Being fit is something most everyone aspires to be. My guess is that you wouldn’t be reading Austin Fit Magazine if health, nutrition, and/or fitness didn’t hold some sort of interest in your life. That being said, what does it really take to be fit? How can we measure fitness? And how do we blaze a trail toward being more fit than we are now, or have ever been?
For the past ten years, I’ve trained at the University of Texas at Austin under one of the greatest coaches in the world in any sport: Eddie Reese. Eddie has been coaching swimming at UT since 1978 and has produced countless Olympians, gold medalists, and world record holders. In addition to being coached by great swim coaches at UT, I’ve trained around other world-class athletes in the weight room and seen even more athletes work with their respective coaches on other playing fields. This all compiles to a pretty good idea of what it takes to get fit and stay fit.
Early on in my career, I noticed that the best thing to do in order to stay in shape is to never get out of shape. Although this sounds obvious, it is the single best thing we can do in order to keep our body in top form. However, we all know that this can’t always happen. Between vacations, rest periods, time with kids, busy schedules, and times when we might be burned out, everyone seems to take time away from exercise and staying in shape at some point or another. When I was leaving on my first summer break after my freshman year, Eddie told me, “It doesn’t matter if you take a break from swimming; you just have to never stop working.” Whether it’s push-ups, walking, running, playing tennis, biking, throwing a football, wakeboarding, or even Ping-Pong, staying active minimizes the fitness we can lose during break times. Don’t allow yourself to become sedentary for too long. Stay moving.
The same concept holds true for nutrition. Even when you take time away from your main exercise routine and nutrient-rich diet, you can’t let everything go to the wayside. For example: If you’re going to Italy, eat the pasta. If you’re going to France, you don’t have to pass up all the pastries. If you’re going to California, feel free to eat as many of those ripe summer fruits as you’d like. Wherever you go, be sure to also take advantage of the healthy options available. France had some of the most divine tomatoes and lettuces I’ve ever tasted. Although I did eat pastries, I was pounding the veggies, too. When I was in Copenhagen, the carrots were absurdly juicy. At my parents’ home in Wisconsin, they grow fantastic produce, so I eat a ton of it. You don’t have to stay on your exact eating routine on vacation, but make sure you’re not letting go of everything that has helped you feel so good in the first place. Being your fittest self requires maintenance, even on vacation.
Measuring your level of fitness is relatively easy. All this requires is setting benchmarks through testing. In swimming, for instance, we do specific sets throughout the year that measure aerobic capacity. One such set might be ten 300s (swimming freestyle) on a 3:30 interval, best average. Another set we do is ten 100s (kicking) on a 2:00 interval, best average, or even eight 50s (fast) on 2:00. We record our times for each set and then compare them to the times produced earlier in the year, the previous year, and even several years in the past. The same concept can be used in running, cycling, rowing, weight lifting, and so on. In this testing process, however, it is important to understand and lend credence to the fact that sometimes your body is just fatigued from training and you won’t be able to produce your best times. This has happened to me on many occasions, and it didn’t mean I wasn’t as fit as I once was. In order to really monitor results, you must look at the picture from a broad sense—that is, how is your training different from or similar to what you were doing in the past? And don’t forget that looking at nutrient intake and how your diet has changed can also give you great insight into where you are in your training.
This month’s issue celebrates the 2013 AFM FITTEST winners and competitors. So, what does it take to be the fittest in Austin? Better yet, what does it take to reach your highest level of fitness? Yes, there are some athletes who are just total freaks when it comes to being lean and athletic; they have high aerobic capacities and are naturally strong. But these are the exceptions; even at sport’s top levels, you’d be surprised at how few of these freaks there actually are. Most Olympians and world record holders are simply a product of the time, care, and effort they put into it.
“Where does this leave me?” you ask. Attaining your most fit self involves constant refinement and consistent effort. In terms of nutrition, a good place to start is by seeking expert advice from a nutritionist or registered dietitian. The goal needs to be to figure out small changes that you can put in place to begin seeing a positive difference. The reason we start with small changes (like switching from white rice to brown rice, iceberg lettuce to spinach or kale, white flour to whole-wheat flour, or fruit juice to actual fruit) is because these are easy changes we can make on the spot. Once we crank on some of the easy stuff, then we can move on to the more specific measures, such as nutrient timing and protein needs.
Start with simple changes. Master one thing at a time. Stay consistent in your routine of exercise and diet. You’ll be amazed at how each day, week, month, and year you’ll get closer to feeling and performing your best.