It’s time to hit the gym after a long day at the office. You’re already running behind schedule, so you wipe off your lipstick, but skip the make-up remover. As you make your way to the cardio machines, an exciting book tucked under your arm, you’re still half-thinking about work, so you forget to warm up and start pedalling away on the bike.
Thirty minutes later, you gulp down an energy drink on your way to the car, feeling smug in your gym clothes as you notice the queue for the drive-thru burger place.
The truth is, while workout trumps burger-and-chips every time, you may not be reaping quite as many benefits as you think. If you agree with any of the statements below, simply changing your behaviour could be the secret to unlocking amazing results.
1. You pig out after a workout
The food you eat has major effects on your workout goals. “There’s no point in sweating your butt off and grimacing through painful sets of weight training if you don’t adjust your diet,” says Lance Jacobson, owner of One Eighty Degrees, a nutrition lifestyle programme, and a professional bodybuilder/personal trainer.
“The rule of thumb is to eat small meals and snacks to help keep blood-sugar levels stable. This also helps to avoid excessive hunger,” advises clinical dietician Nathalie Mat. Exercising on an empty stomach may lead to low blood sugar, which can negatively affect your workout performance and how many kilojoules you burn.
Plus, skipping meals can actually slow your metabolism and, as a result, your weight loss. “Nibble a piece of fruit if you need to eat before hitting the gym,” suggests Mat. And don’t hit the gym thirsty – or, for that matter, with energy drink in hand. “Water is the best liquid hydration if you’re trying to lose weight,” says Mat.
2. You wear make-up
Donning make-up, especially foundation, while doing strenuous exercise is not a good idea. Increased blood circulation during exercise takes oxygen to the cells and as your heart rate rises, you start sweating and your pores open to secrete sweat – but make-up creates a barrier that prevents proper elimination of toxins and secretion of natural oils.
“Some cosmetics prevent proper skin perspiration by blocking and clogging your sweat and oil glands, which may interfere with sweating and lead to blackheads, pimples or acne,” says dermatologist, Dr Dagmar Whitaker.
“Skin needs to be cleansed and toned before a workout session,” says Adele Segal, an accredited therapist and owner of Beauty-N-U, a health and skincare clinic in Centurion. “Cleansing removes leftover make-up and the grime that our skin is exposed to every day, but also restores the natural pH balance.” A clean face combined with sweating allows for a natural detoxification process, which promotes cell regeneration and functioning.
But what about that giant rhino-horn-esque zit in the middle of your forehead? “Women who have skin problems can use a concealer – which contains no mineral oils or artificial agents – on the affected areas only,” Segal points out.
3. You read a few chapters while pedalling
Yes, reading a book while exercising may keep your mind off the boring act of pedalling to nowhere, but being distracted prevents you from pushing harder and getting results. “Focus on your breathing, your balance and your posture,” says Ronique Redelinghuys, a biokineticist at the Physical Health and Wellness Centre for Barclays. “When you focus on these aspects, more muscle groups are being recruited. This will aid in more energy being used and faster weight loss. The correct posture is also extremely important to prevent risk of injury,” she says.
To avoid getting bored, challenge yourself by adding interval training, which can make your session feel shorter by breaking it up into a series of shorter goals. Plus, it’s super-effective. “Exercising in intervals consisting of different intensities is extremely valuable as it assists with burning kilojoules and aids in increasing your metabolism,” says biokineticist Reon van der Merwe. And constantly having to adjust your intensity keeps you focused.
4. You don’t listen to your body
Because exercise depletes your body of energy, it’s possible to do too much of a good thing. Watch out for excessive exercise symptoms, such as moodiness, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and continuous muscle aches. “Not only will over-training affect your all-round wellbeing, but it can also lead to a state in which you’re more prone to developing infections,” cautions Van der Merwe.
How much is enough depends on the intensity of the training, as well as your rate of recovery. “If you can do the same or more than the previous session without exerting yourself more, then you’re not over-training,” says Jacobsen.
“But if you can’t do more than in two previous sessions, you may be overreaching. This isn’t necessarily training too hard, but rather training too long and not smartly.” Enough sleep, rest and good nutrition will help you avoid that overreaching state, he adds. Plan to have at least one day off per week – if you’re new to exercise, set every other day aside for rest.