My Daily Routine
Over the past few months, I’ve received several questions related to my daily fitness and nutrition routine. I’m sometimes hesitant to answer these questions directly because I don’t see myself as the perfect example by any means. However, I think there’s value in pointing out some of my daily habits, especially those that I’ve added to my daily routine over time. Perhaps this will be beneficial as you continue to incorporate small positive changes in your lifestyle.
Habit #1 – A proper night’s sleep.
I realize that a productive day where I feel energetic and refreshed actually starts the night before. There’s often talk about the right amount of sleep, but with two kids under age 4, it’s hard for me or my wife to get more than 5 or 6 hours a night. If I can, I’ll try to get at least 6 hours of sleep, but in reality, it’s sometimes around 5 hours or less. To counter this, I try to remain aware of my sleep cycles. When I go to bed, I’ll set my alarm for a time that’s on a 90-minute cycle from the time I go to sleep. If I lay down at 11pm, then my options are to wake up at 3:30 am, 5am or 6:30 am. Sometimes this means sacrificing a few minutes of sleep in order to wake up at the proper time in your cycle when you’re not groggy or in a deep sleep.
Habit #2 – Wake up early.
This one is contentious for some, simply because not everyone likes to wake up early. I fully recognize that there are those who are more alert and productive at night. For me, however, I do my best work in the morning before anyone else is awake (in fact I’m writing this on Sunday morning at 6am after waking at 5am). By getting up earlier than my wife and kids, it allows me to accomplish things at my own pace without any family obligations. Research has shown that most people are more productive earlier in the day. For me, this is definitely true.
Habit #3 – Drink water as soon as you get up.
I keep a case of bottled water in our bedroom. When I get up, I grab a bottle of water (normal 16.9 oz. bottle) and drink it before I do anything else. This serves a couple of purposes. If you’re properly hydrated throughout the course of the day, the time when you sleep will be the longest period you will have gone without drinking water. Drinking water first thing starts the re-hydration process for you. This is important for proper body function and especially important if you’re planning on working out in the morning. If you can’t drink a full bottle, start with half of a bottle or a smaller bottle.
Habit #4 – Eat breakfast.
Dispense with the notion that breakfast has to consist of a couple of pancakes, eggs, potatoes, etc. If you’re not a breakfast person, at least eat something in the morning. Breakfast literally “breaks the fast.” It’s important for fueling and re-starting your nutrient processing. I personally have either a piece of fruit, a bowl of cereal, or a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Whatever you choose, opt for a healthy option vs. a sugary bowl of cereal or a dessert.
Habit #5 – Exercise.
Typically, if I don’t exercise in the morning, I don’t exercise that day…period. I find that the day gets away from me at work and it’s extremely hard to break away. And when I get home, the last thing I want to do is workout. I’d rather spend time with the family and play with the kids. I know this about myself so I try to stay motivated to get my workout done early. Things I do to help with that are setting a wake up alarm, packing my gym bag and laying my workout clothes out the night prior, and determining what type of exercise I’m going to do the night prior as well. My health coaching background has taught me that we need to remove as many barriers to change as possible and make positive habits easy to implement and maintain. Morning workouts aren’t for everyone, however. If you have a time that works better in your schedule, by all means, stick with that!
Habit #6 – Take your own snacks and lunch to work.
By 10 am, I’m on what some would call my “third breakfast.” After an initial bowl of cereal in the morning, I typically have oatmeal (homemade oatmeal in a thermos sweetened with honey, some sugar, butter) as a post-workout meal shortly after I get to work (by 8 am). Then, throughout the morning, I graze on numerous snacks as I get hungry. I try to eat the fruits and veggies I brought first. That way, my actual lunch is somewhat of a “reward” for eating the healthier stuff. My snacks usually include 4 or 5 servings of fruits or veggies such as a banana, apple, oranges, berries, Greek vanilla yogurt with chia seeds, cheese, almonds, carrots with blue cheese dressing, or edamame. My lunch itself (which I usually eat a bit later in the afternoon due to all of the snacking I’ve done up to that point) is typically some type of leftover dinner from the night before, a chicken salad sandwich on wheat bread, or peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Eating lunch later in the day prevents me from being super hungry (and “hangry”) when I get home, and that works much better from a family perspective! Once a week, usually on Fridays, I’ll grab lunch at a restaurant. This allows me to have my weekly fix of barbecue or Thai food!
Habit #7 – Drink water throughout the day.
On most days of the week, water is the only thing I drink (except for a very small glass of grapefruit juice with my breakfast and the occasional cup of coffee or tea). This is one thing I try to stress to those I train…adequate water intake is necessary for proper bodily function. Yes, it means going the bathroom more often, but drinking water instead of sweetened sodas and other sugary drinks is much better for you. And just because a soda says “diet” or “zero calorie” doesn’t make it healthy. I usually carry a 30-33 oz. bottle of water with me during the day. My goal is to drink one before lunch, one before leaving work, and another before I go to bed. This gives me approximately 100 ounces of water each day. I will say that this is a lot for most people. Aim for 50-64 ounces initially. This may be plenty for you, your body type, and activity level. The best way to gauge whether you’re drinking enough water is by the color of your urine. It should be clear with a very slight tint of yellow.
Habit #8 – Be more active at work.
Most of us have sedentary jobs. To counter the numerous negative effects of sitting all day, we must do things to get us moving and break up the monotony. Walking to lunch, using the stairs, or taking strolls around the building are all possible ideas. For me, I’m fortunate enough to have a stand-up work desk. I can raise or lower it to accommodate standing or sitting at my desk. I try to stay on my feet for most of the morning. This helps burn a few calories, improves strength and posture, and prevents the back pain I’ve had in the past associated with sitting all day. This may not be an option for everyone, but if it’s something that interests you, ask your boss/company to accommodate you. You may be surprised at the answer you get. And if they say “no,” some of the desks are very reasonably priced. A couple hundred dollars could be a small price to pay for your health!
Habit #9 – Evening eating.
For dinner, my wife usually prepares some type of lean meat (chicken or fish), a whole grain pasta or quinoa, and veggies. This makes for a pretty low-calorie yet nutrient dense meal. We try to do most of the cooking for the week on Sunday to make the weeknights a little less hectic. My problem is that I have a pretty bad sweet tooth, so I have to plan my sweet tooth fixes. Typically, it’s a smoothie (unsweetened cocoa powder, banana, peanut butter, milk, and honey), chocolate covered almonds, chocolate frozen Greek yogurt, or a bowl of cheerios with sugar. (Can you tell I like chocolate?)
Habit #10 – Enjoy life.
What I’ve found is that by incorporating the habits above, my general routine is pretty healthy. I’ve incorporated each of these habits one at a time, and over the course of years in most cases. When I find something that works for me, I try to stick with it. Before you know it, you have a fairly healthy lifestyle. Because I can feel good about my nutrition and exercise habits during the week, I don’t follow too many rules on the weekends. A couple of our favorite pastimes are ordering pizza on Friday night, catching a movie when we can (the kids pack with a little bit of popcorn and a small drink is a great size, even for adults!), and going out to eat on the weekends. Every week isn’t perfect, and it can be challenging to stay healthy when traveling (which we do a lot). But for the most part, we control what we can when we can and try to make smart choices most of the time.
The bottom line is that we are all different. A diet that worked for someone else may not work for you. An exercise program that everyone else is doing may not be what you need. You have to find what works for you and incorporate small, sustainable changes. And remember, consistency is key.