This is the second part of the article about doing better at martial arts through healthy eating (and also look good naked).
In the first part of this article, I listed the rules and principles I live by nowadays – a change of lifestyle that took me from being fairly fit to feeling and looking great. Getting fitter purely from improving my eating habits helped me take my martial arts to a higher level and gave me an edge while I was undergoing the trials involved in getting my black belt.
In this second part I will be going through what measures I took to change things around. I’m hoping you will find it helpful, and that it saves you time as well as enables you to make the changes stick. Everyone is different though, so find your own way.
Also, there won’t be any links to fat loss programs, diet packages or any such ‘easy’ solutions in this article – better for you to educate yourself and then take matters into your own hands.
Principle – Awareness
If you want to make a project out of this, here’s what I did:
- Take note of square one by taking a ‘Before’ picture and noting down starting weight and waist measurement
- If monitoring your weight, get a decent scale. Make sure that you weigh yourself under the same circumstances every time (for example, as soon as you get up in the morning) to get a consistent view of your situation.
- Set up a food log and note down everything you eat and when. I set up an Excel spreadsheet that maps out every day’s meals and snacks, along with the day’s training and other notes. Then I rated everything by colour, so that it’s more apparent how good a day or week has been.
- An alternative to the food log would be to sign up at http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ (thanks for the tip, moxyjen)
- Decide your end goal, and then set up milestones on the way there. When you reached a milestone, such as hitting a certain weight or being able to do 10 chin-ups, reward yourself – you’ve earned it. Note that the reward isn’t necessarily food oriented – it can be buying new martial arts gear, or getting a massage etc.
- Set up a motivational image on your desktop background, or print it out and stick it to your mirror. Anywhere where you’ll keep seeing it, reminding you to stay the course.
- In order to keep part of your focus on your eating habits, keep a nutrition based magazine or book in your bag. Even if you don’t read it that often, seeing it every now and then will remind you of the importance of staying healthy.
Principle – Cooking
The whole cooking business was a challenge to me, as I normally got a full schedule every day. So the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is to cook. Make it easier for yourself by investing in some basic gear, but do yourself a favour and get decent quality stuff as it pays off over time.
- Set of quality knives and a knife sharpener
- Non-stick pans and pots (so much easier to clean up). I am deeply fond of my grill pan as it’s superbly versatile.
- General cooking utensils such as chopping board, measuring set, can opener, sieve, timer, blender and so on
- An armoury of spices (including chilli flakes)
- Get a bowl for tossing salad and vegetables so you’re sure (or at least more likely) to wash away any bad stuff
- Low-carb protein powder and a shaker. Find a brand and taste you like, then buy in bulk to save cash.
- Water jug or bottle (make sure it’s BPA free). May want to buy one that filters the water for you.
- Containers for lunch, snacks etc.
I was also a bit of a one-trick pony – apart from my kick-ass tortillas, I couldn’t really cook anything. By sticking to the recipes in the magazines I read, I took the plunge and tried my hand at the recipes one at a time. After a while you get the hang of it and gain more confidence. In the end you will find yourself freestyling while still sticking to the eating guidelines. Don’t be afraid to mess up, you learn as you go! Trust me when I say that if I can do it, then so can you.
Principle – General
In addition to the kitchen gear, there are a few other general things to keep in mind:
- Keep multivitamins with you in your bag or office drawer, and have one a day
- Pure water is boring as hell – feel free to flavour it yourself with a slice of lemon or lime. Myself, I add a pinch of dried Goji berries in the glass to give it some zing.
- Keep your water bottle filled and within sight, as it makes you more likely to keep drinking
- Snacks should be kept near, but not where you can see them. Having a bowl of nuts in front of you will make you more likely to munch away and have too much. Instead, try to follow the times you’ve set for your snacks – and if you need more, then your body will tell you so.
- Eggs make for great snacks, and can be stored. When it’s snack time, boil up 3 eggs – have one straightaway and put the other two in the fridge for later (about one per day is fine).
- Stay the hell away from deep fried foods and pastries – they often contain trans fat, which is pure evil.
Principle – Metabolism
In addition to eating something healthy every 2.5 hour or so, consider the below:
- Caffeine ramps up the metabolism but get it through natural drinks suchs as coffee (espresso) or green tea. Stay away from fizzy drinks such as coke as it clogs up your system.
- Drinking water also adds to keeping your metabolism running
- Stay away from juices, as the content is quickly taken up by your body which leads to your blood sugar spiking. Have the whole fruit instead!
- Spice up your life – apart from adding kick to a bland meal without adding calories, spicy food raises your metabolism. Personally, I find that chilli flakes go well on most things.
- Set up a snack stash at work/school. My office drawer has a ready supply of protein bars, nuts and dried fruit that keeps me away from the chocolate bars and such.
- Keep a mini stash on you to be prepared for the unexpected. I keep a small protein bar or two in my bag for whenever there is a change of plans.
Principle – Convenience
A big problem with making any positive changes stick is that they normally require more work, so it’s common to really give it a go at first but then as your motivation drops you start to skip out. Soon enough you’re back to your old habits. Try to make it more feasible by making it as convenient as possible for yourself:
- Plan ahead – do a big batch of cooking on the weekend, and freeze what you can for later in the week
- Rather than writing a shopping list, just photograph the recipe of what you will be cooking. It should give you enough of an idea of what you need to buy from the store.
- Buying groceries, cooking and cleaning up can be really taxing. See if you can make a deal with your partner or flatmate to share the load – the other person can clean up and do the dishes, and you can buy groceries and do the cooking.
- Get the majority of the groceries on the weekend, then go for a ‘top-up’ trip to the supermarket midweek for the fresh stuff so they don’t spoil during the week.
- When the cravings for sweets hit you hard, make sure you’ve had a proper meal before you go for any kind of treats.
- For the times when you’re just too damn tired to cook, keep some vegies and fish in the freezer that can be steamed in the microwave. It is quick, relatively healthy and is easy to clean up. Maybe not the ultimate health meal, but still much better option than ordering pizza.
- Do your household chores as soon as you get home. That way your chances of getting to bed at a decent hour are higher.
The Secret Ingredient
The ultimate tool in effectively making changes to your lifestyle – is discipline, pure and simple. As a martial artist, you should condition your mind as well as your body as not all battles are fought on the physical plane. We all have our inner demons such as sloth, gluttony, apathy… but where others can get away with it, we cannot allow ourselves to turn a blind eye to our adversaries.
Take a hard look at yourself and be brutally honest – are you constantly making excuses to justify bad habits? Do you have a tendency to victimise yourself, and blame the circumstances for every poor choice you make? Face up to your less favourable side, and grab the wolf by the ears! Learn to say No to yourself, and to know when enough is enough. It is time you hardened yourself up and rose above your cravings, your urges and your desires. Steel yourself with principles and stay true to your rules, and you will not only improve your eating habits but also strengthen your own willpower and character in the process.
Hope this helps. Let me know in the comments section if you have any tips of your own!