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Lauren's Training Guidebook: Best Practices for Maximizing Your Workouts

One of the hardest parts about exercising is just showing up. And congrats to you, because scheduling personal training sessions and showing up to them is happening for you at FIT Carrboro!


We field a lot of questions about how else our clients can make the most of their personal training programs and training sessions. When should you eat? What should you eat? How often should you stretch? Do you even need to stretch, because your hamstrings have always been tight for as long as you can remember, so why start now?


In this guidebook style article, I'll share some helpful tips and best practices so that your time, energy, and money is best spent on what YOU want to be achieving with your workouts. Spoiler alert -- yes, you should stretch.



Lauren's Top Tips


Here's my list of the important things I believe you can do to ensure you're maximizing your workouts. Click each one to take you to that section of this post, or just keep scrolling to read it all:



Goal Setting and Celebrating the Wins


It is important for us to celebrate our accomplishments. Humans love treats and positive reinforcement. As you decide what your fitness goals will be and what to do to celebrate achieving them, I recommend you select health or activity-based rewards (not food-based, for instance).


For example, you may decide that when you complete your next half marathon and hit a new PR, you will schedule a massage for yourself. This activity feels like a treat, is relaxing, and is also beneficial to your overall health.


Celebrating the small wins is so important too. Only ever setting big goals like a half marathon PR can be exhausting and unrealistic for many of us. Just showing up to 100% of your scheduled training sessions for a month straight is worth celebration! Adding 5lb to your squat since last week's workout is worth celebration! Being able to do as many squats in one minute as you did this time five years ago at the age of 80 is worth celebration!


You and your trainer can decide how and what to celebrate. Keep track in a journal if you'd like. Post it to social media if you'd like. Tell your family or friends. It's worth the effort. And if you fall short, you're allowed to be upset, and give yourself some grace. Give it some time, and then try again.


Sleep - The Best Workout Supplement


In Matthew Walker's book, Why We Sleep, the author poses two questions to the reader to determine if a person is getting enough sleep. "First -- after waking up in the morning, could you fall back asleep at ten or eleven a.m.? If the answer is “yes,” you are likely not getting sufficient sleep quantity and/or quality. Second, can you function optimally without caffeine before noon? If the answer is “no,” then you are most likely self-medicating your state of chronic sleep deprivation."


(Yes, this one struck my own nerve. I go to sleep looking forward to my morning coffee!)


Unfortunately, chronic sleep deprivation reduces the effectiveness of any healthy dietary, physical, or lifestyle changes you may be implementing, and in fact even alters your DNA on a cellular level. Studies show that shorter sleep leads to a shorter life. The top causes of death in developed nations like the US - heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia - have links to disrupted or inefficient sleep patterns. Lack of sleep affects your cardiovascular, metabolic, immune, and reproductive systems. You can probably recall a time in your life where you didn't sleep great for several days/weeks/months and subsequently found yourself suffering from a cold or disease, or know someone who has. And even one night of reduced sleeping hours can raise your morning blood pressure (now think about what that means over the course of time, if you never get enough sleep...). You may notice that your delayed onset muscle soreness is not as bad on days you've slept better after your workout than days you didn't sleep as well.


Need I say more?


Yes, I will. You might argue with me on all of this, saying, well I wish I had more time to sleep! You don't know what it's like to have three kids under five; I haven't slept in years! I'm suffering from chronic pain and have trouble sleeping because it hurts! I am too busy working into the late hours of the night to get sleep!


A few thoughts. We all go through many phases of life. Some are harsh. Some are great. Sometimes bad things happen, and we are dealt some bad cards. Sometimes, we get stuck there. And no, I'm not making the argument that we all have the same 24 hours in the day - we definitely do not.


Think about whether this is a phase of life that won't last forever, or whether it's a phase or lifestyle that you're choosing to stay in. Really assess that. Yes, there are circumstances that affect us and are out of our control. We must do certain things certain ways. But assess your lifestyle and see what room you have to modify it so that you can get the sleep you need, when you can. YOUR HEALTH DEPENDS ON IT.


Eating Based on Workout Time of Day


Yes, you can and should plan your meal schedule and content to help you get the most out of your workout.



For a Morning Workout, or For a Snack if You Haven't Had a Meal in 3+ Hours:


Plan to eat a light snack made mostly of carbohydrates, with some protein and not a lot of fat, about 1 hour before your workout. Good options for non-diabetic folks include a protein bar, fruit like a banana or a fruit smoothie, yogurt, whole grain crackers or bagel, juice, or granola. Your body is best primed for using these carbohydrates for fuel in the morning so they will really help your workout be great. And if you haven't eaten a meal in over 3 hours, you'll likely hit a wall during your workout if you don't have a snack beforehand.


It's easy to keep snacks in your bag, workplace, or vehicle for snacking en route if need be. And we've all been there, where we've arrived at the workout hungry and hangry. Don't be that person.


Some folks prefer to workout in the morning on an empty stomach. This works well for some folks, particularly those who fast regularly, or who eat a full meal later at night. See what works best for you, but if you're aiming to gain or maintain muscle mass, this is NOT the way to go.


Caffeine as a Pre-Workout Supplement


Many studies show that caffeine is a very effective supplement to aid in exercise and sport performance. We recommend drinking/consuming caffeine only if it is at least 10 hours before your normal bedtime, as it has also shown to disrupt sleep when taken closer to bedtime. For most folks, this translates to only being useful for morning workouts. So, for you coffee/tea enthusiasts, make the most of your consumption by working out in the morning after you've had your caffeine.


For a Midday Workout


Follow guidelines for the morning workout, but plan to have had at least one full well-balanced meal (containing carbs, fats, and proteins) about 2-3 hours prior to your workout session, or 3-4 hours prior plus a carb snack 1 hour prior. You can plan to have a full meal following your workout, if you're doing it mid-day.


For an Evening Workout


Follow guidelines for the mid-day workout, but plan to have 2-3 full well-balanced meals (containing carbs, fats, and proteins) during the day and make sure your last full meal was 2-3 hours prior to your workout session, or 3-4 hours prior plus a carb snack 1 hour prior. Depending on what time you finish your workout, you may or may not need a meal afterward. Avoid working out within 2 hours of bedtime, as your body will need time to recover and wind down.


Macronutrient Needs Per Day for Performance


Proteins


  • 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight needed per day for exercising adults = ( 185lb adult weighs 84.1kg, so needs 118 to 168 grams of protein a day )

  • Protein consumed with each meal/snack is ideal (20-40g per meal at 3-4 hour intervals through the day)

  • Protein consumed after a workout helps overall health and boosts the immune system

  • Vegetarians & vegans should learn how to combine foods to maximize their protein intake as most plant based protein sources are not complete proteins

  • Whey protein isolate is the most bioavailable form of protein supplement

  • High protein intake is not associated with renal function decline as previously assumed


Carbohydrates


Your Daily Carbohydrate Needs According to the ISSN:

  • Carbohydrate needs per day vary from 4 to 10 g per kg of bodyweight, depending on the sport, intensity, and duration of activity.

  • Here's a great and thorough research article if you want to dive headfirst into it.

  • Some people consume fuel during their strength training, which we call an intra-workout supplement. According to the ISSN, "Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations." An electrolyte drink with BCAAs mixed in would be a great option (see next section on supplements)

  • There is lots of variation regarding carb needs. About 11% of Americans have Diabetes, and an estimated 40% of adults aged 18 to 44 have insulin resistance. This blog is barely scratching the surface and also is not specifically catering to those with insulin resistance, who must be more intentional about their carbohydrate intake.

  • A main takeaway from the ISSN is to ensure you consume 15g of Carbohydrates and 0.3g Protein per kg of bodyweight directly following your workout to maximize your performance. An easy example of this would be 1 medium fruit + 1 ounce of nuts or cheese or other protein source within 30 min of completing your workout.


What About Nutritional Supplements?


There's a lot of info out there about vitamins, supplements, and performance enhancers. There's a ton of money to be made too, and that's because the FDA does not regulate any supplements on the market. Unlike medicines, supplements are not regulated by the FDA and therefore can do more harm than good. Ask your doctor or dietician for more guidance, of course, or do your own research before taking any supplements.


What to look for:

  • USP or ConsumerLab on the label

  • Third Party Tested on the label

  • Product was made in the US - we have higher manufacturing standards than other countries (for example, limits on heavy metals such as arsenic allowed in products)

  • Gold Standard Certified - for sustainability, if you care about that

  • Supplement that has been standardized on the label (look for the active chemical compound shown as measured for potency, not just base ingredient)


Most Useful Supplements for Improving Performance


Pre-Workout:

  • Beta-Alanine

  • Caffeine

  • Creatine


There are lots of pre-workout mixes and powders on the market that include some or all of these ingredients. All three of these supplements can be found individually in powder or capsule form as well.


Intra-Workout:

  • Carbohydrates + Electrolytes - for long duration workouts or if your goal is to gain weight, or if exercising in the elements like heat and humidity


Post-Workout:

  • Carbohydrates

  • Protein

  • BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) - aid in both aerobics and strength training

  • Electrolytes - especially helpful for long duration exercise and exercising in the elements


These all can be consumed via regular food and meals, but you can also consume them as supplements like protein powders, mass gaining powders, BCAA powder or capsules, and electrolyte drinks, tablets and powders.


For more info, visit this Harvard article.


The Supplement Hierarchy According to Lauren


So, should you be supplementing to improve your performance and help your workouts?


Time, money, energy, availability, bandwidth, achievement, need, personal reasons.... all play into this. And no, I'm not going to be discussing illegal supplements here.


Rule 1: Performing the Physical Basics

Ask yourself, "Do I on a regular basis get at least 2 strength workouts a week, hit my aerobic exercise targets each week, stretch regularly, and/or otherwise complete most of my workouts and sport activities well?"

If yes, then move on to Rule 2.

If no, then work on mastering this step first.

You probably do not need to be adding things like protein shakes and creatine if you aren't even completing your workouts as scheduled, for example. More on that below.


Rule 2: Meeting Your Metabolic Needs

After mastering Rule 1, now ask yourself, "Do I on a regular basis eat sufficiently to meet my nutrient needs and hydration needs according to my current level of activities, and am I getting sufficient rest and recovery? And, is my energy level good on most days?"

If yes, then move on to Rule 3.

If no, then work on mastering your metabolic needs first.

Spend your energy on your food, water, and sleep quality to help you get more out of your workouts. You might be under the mark or over the mark on this one. You might also need some help determining what that mark might be (ask your trainer, do some research, find a dietician that your insurance covers, the list of resources is vast).


Rule 3: Supplementing for Performance

You don't need to spend all of your money on performance supplements.

I feel that performance supplements should be added only after you've really mastered the workouts themselves and how to fuel yourself before and after the workout.

At this stage, when you're ready to spend more time really honing your craft and improving your performance, you can take a look at that list of supplements above or others and decide what might work best for you. This will be a trial and error process.


Remember, what you ultimately do is up to you. And, your body is always giving you information about how well it's working, if you listen in closely.


Daily Hydration


Aim for your weight in kilograms in ounces per day of fluids (mostly water) as a baseline.


This means: ( your weight in lbs ) / 2.2 = ( weight in kg ) = ounces of water per day

Example: 185 lb adult / 2.2 = 84 ounces of water per day


Now, certain conditions will increase our daily fluid needs, including:

  • Extreme heat/humidity

  • Extreme cold

  • Exercise or sports, especially if

  • Current or recent illness


Aim to add 4-6 ounces of water per 20 minutes of exercise to your baseline amount (or you can drink this amount in the form of an electrolyte drink like Gatorade if your activity is over 60 min in duration).


A Note on Alcohol Consumption


Alcohol is the most commonly consumed recreational drug amongst athletes and exercisers. Our culture embraces alcohol consumption despite the immense data showing its detrimental effects (in cases of both acute and chronic consumption).


In my professional opinion, when it comes to maximizing your workouts, there is no room for alcohol when it comes to your health and performance.


Here are a few bullet points from a Sports Medicine Review Journal regarding alcohol and exercise:


  • Alcohol consumption is directly linked to the rate of injury sustained during sports

  • Alcohol consumption reduces athletic performance capacity

  • Your muscles can't use amino acid and glucose as easily when you drink - making performance and recovery less metabolically efficient

  • Chronic alcohol consumption may reduce your ability to grow the size of your muscles and negatively affects your immune system by impairing host defense

  • Drinking right after you exercise changes your blood viscosity


Finally, if you want to dive deeper into this topic, check out this YouTube Video by Stanford University Neurobiologist Dr. Andrew Huberman on What Alcohol Does to Your Body, Brain, & Health.


The Big Five


It is well established that a well balanced fitness routine includes The Big Five types of training:


  1. Aerobics

  2. Strength

  3. Core

  4. Balance

  5. Flexibility


Are you and your training program including all five aspects of training? Perhaps you're training for a specific goal, so some of these five things are currently taking a back seat. That doesn't mean they should be ignored completely. Read on for specific guidelines that are recommended for active adults by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (and your trainers at FIT).


Aerobics


Everyone who is able to should achieve 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise per week to maintain their cardiovascular health. If you're already doing this much and want to improve your cardiovascular health, you should either increase the intensity of exercise without adding time, or add more minutes per week with or without changing the intensity.


If you're not currently achieving 150 minutes a week, what can you do to get this done? Even marching in place in your home to music or while watching TV is enough to get most people into the moderately hard category.


The difference between moderate and vigorous is personal and based on heart rate response (ask your trainer or consult your wearable fitness device for more details) but if you're able to speak a full sentence without gasping or pausing to take a breath while talking, you are in light to moderate level, and anything above that is vigorous.


Things that count:

  • Walking

  • Jogging

  • Biking

  • Swimming

  • Dancing

  • Water aerobics

  • Leaf raking

  • Snow shoveling

  • Vacuuming

  • Continuous stair climbing

  • Elliptical striding

  • Step aerobics

  • HIIT training


Note: If you plan on performing two workouts in the same day, regardless of type, try to schedule 8 hours in between the two sessions to capitalize on recovery.



Strength


Strength training is the pinnacle, in my book. Loading the muscles loads the tendons, which loads the bones, which challenges the body, which builds more tissues, and makes you STRONG AND RESILIENT. It also improves your mood and confidence, improves insulin resistance, and helps your physical performance in sports and in day to day life.


If you want to progress with strength training, meaning either get stronger or gain muscle mass, you really must train all body parts a minimum of 2x per week, for at least 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps per muscle group (for beginners). For more seasoned exercisers this might mean 2-4x per week and higher sets and reps volume, particularly if you are doing split workouts where you only train certain body parts on each day.


Current research also points to strength training as being the BEST modality for increasing bone density -- even more so than running and plyometrics which the research previously thought was the best option. And you're even more at risk of bone density reduction if you've taken SSRI's for long periods of time (especially teenage and young adult females).


The Strength Training umbrella includes all forms of resistance training:

  • body weight training like pull ups, push ups, squats, lunges, etc.

  • band resistance training

  • fixed and dynamic resistance training machines like cable pulleys, leg press, and others found in most commercial gyms

  • free weights like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, medicine balls, etc.


The Strength Training RPE Scale: We typically use a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale of 1-10 to gauge how challenging a strength exercise is for our clients. When you perform a strength exercise, your trainer might ask you how difficult that set was on a scale of 1 to 10.


If your exercise sets or full workouts are regularly feeling below a 6 out of 10 on average, and you want to see results but aren't, it's time to rev it up. Likewise, if your workouts are always a 9 or 10 out of 10 on average and you're constantly sore, you might need to scale it back a little.


To read more about strength training, check out Kevin's 2023 blog.


Core


Core training can include stability, strength, and power movements for the 29 muscles that make up your core and act to stabilize your spine, pelvis, and trunk. Core exercise can easily be incorporated into traditional strength and balance training workouts, as there is much crossover. Working on your core musculature is key in maintaining healthy alignment and posture, and aiding in the management or prevention of back and joint pain throughout the body.


See Lauren's 2022 blog post on the core and Gayle's 2024 blog post on Pilates for more info about working on your core.

Balance


Lauren balancing in Nevada

Balance training is incredibly useful for athletes of all ages, but it is something that declines as you age and can be affected by injuries. Maintaining balance is particularly important for certain sports and also to prevent falling in older adults or for folks who have jobs that entail lots of dynamic movement. Balance training can easily be incorporated as a fun add-on to traditional strength training workouts just like core work. Adding 1-2 balance exercises 3-7 times per week is a great and quick way to work on things.


This research article demonstrated that the inability of a person (aged 51-75) to stand on one leg unassisted for at least 10 seconds is linked to an 84% increased risk of death from any cause within the next 10 years (after controlling for all variables). That is striking.


Did you know? If you have an iPhone and/or Apple Watch and you have one of these items on your person while walking and moving about, your Health App is tracking your Mobility Metrics? You can see in the Health App your scores as they relate to Walking Steadiness, Cardio Fitness (VO2 Max), Walking Speed, Double Support Time, Step Length, and Walking Asymmetry. You can even turn your phone notifications on to alert you if you are at a high risk of falling. This is super cool data, and especially useful for aging adults who have a history of lower extremity injury, balance issues, gait issues, or falling.


Flexibility


Rolling in Cross Training for Runners Class

Stretching and other flexibility modalities should be performed 3-7 times a week. Yes, that means that on most days, you should be performing some stretches. The body is most limber in the evening, so a bedtime stretch routine is encouraged, especially on days you do not otherwise engage in fitness activities. I recommend a daily ritual of 5-10 stretches for 20-30 seconds each. Ask your trainer for the best stretches you should do daily.


Rolling (self-myofascial release like with a foam roller) and dynamic stretches (like performing light warm up sets of the same exercise before performing heavier lifting) can and should be done at the start of your workout - whether aerobic or strength based. Some people choose to take yoga or stretching classes, but even 10 minutes of stretching each day is beneficial. Hold a stretch or roll on a foam roller for at least 20 seconds per body part for the most benefit.


If you'd like to explore your flexibility capacity more and learn which parts to target in your body for best flexibility improvements, you are invited to attend Lauren's upcoming Roll & Stretch Mobility Workshop on March 16.


Tips for Staying Clean - You and Your Clothes


No one ever talks about this, but yes, we sweat when we exercise, and yes, we and our clothes sometimes stink afterward.


My main tip is... bathe regularly! This gives bacteria on your skin very little time to grow and create those smells. Plus, this can prevent any skin irritation from any number of things like synthetic fabrics, sweat, or friction caused by fabrics rubbing during a workout (hello to all of my cyclists, runners, and larger-bodied humans).


Also, I do not recommend wearing your workout outfit for a second workout, if you have the means to do laundry regularly. Regularly laundering your fabrics helps them last longer as oils from skin and skin products do not have time to break down the fibers. Plus, wearing your outfit again can be a bit smelly for you and other people around you.


Having trouble getting rid of that smell in your clothes? Try pouring a cup of vinegar into your washing machine along with your clothes and detergent before running the wash cycle. You can also try an OxyClean type of spray on your fabrics in problem areas prior to laundering. Also, as a general rule, I love recommending running a washing machine cleaning cycle with a cleaning tablet every month or so to make sure your machine doesn't have any mildew or residue build up, and then checking that the sealing rings on front loaders aren't gaining any gunky build up on the insides. As a last resort, if none of this has worked, it might just be time to throw out or recycle your clothing.


Lastly, some sneakers can be laundered by running them in a cold wash cycle then air drying in the sun or near a flowing air source with newspapers stuffed inside of the shoes. If you're a stinky feet person, this one's for you.


What to Do if You Get Injured


Everyone will suffer an injury at one point or another. Knowing what to do and having the right tools in your toolbox before it happens can make all the difference.


We've all heard about the old-school R.I.C.E. Method for managing injury, right?


It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and it used to be implemented for treating sports injuries across the board. Turns out, the guy who created this has rescinded this method, based on newer data from studies on healing injuries. Now, it is standard practice in up-to-date sports medicine spheres to implement the Active Recovery method.


Active Recovery involves maintaining an active lifestyle, continuing to move in as many ways as you can (given your injury limitations), and starting to move the injured area as soon as possible. Of course, certain orthopedic injuries will require surgery and stabilization, like a bone break, but if you have a sprain or strain, it's important to get moving as soon as you're able. This will help you maintain a positive mental state, as no one likes to be down for the count for long, and will also help you heal faster.


Here's a comprehensive article from The Sport Journal which reviews each principle of the RICE Method and why we should now be embracing the concept of Active Recovery for healing from injury instead. To summarize the article:


  • There is no need to tightly wrap an injury when there is excessive fluid in otherwise healthy individuals because the lymphatic system is well equipped to manage the fluids. That being said, the lymphatic system requires a person to move in order for the fluids to get pumped through the body. So, moving the body is key to healing when there is swelling of the injured tissue.

  • Ice delays healing and can actually cause more tissue damage at the site of use. The only helpful use of ice is to provide localized pain relief from the cold feeling.

  • Most studies on general compression and elevation have outcomes that are indecisive, but not negative. People who believe that these methods help them can implement them without adverse affects, but they are not proven to work.

  • Taking anti-inflammatory drugs like (NSAIDs) should only be used as a pain reducer and on the guidance of your medical doctor. NSAIDs reduce inflammation - their entire purpose - which can actually slow down the natural healing process in the body.


So, if you get injured, don't worry. Maintain a positive mindset and remember that you should keep moving around as tolerated, follow these guidelines for pain management, and work towards getting back to moving as soon as you can. Active Recovery is the key.


Finally, make sure you HAVE SOME FUN when you're working out. That's really all I have to say about that!


Hope you've found some of these things helpful for you. Let us know how we can support you as you continue your fitness journey.

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