Fitness + Nutrition Tips to Crush your Outdoor Goals
Fitness is my first love. I started working out as a little girl because I wanted to join my mom as she did Billy Blanks Tae-Bo videos in our living room! It’s been something I have loved ever since! After graduating college, I got certified as a Personal Training and immediately starting working in gyms doing whatever I could. Teaching classes, training clients, creating programs for the gym, etc. When I moved to Denver, it was like a whole new world of fitness opportunities that didn’t exist where I had previously lived in Indiana. After working 3 fitness jobs for a while, I was fortunately able to a full-time management position at the boutique group fitness studio I currently still manage, Fitwall.
I can’t really think of a time in my life that I haven’t been pretty consistently exercising. However, even with focusing on exercise and nutrition for much of my adult life, I have struggled to keep my weight where I want it. I have obsessed over my weight, which led to binging, thinking about food all day/when my next meal would be, and created for myself quite the unhealthy relationship with food/exercise. Despite trying to “work off” my food every day, I felt like I was spinning my wheels and going literally nowhere. The frustration was real. It even started to show up in my outdoor activities because I felt sluggish and a little lackluster on hikes. I hit a turning point on a one-night backpacking trip in Aspen. I hardly could enjoy the gorgeous views of the Aspen wilderness and natural hot springs because I was sucking wind so hard I thought I was going to pass out. It was a bad enough experience that I became determined to change up my training to work towards my goal of hiking like a boss.
Here’s the thing. Progress is hardly ever linear because life is never linear. There are so many unpredictable ups and downs and events that flip your whole world upside down and quite honestly change your priorities. I started off 2019 determined to hike once per week for the entire year. A 52 hike challenge. Then three months into the year, I went through a divorce, moved, and then went on a 7-week long roadtrip. Surprisingly, I did accomplish my goal of hiking every week for the whole year, despite so many obstacles! However, my focus completely shifted from caring about my weight/body goals, to just straight up survival during what was the hardest time in my life to date. I had to focus on my mental/emotional health and let my body composition take the backseat for a bit.
Starting in 2020, I was absolutely motivated to hit the ground running. I had hit my heaviest weight yet and was feeling very discouraged that despite exercising so consistently (5x per week), I was still feeling heavy and lethargic. This is when I started to get a grip on my relationship with food. The final puzzle piece. For years I had researched nutrition, knew how energy balance worked and how to get clients results, but struggled with it personally. Because I hadn’t found what worked for ME yet. I was trying to eat in ways that made me obsess about food all day rather than actually listening to my body. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. And the reality is, what works for you may even shift with time as life changes! For instance, I used to eat breakfast religiously. Like hop out of bed and eat immediately. Now, I find that eating in the morning makes me groggy and I prefer to wait to eat until late morning or early afternoon. But there is not “right” way of doing it; we just have to listen to how our bodies feel best.
SO now that you have a better picture of my personal journey with fitness/nutrition, here are the main habits I have established that have helped me feel my personal best while hiking and just living life in general!!
1. Incorporating aerobic exercise each week into my exercise regimen
What is aerobic exercise? This is the stuff that helps you with cardiovascular endurance. Think one repetitive motion for extended periods of time. The perfect example is actually hiking! Other aerobic activities include biking, incline walking, jogging, elliptical machine, stair-master, or cross-country skiing. However, in order for them to really build your aerobic capacity, these things all need to be done at a relatively mild intensity (6 out of 10 on the intensity scale). Adding this type of exercise into my weekly routine helped me immensely with my hiking because I was strengthening the energy system my body uses to hike! When I was merely hiking one day a week on the weekends, I wasn’t being consistent enough the rest of the week to improve my cardiovascular endurance. Think about it: if you were training for a baking competition, would you only bake once per week?? Absolutely not! You’d probably be in the kitchen most days working on recipes and techniques. The same principle applies to any activity you want to get better at. Here’s what I have done that’s made a difference: 2-3x weekly of 30+ minutes of aerobic cardio. For me, that’s often looked like an easy jog quite simply because that’s what I have enjoyed lately! But any of the activities listed above will accomplish the same goal.
2. No longer obsessing about food
You know when you actively try to not think about something but then it backfires because that’s all you then think about? That has been me off and on with food for my whole adult life. It all started with my first diet in college. The issue with “dieting” is that it really does make food the focal point of your day. Experiencing freedom in my relationship with food came from a mindset shift. I know- easier said than done! I worked towards this for years!! But I am telling you it’s possible with work. I also had to really work on becoming happier overall to not rely on food for comfort. This is insanely crucial. For years I used food to cope when I was sad, stressed, or feeling stuck. This led to a pretty bad restrict/binge cycle. When I felt good I would restrict hard, only then to binge in moments of sadness. I can’t really tell you how to arrive at that healthy place for yourself. All I can suggest is really taking a look at what causes unhealthy eating patterns in your life. Are you overeating/binging regularly? If so, what is triggering this. If you regularly use food as your source of comfort, what may be missing in your life? I know this may seem extreme, but I can’t emphasize enough how much getting a grip on this changed EVERYTHING for me! So how did this help me with my hiking?? I feel lighter and less lethargic. Not just on the trails, but I definitely notice a big difference there!
3. Doing resistance training at least 3x per week
Strength training is something I have loved since high school when I first learned how to lift weights!! Obviously as a personal trainer it’s easy for me to get super into workouts and actually enjoy it- but I know that’s not the case for everyone!! Resistance training simply means putting your muscles under some sort of tension to produce strength and maintain/build muscle. This is helpful for several reasons.
- Functionality: Literally to just function well in everyday life activities and prevent injuries, resistance training is clutch. It will help maintain/improve bone density which makes you less fragile as you age.
- Strength while doing things you love: Sure, you may do all the cardio which definitely helps with outdoor activities. But if you don’t have the leg/glute strength to carry you up mountains or the back/arm strength to climb, you’ll likely feel limited.
- Better metabolic function: The more muscle you carry on your frame, the higher your metabolism has to be in order to maintain that muscle. Meaning, a lean, muscular person is going to burn way more calories at rest than someone of the same stature with less muscle.
So don’t overthink/overcomplicate this. Resistance training comes in many forms: bodyweight training, resistance bands, TRX straps, dumbbells or barbells. As you continue, you’ll want to progressively go heavier with whatever form of resistance you’re using to avoid plateaus.
4. Finding what eating style is optimal for me
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It frustrates me to no end when people try to claim that you MUST eat 6 small meals a day. Or you MUST eat breakfast. Or low carb. Or vegan. Otherwise forget about your health/goals. NO. You have to figure out how you feel best. I used to force myself to eat 3 meals a day and multiple snacks so I could get lots of protein in and keep my “metabolism healthy”. What actually happened is I had major digestive issues all the time because I was eating so frequently. I felt more lethargic and blah. Turns out, I function better by eating less big meals a day and just actually listening to my hunger cues. So I encourage you to test the waters with new eating styles! What helps you feel great most of the time, and actually feels doable LONGTERM?
5. Being hella consistent!!!!
This is the biggest deal ever. Because anyone can do anything for a few days or even weeks. But what you continue doing as a consistent part of your every-day life, EVEN when motivation fades, will make the biggest difference. This is why you always hear experts say that you should make a lifestyle change, not just try for a “quick fix”. It’s so damn true. The more you can tell yourself: “This is just part of my life. This is who I am.”, the less you’ll have to work each day and think about doing the stuff that’s good for you. It will become second nature and start to feel weird if you DON’T exercise or eat healthfully. But remember that good things take time. Focus on the daily process, not the final product you’re hoping for and be patient.
Other tiny tips:
-Make a weekly workout plan in your phone outlining what you’re planning to do each day then IMPLEMENT
-Don’t go too hard too fast. Start with something you can actually do consistently for a month. If after a month, you nailed it, then add
-Practice moderation when it comes to food rather than cutting out entire food groups or trying to eat perfectly clean. This can often be unsustainable.
-Have tangible goals you can measure. Example: “I will hike ____ mountain by the end of the year” or “I will do 3 days of cardio every week”.