Up until a few years ago, I struggled badly to find anything I was ever good at. Cracking jokes, getting puns, understanding politics, holding a debate, or even being a boy in general. Nothing struck as a talent. And most of all; you could stick me on a pitch with a soccer ball on the hottest day of the year and our relationship would still be glacial. I was good at being useless at sport, but that wasn’t a talent that ever went in my favour.
Since GAA and the likes is and has for so long been deep-rooted into our culture, instead of finding my talents and confidence, I’m afraid they were taken away from me when I was younger partly because of it. You were only considered normal or (God forbid) popular as a lad in school (with a few exceptions) if you were ready to tog out at the end of the day after you already spent it speaking about togging out and playing. I was the guy who hadn’t a chance to even prove myself because I was naturally without interest and wasn’t really given the chance to prove I was good at any other sport or even at anything else in general really (you don’t even want to imagine how awful a place I would have put myself in if I told my peers I liked writing poems and cooking back when I was thirteen).
I was the last guy on the soccer team, the one more likely to walk a lap of the pitch with a cigarette in my hand than tog out during P.E. class, because I’d feel physically sick at the thought of being mauled and slagged on the football field for playing crap. Luckily, I had the chance to at least hide away academically in school in my later years there, because if it was all about sports, I’d have wanted to drop out faster than a ball could smack a goal post.
For years, my disliking for sport had been exacerbated by the horrible memories and thoughts I’d had of heading to P.E. class. So much so that I was disillusioned into not being able to separate the idea of fitness from sport. Two very separate things, and one a lot more important than the other for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the camaraderie that team sports brings, and I absolutely love seeing the euphoric atmosphere that GAA matches carry across (I even wrote a poem about it!) But fitness is sport without the rules, the strings, the stress and it is what has really been keeping me together since I decided to run for it in my own time.
When we head to college, we have time to move away from the shells of our stereotypes and what’s automatically expected from us as kids. I decided I’d start running, cycling and gymming. And without the peer pressure or some teacher judging me on what I could now do in my free time, without judgement. Since I’ve gone to college, I’ve found that my talents lie in writing, food blogging, networking and being consistent with my fitness. FINALLY.
I’ve gone from making that decision, to being able to say that fitness is now an addiction of mine. What has really helped me keep on track of it is my healthy food blog – I doubt there are many other matches more compatible than them.
In my own time, working out when I can is a means for me to feel empowered. Whenever I’m stressed out these days and I have the chance – I shut my phone up in my locker, grab my fitness diary and go mad at the gym for – usually – an hour and a half at a time. Endorphins seep into my veins, everything going on in my life seems to be going better than I’d think in my dark hours. I feel better, I don’t feel judged. Nobody from any P.E. class is going to tell me I’m not good at fitness like they could tell me I wasn’t good at any sport.
Working out takes you to this better place. My progress photos are just a by-product of all the good it does to my mind. Once you get motivated and out of a vicious, lazy cycle (which is NORMAL to experience too… I often suffer through them), you’ll realise what you were missing out on.
I’m writing this post to show – as the saying goes – if I can do it, anybody can. I want to discuss fitness a bit and hopefully give you an indication as to how you can fit it into your life – and if I’m good enough, maybe even offer up some pointers, and indeed on what to eat between and beyond each gym sesh.
What’s the Point?
Fitness alongside good nutrition is probably the first step to a better lifestyle across the board. When we focus on our fitness, we will inevitably watch our diet. When we improve both of these together, we eventually notice an improvement in our emotional wellbeing; we feel more positive; more organised; more confident.
As a student or worker, it can be tough finding time for exercise, but regardless of how important your education may be, nothing is worth the stress, anxiety or fatigue that it can provoke. Even if you feel like you’re falling back on assignments or deadlines, I really suggest dropping everything and getting your heart pumping for an hour or two. You’ve no idea how many times exercise has made me realise I knew more than I thought I did about college material.
Another thing that really helps me keep on track of my fitness goals is my healthy food blogging. It’s very encouraging to know that there are others keeping up with my progress and cheering me on when my own encouragement isn’t enough. I think to even follow a healthy food blog and be the person to cheer on, it would work at encouraging your fitness a lot too.
The biggest obstacle I’ve encountered in following fitness goals, is slowly losing the self-disciple that excitement of change had given me in the beginning. I feel now that a brilliant solution is to commit to some form of friendly race en route to your goal. Last year, I signed up for the Pieta House 100 charity cycle, where I cycled 50k and rekindled my wavering determination. This year I’m going for the 100k cycle and I’m
buzzing for it. 😀
One thing that may come between you and taking the first steps towards gym progress are your confidence issues, but don’t worry. I had major confidence issues when I first walked into the gym with my chicken legs and twig arms, but after a few times of going there and getting on with it, you’ll stop worrying so much and you’ll realise that nobody around – no matter how big their quads or triceps – is actually judging you. They all started somewhere and respect that in others too. You may come across the odd asshole, but you get those everywhere in life. Rise above. Maybe head there with a buddy or something if you’re worried. Take it all lightly and go have a laugh.
I remain to have confidence issues. I don’t think enough lads admit that they do either these days… I mean, if the gym is somebody’s way of bulking up their disco muscles, doesn’t that show they have confidence issues too? Everybody does to some extent, but getting fit will make you feel better about your image along with all its other benefits. I promise.
Find an Anchor
Surround yourself with supportive people. The way I do it is I run off the fuel of my own mind. I turn my phone off and I go at it without anything stopping me. The endorphins will only support your drive once you get going. Or get a gym buddy if you don’t think your will power will cut it. 😉
In order to reach our goals, it’s important we surround ourselves with the right environments and mindsets. As college students or workers, one way to do this is by making sure our housemates/family are on board with our goals and won’t pose a threat to our routines. Since your goal involves fitness, try to find somebody close to you with a similar goal; finding a dedicated training partner can offer a fantastic support system.
If you aren’t so lucky with this, perhaps be less rigid with your own goals in order to keep up your self-motivation. This could mean chunking a long term goal into three or four shorter ones which you could use as stepping stones towards your final goal.
Nutrition is Queen
Fitness is king and nutrition is queen, as the saying goes. The proper diet is vital when it comes to fitness; the importance of regeneration foods after working out cannot be stressed enough. Fuelling your body with the junk food that comes easily to us will only wreak havoc with your hormones and leave you feeling drained. Your best bet is to get your micros and macros in through natural wholefoods as opposed to the above, and hopefully I’ve posted enough recipes on my blog over the past few months to cover you there.
We tend not to realise the amount of protein we get out of our veggies as well as their fibre when we get all consumed with our steaks, protein powders and protein shakes. Of course it’s no harm to go for some lean-meat after a gym session or reach for an accessible protein shake, but overdoing it could cause problems such as over-consuming protein, bloating or constipation. Some of my favourite high-protein foods include Quinoa grains, chia seeds, raw nuts, lentils and seed mixes. The bigger the variety, the better the nutritional benefits.
Good, nutritious and affordable foods to work around your gym plan include sweet potato, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, porridge, mince and plenty of fruit and veg to keep you fuelled. Make sure to constantly drink up and stay hydrated during a workout, and I find coconut water a great thing for this as it’s one of nature’s best isotonics; the only problem is how pricy it can be.
I often get my cardio – or anything which might trigger cramps – done in the first half of my workout so I can take a break, munch down a few nuts and seeds and then continue on with my weights and other gym equipment with a fuller stomach and more energy.
Lost Sheep or Lion?
The moment I began making progress with my fitness, was the moment I dated the first page of my fitness diary. Unless you’ve done explicit research into certain workouts and where they build on – or cause strain to – your body, it’s best to book a programme from the staff at your local gym.
These guys can usually check your body fat percentage, measurements, BMI, etc. and get you facing where it is you want to go a lot more reliably than your own amateur judgement. Don’t be shy about it, it’s their job to give advice to first timers and – from experience – I know that a lot of them are very patient and helpful when it comes to showing their members how to use the gym equipment and follow workout techniques.
My routine involves stretches, front/side planks, plunges, squats, push-ups, ab extensions, Russian twists for the first half of my workout and dumbbells, and using equipment to work on my legs, shoulders and chest for the second half, followed by ten minutes of cardio on the bike. Each week I up the amounts of sets and weights to the extent that I can manage as a means of progressing because our muscles need to be stimulated more after they heal from the previous workouts in order for them to grow.
Personally, I have a high metabolism, and one of my aims in the gym is to bulk up and become stronger as opposed to losing weight. It’s most common for people to just want to lose weight and not gain muscle mass, so I suggest you book a programme, let the instructer know whether you’re planning to bulk up (and where), or whether you want to just tone up (and where), let them get you going and you’ll gradually trust yourself to continue on and adjust the plan yourself.
I have never counted macros, and despite being asked a few times to start measuring them to make my recipes more effective – I don’t really have any intention to, either.
We all have busy lives, and even though counting the protein, fat and carb value in advance of eating anything isn’t as desperate as measuring your food down to the grain as people often joke about it, I just feel like I don’t need that hassle in my life.
In context, it’s all very simple really: fuel up on some light carbs and fats pre-workout in the form of perhaps an energising smoothie, or if going for solids, a homemade energy bar or some fruit at least 30 mins before the workout to prevent cramps. Get your protein in within a couple hours after your workout and for the rest of the day just use your own good judgement to fuel yourself with a nice combination of whole, unprocessed and real foods that many a place – including my blog – might help you with.
As long as you eat plenty of vegetables, nuts, seeds, protein-rich, high-fibre foods, and you work out habitually, there’s no way you won’t begin moving in a positive direction in terms of your health – both physically and mentally. I’m not here to get you to a size zero in 2 weeks or turn you into the hulk with a certain meal plan – my aim is to encourage – in moderation – the keys to making your body a better place by stepping in a certain direction.
Whatever abs or weight-loss comes from that are a bonus. Do not try to visualise a certain way you want your body to look and push yourself over the edge, hoping to get there in a couple weeks. Improvement takes time and patience. You need to continually realign your visions with your progress and reality and give yourself a pat on the back because it is deserved, for no matter how small you may think your progress is, it’s still progress.
Don’t be so strict about your diet plan either, I know myself that going a few weeks without touching any form of sugar-laden sweets or even a square of chocolate will just make me crack under the pressure at my most vulnerable moment and binge until I feel sick and dread the next day where my skin is sure to have breakouts.
Take breaks and pig out – working out pulls, tugs and strains your body and if you don’t give it a break you may as well not have began working out in the first place because you will crash and burn with fatigue, make all the wrong decisions nutrition and exercise-wise and then you’ll probably hate yourself (I’ve hated myself so much in the past). After reading Bear Grylls book and seeing him recommend the 80:20 rule (which means sticking to your wholefoods and eating very clean 80% of the time, and essentially eating whatever you want 20% of the time), I nodded in satisfaction at the words I’d suspected myself: having a cheat day is a great way of resetting, refuelling and rekindling your enthusiasm to eat well and work out for the week ahead.
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified dietician or nutritionist. This post and blog comes as a product of my own interest and I do it as a hobby. If you are concerned by any of the advice I’ve given in this blog post, please visit a GP or get advice from a professional before taking it.
A lot of this content originally came from a piece I’ve written on fitness goals for SpunOut.ie.