6 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Workout
After an intense strength-training session at the gym this weekend, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
I’d made it through a challenging new routine and I’d upped my weight on a couple of exercises. All was good. I figured I’d take the next logical step and refuel my muscles with a healthy, balanced snack: a banana, peanut butter protein shake, also known as a “Velvet Elvis” at my gym’s smoothie bar.
At first glance, the stats on this blend looked good. It was listed as 350 calories and consisted of non-fat yogurt, non-fat milk, protein powder, peanut butter and bananas. Hmm, sounds ok, right?
A few minutes of inquiry quickly proved that this was no more than a gloried milkshake. The “non-fat yogurt” was actually non-fat vanilla frozen yogurt, meaning it’s packed with added sugar. The peanut butter was measured with an ice cream scoop, shoveling in about 4 tablespoons — almost 2 times a recommended serving.
A quick tally in my head revealed that this “healthy protein shake” was probably more like 600-700 calories, not 350. That’s way more energy than I needed to properly refuel
Many people already know to be wary of calorie-bomb smoothies at places like Jamba Juice, but you wouldn’t expect to be deceived at the very place you go to get fit.
That’s the moral of this post. It’s easy to accidentally sabotage your workout with seemingly beneficial behaviors.
Here are the top six things people do, unwittingly, that negatively affect their workout.
1. Not properly fueling beforehand.
Just like putting gas in a car, you need to fuel your body before a workout. Proper eating pre-exercise will prevent plunging blood-sugar levels and keep you alert and energized. But choosing the right kind of fuel is key. During exercise, and especially weight-lifting, your body breaks down glucose for energy, meaning pre-loading with complex carbohydrates is ideal. Aim for about 100 calories an hour prior to exercise.
My favorite snack: a banana. Check out this article for more great pre and post workout snack ideas >>
2. Forgetting to properly hydrate beforehand.
In order to workout efficiently, your body needs to be properly hydrated. Water makes up 60% of your body and is essential for regulating temperature and preventing fatigue. If you’re not properly hydrated before a workout, you will not be able to exercise as long or as hard. Obviously you don’t want to get a cramp when you’re working out, so make sure to drink enough water well before you hit the gym. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends getting 17 oz of H2O about 2 hours prior to activity.
3. Cheating all of your reps.
“Cheating reps” means breaking form in order to squeeze in a few more repetitions than you usually could. For example, swinging your arms during a biceps curls and using momentum as opposed to actual force to lift the load. While this method has shown to be effective in adding further muscle breakdown to the end of a set, it is meant to be done only on the last one or two reps, not the entire set. It’s also only safe to try on certain exercises like the curl, while exercises like a deadlift require proper form at all times. If you are cheating all of your reps, your muscles won’t be optimally taxed. You’re cheating yourself out of an effective workout.
4. Playing it safe with your weights.
This one is mostly for the women, as I more commonly see men lifting too much weight. In my group fitness class, I all too often see women using lighter weights than they are capable of lifting. Whether it’s fear of “getting bulky” or just underestimating their strength, many women play it safe with their weights. Research shows that in order to build muscle — or as we ladies call it, “tone up” — you need to be constantly challenging your body. Sticking with those 5-pounders that you’ve been lifting for months, and failing to increase your load, will not produce progress. Wondering why you’ve reached a plateau in your exercise goals? Up your weight!
5. Favoring slower, longer cardio for fat-loss.
You may have heard the myth of the “fat-burning zone” before: short, intense exercise bursts of exercise burn carbohydrates and longer, slower exercise stints burn fat. This is somewhat true, but it’s only part of the story. While your body does begin using fat stores for energy during longer bouts of exercise, it is still using carbohydrate (glycogen) stores as well, and vice versa. It’s the percentage of fat burned that changes. The longer you workout, the larger the percentage of fat expenditure. However, this neglects the fact that during slower exercise, you’re burning less calories overall. So while 50% of your calories expended may come from fat during a long walk, you may only be burning about 150 calories. During a short HIIT workout your fat-burning may be at a lower percentage of total calories burned, but you will still be burning some fat, and you’ll be burning a lot more calories.
6. Refueling with a sugary protein shake.
This one is a no-brainer. If you’ve just worked hard to burn a bunch of calories it’s not ideal to put nutritionally devoid sugar into your body. Just like before your workout, you need to properly refuel after as well. Research shows a balanced snack of protein and carbohydrates is the best combination for replacing your glycogen stores and helping rebuild muscle. While the shake I mentioned above could have been a good option with slightly different ingredients, it unfortunately had hidden unhealthy components. My best advice: don’t order protein shakes, smoothies, juices, etc. unless you know exactly what is in them. There are so many opportunities to hide simple sugar and other crap in these beverages.
Your best option is to just make your own. If don’t have time to go home after the gym, bring a protein shake on ice with you. Simply blend your favorite protein powder with almond milk, a banana, and ice and leave it in the car for after the workout. This time of year it will definitely still be cold!
Fyi — this recommendation applies to protein bars too. Read labels, check the ingredients, and don’t let your hard work go to waste!
Weigh In: Have you ever been disappointed to find out a snack you love is filled with junk? Have you ever sabotaged your workout with these behaviors?