What if Exercise Isn’t Enough?

In the words of Functional Movement Systems, we need to “Move well  move often.” 

With the world-wide growth booming about 10 years ago, we saw a resurgence back into fitness.  Once again, fitness was become mainstream, being shown on ESPN, put into little clips on social media, and people were starting to exercise (and move) more again.

But what if exercise isn’t enough?

That would be a damn shame, wouldn’t it?

Because as coaches, we’ll show you how exercise can be enough.  It can make every aspect of your life better from your flexibility, strength, performance, flexibility, to your happiness and well-being, mood, etc.  In turn, with your happier mood and newfound confidence, exercise could help make you a better person, or help boost your career, or tackle new tasks.  Exercise will also help you lose weight!

There isn’t much that exercise can’t do – so why are we continuing to lose the battle towards disease and weight gain?

Now, more than ever, our nation is reporting the highest weights of overweight and obesity (these are now stemming down into teens), heart disease, diabetes, and everything else under the sun.

To an extent, it may be safe to say we’re losing the battle.

I’m sure you can I could come up with a list of thousands of reasons why this his happening.  We’ll agree on most of them, and agree to disagree on some, but the point is we can find a lot of them.

As coaches, maybe we missed something here.  Every day we’re given an opportunity to better our knowledge through top-notch certifications regarding strength training, movement patterns, mobility, nutrition coaching, and several more. 

We’re smarter than we have ever been.  We have more access than ever before.  More options to choose from, with new ones coming at you every day.

Yet, we’re still not helping the majority of our population.

Maybe we missed a step…Maybe we forgot to be neat and talk about NEAT.

You know, the Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis?!

Oh, you don’t know what NEAT is?  Well, let me explain…

If EAT (your Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is all the calories you burn from exercising, NEAT is all the calories you burn from moving around, but not through exercise.

So, walking the dog, taking the stairs, parking far away from the store entrance, taking the long way to the bathroom or water fountain, etc all add up to your NEAT.

NEAT is a sum of all the activity you are doing OUTSIDE of scheduled or purposely planned exercise.  Intentionally scheduled and completed exercise goes under your EAT category, and here’s the kicker: your EAT doesn’t add up to nearly the amount of daily energy expenditure (calories burned) as NEAT does (unless, of course, you’re spending +4 hours in the gym every day exercising…and if you’re not competing for something big like the Olympics, then we should talk, ‘cause that ain’t right).

Your BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate, which is basically what your body burns at rest.  In other words, it’s what your body burns from just being you if you were to do absolutely nothing.  It’s your baseline.  In terms of your energy expenditure each day, this is also known as Resting Energy Expenditure (REE).

TEF is the Thermic Effect of Food, which is the calories you burn from eating food.  Yep!  Your body has to use energy aka burn calories to break food down into your digestive system, BUT this really only happens with whole foods, particularly protein.  If you’re eating highly processed, or fake foods, your body can whip through those no problem so you’re not really getting any major effect from TEF.

The combination of TEF, NEAT, and EAT make up your Non-Resting Energy Expenditure, or NREE.

REE + NREE = TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure aka the calories your burn each day).

Here’s a chart from thesportsedit.com that puts it all together:

As you can see from the chart above, EAT (your intentionally planned exercise) doesn’t add up for much of your overall energy expenditure.  NEAT is higher.

In other words, you’ll burn loads (maybe even boatloads!) of more calories every day by focusing on your NEAT!

Here’s a few other quick examples of NEAT:

  • Have a step goal (more than what you’re currently doing)
  • Park further away from the doors at stores, restaurants, and events
  • Walk during your lunch break, or take a walk every day (walk your dog(s))
  • Take the long way every time you go to the cafeteria, or bathroom, or to grab a coffee or water
  • Don’t use drive through ordering…ever
  • Get a standing desk
  • Take the stairs
  • Do more lawn work our work outside the house
  • Pick up a new hobby that involves some movement (lawn work, mowing, even dancing for some)

I promise, if you focus on your NEAT, you’ll see an enormous benefit not only in your weight loss efforts, but overall health.  We need to capture this moment because our lack of NEAT and priority of electronics and devices could be a major reason why we’re losing this battle.

That, and the simple fact that most of us are incredibly distractable from doing valued, meaningful work (you know, the stuff we shy away from by burying our heads in our phones or Netflix show that will later give us more anxiety).

By focusing some of your efforts towards NEAT, you’ll burn more calories each day and boost your health.  This usually shows a lot of promise for everyone, especially those stuck in a weight loss plateau.

However, that doesn’t mean that EAT isn’t effective.  In fact, EAT shows more long-term, sustainable results towards calorie burning and over health as well as provides us with our toned muscles, strong joints and bones, and longevity.

That means it would be wise of you to make sure your EAT is giving you the best bang for your buck.  It should have components of strength training, aerobic (cardio) work, flexibility, and more.  This is obviously something that’s right up our wheelhouse here at Unity Fitness, where we design customized programs for all our members – servicing you with the best bang for your buck in an effective and efficient program.

In conclusion, I feel like the fitness industry has jumped on the rocket ship of growth and it’ll keep on delivering.  As coaches, we’re undoubtedly extremely passionate about what we do.  Most of us LOVE strength training, but I think our love and eagerness to do the next best exercise has missing some of the “big rocks”, like NEAT.

That doesn’t mean all coaches are like that, but from my perspective, there’s more that are that aren’t.

Don’t forget about your NEAT.  It’s a game-changer in your program, regardless of the goal.  Furthermore, most, if not all, of your NEAT activities will result in fat-burning as well – another WIN!

As much as I love seeing our members every day and watching people better their lives and push their bodies, I also love to know you’re taking care of business OUTSIDE of the gym.

You and I both have the same 24 hours in a day.  We may have an EAT of 3-5 hours per week.  That leaves us with 163-165 hours outside of the gym that we need to create structure and systems and routines to help ourselves.  NEAT is built within that structure.

In a world where exercise is more popular than ever, we’re also showing that exercise may not be enough.

NEAT for the win! Move well, and move often!

10 Ways to Bulletproof Your Body… at Home!

Getting injured is the worst. Seriously. There’s no way to sugar coat it. It’s not fun, we may have to spend time at the doctor, scale back training sessions, or even take some time off. When we’re looking to be in a solid routine with training, it often feels like a step backward when we’re injured.

Some injury is often unavoidable. This typically is a result of an accident: falling on an icy sidewalk, cutting a finger while chopping vegetables, or breaking a bone playing sports. But others may be able to be prevented. These often occur over time and unnoticed, until they become an issue. This can include: chronically tight muscles, stress fractures, and movement deficiencies that may cause pain when we load them in the gym. For example, if you have a poor squat pattern, but we allow you to use weight anyway or go past your personal limits, this may cause injury that could’ve been avoided. By incorporating some small movement habits daily, we’re often able to both prevent and lessen the effects of injury.

EXOS, a premiere human performance company, refers to this as regeneration. It is partnered with recovery. Recovery is passive. Without doing anything, recovery in the body will occur. Muscles will repair, heart rate will return to resting levels, and the body will, once again, be in a place of balance, or homeostasis. By utilizing regeneration strategies, we’re actively working to promote and encourage recovery and optimization of movement. These regeneration strategies may help speed up the natural recovery process. Today, I want to talk about ten ways that you can bulletproof your body, recovery faster, and lessen the risk of injury from home with minimal (or zero!) equipment.

  • Doorway Pec Stretch: If you have a desk job, you likely spend time hunched over work, a computer screen, with your arms crossed in front of you, etc. This shortens the pecs and leads to tight shoulders, overall. When we can’t open up the chest, but then go to perform exercises such as a push up or chest press, it can lead to some nasty shoulder issues. One way that we can head this off is to use a Doorway Pec Stretch. This opens up the chest and shoulder, allowing you to stretch the tight muscles.
  • T-Spine Opener: Any movement will do, I’ll link a few below with some “how to videos”, but hand-in-hand with our tight pecs and chest, we likely have a tight t-spine or upper back. I used to have minimal t-spine mobility. Seriously, check out the picture. But, by using these drills multiple times per day, I was able to loosen it up and now I’m fairly mobile in that area and move well. Options for t-spine extension and rotation drills are: the bow and arrow, Bretzel 1 or 2, open book, or shoulder sweeps. Start slow with this one and gradually reach for more and more of a stretch.
  • Deep Breathing: We breath every single day, but chances are they’re shallow, chest breaths. We often aren’t conditioned to take those big, deep, belly breaths unless we’re consciously focusing on it. Deep breathing can be done in the morning, right when you wake up, or in the evening, as you’re lying in bed going to sleep at the end of the night. At night, it can be used to relax and optimize sleep, which I’ll talk about more later. As we deep breathe, we want to make sure that our stomach rises first, and our chest rises last. We’re breath in through the nose, pause with that full inhale for 1-2 seconds, and slowly exhale through the mouth. Again, we’ll pause 1-2 seconds after the exhale before taking a second breath. Try to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. Aim for a more than 10 second long exhale!
  • Counter-Top Lat and T-Spine Stretch: Our latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the large muscles on our back and the t-spine, as I covered earlier, refers to our mid-back. If you notice yourself in a hunched forward posture while sitting at your desk or working on the computer, these are likely tight. This counter top lat stretch is perfect for when you’re waiting for food to be done in the microwave or during the last few minutes of cooking on the stove top. Set your timer just a few minutes before the food is done, or stay in the kitchen while you microwave, and use your countertop to stretch the mid-back and lats. Then, shake it out, serve the food, and eat your dinner! It’s one extra step, but by building it into your nightly routine, you’re less likely to forget to do it.
  • Half-Kneeling Couch Stretch: This is a GREAT hip flexor and quad stretch. Instead of sitting on the couch at the end of the day and allowing our hip flexors to stay shortened and tight, as they might’ve been if you were sitting at a desk all day at work, spend some time in this half-kneeling couch stretch. It’s a passive stretch; once you’re in the position, just hang out there on each side while you’re watching TV or scrolling on your phone at the end of the day.
  • Toe Yoga: Our feet are our connection to the ground. They’re the start of the base that we move from throughout the day and during our training sessions. It’s vital that we take care of them. One way that we can do this is with toe yoga. Simply, toe yoga is moving your feet around. As you start, just move them. Walk around barefoot, flex and point your feet, roll a golf ball on the bottom of your feet to loosen the muscles. As you want to progress, there are a variety of patterns you can perform: big toe down/little toes all up, big toe up/ little toes down, big and pinky toes down/ other toes up, spreading our (or splaying) the toes, and “running” the toes (think about how you would drum your fingers on a desktop, one down at a time and then back up). Give it a shot seated, standing, balancing on one leg… the options are endless!
  • Teeth-brushing Ankle Mobility: Ankle mobility is highly underrated, and chances are, we could all work to improve it. As you’re brushing your teeth, you’re likely standing in front of the bathroom mirror and you have the cabinet. We can use this time to do a version of the standing ankle mobility stretch. Start with your toe on the wall and tap your knee forward. Keeping your heel on the ground, move your foot further and further away from the wall until you reach a point when it’s difficult to touch and you feel a stretch in your front ankle. Move in and out of that stretch or just hold it on each side for the length that you brush your teeth!
  • Neck Nods and Turns: If you’re like me, you hold stress in your neck. Seriously, I would say, on average, I live a fairly low stress life, and whenever the littlest bit of stress comes up, I can immediately feel it in my neck and upper traps. Incorporating neck nods and turns as made a huge difference in loosening my neck and allows me to make a conscious choice to release the stress and tension that I’m holding there. To perform these, sit or stand tall and punch your hands toward the ground. We want to make sure that our shoulders don’t do the moving. Then, tuck the chin to the chest and think about reaching through the chin as you look up and down. Repeat looking over the left and right shoulders as well.
  • Optimize Your Sleep: Although sleep is passive recovery, the benefits of quality sleep are numerous. I couldn’t possible name them all without taking a full article to explain each. However, I’ll leave it with: quality sleep is absolutely vital and I encourage you to check out this article for more (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-sleep). Some ways we can change our environment to set ourselves up for a quality night’s sleep are: going to bed and waking up around the same times every day, keep the room completely black, use a white noise device or fan, practice relaxation or deep breathing prior to going to bed, avoiding blue light at least an hour before bed, keep the room slightly cooled (between 66-72F is ideal), and avoiding caffeine at least six hours before bed time.
  • Foam Rolling: I tried to keep it to no equipment, but I can’t not include foam rolling. Although true research is mixed, there’s numerous anecdotal benefits to including foam rolling in your daily routine. It allows you to break up tight knots in tissue and may promote more blood flow, thereby enhancing recovery, of tissues as well. The only downside is that it does require a foam roller, or other self-myofascial release tool. Good news, these aren’t too expensive and last for years.

There you have it! Ten ways to bulletproof your body from the comfort of your own home. They’re not complicated and don’t take a lot of time, minimal or no equipment is required, you don’t have to change in the special clothes, you likely won’t even break a sweat, but they can make all the difference in your movement, training, and reducing the risk of potential injuries!

Written by Emily O’Connor, NSCA-CPT, SFG1, Pn1, XPS

A Decade to Remember, and Another to Envision

It’s December 2019 and we’re on the cusp of the next decade.  There’s a lot that’s happened in the 10 years of my life that has put me in my position today.

If I think back to the beginning of 2010, that was right around the time when I was starting to take my fitness and strength training routine a little more seriously.

It was also right around the time I started taking school a little more seriously, doing my best to get through my undergrad by the end of that year and onto the “figuring-out-what-I’m-going-to-do-for-the-rest-of-my-life stage”.

But if I look back on it now, there’s several key moments that happened that ultimately led me to where I’m at today.

I also have the benefit of being more in 1988, which is closer to the end/start of a decade.  Therefore, each new decade represents the next 10-year chunks of my life.  The 2000’s represented my teens, the 2010’s represented my young adulthood, and now the 2020’s will represent my 30’s.

I can look back on the decades and separate them out by my own 10-year age groups.

So, as we enter in the new decade, I ask what are some of the big moments of the last 10 years that really stood out for you?  What do you remember about the last 10 years?  Your heartaches?  Your accomplishments?

There’s a list that I have to look back on:

  • I graduated with my undergrad from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a Bachelor’s in Physics w/Biomedical Concentrations and basically a class away from a minor in German and Math
  • I went back to school, through independent study, taking graduate classes through the Physical Therapy and Biomedical curriculum
  • Started a hard rock band and played our first how on 11/11/11 at The Warehouse here in La Crosse, WI and opened for a band that I was a HUGE fan of (These Hearts) – to say I was gushing at the opportunity is an understatement
  • I became certified as a personal trainer and then started my job as a personal trainer at a local gym here in La Crosse (which I took as my first “big boy” job) on November 30th, 2011
  • Started dating my girlfriend, Mandy
  • Got my first dog, an English Bulldog named Maximus Decimus Meridius
  • Became ordained and married one of my best friends to his wife
  • I started my own gym, Unity Fitness, in late June 2015
  • Married another couple, the son of a co-worker from the first gym I worked at ?
  • Got a French Bulldog to give Max some company, and we named her Millicent Mae Meridius
  • Bought a house with Mandy
  • Got my dream car (a Jeep Wrangler)
  • Got another Frenchie, Montana Dustin Meridius
  • Several certifications, thousands of hours of continuing education hours, helping hundred and hundreds of people, we’re here approaching year 5 of opening our doors
From left to right: Millicent, Max, and Montana

There’s been plenty of positives, but that comes with the negatives along the way.  I lost my grandfather, my hero, earlier this decade.  There’s a lot of him that lives through me.  Some of it’s with intention, some of it now, but I’m unbelievably proud and honored to say it either way.

All these points bring me to my main point: what is in store for your next decade?  What are you planning for?  When we reach 2030, what do you want to look back on?

If you would have talked to me 10 years ago, I knew I wanted to own a gym someday.  It doesn’t look quite like Unity (mostly because we’re not quite there in our planning…yet ? ), but it was super similar in values and philosophy.

There some stuff that has happened that I have deliberately and intently planned for.  There are other things that haven’t.

The big thing is I am right where I am supposed to be, just like you are right where you are supposed to be.

We can look back on a lot of choices we made through the last 10 years and wonder what could have been.  Or, you can start taking more ownership right now and getting to where you want to be in the next 10 years (assuming you’re not there yet, of course).

Through all of this, my fitness routine really drove me into the transition of the last 10 years and what we were able to accomplish.  And to think it all started in an apartment floor during the summer of 2010 with one of my best friends as we took on and completed P90X.

My buddy Scott and I still talk about that summer.  It lives with me because I think that lit a fire to where I am now.  Obviously, fitness has been a major part of my life, otherwise why in the world would I start a gym?  But fitness has helped me gain confidence, stay positive and happy, and gives me a refreshing look at life each time I am challenged through a movement and/or goal.

This is an opportunity for you to look ahead to 2020 and beyond.  Take a look at your current vision, next-year vision, and 5-year vision and beyond.

What skills do you need in your life to succeed?  Who do you need to talk to?  Who do you need to hire?  What do you need to change?

The time is now.  The new decade is here.  And it’s pretty darn exciting!

Tried and True Meal Prep Tips

I have been meal prepping for years. I remember having college roommates who didn’t totally understand why my space in the fridge would be jam-packed with food, and I’m sure there were times that I annoyed them when I took up a few spaces too many. But it was worth it. While I love having a fresh meal, leaving early in the morning and getting home late at night doesn’t always make that possible. It’s been years of trial and error, but I’ve complied the best of my meal prep tips and tricks to have a successful meal prep and stay on track with your health and fitness goals!

Now, these aren’t going to focus much on food choices, but I want to add in my thoughts before I get into it. Following generally healthy eating is going to be crucial to any health and fitness goal. When we build our diet to be made up of 80% whole, nutrient dense, minimally processed foods, we’re able to then add in those more fun foods the other 20% of the time. When I meal prep, it’s nearly ALWAYS within the 80%. I save the 20% for meals out with friends or family, fun new recipes that I may find for the weekends, and baking. (I love baking almost as much as I love cooking and, if I’m baking, there’s not many healthy swaps there!) With that being said, let’s get into the tips.

1. Plan, plan, plan.

When I played soccer in high school, our coach used to tell us “Proper planning prevents poor performance.” It was true in soccer, but also in meal prep. When we take time to plan,

Pick proteins first. For me, protein is the trickiest macronutrient. It’s tough to “grab-and-go” and many of our on the go options are shakes and bars. Personally, I try to keep these to a minimum and get as much of my protein from whole food sources as possible. So, with that, protein gets picked and prepped first. My meals are built based on the protein source. Some of my favorites are: chicken breast or boneless, skinless thigh, lean ground beef, venison, ground turkey and pork tenderloin.

Make a shopping list in the order of the grocery store. This is one of my favorite ways to reduce your time spent in the store, make sure you don’t forget anything, and avoid buying unnecessary items. If you have a go-to store, you likely know the order. If you don’t, this might take some practice. While you’re planning your meals, simply list the items in order of your walk through the store. I suggest lapping the perimeter, where the fruits, veggies, meat, and dairy is located. Then, only go down the aisles of things on your list. This way, it’s so easy to avoid accidentally going down that pesky chips, snacks, and cookies aisle!

2. It’s all about the seasoning.

These days, I usually eat the same thing. Seriously, when it comes to meal prep, don’t over complicate it. My meals consist of three things: a protein, a starchy carb, and veggies. However, they’re rarely seasoned the same. Let’s take a sample week of my two prepped meals: one was Teriyaki Bowls and the other was Buffalo Chicken Bowls. (What can I say? I like things in bowls.) But when I break it down, each is made of three foods from each group.

Teriyaki Bowls: Lean ground beef, quinoa, and peppers, onions, and sugar snap peas

Buffalo Chicken Bowls: Chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and broccoli and carrots

It’s foods from the three same categories and I simply change seasonings. Often, when we meal prep, we get caught up in searching for all new recipes when we really only need a new seasoning or sauce.

My favorite flavor combinations:

BBQ Rub Chicken Thigh: Boneless, skinless chicken thigh sprinkled with BBQ rub seasoning and cooked in a hot pan on the stovetop. Spray the pan so it doesn’t stick and start on med-low to cook through and finish with high heat to form a crust on the outside.

Crockpot Buffalo Chicken: Chicken breast, Frank’s Buffalo Sauce to cover, garlic, and black pepper in the crockpot on high for 4-5 hours (longer time if frozen). Shred and serve.

Teriyaki Ground Turkey: Lean ground turkey can be dry, so cooking it with some kind of liquid is crucial. Add turkey to a pan on the stove with some coconut aminos (or other low sodium soy sauce), a SMALL drizzle of honey, 1-2 of minced garlic, and ground ginger to taste. Cook turkey, breaking it into small pieces.

As you use different sauces and seasonings, make sure you’re watching the calories! With thick sauces, such as BBQ sauce, salad dressings, and other sweetened sauces, they can pack on the calories before you know it! Swap in rubs and dry seasonings when possible, or use lower calorie sauces such as mustard, salsa, and DIY marinades.

3. Changing cooking methods makes a whole new meal.

In addition to changing the seasoning, swapping out cooking methods creates an entirely new meal. Did you know that food manufactures put hundreds of thousands of dollars into research on the texture of their foods? Personally, I hate eating food that’s all the same texture – I need some variety! This is where different cooking methods come into the mix. We’re able to keep the same food while creating an entirely new meal experience. Let’s use a sweet potato as our example.

Bake it. Baked potatoes are great! While it takes some time to cook, we can cut them open and fill them with things. Pick a protein, some beans, sautéed peppers, a small sprinkle of cheese and you have a loaded sweet potato!

Sautee it. Shred it and lightly spray the pan with a cooking spray. Sautee and cook as “hash browns” to add to a breakfast bowl with sautéed veggies and eggs.

Roast it. Perhaps my go-to way of cooking, cutting sweet potatoes into squares and roasting them in the oven is a great way to prep potatoes in bulk for meals throughout the week.

Use a kitchen appliance. Using an air fryer, pressure cooker, crockpot, etc. is another way to prep in bulk and cook while not having to stand over a pan and constantly monitor!

4. Prep in bulk and combine into meals when you eat.

I used to prep all of my meals in meal containers. Single serving, grab and go, type meals. Just heat and eat, simple as that. However, lately, I’ve been keeping my food in bulk. For example, I’ll cook two proteins, two carb sources, and a few vegetable options. When I cook, I’ll keep them fairly plain on the seasoning, and add seasoning as I combine into meals later. This allows me to have different meals throughout the week by only making a variety of combinations.

This can also be used in family style meals! Kids won’t need the same amount of food as the adults and may not enjoy the same seasonings. Or maybe you’re in a challenge at Unity where we encourage dinner to be made of a lean protein and veggies, while your partner would like some more carbohydrate in their evening meal. When we have them prepped separately, they can be combined individually, and we’re not locked in to specific meals every single day or even the same meals for each person!

Here’s an example week of food and different meals.

For the week:

My proteins are ground turkey and chicken breast. My carbohydrates are potatoes and quinoa. My veggies are broccoli, peppers, and carrots.

Meal Idea 1: Ground turkey, quinoa, peppers, black beans, and salsa.

Meal Idea 2: Chicken breast, potatoes, and broccoli with a homemade teriyaki sauce

Meal Idea 3: Ground turkey, potatoes, and carrots with a BBQ sauce

Meal Idea 4: Chicken breast, quinoa, and peppers with taco sauce

5. Multitasking is key.

This goes hand in hand with planning, but multitasking is the true key to meal prep success. When we can get a handle on what we’re cooking and times for each, we’re able to greatly reduce the time we spend in the kitchen each week. This takes time, as well as trial and error.

When you’re planning meals, note the cooking time of each. For example, potatoes need to be roasted for a longer time than broccoli. Dice and season the potatoes first and put them in the oven to start cooking. Then, prep and season the broccoli and put it in after the potatoes have been cooking for some time. When you pull them out, they should be done close to the same time instead of cooking broccoli first and having it finish cooking before the potatoes!

Sometimes, I also split up meal prep into two sessions. I’ll wash and chop veggies right when I get them from the store. Then, when I have time to cook 1-2 days later, I only have to toss in the seasoning and combine. This is great, especially if you enjoy some raw veggies to snack on in the fridge! Before they’re cooked, you can snack on a few or save some to purposely snack on while you cook.

6. Sometimes it pays to pay for convenience.

My final meal prep tip is something that we see in the store, but we don’t often think about incorporating due to cost. The grocery store is filled with pre-prepped or easy to prep foods. They’re often sold at a premium compared to their un-prepped counterparts, so, if you’re like me, you leave them on the shelf and opt to do the prepping, chopping, and cutting yourself.

However, with the holidays approaching, chances are, we’re going to be busier than usual. It’s almost inevitable. These busy times are when pre-prepped foods can come in handy. When we’re short on time, spending a few extra dollars may be worth it to stay on track with your fitness goals. I often use these when I’m gone for the weekend. I’ll pick up just enough food to have for a day or two until I can get back to meal prep normally for the rest of the week. This way, I can stay on track and not be tempted to swing through a drive through on the way home from work.

My favorite products when I pick up pre-prepped food:

Protein first. What is your protein? Just as with regular meal prep, I plan everything around protein. I may plan to incorporate a shake for breakfast because I can keep fruit frozen and add in protein powder. Festival has a deli with pre-cooked chicken breast and salmon filets that I can use for salads or to heat up in a different meal.

Add in your veggies. The best place I’ve bought pre-cut and prepped veggies is Festival. They have rows of pre-cut, ready to cook vegetables that you can take and cook without the prep time! Heck, you can pick up a veggie tray and grab some hummus for a snack. Pre-cut and prepped foods that I’ve seen include potatoes, onions, a variety of veggies, etc. If you don’t even have time to cook, you can toss these into a salad with some lean protein!

Finish with a carbohydrate. One of my favorites, easy things to buy ahead of time and have on hand is microwave rice packets. These can be tricky; they’re packed with sodium. However, I’ve found some great options in the freezer section. They have frozen, partially cooked rice at nearly every grocery store. You can toss it in the microwave and have rice for meals in no time!

There you have it: my six tried and true meal prep tips. I’ve tested and used these over the years to have healthy food to grab and go at a moment’s notice. But at the end of the day, my final tip for your meal prep is to keep it simple. Eat 80% whole, minimally processed foods, focusing on lots of veggies and leaner protein. Cook what you enjoy eating and change your meals with seasonings, sauces, cooking methods, etc. Don’t over think it.

Do you have any meal prep tips? What are some of your favorite go-to meals? Send me an email, I’d love to chat!

Written by Emily O’Connor, NSCA-CPT, Pn1, SFG1 . You can contact Emily through email at emily@unityfitnesspro.com or follow her on Instagram @coachemilymeyer.

Stress Management: Overlooked and (Often) Under Appreciated

At Unity, we always work toward our goals in a multi-faceted approach. Getting into the gym and training, making sure our nutrition is in check, and sleeping and taking rest days from the gym are all easily noticeable to others around us as we make changes to our lifestyle. However, arguably the most important change comes from within. In general terms, it is our mindset. Mindset, as it relates to fitness goals, includes a multitude of areas. EXOS defines mindset as “approaching a situation or working toward a goal with a full understanding of what it requires to accomplish.” When we our mindset is dialed in, with our first priority goal at the top of mind, we truly enhance our experience on path toward our goals.

Kids, finances, body image, family, friends, moving, chronic illness, public speaking, working long hours, working at a job you don’t enjoy, taking care of an elderly family member, traumatic events… this list goes on and on. Have you discovered what these all have in common yet? These are included in the top causes of stress.

In the body, stress is represented by the hormone cortisol. Whether we’re encountering a perceived threat or training hard in the gym, the body interprets stress very similarly. That is to say, cortisol isn’t the enemy. However, chronically high levels of cortisol can be. When we have constant stressors, the body doesn’t leave its “fight-or-flight” response. It disrupts many processes in relation to fitness goals and may result in: digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.

At the end of the day, thankfully, no one is immune to stress.

“Back up, did she just say thankfully?” Yes, yes, I did. There is a moderate level of stress that is good in our lives. This may take the form of training sessions, deadlines, and even taking care of kids. Some positive responses to stress include being inspired, energized, motivated, focused, and alert. Following the stress of a workout, we recover, and stress signals our body to adapt and get stronger. However, too much stress can leave us feeling weak, worried, distracted, scattered, and disrupt hormones related to blood sugar regulation, immunity, metabolism, and sleep. At the same time, too little stress can leave us bored, unfocused, directionless, and lethargic. Each person will encounter stress, but we will all handle it in different ways. We need to find our personal sweet spot.

One of the first priorities is creating a positive mindset, especially when we encounter stress. This allows us to maximize these positive responses and decrease the negative responses. Stress is inevitable, but how we react to it can either make or break. To begin to change our reaction, we can use three easy steps: Identify. Pause. Reframe.

Identify the stressor. During this step, we acknowledge the cause of a particular stressor. These can take the form of either physiological or psychological. Physiological responses can include changes in breathing, racing heat, and physical pain or discomfort. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about losing our stripes, but these physical reactions can still be quite a burden! Psychological responses include thoughts or emotions that arise (anxiety, negativity, frustration, and anger).

Pause. Once we recognize that we’re stressed, take time to interpret the situation. Slow down before you react. Return to that “why” that caused you to begin to make the change in the first place. For example, a family party is scheduled last minute Sunday afternoon, right in the middle of your planned meal prep time. Knowing your “why”, and bringing it back to top of mind, will help with the next step.

Reframe and make a choice. Look at this stressor as something you can control. Locate the strategy and decide on the plan of action. Face the challenge directly and mindfully. Back to our family party. We can’t decide when the party is, but our meal prep has to happen. Perhaps finding another time that weekend and letting the party take the place of our Saturday night off. That way we’re able to fully enjoy time with family while still staying true to our goals. Shifting some tasks around may stray from a typical routine, but it allows us to keep practicing our core habits. This consistency over the long term is where we will find success in our fitness goals!

This three-step process is just one way to approach a particular stressor. We can also work to reduce overall stress in a variety of ways. One of my favorites is practicing daily gratitude. This started as a Christmas gift from my mom. We each got a journal to write three things we’re grateful for daily. From there, I kept going. I moved it to a word document. And it grew even further. On days when I have more time, I’ll go beyond simply listing what I’m grateful for and consider why. I’ll list as many reasons why I’m grateful for that listed item as I can come up with. Then, when I’m faced with that inevitable stress, I can think about those things for which I’m grateful for and decrease some of that initial stress response.

Other stress management techniques include: time away from technology, coloring, meditation, spending time outdoors, reading, the list goes on and on! Mindset, beginning with stress management, should be just as important as meal prepping, scheduling training sessions, and sleeping. As I said earlier in the article, everyone has stressors in their lives, but everyone also manages it differently. Those who take time to reflect and create a positive mindset, despite their stress, are those who will crush their fitness goals. I challenge you to stop overlooking it and appreciate the small amount of stress this coming week. Take the time to identify, pause, and reframe or try any of the other stress management techniques listed.

Written By: Emily O’Connor, NSCA-CPT, SFG1, Pn1