1. Eat Veg at (Almost) Every Meal
Non-negotiable – but the good news is, it doesn’t have to be painful. Steaming veg retains the most nutrients, but it’s tedious and complicated. Instead try “micro-steaming” – using your microwave to cook it very lightly – which takes mere minutes.
“Just lay your vegetables in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, then cover them with a couple of damp paper towels,” explains food scientist J Kenji López-Alt. “Microwave them on full power until the vegetables are tender enough to pierce with a fork. It’ll take anywhere between two and five minutes, depending on the veg you’re using and the power of your microwave.”
2. Have a Mini-Mobility Routine
It doesn’t have to take long, but this is what’ll see you spring (rather than lurch) out of bed every day. Here’s your minimum-effect dose – add to it as necessary.
- Couch stretch Easy enough to do while watching TV. Plant one knee on the sofa, shin against the back, and put your weight on your other leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
- Cossack squat Sit on one heel with your other leg outstretched, then switch your weight to the other side. Repeat 20 times. Feels tough? Don’t worry, you’ll get lower over time.
- Mountain climber Start in a press-up position. Bring one foot up until it’s next to your hand, then lean forward to feel the stretch in your groin and hips. Switch sides and repeat ten times.
They’re the back-builder that keeps you honest: if your weight’s going up alongside your strength, your numbers will stay still. “If you want a bigger back, volume is key, so do 50 to 100 reps every session,” says trainer Chad Waterbury. “If you just want higher numbers, do one or two sets to failure whenever you train.” And invest in a nice set of rings (bulldoggear.eu, £64.99) – they’re easier on the elbows than endless straight-bar reps.
4. Build Habits, Not Willpower
All the research points to one fact: willpower is a briefly-burning candle, but habits are automatic and easily followed. Break bad ones and create good ones – start simple, by just putting your running shoes out every day or drinking one sip of water with breakfast. Then build up.
5. Find a Petrol Station Back-Up
…or to put it another way, a blood-sugar-bolstering snack option that you can source at any basic cornershop or 24-hour garage. Your best bet: beef jerky or biltong, both of which typically pack 36g of protein per 100g pack. Add in a handful of (unsalted) nuts and – we’re being optimistic here – a piece of fruit, and you’re set.
6. Use Portion Control
Yes, you could weigh and measure every macronutrient, but it’s not really necessary. All you need is a safe pair of hands.
- Palms for protein For protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, fish and beans, aim for two palm-sized portions with each meal.
- Fists for vegetables Colourful veg like broccoli, carrots, spinach and salad should take up most of your plate. Two fists per meal is your minimum.
- Cupped hands for carbs For carb-dense foods you should keep your intake lower. When you’re eating grains, fruit or starchy carbs, keep it down to a pair of cupped hands.
- Thumbs for fats Your fat intake should come from healthy sources like almonds, avocado and butter – and you should eat just less than two thumb-sized servings per meal.
7. Put a Menu Strategy in Place
You can’t always prepare vacuum-sealed chicken and veg. Navigate eating out without stumbling into sauce-and-sugar traps with advice from Brian St Pierre of Precision Nutrition.
- Look for protein “Is there grilled chicken breast, lean beef, tuna or something similar?” says St Pierre. “Start with that.”
- Add vegetables “If you can’t substitute salad or greens for your fries, look at the sides. You may be able to assemble a decent meal from a side of, say, eggs and another one of greens.”
- Don’t rule out the starters “You don’t have to go entrée. If your best option’s in the appetisers, go for that – and add sides if necessary.”
- Remember your go-tos “Build a list of restaurants that you know have healthy options. Then you have a ready response when someone asks where you’d like to go.”
8. Make Their Own Salads
Pre-packaged iceberg lettuce and Caesar dressing? Not worth the bag they’re delivered in. For an easy way to pack in two or three portions of veg a day, throw rocket or dark leaves together with chopped peppers or tomatoes, and add meat (leftover chicken or bacon are solid choices). As for your dressings, “Keep squeezy bottles with the recipes written directly on them in your fridge,” advises López-Alt. “Draw a line on the side with a permanent marker indicating the proportion of ingredients.” Use this one as your fat loss go-to: ¼tbsp dijon mustard, ¼tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2tbsp olive oil, cracked black pepper.
9. Stick to Quality Coffee (at the Right Time)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that science is constantly changing its mind about the benefits (and downsides) of coffee, but actually the evidence is pretty consistent. It might reduce your Parkinson’s risk and the chance of developing certain cancers, while the evidence that it could prevent cardiovascular disease is inconclusive. The real reason you should drink it, though? It’s a proven performance-enhancer. Make it count by drinking it when cortisol naturally dips – around 10am is the perfect time for your first cup of the day.
10. Go to Sleep When They’re Tired
Getting more than seven hours decreases your risk of heart attack, improves cognitive ability and might make you thinner. Some evidence suggests that earlier is more important: in the early part of the night, deeper non-REM sleep cycles dominate, with dream-infused REM sleep taking over towards dawn. There’s a window between 8pm and 12am when you should be aiming to get to bed for the most restorative sleep – but your optimal bedtime is dictated by genetic make-up. Bottom line? Go to bed when you’re tired, and try to keep it consistent (yes, even at the weekend).
RECOMMENDED: How to Sleep Better
11. Keep Meals in the Freezer
Batch-cooking food makes everyone’s life easier. The below freeze well, and reheat nicely.
- Chilli Vegetarian or beef-based. Serve with a spoonful of Greek yogurt.
- Stews Switch the cream for coconut milk in beef stroganoff for a Paleo take.
- Meat skewers Freeze after marinating. Resist the temptation to eat them like lollies.
- Curry Thai chicken works well, but there’s nothing wrong with a solid dahl.
- Any soup They all freeze well. Whip up some broccoli.
RECOMMENDED: Healthy Chilli Con Carne Recipe
12. Have an On-the-go Workout
“No time for the gym” isn’t an acceptable excuse. “You can train anywhere, in less than 20 minutes,” says Gym Jones head of programming Rob “Bobby Maximus” MacDonald. His prescription, below, takes exactly 19 – attack it full-speed for a fat-burning shock to the system, or go slow for an energising pick-me-up.
- Jump squat to squat hold (above left) Sink into a squat, then explode off the ground. Repeat for 30 seconds, then “rest” in the bottom position for the next 30. Repeat four times, then rest for a minute.
- Overhead press to overhead hold (above centre) This takes minimal weight for maximum effect, so using a rucksack’s fine. Press the weight from your chest to overhead as many times as possible, then hold it at the top for your “rest” phases.
- Press-up to plank (above right) Drop into a press-up position and do as many press-ups as possible in 30 seconds. When it’s time to rest, shift your weight to your forearms and hold it for 30 seconds. Repeat that four times, then rest for a minute.
- Burpee to wall sit (below) In a press-up position, drop your chest to the floor, then hop your feet forwards, get to your feet and jump. Repeat for 30 seconds – the good news is, this time you get an actual rest during the pauses.
13. Drink to Enjoy Life
Not because of a stressful day, or because the office party seems like a waking nightmare without it, or even because it’s “good for you”. There’s evidence that alcohol can lubricate creativity and what experts call moments of “social connection”, but the key is to drink it mindfully. Spend a month tracking your real booze intake (use the DrinkAware app), and look for patterns of bad behaviour. Need to cut down? Do it. Otherwise: cheers!
14. Shop Outside the Supermarket
“You’ll get better quality food at – usually – lower prices,” says transformation coach Dalton Wong. “And you’ll know where it comes from.” Here’s how to do it.
- Use your local butcher “You’ll find cheaper cuts of meat, including beef brisket and lamb shoulder, then throw them in the slow cooker,” says Wong. “Most butchers also give away bones so you can make your own stock.”
- Find a fishmonger “Look for sustainable species like black cod and chub, which are high in omega 3 fats. If you still want salmon, buy a whole side of it and chop it into portions for the freezer.”
- Get vegetables delivered “The best services deliver veg you’ve never heard of, like black salsify and romanesque cauliflower, alongside recipes for them. It’s ideal for building up a repertoire.”
15. Keep a Team Around Them
Team Sky have a multi-million-pound coterie of helpers to bake their rice cakes and carry their mattresses. You just need one or two dedicated helpers. “Healthy people have a support team,” says St Pierre. “It might be one person: a friend or family member who gets you, your dog who absolutely insists you take him for a walk in the morning, or your kid who is always up for a game of ‘see who can run the fastest’.” This is the basis of a support system: a group of people who will help you along your fitness journey.
The next step? Identify a few friends who enjoy the same sports or hobbies as you, or maybe a cousin or colleague who’s game for a little healthy competition. Perhaps you’ve also talked to your doctor, who’s monitoring your blood levels and helping track your health improvements. Together, these people form your team. “They’re cheering you on, inspiring you, teaching you, and helping you edge forward, bit by bit. It’s powerful stuff.”
“If you describe yourself as a latte lover or a pizza fiend, people will push those temptations onto you, thinking they’re doing you a favour,” says Wong. “Do yourself a favour and rebrand: tell people you’ve got a thing about good-quality coffee and grass-fed steak. When you talk the talk, you’ll naturally walk the walk.”
17. Create Stress-Management Systems
Not all stress is bad. Some of it keeps you alert, increases concentration, or helps you rise to meet challenges. The difference? “Good” stress comes in short bursts, and is over quickly: “bad” stress is ever-present. Healthy people distinguish between the two, and the simplest fix is single-tasking: switch off any electronics you’re not directly using, and focus on one task for at least 15 minutes. Do one thing well, then move on to the next.
18. Have Water on Hand
Thinking about drinking more isn’t cutting it: from UFC fighters to CEOs, people who need to function at a consistently high level know that having water within reach means you’ll increase consumption naturally. If you’re feeling flush, invest in a filter bottle (like our pick, the Black + Blum Charcoal filter, £14.95, black-blum.com), but otherwise just keep a pint glass on your desk.
It increases neural connectivity and brain function, something not even the most highbrow Netflix binge can manage. For maximum results, use the Tim Ferriss model: non-fiction in the morning (to promote creativity) and fiction before bed (so it doesn’t disrupt sleep). Here’s what should be on your list for 2016.
How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald: How do endurance athletes regularly shove their biological limitations aside to do the impossible? Mental strength, says Fitzgerald, who’s coined the term “psychobiological” and shed new light on sports from running to rowing.
Buy How Bad Do You Want It? on Amazon
The Bolt Supremacy by Richard Moore: As it’s an Olympic year, you’ll want some conversation-starters on the dominance of the Jamaican sprint team, as well as an informed take on the drug problems savaging athletics. This book has both – and is a hell of a read.
Buy The Bolt Supremacy on Amazon
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed: Failure is inevitable, so you might as well learn from it. That’s the argument Syed (former international table tennis player and author of the best-selling Bounce) makes in this study of things going wrong, which argues that we should learn from the way airlines deal with catastrophes.
Buy Black Box Thinking on Amazon
The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo: The original, fast becoming a cult classic, will revolutionise the way you think about all those piles of CDs and old bank statements lying around the house – plus it’ll give you an entirely new way to fold T-shirts. Its sequel expands on the process, and also outlines how to remove anything from your life that doesn’t bring you pleasure.
Buy The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying on Amazon
Buy Spark Joy on Amazon
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway’s memoir of life in Paris has seen a resurgence in popularity post-2015 terrorist attacks, and – self-aggrandisement aside – it’s a life-affirming love letter to a city that’s a mere Eurostar journey away. Read with a daiquiri to hand.
Buy A Moveable Feast on Amazon
20. Do Long, Slow Exercise
Fitness professionals call easy efforts low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, and it’s coming into fashion for several reasons. First, it’s so easy that it won’t cause your body to eat muscle. Second, it can actually aid recovery by getting blood to tired muscles. It’ll also help you metabolise oxygen more efficiently, making you better during tougher sessions.
Photography: Danny Bird. Illustrations: Sudden Impact