Yesterday marks the first day of spring! A time of shaking off winter: months of being curled up in fuzzy layers while binging Netflix, nomming on delicious comfort foods, and watching snow pile up outside. It’s time to spring forward into getting the ole body moving again, to check in on progress towards goals and to set new ones, to renew healthy fitness habits. Whether it’s the extra time of daylight or just the smell of blooming flowers in the air, it’s undeniable that spring fills us with a new kind of energy and motivation.
When it comes to springtime activities, we all have different goals and passions that motivate us for getting up and off the couch. For me, I’m about to dive into race training season (I’m running my first 25k in July!). Trails are drying out and I’m excited to get out and running more. No matter our different fitness passions, most of us seem to still strive towards one thing: how to gain muscle and get stronger. That’s something we’ve all heard over and over but, just like anything you hear over and over, I’ve tuned out what it really means and how you can actually accomplish this. Let’s break it down.
Everyone has two kinds of muscles: slow-twitch fibers and fast-twitch fibers. Slow-twitch control endurance, developed by activities like distance running. Fast-twitch are in charge of more explosive movements that you don’t do for a extended periods of time and require recovery (think HIIT). Developed slow-twitch fibers remain the same size while fast-twitch grow as they get stronger. It’s important to balance exercises that develop both types of muscles!
I’ll say it once and for all: FAT IS NOT A BAD THING. We’ve learned that fat is bad, and I think it’s more that fat is misunderstood.
Interesting enough, there are also two kinds of fat: white and brown. White fat is what we think of when we think “fat.” It’s that “stuff” you can pinch. It is also an energy reserve, regulates body temperature, and serves as a protective cushion to internal organs. Since this type of fat is designed to protect your organs, your body fights any desire to lose it. But as we all know, too much of this kind of fat can lead to inflammation as well as increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure.
Brown fat actually burns calories. Exercise can help the body produce brown fat and even cause white fat to temporarily transform into calorie-burning “beige” fat.
The reality is we need energy to move and use our bodies, and fat is one of the top sources of that energy. But we still don’t want more fat than our bodies need to build up. So how do we build muscle and keep our fat stores in balance??
Efficient, Intense Workouts
To burn fat, you want to work as intensely as possible during your workout, burning as many calories as possible. This ensures that your body will continue to burn fat while you recover after your workout is over. Whether you’re increasing the distance of your run, or getting in those intervals with a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout, push yourself!
Try out this HIIT & Flow workout to get your heart rate bumpin’!
The same idea comes into play for building muscle. To build lean, defined muscle, you want to lift weights and do bodyweight exercises “to failure.” By working the muscles to the point of exhaustion, it’s a little message to them that they need to grow and get stronger. And keep in mind, “building muscle” doesn’t have to mean bulking up. Most of the time women naturally won’t bulk up when lifting weights and making efforts to get stronger. So go ahead and add a couple more reps to that set, or up the weight to your dumbbells for those bicep curls!
Also, don’t do the same thing every single day. Keep your body guessing by mixing up your workouts and the intensity of your sweat sessions. It’ll keep your body and any gains your working towards from plateauing, and help prevent overtraining and injury.
Don’t forget to REST and relax!
The HIIT motto works beyond your actual workout: Work hard, rest hard! Because your workouts are so intense, rest is even more important! Let your body recover from pushing it. Your rest days are when your muscles literally become stronger; by resting completely, you not only avoid injury, you’re better able to go 100% in your next workout, too.
Plus, when you forgo rest and relaxation, your cortisol levels (aka stress hormone) will remain elevated which can slow muscle growth and cause your body to hold on to fat. When you have elevated levels of stress without periods of restoration and relaxation, your body remains in a fight-or-flight state, and continues to build up its stores of energy in the form of fat to prepare to meet the impending threat (aka STRESS!).
In short, it’s important to get those rest days in, and treat your body well. Massage, stretch, foam rolling, and SLEEP (at least 7-9 hours every night!) are all great ways to give your body the rest and recovery it needs.
We’ve all heard the saying that abs are made in the kitchen. And it’s true, you can do sit ups day and night and not get the abs you want if you’re not also balancing out your workouts by eating whole and healthy foods.
The key ingredient for building muscle and retaining it is PROTEIN! The body doesn’t store protein like it does carbs and fat, and protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer due to the fact that it takes 30% of its own calories to process itself into energy for you. It is recommended to consume 25-30 grams of lean protein at each meal!
Our favorite way to get a protein burst? Eggland’s Best eggs! Beyond the great protein eggs contain, EB eggs also have 10x more vitamin E, 6x more vitamin D, more than double the omega-3s, and 25% less saturated fats. Keeping a carton of EB eggs in the fridge is already a no-brainer, but they also stay fresher longer than ordinary eggs.
My favorite way to eat my Eggland’s Best eggs? Topping pretty much anything and everything with one or two! Avocado toast with a fried egg, a big salad with a soft-boiled egg. Even poaching an egg and putting it into ramen! I love how quick and easy it is to get my protein in this way.
So #putaneggonit-ing is a great way to get a burst of protein to help muscle growth. What about burning fat? The best way to do that is to minimize how many processed foods you’re eating and consume mostly whole foods. This lessens the calories you’re ingesting while allowing yourself to feel fuller longer.
Our girl Diatta has some great, simple swaps from processed to whole foods that you can make TODAY:
- Fruit juice < Fresh fruit
- Ketchup < Tomatoes
- Cereal < Steel cut oats
Envision a grocery store layout. Generally speaking, whole, unprocessed foods live along the outside edges of the store, like fresh produce, and fresh proteins like eggs and meat. When grocery shopping, try to stick to those areas.
Drinking water is always one of the healthiest habits to develop and one we can all be better at. When it comes to keeping fat stores at a healthy level, water is the secret ingredient that can help a lot more than you think it can. If you’re dehydrated, your kidneys can’t function the way they’re supposed to to filter out toxins and waste, and so they call in the liver as backup. If your liver has to help out with your kidneys’ job, it can’t focus on its job: metabolizing (aka breaking down) fat. So go on and drink up! Your organs will thank you.
When wanting to build muscle and burn fat, make sure you’re pushing yourself in your workouts, mixing up your sweat sessions, allowing your body to rest, getting plenty of sleep, eating tons of protein (#putaneggonit!) and whole foods, and drinking plenty of water.