The fitness and nutrition industry are full of extremes: “You need to cut out carbs.” - “You have to train every day.” - “You must never eat sugar.” - “Make sure you eat every 2 to 3 hours, never drink alcohol, and do cardio seven days per week.”
This is all well and good, and even if any of the above were true, they’re just not sustainable, and only the dullest, most boring, unsociable of people would ever dream of following such strict guidelines for the rest of their life.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be like that.
So many people start their fitness journey thinking that they have to live a restrictive, hardcore, all-or-nothing lifestyle, and while they may go okay like this for a little while, pretty soon things take a turn for the worse.
You realise you don’t have time to see your family, you can’t go out with friends, and between work, the gym and preparing your meals, you have no time for anything else.
This is what can lead you to give up altogether – and that isn’t the way to build your perfect physique.
Getting a great body, losing fat and building muscle all comes down to consistency, and that means making everything you do manageable, sustainable, and part of your lifestyle.
That can be easier said than done though, so let’s talk about how to make eating right and training hard fit into your day-to-day life with no sacrifices and no strict rules.
Assess Your Goals
The more extreme you want to get with your physique, the more commitment you’ll need to have.
If you’re just starting out, either wanting to lose some fat and get leaner, or you’ve never hit the gym and want to build muscle, then the diet you follow and the amount of time you spend in the gym really shouldn’t impact on your life too much.
Simply making better food choices, keeping an eye on your calorie intake, and hitting up a few weights sessions each week should take care of things.
If you want to compete in physique shows, start modelling, or take part in strength events however, it will require a little more attention to detail with the diet and possibly a bit longer in the gym, but still, provided you’re making progress, there’s no need to let it take over your life.
Pick the Right Diet
There’s no doubt that a flexible approach is the best way to make your diet fit your lifestyle.
Counting calories and tracking macros might take a little time, but that time is worth it, as it means you’re not owned by any nonsensical food restriction rules. You can eat “real food,” go out to eat at restaurants, and if you’re craving chocolate or chips, you can eat chocolate or chips, provided they fit in with your calories or macros for the day.
Choose Quality Over Quantity in the Gym
It isn’t necessarily about how much or how often you train, rather how productive your training is. That’s not to say you can get away with only working out once a week if you push it extra hard, but the amount of training you need to reach your goals might surprise you.
The average person can get by just fine with three gym sessions per week, all based around weight training. Provided you pick mostly compound movements – squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, chin-ups and so on – and concentrate on increasing weights, sets and reps each workout so you get stronger over time, you’ll make progress.
If you’ve got more time to spare, more gym sessions can definitely be beneficial, but that’s not to say you have to spend hours in the weights room.
Most people severely over-estimate the amount of cardio they need, which is where the myth of having to spend your life in the gym comes from.
If you can only commit to three sessions per week, get on a full-body program based around free-weights, or if you can go four or five days, then an upper-lower or push-pull split could be your best option.
Follow the 80:20 Rule
If you’re doing everything right 80% of the time, you can be slightly off the wagon 20% of the time, and still make progress.
Don’t think of it as an all-or-nothing pursuit – you’re human, and from time to time you will slip. The key is getting straight back on with the plan, and not letting yourself binge or take a whole week off from the gym just because you missed one session.
Write it Down
Keep two journals:
Journal one should be for your food. This can either be a physical paper journal, or an app or website where you log your meals every day.
Journal two is a training one. Write down when you plan to train in advance, so you know when you’re due at the gym, then note down exercises, sets, reps, weights and how you felt after each workout.
Get the Family Involved
Going it alone in your fitness journey can be seriously hard work, so try to engage your family in what you’re doing. Get the kids into cooking healthy food, and go out for walks, or take up an activity together.
Life Comes First
You can build your perfect physique and have a “normal life” at the same time. To begin with, it may not be easy, but using the tips in this article will help.
Above all, it’s important to realise that fitness should enrich your life, not take over it, so if you’re finding you’re spending less time with family, don’t see your friends as much, or aren’t having fun and relaxing any more, it’s time to re-assess your priorities.
I guarantee you’re being too strict and training too much, which you don’t need to do, and this is just making things so much more difficult than they need to be.