Expert tips to achieve your fitness goals
It’s the time of the year when many of us have resolved to lose weight, get fit and be healthy. But sticking to your new fitness regime past the end of January can often be difficult. We asked sport nutritionist Matt Lawson (Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2010) and physiotherapist Kerstine Herbert (Physiotherapy, 2014) for their tips on how to achieve your fitness goals and stay healthy throughout the year.
Setting your approach
Kerstine: It’s important to decide what your goals are. In my clinic, and personally, I use goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). Write them down, then work out a plan for how you’re going to achieve them. This could be joining a club, getting a coach or challenging your friends. Stick to your plan but be happy to adapt if life gets in the way – it should be fun, not a chore! Cut out your unhealthy habits, eat and sleep well, and allow adequate recovery days. Most of all though, take your time – getting fit and healthy takes months not days.
Matt: Diet plays the biggest role in fitness to fuel our performance, and requires a long term approach. The fact is, short term diets do not work. The best way is to develop a healthy lifestyle that can be kept up over a number of years. The best way is to map out your week and plan around it. For example, if you know that you have sports training on a particular day, bear in mind that extra nutrition is needed. Although individual requirements vary, the evidence base is there for an energy-dense Mediterranean diet with regular hydration, good quality protein sources and a wealth of wholegrain carbohydrates and vegetables.
Kerstine: Warming up prior to exercise is vital. It helps to increase your heart rate in preparation for exercise; increase blood flow to the soft tissue in your body; loosen joints; warm up muscles; and increase performance levels. Research has suggested that warming up prior to exercise can reduce your risk of an injury by up to 79% so it’s definitely important.
One of my favourite warm up exercises starts slowly with some side taps while reaching up to the sky with opposite hands. Jog on the spot and then gradually add in high knee running, heel flicks, side lunges and front lunges, interspersed with sprinting on the spot for 5-10 seconds. Try to add in sport specific activities if you can – for runners, you could add in some nice big leg swings to mimic the leg movement. 10-15 minutes is ideal but 5-10 minutes is enough.
Matt: Food is best when you know where it comes from and is naturally produced, what I like to call ‘real food’. My favourite meal is fresh tuna steaks, with stir fry vegetables, beefy mushrooms and Thai wholemeal noodles.
Kerstine: Sporting injuries affect athletes of all levels at some point in their career, so don’t be disheartened if you have any injury. The most common injuries are ankle sprain; groin pull; hamstring pull; shin splints; knee injuries; and tennis elbow.
Most injuries are either from trauma or overuse, but biomechanics, training load and strength all play an important part. We can’t avoid injuries but by training sensibly and strengthening our body we can reduce the risk. We’re often seen as therapists who treat injuries, but a trip to a physio before you even begin exercising can be a fantastic way to find any weak areas that you can then work on to avoid injuries. And don’t forget the all-important warm up!
Steering clear of misconceptions
Kerstine: The main issue I see is the belief that we can magically fix people. I often see patients who have ignored an injury then come to see me two weeks before a big sporting event. We can help you to settle symptoms, educate you on why you may have your injury, work on rehab exercises – and reassure you that it’s not something more sinister.
Matt: One of the biggest mistakes people make is purchasing gimmicks.
Highly priced, meal replacement products that promise big weight loss are often dangerous for the body.
Incorporating activities into everyday life
Matt: Eating high-energy packed food, like nuts, seeds, lentils, pulses, quinoa and beans is a quick and easy way to bring healthy foods into your diet. They’re very good for the body.
Kerstine: Inactivity and sedentary behaviour are some of the biggest causes of premature death. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean hours in the gym. There are lots of ways you can incorporate activities into your everyday life. For example, take the stairs whenever you can; do squats when you’re brushing your teeth; stand on one leg while making a coffee; lift tins of beans to work the shoulders; get the hoover or the duster out and go for it!
If you’re stuck at a desk in your job, get up every 20 minutes and walk to the other end of the office, have a big stretch or do 20 squats on your chair. We’re designed to move so go for it. Just small changes can have big effects – with improved physical health comes improved mental health. It’s a win-win situation!
NHS Registered Dietician and UEFA Licensed Coach
Since graduating from the University, Matt’s career has taken him around the world to work with the best and brightest in professional sport. Bringing nutrition and science into football, he has worked with a number of professional football clubs, England international footballers and Olympic-medal winning athletes.
After working as a firefighter for 10 years with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, Kerstine trained in sports massage and sports injury and rehab before going on to study physiotherapy at the University. Kerstine has worked with the NHS and the prison service, before opening her own clinic in 2017. A keen runner, her longest run to date is 95 miles!