person at top of mountain looking at sunset

7 Tips for Health and Fitness Success

Now that you’ve read about my workout and nutrition/supplement plans, I thought I’d list out some things that have helped me meet my goals and stay on this health and fitness journey without falling off the wagon! In no particular order:

  1. Purchase the right workout gear, including activewear. I now legitimately need another closet for my workout clothing; I have that much. But, looking good at the gym helps me feel good. It helps me work harder, too. When I have a rocking sport bra or a cute pair of shorts, looking in the mirror as I’m lifting is that much more enjoyable! When you look good, you feel good. Word. My favorite places to shop: Forever21, Old Navy, Amazon, Target, Victoria’s Secret
  2. Follow the leaders. Or at least follow the influencers. These are the fitness stars you see on social media. Some are not what they appear to be but you will be able to figure out who the real ones are and they will inspire the heck out of you. Seeing someone else post videos of their workouts, food and lives is motivating. It’s even more impactful if you find someone similar to you whether it be a similar body type, lifestyle, age or all of the above. I look for petite girls like me, mostly. This way I can be motivated to look just like them! Some of my favorites (Instagram): @kelseywells, @kayla_itsines, @missads1981, @brookemorafit and @lyzabethlopez
  3. Participate in conversations. The workout I do comes with a private Facebook group, a community of ladies from around the world who are on the same journey. It’s so helpful to post questions and offer answers and insights. I’m getting to know women just like me and I’m learning a ton. It’s like having your own personal trainers and counselors online. Plus, Lyzabeth Lopez herself is active in our group and helps us along the way. If your workout program doesn’t have something like this, find discussion boards and groups on social media. They’re everywhere. Even following fitness trainers will help you be exposed to comments and information you can use and learn from.
  4. Read, read, read. I subscribe to several magazines on health and fitness where I learn the latest trends and get more information on workouts, nutrition and more. I use the Texture app so I pay $10 a month for unlimited magazine issues. My favorites are Muscle and Fitness Hers, Self, Health, Oxygen, Redbook, Glamour and Prevention.
  5. Embed it into your daily life. It’s so much easier to stick to something when it’s routine. At first, it will seem like a ton of work to get to the gym, track your macros and all that jazz. But, if you integrate it into your daily schedule, it will start to become second nature. I do a lot of prep the night before to get out the door to the gym at the early hour that I do. I put the supplement powders in blender bottles, lay out my gym clothing and keep my gym bag next to my sneakers and coat for a quick, quiet exit each morning. I also review workouts daily (night before) and weekly, entering them into my bullet journal. They are right next to my to do list for work and home. This way, it’s part of what I’m doing and not something extra.
  6. Track progress and celebrate. Make sure you keep a record of your workouts, how much you lifted and what you did. It will help you to see progress and/or where you aren’t making progress, too, and keep you on task. Plus, don’t forget to log your meals for that same reason. Just like you never really know how much money you’re spending until you write it down, you never really know how far you’ve come with weights, etc. unless you keep track. Some people like FitBit trackers, too. I always say, if you didn’t track it, it didn’t happen! Plus, it allows you to celebrate when you see that you lift more weight or run more miles. I also check my measurements every three months, too. I don’t concentrate on weight as much as inches. It’s so cool to see how you can change your shape!
  7. If you need a buddy, find a buddy. I am a sole workout girl. I like to be alone with my tunes. It’s the only time I have to myself. But, some people are social fitness animals and for them, I recommend a buddy. Whether you both do the same workout or just agree to meet at the gym, it will motivate you and keep you honest to have a partner. If you’re having trouble finding one, try meetup.com or post on social media. There are lots of us out there!

What have you been challenged with on your fitness journey? Or, what tips would you add? Comment below!

berries and oranges

My Hard Gainer Meal and Supplement Plans

In my last post, I discussed the workouts I do, how I do them, etc. This post will focus on what I’m eating, including vitamins and supplements and how I arrived at each of them.

Diet

The Train with Lyzabeth (TWL) program comes with a meal plan, which you select based on your own nutritional goals. I chose the muscle building plan, which focuses on building muscle and gaining weight appropriately and in a healthy way. Now, before I get into my meal planning, I just want to point out, this is by far my weakest link. I know I don’t eat perfectly well and I don’t even always meet my goals each day. I especially fall down when it comes to drinking enough water (I try for 48 ounces a day). But, I’ll share what I strive to do and how it mostly comes out each day!

In all the TWL meal plans there are instructions on how to figure out how many calories to eat daily, as well as what your breakdown of protein, carbs and fat should be. In a nutshell, you need to make sure you are eating at least as much as your body needs to sustain itself based on your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). You can calculate your BMR, then you build from there. So, for me, my BMR is around 1,143 calories per day since I’m so tiny. But, I’m trying to gain muscle and weight so my daily calorie intake, based on my activity level and goals is 2,400 calories a day.

Once you know your total calories, you then need to figure out your macros, or the percentage of protein, carbs and fat you need each day. Everyone’s formula is different depending on their goals. For me, I do 25 percent protein, 20 percent fat, 55 percent carbs. Yes, I’m carb heavy! For the longest time I was heavier on protein and fat, thinking it was healthier. Plus, it’s what everyone seems to do. But, I realized over time that I’m not everyone. I need the carbs for energy and to build. I don’t eat “bad” carbs (at least I try not to) but rather big healthy ones, such as couscous, pasta, rice, sweet potatoes and bagels. I’m in the “300 club” meaning I need more than 300 grams of carbs per day. It’s the only way I see any change to my shape and curves on my skinny frame.

One of the best ways to calculate the percentages is to get MyFitnessPal, which is a free meal tracking app. I use it strictly for meal tracking and not for fitness or anything else. It allows me to plug in total calories and then toggle to find the ratios of protein/carbs/fat. Plus, it tracks nutrients, too, so if you’re trying to keep your sugar intake down or make sure you get enough potassium, you can track that.

Actually, I am trying to keep sugar down to fewer than 50 grams per day but it’s SO hard to do. Sugar is in everything, particularly dairy, which I enjoy! The American Heart Association recommends 25 grams or less per day, which to me is crazy to think about! But, sugar has been proven to lead to diabetes and a whole host of other issues with our bodies.

So, I track everything I eat each day. I have the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, and I can access it online at work, as well. This helps me see if I need to add more protein or carbs to my daily intake to reach goals. Do I get there each day? Not always. But the more I meet my macros (the percentages line up), the more gains I can see on my body, as well. Part of my struggle and why I don’t follow Lopez’s eating plan to a “t” is that I have to feed my family and I have to afford groceries. Healthy eating can be expensive and difficult with picky children. Yes, these seem like excuses but they are my reality at the moment and my limitation. I may try to get on a more strict diet in the future but for now, I track and do my best!

Supplements

When you lift as much as I do, your body needs a little extra to sustain all that effort. This is my current supplement routine and what each thing is for:

C4 – I take four ounces of water and 3/4 scoop of C4 on the way to the gym each morning. It has caffeine in it and gives me the energy boost I need at such an early hour!

BCAAs – During my workout, I drink 28 ounces of water with a scoop of BCAAs, branched chain amino acids, which are protein building blocks that help your body with energy and muscle building/repair.

Protein and glutamine – After my workout, on my drive home, I drink eight ounces of water with a serving of protein powder and five grams of glutamine to help with muscle growth and prevent soreness.

Creatine – I cycle on and off to help with building muscle. Four weeks on, four weeks off.

Vitamins

I take a ton of vitamins but they are not all associated with my fitness routine. Some are simply to help with a host of health challenges I am facing as I age! But I’ll list them below and for the most part the reasons why I take them:

Biotin (to promote hair growth as I’m currently growing out a pixie cut)
Tumeric (overall health, particularly skin)
B complex (female health)
Vitamin D (because I am deficient without the extra)
Probiotics (helps with digestive health)
Fish oil (heart and skin health)
Magnesium (overall health and relaxation)
Ashwaganda (anti-anxiety herb)
Multivitamin with iron

I buy some of my vitamins on Amazon but most are available at your local grocery or drugstore. I just look at the labels to make sure there isn’t too much extra stuff in there that I don’t need!

Couple Tips for Success

I use Pinterest to find healthy recipes, as well as my newfound Instant Pot and associated cookbooks! I try to eat a variety of food each week, selecting different protein sources, pairing them with vegetables and carbs. We also tend to do at least one vegetarian meal a week.

We don’t eat out much at all. Maybe two to three times a month, we might do pizza or something. That’s it. It is easier to control what I eat when we cook at home. However, when we do go out, I try to pick restaurants and food combinations that match my goals.

I try to keep healthy snacks in the house, such as popcorn, yogurt and fruit. We also tend to enjoy ice cream, but for a hard gainer with three kids, that’s not exactly the worst snack in the world, in moderation!

I do enjoy my wine but have tried to keep it to a couple times a week instead of four to five. I usually only have one to two glasses over a long period of time from dinner until bedtime. While it’s not high in calories, alcohol causes other issues, including interrupted sleep, at least for me.

While we’re on the subject of sleep, I get seven to nine hours per night. I usually am in bed no later than 10.

What questions do you have about my meal/supplement/vitamin routine? Add them below!

dumbbells

My Hard Gainer Fitness Routine

As I mentioned earlier this week, my workout journey has been a long, winding road but I’m in a place now where I feel like sharing it might help others reach their own health and fitness goals. So, here I am.

Since finding Lyzabeth Lopez, I’ve been in a place where I finally feel like my formula is working. But, it was a long time getting there. In this post, I’ll share the fitness side of my formula. In upcoming posts, I’ll focus on calories/macros and tracking, as well as supplements. Plus, I’ll share how I eat (this is my weakest link, I think), and in another post, I’ll try to lay out how I’m staying on track with all this. I’m very consistent and I’d like to think it’s because of how I’ve set up my routine and my schedule. So, I’ll share that.

So, back to fitness. As I mentioned in my previous post, my first ever lifting workout (recently, anyway) was from Simply Shredded. It was a 12-week program. I think it was a success for me because of its simplicity. Essentially, the routine was a four-week one that you repeated three times. The first four weeks was high reps up to 15, the second was lower around 10 and the third was only about four to six. The idea was that you got used to the exercises at low weight, high rep and as you gained strength and confidence, you could lift heavier. By the end, I was shocked at how much I was able to bench press and squat. I did this one a few cycles through before finding Lopez.

Train with Lyzabeth

Lopez has two separate workout options. The first, Train with Lyzabeth (TWL), is a fitness and meal plan product that you pay for once and you have it for life. It’s pricey but she offers discounts and I found a discount code online when I purchased it for $50. It is well worth the money. Although her website is a bit clunky to navigate at first you will soon find it has everything you need, if you put in the time to review it all.

First of all, she has downloadable meal plans. You select the one you want so in my case it’s the muscle building plan. Most ladies go for the classic plan but she also has a vegan option and others that are geared toward more specialized nutrition needs. The cool part is you don’t have to stick with the one you purchase. She will let you try others once you’re in the group. I also have the vegan plan though I still haven’t tried it yet! I’ll explain the plans more in detail in a future post.

Since I’m focusing on the workouts in this post, I’ll share that she has both a downloadable pdf and an online version of the workout. The online version has the videos of her doing the exercises so you can learn how to do them, correct form, what to look out for, etc. What’s great is that it works very well on my phone. So, I just bring up the workout for the day right on my phone and follow along. This workout is actually a 20-day workout done three times in a row for three months. She programs five days a week but some girls do fewer days and it all works out in the end.

The workouts all have clever names but essentially, you do about two leg workouts a week and two to three upper body with abs and sometimes metabolic conditioning thrown in. Metabolic conditioning or METCON is a high intensity workout that gets your heart pumping but also builds muscle. She also advises that you should add cardio. Depending on your goals, you might do it once to three times a week and it looks different for various goals. For me, I’m trying to build so I do bike sprints which build your legs. Other ladies might do sprints or other types of cardio depending on what they’re trying to achieve.

And here is the first place where I’ve made the TWL program my own – I tend to only do one cardio a week, maybe two. I found when I did more than that I lost weight and/or had difficulty making gains. Lifting weights is work enough and I often get my heart rate up plus I’m an active person all day. So, the lack of a ton of cardio works for me.

TWL App

So, the second product from Lopez is a workout app she released fall 2017. I have a year subscription to that, as well. It’s cool because it allows for more flexibility and fun and you can’t possibly get bored. You still get your training videos but it’s easier to follow on your phone than her original program.

Equipment Needed

Over the past two years, I’ve learned what kind of equipment and items I need at the gym and how to adjust the workouts so I can get in and out in about an hour. I often do the exercises out of order to fit them in and sometimes I substitute other exercises when I don’t have access to something I need. Below is a list of equipment I have with links to the exact items, where appropriate:

I also use my phone to track the weights I’m using so I can constantly strive to lift heavier. I track this in my bullet journal, as well, which I’ll share more about in my post about tips for success. Lopez encourages tracking, as well, and her program comes with a downloadable tracking guide that you can pop into a three ring binder and use. I did that the first time through but found that the binder was too much and I do better keeping it with the rest of my life in a bullet journal.

I review the workouts the night before so I can familiarize myself with the exercises and figure out my game plan. Often, I watch her tutorial videos for the exercises once more to make sure I have the form down. The more I do the exercises the more comfortable I become. Plus, I find that going to the gym early in the morning, I see the same people and it’s not intimidating to me to be in the free weight area. I feel like the other people are family even though I barely know them. Some of them wave, others just keep to themselves. (I do a mix of both.)

But, I would say if you are truly scared to death about lifting a gym full of mostly men, try the app at home first and get used to the exercises. (The traditional, 20-day program really can’t be done at home.) Then, try the gym at a less busy time or find a partner to go with. Safety in numbers, right? Some other gym/home apps I’ve come across are below.

SWEAT

In between and since landing on my current routine, I’ve also been introduced to others, including the SWEAT app, which features Kayla Itsines and Kelsey Wells, as well as a yoga instructor. I tried it for a few workouts but it really wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the way it cycled through and it sort of felt like I was in a race. But, on the bright side, I did love the workouts Wells featured and have since been following her on Instagram. She posts workout videos and writes out her exercise routines in the captions of her posts. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of her workouts when I just want a little something different and off my routine.

Nike

One Saturday morning at the gym, I was there a bit later than usual and an older woman nearby seemed to be doing a similar workout app to Lyzabeth Lopez! I got a little excited thinking there was a comrade! But, when I asked her, she told me she was doing the Nike app, a free app that has dozens of workout routines, depending on your interest and level. What I like about this one is that it allows you to try a workout app to see if you like workout this way. It has all the key features of a good fitness app, including videos to show you how to do the exercises, timers, a search feature and a save feature. I still go to this app every once in a while when I just need a quick yoga routine or ab workout.

The Yoga Collective

Some of the ladies in the TWL group shared a Groupon with me for a year’s subscription to The Yoga Collective for just $12 so I purchased it. I have only been using it a short while but so far, it appears to be a great way to get a good yoga workout in at home. I will say it’s challenging for me to find the space and quiet time to do it but it’s there for when I figure that out! Here and there I’ve followed countless other routines that I find on social media or in magazines.

Couple Extra Tips for Success

I am very focused on form with my lifting. I watch the videos carefully and I try hard to emulate exactly what the trainer is doing. It has also been effective for me to really think about the muscles I’m using, because it focuses on them, consistent with correct form and building the muscle in the most efficient way.

It’s also recommended that you take lots of selfies along the way. This helps you see your own progress. Have you ever noticed that when you see someone every day you may not notice they are losing or gaining weight? But, someone you hardly ever see, you can definitely see changes right away? Well, that’s why pictures help. Now, I am very uncomfortable taking my own selfies and I hardly ever do it but every once in a while I try. Here are two I’ve taken recently – one last month and one just this morning. As you can see, I’m not great at photos! But, it’s supposed to help so I try!

What else do you want to know about my fitness routine? Comment below and I’ll answer! Or, if you have a great routine you follow, please share!

green-kettlebells

Wine for Sharing My Workout Journey – Part 1

A few years ago I became very interested in fitness again. I say again because back in college was when I first got the lifting bug. I would go to the SUNY Geneseo gym with my friend who taught me a ton of exercises. I figured some out on my own, as well, from watching others and I logged countless miles on the Stairmaster, which in the 1990s was all the rage.

When I first graduated from college, I continued to go to the gym but I mostly did the machines and not too many free weights at all. I’m not even sure what routine, if any, I followed because I honestly don’t remember back that far! But, I recall at least going every day after work.

As the years went by I continued to go every day and a couple years before Maria was born I met and worked with my first personal trainer. His name was Tony and he owned a tiny gym associated with a physical therapy place in Liverpool. Tony was a former trainer for the New York Yankees and he was awesome. He would just wander around the small gym offering tips and tricks and his ab workouts were amazing. When he sold his gym I continued to go, paying for my very first personal training sessions. That’s when it began – my love affair with weightlifting.

I had kids, went through lots of personal stuff and got out of my routine but when Christopher turned two or thereabouts, the new Y opened near our house and I went back. I quickly remembered all of what I loved about weightlifting but there was one thing missing – I needed a roadmap – a journey, and a goal – a destination. I loved going but didn’t know what to do with myself once there. Plus, I really wanted to look better. I was tired of looking so skinny all the time. I wanted a few curves!

I began to voraciously read everything I could online about lifting for women. I knew what my goals were and I Googled relentlessly trying to find the magic formula. I searched Pinterest looking for workouts and recipes and I started following everyone I could find on social media for inspiration. The first lifting workout I landed on was pinned by Jersey Girl Talk, a 30-something professional woman in New Jersey who blogs about fitness, health and beauty. She shared a bit about her own journey and as I read her experience it was like looking in a mirror. I, too, was sick of being skinny. I, too, wanted to look and feel better. So, I tried the workout she shared from Simply Shredded. For the first time ever, I was growing muscles! I was so proud of myself and that summer I regained my confidence and wore short shorts again for the first time in years.

Jersey Girl Talk ended up becoming my primary motivator and educator for the months that followed. She would post workout videos, recipes and supplement regimens, all of which I tried. She would post about sales on workout gear and I found a few stores I never knew sold activewear, such as Forever 21, and I bought new clothes that made me feel feminine and strong.

Everything was giving me confidence and I was thrilled. I even read a few books on lifting for women, including “The New Rules  of Lifting for Women,” which was a bible of all the exercises and things to know. Honestly, lifting as a female is really no different than it is for a male. We all have our goals and the path to get there is a similar road. Everything was going great that first year until…I hit a plateau. I was bored. I wasn’t gaining. I wasn’t even feeling that great. So, back to the drawing board I went and lo and behold, one day I stumbled onto a website that has changed my life, literally.

I searched for “workout plans for hard gainers” one day, after learning that was what the fitness world called people like me who have trouble gaining muscle and weight. One thing led to another and I found Lyzabeth Lopez, a personal trainer with dozens of health and fitness certifications, based in Toronto, Canada. She had an online program that was perfect. After locating a coupon I purchased it for $50. It’s a one-time purchase that has paid great dividends so far – I now have a formula for success, her Muscle Gain program, which is a combination of a workout and meal plan. What’s more, I’ve found my “people,” and I’ve found something that works that I have not gotten bored with – I feel better than I have in years.

In my next few posts, I’ll explain all that I’ve learned from Lyzabeth, including how to set your goals, how to figure out how many calories are right for you to eat each day and what percentage of protein, carbs and fat you should have. I’ll explain how I arrived at my vitamin and supplement regimen, and what I’m striving for in terms of meals. Finally, I’ll explain how I became addicted to my 5:30 a.m. gym time, what I do and how I do it.  I don’t simply preach what Lyzabeth says, but I’ve made it my own. I don’t even follow every single one of her rules, some because I can’t and others because it won’t work for me personally. I’ll explain how I figured all of that out.

Why do these posts now? In the past week, two women in my life, both on different health and fitness journeys, have marveled at how much I know about health and fitness and bodybuilding for women. One said I really should consider sharing it more widely for others. So, here I am.

One rule of Lyzabeth’s that I break? I enjoy wine. She doesn’t condone it much at all, except maybe for special occasions. And, while I’m on a bit of a break from wine during Lent, my husband and I are treating Sundays as the feast days they are, and have chosen to enjoy wine on Sundays. Today, I’ll make my famous eggplant parmesan and we’ll enjoy a yummy Barolo he picked up. Because I believe we all have to have the things we enjoy in life. I believe we can, and can still meet our health and fitness goals. It just might take us a bit longer! Cheers!