Proclamations, promises, and lofty goals come fast and easy in the waning hours of Dec. 31. Yet, early January enthusiasm tends to take a big dip about the same time you’re eyeing a tasty box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. You may also find yourself reaching for the potato chips more often than your running shoes. Don’t despair. First, enjoy one or two chocolates (but perhaps not the entire box). Then read our collection of insights from a nutritionist, a coach and a sports psychologist—no, this is not the beginning of a joke– about how to be your best runner self. Spoiler alert: all three agree that flexibility is essential!
Don’t sweat the small stuff
According to Torey Armul, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics based in Columbus, Ohio, one of the biggest reasons that diets fail is because they feel too restrictive, or they don’t jive with your busy lifestyle. A healthy diet still allows room for flexibility, imperfection and your favorite foods occasionally. Choose a realistic approach to eating well the majority of the time, staying active and not sweating the small stuff.
Focus on more
A smart approach is to focus on what you can eat MORE of—consume more fruits and vegetables, healthy omega-3 fats, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains at every meal, recommends Armul. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, have high nutrient density but low caloric density, so you can actually eat more food at each meal. Plus, it feels less restrictive than focusing on the foods you shouldn’t eat.
Protein, fiber and fat
Each meal should have three components: a protein, a fiber, and a healthy fat. “These nutrients are ideal for optimal health, athletic performance, weight control and fullness after a meal,” Armul says. Before enjoying your first bite of a meal, she recommends taking a quick scan of your plate to see if you’ve checked all three boxes. Snacks should have two of the three to truly fill you up between meals and provide fuel for workouts.
Switch up the stimulus
When someone plateaus, falls off the fitness wagon or is otherwise discouraged with how their training is going, more often than not it’s because their training has gotten too repetitive, stale and boring, says Mario Fraioli, head coach of Ekiden. Take a break from your usual routine and mix in different workouts for new challenges. For example, if you’re sick of slogging through a long run on Sunday, try a tempo run, which is lower volume but higher intensity; or if running around in circles at a track every Tuesday night is making you crazy, try a hill workout instead.
Schedule a date
If you end up doing most of your training alone, it can be easy to bag a workout when you’re feeling tired, the weather is less-than-ideal or the day just gets away from you—Fraioli is a coach and a runner, so he knows such things! To combat the apathy, he encourages clients to schedule runs and workouts—especially those they have a hard time getting excited about—with a friend or training partner. Keep each other accountable. It can be easy to bail on yourself but when a good friend is waiting outside your door before the dawn to log some miles, it’s a lot harder to stay in the house.
Win with wiggle room
“We often set goals thinking we are going to be perfect and that life will run smoothly,” says Dr. Jeffrey Brown, best-selling author of “The Runner’s Brain” and a Harvard Medical School psychologist. “Hindsight proves us wrong every time.” Brown encourages athletes to allow flexibility when needed. Fitness goals aren’t supposed to create anxiety or feelings of failure. Goals and training plans usually include some wiggle room, and, as Brown noted, you’re still moving when you wiggle!
Set goals, goals and more goals
Set a new goal every week or every month, or even every day. “Meeting one goal will spur you on to meet the next,” Brown says. “Kind of like building up steam, but this time you’re building up sweat.”
Once you have goals, redefine them
You will be smarter about yourself and your fitness habits the more you work at it. Which means, it’s imperative to revisit and redefine target goals as the year progresses. “One of your goals should be to make your goals more attainable, but still challenging, affirming, motivating, and customizing your effort, all in one punch,” Brown concludes.