chose it to be so.

Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer. She loves to read and write articles related to health and lifestyle, sometimes on health-tech as well. She is crazy about Chocolate and you can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia