Three habits to maximise your training results

16-02-2022 Cecily Ellis

At some point many of us realise that we are actually quite enjoying this whole exercise thing. You find you have muscles where there weren’t any before, the shopping bags don’t feel as heavy as they once did, and no longer die when you have to run to catch the train (unless you are a strength athlete like me, in that case you just die with bigger quads). As you become more invested in your results it’s worth considering your habits outside of the gym and deciding if tweaking a thing or two there is worth the rewards. After all, you likely only spend up to 9 hours a week in UnScared at most, the other 159 hours can greatly influence how effective those sessions are. 

Nutrition

Habit 1: Eat enough protein. You are what you eat is a cheesy saying, and unfortunately factually true as far as chemistry is concerned. I’m not saying eat nothing but lean protein and vegetables for the rest of your life, that sounds truly miserable and life is supposed to be fun. But eating your daily recommended portions of fruit and vegetables, making sure you vary your food sources and limiting your alcohol intake really can make a big difference.

Another key contributor for athletes is eating enough protein. In my experience people vastly underestimate how much protein they need in a day and/or overestimate how much protein they actually eat. So here are the facts. You need at least 0.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight a day just to stay alive. This becomes 0.8-1 for average (largely non-active) Joe’s. For athletes, 1.1-1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight is recommended, and this increases to 1.6-1.8 for those who want to build muscle (1).

If you want to start taking your training more seriously I highly recommend doing the maths, and then tracking your protein intake for a few days. You’ll likely find you’re way under your target, but not to worry, there are plenty of ways to crank up your protein intake. I’m not going to bore you with suggestions as there are plenty of great blogs and websites out there for all dietary needs and tastes. Just try to find something that works for you and you can stick with in the long run. Remember, it’s better to be 80% effective but stick to it 100% of the time, than to be 100% effective but only do it 10% of the time. 

Sleep

Habit 2: Sleep at least 8 hours a night. Parents with young children, I am very sorry to inform you that you are truly missing out on the nectar of the gods each night. For everyone else, if you’re going to listen to any of my advice from this post, please let it be the part under this header. Looking at athletic performance alone, getting enough quality sleep will improve fine motor skills, reaction time, muscular power, muscular endurance and decreases your risk of injury (2, 3, 4, 5). And if that isn’t enough, the list of general health benefits keeps growing every year. 

The problem is, most people know that sleep is important, but somehow actually making sure it happens is hard. It’s just like how people are very aware of the fact that vegetables are very good for you, but that doesn’t mean they eat them. My advice is this. Take a long hard look at where you are, and try to go for the big wins. If you aren’t getting enough sleep in the first place, fix that first. Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night and go from there. After that you can start focussing on sleep quality. Is your bedroom cool, do you take time to relax before bed, do you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, do you avoid caffeine in the hours before bed? There’s no point in worrying about the blue light from your phone if you’re only spending 5 hours in bed each night. Quantity first, quality second. 

Stress

Habit 3: Create daily de-stress moments. We all get stressed, and it’s a good thing we do as it’s a very useful physical reaction. Our bodies just can’t tell the difference between a life threatening situation and having so many tasks on your to do list that it seems life threatening. And if that stress gets out of hand, bad things happen to your performance, and to your health (6). My point is that we’re never going to be stress free, it’s a part of us, and while reducing stress sounds nice theoretically for many people it simply seems impossible.

Therefore I would recommend focussing on building daily de-stress moments into your routine as it’s often easier to focus on doing something rather than not doing something. This can be anything, and as big or small as you like. It’s good to have a range of things, some that are short and you can do on the go, and longer ones for at home or at specific locations. Meditation and breathing exercises are often a go to, but don’t worry if it’s not for you. For example, my list contains walks in the park, cuddling my friend’s dog, taking a hot bath, listening to my favourite song with my eyes closed, and stretching before bed time. Make it fun, try out different things and see if you can manage to do one thing every day for a week. Hopefully you will notice a difference before and after each time, and day by day those small changes help make big gains. 

Final thoughts

Let me just clarify one point before wrapping this up, you are not a professional athlete, and that is just fine. Your whole life doesn’t revolve around performing optimally, and therefore you should consider the costs and benefits of your actions, and see these suggestions as a scale, not a boolean. Will cutting alcohol out of your diet completely positively influence your performance? Absolutely. But so will cutting your alcohol intake down to 1 glass a week during regular weeks, and you make an exception for your birthday and Christmas. The last option might be less optimal, but you’re much more likely to stick with it and therefore benefit from it in the long run if it doesn’t make you miserable while doing it. Remember to have fun, and focus on the changes that fit easily into your lifestyle. Make the most out of your time at the gym, but don’t lose track of finding pleasure in the process. 

 

  1. Wu G. (2016). Dietary protein intake and human health. Food & function, 7(3), 1251–1265. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5fo01530h 
  2. Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep Hygiene for Optimizing Recovery in Athletes: Review and Recommendations. International journal of sports medicine, 40(8), 535–543. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-0905-3103
  3. Charest, J., & Grandner, M. A. (2020). Sleep and Athletic Performance: Impacts on Physical Performance, Mental Performance, Injury Risk and Recovery, and Mental Health. Sleep medicine clinics, 15(1), 41–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2019.11.005
  4. Bonnar, D., Bartel, K., Kakoschke, N., & Lang, C. (2018). Sleep Interventions Designed to Improve Athletic Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review of Current Approaches. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 48(3), 683–703. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0832-x
  5. Charest, J., & Grandner, M. A. (2020). Sleep and Athletic Performance: Impacts on Physical Performance, Mental Performance, Injury Risk and Recovery, and Mental Health. Sleep medicine clinics, 15(1), 41–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2019.11.005 
  6. Rano, J., Fridén, C., & Eek, F. (2019). Effects of acute psychological stress on athletic performance in elite male swimmers. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 59(6), 1068–1076. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.18.08493-1 
Cecily Ellis

About Cecily Ellis

Cecily is a CrossFit, Strength and Olympic weightlifting coach at UnScared. She devoted most of her young life to competitive swimming and gymnastics, only to discover UnScared and fall in love with CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting. She now spends her days studying computer science, doing snatches and baking protein-filled goods. Don’t let her love of fluffy animals and British accent deceive you however, her puns are still unBEARable.

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