Getting in shape is hard. But once you get there, maintaining your fit body isn’t all that much easier. Keeping up a strong and shredded physique involves more than intense workouts and a commitment to eating right. It’s a round-the-clock mindset of living lean.
But the good news is that it does not translate into a life of deprivation or trying to check off a laundry list of healthy living requirements. Instead, it involves leaning out all aspects of your life so that much of it runs on autopilot with the good habits dictating your daily actions and routines.
Here are 15 of the best lifelong behaviors for maintaining that lean body—and lean life.
Pete Williams is a N.A.S.M.-certified personal trainer, and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
1. Eat the same foods
Eating too much food causes weight gain. No surprise there. But so, too, does eating a lot of different foods, which leads to overeating, especially when you’re trying new sugary and salty foods. When you eat the same healthy foods 90% of the time, you’re in tune with portion size and less likely to eat junk.
2. Eat at home
When you eat at home, you control portion size and when you’re served. You also save money and time, and, of course, determine what you eat. You’re not limited to a menu. Eating out should be for special occasions, not daily life.
3. Train at dawn
When you train at 6 a.m. or earlier, you’re starting your day committed to living lean. You’ll likely eat a healthy breakfast, which along with the workout sets the tone for your energy levels all day. You’re also guaranteed to work out, unlike folks who schedule lunch or evening training only to have work or other commitments intervene.
4. Eat plenty of protein
Protein is vital to have with every meal because it builds and maintains muscles. Aim for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight a day, and that should be spread out over five or six small meals. Don’t go overboard, though. Excess protein, especially from animal sources, has been linked to kidney stones.
5. Mix up your workouts
The best workout is the one you haven’t done. Your body adapts quickly and needs constant challenges. If you’re a gym rat, get out and do some running, cycling, or paddling. If you’re a runner, hit the weights or a CrossFit box. If you’ve never tried yoga or Pilates, it’s time to be flexible with your training—literally and figuratively.
6. Speed it up
Form is important. So is deep breathing through the diaphragm. But an effective workout is a fast, intense one. Alternate pushing and pulling movements in a circuit fashion so you won’t have to wait between sets. Keep moving and leave the smartphone in another room or secured in a locker to avoid distraction. If you need music, use a device that’s only a music player (yes, they still make those.)
7. Jump-start recovery
Whether you’ve just completed a triathlon or a routine strength workout, it’s important to refuel as soon as possible. The cells are screaming for nourishment, and the optimal window is the first 30 minutes. This need not be a big meal—a protein shake or even chocolate milk will do the trick.
8. Check your posture
Nothing contributes more to injuries than muscle imbalances and poor alignment brought about by sitting at computers all day. Stand up at least once an hour and stretch. Do some walking lunges or cobra poses. Practice pulling your shoulder blades back and down, as if bringing them toward your back pockets. Resetting your body once an hour is a reminder of your commitment to living lean.
9. Stay sober
Nothing derails your effort to stay shredded more than booze. Alcohol disrupts REM sleeps, packs on empty calories, increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and decreases protein synthesis for muscle fiber repair. Save the drinks for special occasions. Saturday night is not a special occasion.
10. Get wet
Drinking sufficient water is essential to getting lean and staying that way. Drinking enough water before, during, and after exercise can increase performance up to 25%. Drink ½ to 1oz of water per pound of bodyweight per day to maintain hydration.
11. Keep the fire burning
Eating five or six small meals a day keeps your body’s metabolism firing. If you don’t eat often, the most readily available substance for the body to consume is muscle—not fat. The body is resistant to fat loss and will turn to lean muscle first. Keep plenty of fuel in the tank so muscle is not consumed.
12. Leave home packing
To eat five or six times a day, it’s important not to get caught out and about with only poor food options. Keep your backpack, briefcase, office desk drawer, and car packed with nuts, seeds, fruit, beef jerky, and healthy energy bars. The only time fast food restaurants should solve an emergency is when there’s no other restroom.
13. Declutter your life
Leaning out your body and the rest of your life go hand in hand. Unload the clothes you no longer wear (probably because you’re so shredded they no longer fit). Give away books you’ve read or won’t read. Purge knick-knacks and duplicate tools and kitchen accessories. Digitize documents and photos from the pre-digital era. A lean body equals a lean life and vice versa.
14. Consider cord-cutting
You don’t have to give up cable, though it’s worth considering for the cost and time savings alone. Television viewing leads to mindless eating, cuts into sleep, and contributes to a sedentary lifestyle. Consider limiting viewing to weekends, an especially good household rule if you have kids. Keep the TV out of the bedroom, which should be used for only two things…
15. Get 7-8 hours of sleep
Sleep is when most of your hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, are released. Fatigue, on the other hand, undermines your ability to eat right and train hard, thus raising your level of body fat. When you’re exhausted, your brain doesn’t know whether it’s sleep-deprived or starving for glucose, so it naturally craves sugar, which is what causes late-night cravings when you’re tired. Without adequate sleep, you’re sabotaging your efforts to live lean.