Nutrition, Progress

Making Healthy Choices Easier

The above photo speaks the truth, “you can’t outtrain a bad diet.” How frustrating is it to spend time and effort on your workouts in the gym, only to see no progress? Your nutrition needs just as much effort, if not more, than your exercise program to see success. Weight loss (and gain) is a simple equation of energy balance. If you take in less energy than you expend (eat less than you need to maintain your weight), you will lose weight. Conversely, if you take in more energy than you expend (eat more than you need to maintain or lose weight), you will gain weight. This means that what you eat is the true determinant of the results of your program. The problem is, that proper nutrition is really tough. Nutrition is definitely the harder aspect to figure out, especially to figure out AND make it work for you and your life. This post is to show you that, though nutrition requires thought, it doesn’t have to require much time. No matter what your time constraints are, we can find a solution to make proper nutrition easier for you.

The Basics

To improve your nutrition without much time or effort, let’s add. Water and vegetables are the two components of proper nutrition that many people tend to be lacking. Water is easiest. Some of my favorite easy tips to increase your water intake are to first get yourself a reusable water bottle. There are plenty of options out there, just be sure to get a BPA free plastic bottle, or a stainless steel or glass bottle. These bottles are easy to take with you, and can be refilled all day, with no adverse health effects to you (don’t reuse regular old plastic bottles of water, it’s not good for you!). Another easy tip to increase your water intake is to drink a glass of water before each meal. This helps with your hydration levels (obviously), but also helps to almost pre-fill your stomach, which will drastically reduce your risk of overeating. Don’t like plain water? Most people don’t. You have two options here: either suck it up and suck down that plain water or use some flavor. Infusing your water with fruit is the healthiest option, but Crystal Light packets, along with flavor drops, such as Mio, can help to jazz up plain old water. Moving on to veggies, modern technology makes that almost as easy as possible. There are plenty of options for plain veggies (and even some with some light flavoring) that involve nothing more than popping a bag into the microwave. Bird’s Eye Steamers are awesome microwaveable options, and the flavored varieties taste good (and are relatively healthy for you too!). Eating a cup of veggies before the rest of your meal can also ensure that you get your vitamins and minerals in, while also helping to reduce the risk of overeating for very few calories.

Set it and Forget it

Instant Pots have become all the rage in the past few years, and they can be incredibly useful in your journey to a healthier lifestyle. The instant pot makes pressure cooking easy and quick, and can help with meal prepping by making large quantities of (healthier) food, with very little effort. My mother uses hers to make her own Greek yogurt, and I’m a huge fan of using mine to make large quantities of rice and other starches. This helps to increase the ease of healthy nutrition by allowing me to put that rice or potatoes into the pot, setting it, and then prepping another aspect of the meal while it cooks.

Slow cookers are another handy dandy tool in your healthy eating arsenal. For most slow cookers, you get the meal ready in the morning, set the crockpot, and then you have dinner 6-8 hours later. You can’t really beat the ease of that. One of my favorite recipes for a slow cooker is Salsa Chicken. All you need for this recipe is a package of chicken breast and a jar of salsa, and maybe some corn and beans if you’d like. Combine the chicken and salsa in the slow cooker, set it for 8 hours on low, and boom: easy shredded chicken breast you can add to rice and veggies for a taco bowl, burritos, or to eat on it’s own with some veggies (hey, no judgement here!). There are plenty of healthy slow cooker recipes on the web, a quick google search will get thousands of recipes, right in front of you.

Bulk it up

This is the tip that requires the most effort, but it still makes your life much, much easier. There are plenty of recipes that you can make in bulk, and then freeze to keep the freshness. Pick whatever day is easiest for you (for many, it’s Sunday, but depending on your schedule, just pick a day that you have a few hours free), pick a few recipes, and spend a few hours getting stocked up on some food. Breakfasts tend to be the most freezer friendly, but there are a few dinners that freeze well too.

Breakfast:

Egg Sandwiches: Easy egg McMuffins at home? Yes please. Take a muffin tin and spray it with some cooking spray, and crack an egg in each spot. Bake the eggs for around 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees to cook all the way through. After they are baked, cool them completely, and assemble your sandwiches. Take an English muffin, place a slice of cheese, a slice of Canadian bacon (or whatever toppings you’d like) and an egg, and then wrap tightly with plastic wrap or tin foil and place in the freezer. Whenever you’re ready to eat, unwrap, place the Sammie on a plate, and microwave for around 60 seconds to heat.

Protein Pancakes: A simple recipe of 1 scoop of protein powder, 2 tbsp flour, 1 egg, 1 tsp baking powder, and a splash of water mixed to make into a batter (makes around 3 pancakes). Make multiple servings and cool completely, then place in a ziplock bag, squeezing all excess air out, and throw them in the freezer. Place in a single layer on a plate and microwave for 30-60 seconds to heat up whenever you’re ready to eat!

Lunch/Dinner:

Soups are the easiest to freeze, the just require airtight containers to store in the freezer. As well, lasagna and pasta can be frozen for a few weeks, as long as they are in an airtight container. For any frozen meal, make sure you keep it frozen. Don’t thaw and refreeze, as this can affect the quality of the food.

Though healthy eating requires more thought, and sometimes more effort, than workouts, it doesn’t have to take more time. As long as we are working smarter, not harder, we can make healthy meals quick and easy to make, and accessible to all, no matter your available time. Make room for some healthy food!

Other

Going for PRs, Not Broke

Now that you’re armed with budget friendly gym options and alternatives and how to get your nutrition on point for next to nothing, we get to talk about the fun stuff. This post is all about looking (fitness) ballin on a budget. Many times you see a girl, or guy, in some cute workout gear and some awesome looking shoes, and you’ll ask where their clothes are from and you get the dreaded “Lululemon” or “Athleta” or even “Nike.” I love Nike probably more than the next gal, but my bank account does not. Since I only wear workout clothes, and the occasional jeans or jean shorts if I’m feeling fancy, I’ve gathered an arsenal of cute workout clothes you can get for less than a single pair of Lululemon pants (like come on, are they really worth the $100+ for one pair??)

Clothes

I’m a big Amazon lover. There’s nothing better than browsing the app for tons of things you don’t even need, and it gets delivered so quick, sometimes even same day! Usually I tend to stay away from buying clothes online because I never know how it’s going to fit or if it’ll even look like what I ordered. However, I bit the bullet and ordered some leggings from Amazon, all pairs being $17! Not only are these leggings budget friendly, but they are squat proof (no see through butts here!) and hold up to being worn several days a week and washed constantly. The two brands I have ordered from Amazon, and loved, are Oalka and 90 degrees by Reflex. The 90 degree ones you can also find at TJ Maxx and Marshalls, but they tend to be a few dollars more, still around $20. As well, name brand shoes, such as Nikes, can be on sale depending on the shoe color and size, so keep an eye out for great deals on shoes!

Speaking of, TJ Maxx and Marshalls are amazing places to pick up activewear. They have big name brands (I’m talking Reebok, Calvin Klein, and sometimes Nike) at super prices! Usually the tops range between $10 and $20 and the leggings are between $15 and $30-40, depending on the brand. As well, these stores tend to have really great deals on sneakers, but can be hit or miss depending on your size. These stores are a really great alternative to online shopping, as you can actually try on the clothes in store, or if you’re really into those brand name shenanigans on a budget!

The last amazing store I’ve encountered for workout clothes on a budget is… TARGET! I know, like you really needed another reason to go spend all of your money at Target. But, if you’re going to be in there, browsing for stuff you probably don’t need, you might as well look at the activewear to help motivate you to hit your goals. I recently went on a shopping spree to target and was pleasantly surprised with the selection. The leggings ranged from crazy prints and colors to just black but with cute cut outs and other details. The leggings were hit or miss depending on the material, but the ones I love, I really love. They are comfortable and cute, only costing me about $20-$25 per pair. The sports bras were also an awesome surprise, being cute and very comfortable, while also being sufficiently supportive. They also have a plethora of support options, from minimal to maximum, depending on your body and activity needs. The sports bras ranged from $15-$20 and are incredibly worth it, in my opinion. Last, but not least, the workout tops. I’m usually someone who works out in an old tank top or t-shirt, but these shirts were too cute to pass up. They are perfectly loose and flowy, while still staying relatively close to the body (so no indecent exposure here!), and come in so many different colors and cuts. I highly recommend browsing Target for your workout wear needs.

Sneakers

Another thing I really don’t recommend skimping on. Yes, you can technically get through a workout wearing any old shoes, but your shoes matter. Sneakers wear out over time, especially if you wear sneakers daily or are an avid runner. Once your shoes wear out, they can actually throw off your movement, putting your joints and body in a position that can set you up for injury. I recommend heading to a running store to get fitted for shoes that work for you personally. Some people have higher arches, some need more ankle support, some need more stability for heavy lifts, the main point is that everyone’s feet needs are different. I personally don’t skimp on sneakers, but a great place to get quality sneakers at a low price is an outlet mall! Nike and Under Armor outlets have great quality sneakers at bargain prices, for sometime no reason other than the color. Besides splurging on high quality sneakers for your body, be sure to have a few different pairs in rotation so they don’t wear out as quickly.

Accessories

I know you’re probably wondering what accessories I’m talking about, but bear with me. So, by accessories, I am referring to the miscellaneous shenanigans that tend to help you out along your fitness journey, but aren’t clothes, shoes, or equipment.

Recovery Accessories

I’m talking about your foam rollers and your massaging sticks and all. These recovery tools are incredibly useful for keeping your body loose and knot free, helping with quicker recovery. Pro Tip: hit up TJ Maxx and Marshalls! Right near the activewear section, there tends to be a little display that has a whole bunch of fitness accessories, including massage sticks and foam rollers! I always recommend to clients that they check out these stores for a relatively cheap foam roller. As well, check out Amazon for foam rollers and recovery accessories.

Miscellaneous

TJ Maxx and Marshalls are your best friend, if we’re being honest. That same end cap that has a plethora of foam rollers also has a bunch of other fitness accessories on it. Obviously each display is different, but most have water bottles, shaker bottles, and weight lifting gloves on them. This is a great way to get shaker bottles (which can be $15-$20 in nutrition stores) for around $5! Check out these stores for great deals on all of those accessories that you might not think are important, and don’t want to spend a great deal of money on, so you can be all set for your workouts!

Socks

I recommend splurging on socks. Honestly, I’m not going to tell you that budget socks won’t get the job done, but now that I’ve made the switch to special runner’s socks, I don’t think I can go back. Even when I’m not running, these socks are more comfortable than the basics. These socks have special arch supporting contours, and also tend to come with extra cushion in them to help support you while you run. I buy mine at Fit 2 Run, but they are called feetures, and worth every penny.

Nutrition

Going for Healthy Food, Not Broke

Now that we’ve already squashed your qualms about exercise being expensive, it’s time to dive into nutrition. I know, dollar menu meals aren’t healthy, and Whole Foods didn’t get the nickname “whole paycheck” for nothing, so how are you going to convince me eating healthy can be affordable? It’s definitely possible. Yes, it takes a bit more effort than just hitting the store, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not out of the question. I spend around $30 per week at the grocery store, sometimes spending as much as $40-50 if I need to stock on certain pricey essentials, like natural peanut butter or nutritional yeast. However, here are my best tips for getting the most out of your shopping trips.

All of the food above (not pictured are 3 avocado and a bunch of 6 bananas) totaled $32. I shopped the sales (buy one get one protein pasta and sales on strawbs) and are the staples to my week of eating. I didn’t have to purchase sweet potatoes or cereal this week.

Figure Out What You Need

Yeah, I guess you could call this “making a list,” but I’m talking about what we need to figure out before we make the list. “Figure out what you need” means figure out your macros, plan out your meals, and actually put thought into what you are going to be eating for the week. This helps save you some dough by making sure you buy only what you need, and that you don’t miss anything while you’re there. If you miss something, that gives you another chance to go to the store and buy something you don’t need. Make sure you don’t only buy food for meals and don’t forget about snacks!

Peep the Weekly Ad

Every grocery store has a weekly ad. Even if you don’t receive a paper newspaper, you can still receive the weekly ads, either online or when you get to the store. I would definitely look it up online for your regular grocery store, and see what’s on sale. I tend to get quite a few essentials, such as rice, pasta, pasta sauce, frozen veggies, and other non perishables, on a buy one get one from my local grocery. As well, stores tend to rotate sales on meats and poultry, and certain brands of yogurts and other foods, so check what’s on sale to plan your week around. Another great tip: shop the season. In season foods tend to be local, not only tending to use less pesticides because it’s a shorter travel distance, but also tasting better because the food is in prime season.

Make a list.

Now, we make the list. Make a list of everything you need for the week, including snacks and ingredients for dinners. After you’ve made the list, go through the fridge and pantry and see what you already have, so you can cross that off the list (there’s nothing worse than buying something you already have when you’re on a budget). Now that you’ve made this list, stick to it! When you hit the store, don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list. This helps you stick to the budget you’ve set for yourself, as well as stopping you from buying food you might not need in the house.

Buy in Bulk

Depending on your household, and the amount of people you’re feeding, you may benefit from buying foods in bulk. Membership services such as Costco and Sam’s Club allow you to buy larger amounts of food at a savings, which can get you large quantities of meats or non perishables for not much more than you would spend at a grocery store. I used to frequent Sam’s Club solely for their chicken breast and ground turkey, which I would portion and freeze, bulk containers of egg whites, and the larger containers of coffee and cereal. The membership, to me, was worth it for the savings in these common foods for me.

Buy Frozen

Veggies and fruits are some of the best foods you can add to your shopping cart, giving your diet plenty of nutrients that you need. However, constantly buying fresh fruits and veggies can add up, especially during winter months or when food is not in season anymore. Buying frozen fruits and veggies can help with your budget, tending to be cheaper than their fresh counterparts. These foods are flash frozen at peak freshness, and staying that way until you reheat them, keeping their nutrients even better than fresh foods sometimes. However, make sure you don’t just boil the shenanigans out of the veggies, as this will break down the nutrients that were preserved when frozen. Frozen veggies are best cooked steamed lightly, or even thawed and then roasted or sautéed.

I’ll be honest with you, I tend to eat the same things every day. I’ve learned what I enjoy to eat, and what fits my macros, and it makes my life easier to eat know what I’m going to eat without really planning. However, I do vary it sometimes and like to experiment further with my foods that I typically eat in a day. Below, I’ve included a sample shopping list for me, someone who eats meat free at home now, and a sample shopping list for someone I meal prep for, who eats meat.

Here’s a sample shopping trip for me when I need all the essentials:

(things I don’t buy weekly are marked with a *)

Bakery Italian Bread *

3 Avocado (in season!)

1 bunch bananas

1 package strawberries (in season!)

2-3 sweet potatoes

2 18 count eggs

1-2 containers plain Greek yogurt

1 box Pasta *

1 container Pasta Sauce *

1 box Cereal *

1 package Beyond Beef crumbles or other meat alternative*

1 bag frozen blueberries *

1 bag frozen broccoli

Everything totaled up would be about $45, but weekly, I tend to spend around $30.

Sample Shopping Trip (meat included):

1 bunch of bananas

1 bag of apples

1 bag cheese sticks

10 Chobani blended yogurts (when on sale, only $10)

1 box pasta

1 container sauce *

1 bag dry rice *

1-2 boxes cereal (depending on BoGo sales)

Milk *

1-2 pounds lean ground turkey

1-2 pounds chicken thighs (less money and slightly more fat than breasts)

2 bags frozen veggies

This usually adds up to $45-$55 depending on the sales of the week.

Exercise

Going for Health, Not Broke

Becoming fit and healthy doesn’t just require you to mental pay the price, but there can also be a financial cost as well. Between replenishing healthy food and investing in either at home workout equipment or a gym membership, it can add up. This doesn’t even take into account workout gear or a program to give you structure and accountability. By the time you finished reading this first paragraph, I bet you went and checked your bank account. But have no fear! As someone with constant champagne and caviar taste, I’m always on a shoestring budget, so I understand your struggle. This post (and the next post or two) will cover how to go about this health and fitness thing without going for broke.

Budget Friendly Burn

I know the feeling, the first thing you want to lose is weight, and the last thing you want to lose is your entire paycheck. I’m here to tell you that it’s totally possible to hit your goals, all while keeping your bank account in check.

Free

If you don’t want to spend any dough, while moving forward towards your goals, it’s as easy as heading outside. Something as simple as a lengthy walk around the neighborhood can be enough when you’re first starting off to jumpstart your fitness journey. As well, that neighborhood walk, when done for 30 minutes 3-5 times per week, can be enough cardio exercise to keep your heart beating healthy and strong. Along with cardio, you do need to incorporate resistance training into your routine to increase your metabolism and increase your muscle and bone strength. Resistance training is a form of strength training where your muscles must act against a resistance. This resistance can even be your own bodyweight moving against gravity. Yes, after a while, you will need to overload your muscles to make progress, but to start, bodyweight movements can be incredibly helpful. It will not only increase your muscle strength, but also help to improve your movement patterns, as you can focus on form without needing any weights.

Sample Bodyweight Circuit: 10-15 repetitions of each

*Squats

*Pushups (against a wall, countertop, on knees, or full)

*Stationary Lunges

*Bird Dog

*Supermans

*Glute Bridge

*Plank

Repeat 3-4X

Budget

The health and fitness industry understands that the average person doesn’t have the means to, and doesn’t want to, spend an arm and a leg on activities that they don’t enjoy. This means that there are plenty of ways to get your fitness in without breaking your budget. Standard gym memberships can range from $25-$50 per month, which can be a bit pricey for us with slim budgets. Gyms such as Planet Fitness, YouFit, and Crunch offer affordable membership options, which allow you to get the benefits of the gym without a hefty price tag. Most of these gyms start as low as $10 per month for the basic membership, which is a price that most people can swing. I recommend looking around and pricing out different gym options around you to see what is offered and what you can afford. As well, these gyms tend to offer a membership that allows you to bring a guest or visit multiple locations without a significant price increase, usually around an extra $10 per month, which can help with adherence, as you can go to any location or bring a friend to workout with you to make it more fun.

You can also purchase your own gym equipment to make your at home gym a bit better, especially as you start to progress. I personally built my at home gym with less than $200 and shopping on Amazon. Do you even need to spend that much? Nope. I purchased a set of dumbbells that are adjustable and can be built to up to 50lbs ($50), a set of resistance bands with handles, a door anchor, and ankle straps ($26), a kettlebell handle to make the dumbbells into a kettle bell ($30), slider disks ($12), and my measurement tools, such as a scale ($14), measuring tape (include with scale), and a handheld body fat reader ($25). With all of this equipment, I have the tools to do almost any exercise, besides ones that require a barbell and a rack. I can still do heavy weight and stress my muscles, all without leaving my living room. Just a small investment, even with just the dumbbells and resistance bands (less than $100), can make a huge difference in your fitness journey.

No matter what your budget is, you will be able to find a way to reach your fitness goals. Sometimes it will take a bit of a creativity, but even with spending no money at all you will be able to reach your goals.