Have you ever learned something or had someone impart wisdom to you that didn’t make much of an impact at the time, but  then hit you like a sledgehammer later?

This happened to me when I was training for my first marathon.  My friend and coach, Steve, told me that once you hit 40 you can keep your body fat low, maintain and build muscle, and run great times—but that it just gets harder. Now, at age 52, I am definitely at the place he was talking about.  Even though I have worked out and eaten healthy all of my life, I do both better now.  This article is about some of the key strategies that I have found to make the most impact on weight and body fat, muscle mass, and energy level.

1. Eating More Often

Eating more often throughout the day will help you maintain both your energy level and your blood sugar levels.  I find that a plan that seems to work best is to eat three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and then add in several snacks or mini-meals. Each of your meals or snacks should contain some protein: an easy mid-morning or afternoon snack could be an apple and a small handful of almonds, for example.

On my workout days (5-6 per week) I will add in a sixth snack right after I exercise: this is usually a protein shake with about 100 calories, which works well to recharge me as I head back to my practice.

2.  Drinking More Water 

Drinking more water will help you feel and function better, and starting your morning with two glasses of water will help you to re-hydrate.  This has many health benefits and will also allow your muscles and ligaments to become more pliable and resilient.

Taking in a fair amount of water throughout the day also seems to help many people lose weight, or at least to maintain their weight.

3. Eat the Majority of Your Carbohydrates Early in the Day.

The two best times to eat carbohydrates are in the early morning, and after strenuous exercise. Eating most of your carbs in the morning allows them to be used more effectively by your body over the course of the day, and will be less likely to store them as fat.

Do you  know what the worst time of day is to load up on high glycemic-index carbs? At dinner time, and during evening snacking. The most important foods to avoid are potatoes, white pasta (100% whole wheat pasta is a better option), white rice, bread, rolls, and chips.

Here is another Lifehack article to check out to help with your weight loss goals:

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/avoid-these-mistakes-if-you-want-to-lose-weight-fast.html

4. If It Comes in a Package or Already Prepared, Eliminate It.

If you really want to clean up your diet and start getting fast results, cut out processed foods.

This may take a little practice if you are used to preparing meals that come ready to heat and eat or almost prepared: if you’re a fast-food aficionado, you will have some major changes to make.

A good example of a healthy meal would be a dinner of grilled fish (wild-caught is best), steamed vegetables, brown rice, salad with homemade dressing (olive oil, vinegar and mustard) and maybe a glass or two of red wine.  This could replace frozen, breaded fish fillets, white rice or potatoes, and other commonly-prepared side dishes.

5. Cut Out Refined Sugar.

Sugar, in many of its forms (especially refined), is just not good for us. Eating natural sugar with fiber  (like the fructose that occurs naturally in fruit) is much healthier. Unfortunately, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is found in many of the foods and beverages that many of us consume today: why is that?

Corn syrup is cheap and about three times sweeter that glucose, so it’s used liberally in the food industry. It has the potential to pack on fat pounds, increase blood pressure and override your brain’s ability to register “feeling full”. Try to avoid it as much as possible.

6. Eat Breakfast.

This really is the most important meal of your day: research has shown that eating a good breakfast will typically decrease the amount of total calories you take in during the entire day.

What makes for a good fat-burning and muscle building breakfast? Although I’m not much of a hot-cereal eater, whole grain oatmeal could be part of a healthy start to your day.  You could also toss some almonds or walnuts into your oatmeal for additional protein and healthy fat.

I will often have grilled salmon (I’ll grill extra on the weekend and have plenty for breakfasts and lunches during the week), left-over steamed veggies, almonds, and coffee for breakfast, with other favorites including turkey sausage, scrambled eggs (my #1 go-to breakfast), bacon, home-made protein bars and chicken sausage.

7. Stop Trying to Spot-Reduce with “Crunch-Type” Sit-Ups.

Crunches have been shown to provide very little muscle activation to the muscles that make up your abs (abdominal muscles).  There are far more effective options you could do instead.

Try some of these to work your core: planks (front and side), mountain climbers, push-ups, hanging leg raises (hanging from a pull-up bar). Also doing full-body, compound exercise moves will work your core—a good example of this is the kettlebell swing.  This move, in my opinion, is the most effective all-over body move: try 10 sets of 20-30 swings (with the right amount of weight and good form) and you will feel what I mean by total body move.

Check out this Lifehack post to learn more about muscle building: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-workout-hacks-for-building-muscle.html

8. Lift Weights.

Adding weight-lifting to your exercise regimen will get your body into fat-burning and muscle-building mode faster than any other exercise. The biggest weight lifting mistake that I find people making is that they never start—beyond that, many women tend to lift weights that are too light to get significant results with fat loss and muscle-building.

Men, on the other hand, will often try to lift too much weight and end up with muscle, ligament or joint injuries.The key is to find the right amount of weight for each exercise that will allow you to perform 10-15 repetitions for 3-4 sets.  If you are new to weight training, I strongly suggest that you hire a personal trainer to at least get you started correctly.

What are the benefits of weight lifting for both men and women? Loss of both weight and fat that lasts for many hours even after your workout; repair and building of muscle tissue; increased strength of bones and joints; decreased pain and improved balance.

If you are interested in reading about more cutting edge, anti-aging information on exercise and weight-lifting, I highly recommend these books:

Younger Next Year (for men) and Younger Next Year (for Women).  Written by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, MD

Featured photo credit:  Couple of women at the gym stretching via Shutterstock

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