How to Balance Fitness and University

For those of you who have recently started university, you may have realised that it’s a struggle trying to balance lectures, seminars and fitness as well as adapting to your new surroundings and making the most of your new found social life. The key thing to remember is that fitness isn’t the be all and end all in these first few months, the most important thing is that you throw yourself into uni life.

However, if you have always been active before you came to uni, like I was, then this rather disrupted training program can send you flying straight into panic mode. So, here are the top tips I used for balancing fitness and university.

Join a Club

A great way to keep up with your fitness, and be an integral part of university spirit, is to join a club. Most universities offer hundreds of different types, from korfball (a mixture of netball and basketball, apparently) to rowing and climbing. Most clubs usually train twice a week, alongside matches and tournaments, therefore you are getting a great workout in several times a week. Alongside the fitness aspect, you are also getting the opportunity to meet new people and socialise which is what university is all about.

Go to Exercises Classes

Seeing as the majority of universities offer world class gym facilities it would be a waste not to utilise them. There is a fitness class to suit all, from yoga and pilates to body combat and body pump. They usually last from 45 minutes to an hour and on average the body pump classes I attended used to burn 500-600 calories per hour. Similar to joining a club, attending an exercise class is also a great time to meet new people, but if you’re skeptical about going on your own then why not drag your new flat mates!

Plan your Day

A great tip which I found really increased my motivation to workout in first year is to plan your day. If I had planned my work, prepped my meals and packed my gym clothes I would very rarely skip the gym that day (unless I’d had a few too many vodka and soda’s the night before). Whereas without planning, I was always tempted to come straight back home and miss my workout.

Find Something you Enjoy

If you’re dragging yourself to the gym purely for the knowledge that you have worked out then this is the completely wrong mind-set to have. You want to be going to the gym excited about your upcoming session or class, not praying for the moment you can finish and come home. Finding something you enjoy is vital to both your motivation and your mental health. If you hate cardio then try weight-lifting, if you hate the gym then try an exercise class or go for a walk. The main aspect to fitness is that you’re happy within yourself.

“What Does It Mean To Be Healthy?”

Upon starting my fitness account on Instagram, I was pleasantly surprised by how many young people also had accounts of this nature. Young people tend to get a bad wrap when it comes to health and fitness so I was interested in putting together a short film on what each individual understands the term “healthy” to mean.

Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KfxfnHMpkk

Enjoy.

Let’s talk CONFIDENCE

The thing I like about the word ‘confidence’, is that to almost every single person on the planet it could mean something slightly different. From body confidence, to personality confidence, to occupational confidence; all have different attributes and all have different results. As fitness is obviously a huge part of my life, confidence surrounding body image is the area in which I feel as though I deal in the most. It’s an incredibly tricky subject to discuss on social media, as due to affecting such a large majority of the online population it therefore tends to attract some rather controversial opinions. One of which I believe to be that those who choose to share their fitness progress are often met with phrases such as ‘showing off’ and ‘boasting’.

The idea of shaming those who post these types of pictures both saddens and confuses me. Firstly, any girl, boy, women or man who feels pleased with the progress they have made to both their body and their health surely should not be made to feel discouraged? They should be made to feel congratulated and subsequently full of high hopes to continue their journey. Secondly, social media is FULL of people sharing news about their school grades, university acceptance, new job offer, marriage, kids, a new house; personal things in which they are proud of. So, if this is deemed socially acceptable, with posts like these receiving handfuls of likes & supportive comments from friends and family then why is it not the same for fitness posts?

The reasoning I have for this particular difference is that body confidence is something which EVERYONE struggles with, no matter how confident you may seem on the outside. From children starting high school, to fitness models at the top of the industry, everyone has parts of themselves which they dislike and wish they could change. Therefore, when viewing a friends, colleagues or even a random accounts fitness progress it can be hard to be pleased for them without succumbing to the thoughts inside your head of ‘I wish I was that skinny’ or ‘I wish my legs looked like that’.

However, the picture you are viewing on social media is a post most likely chosen out of 20-30 others, impeccably posed and then edited to the best of the account owner’s ability. So, although some people accuse transformation pictures and gym selfies as being over-confident, the reality is that these pictures have undergone just as much self-scrutiny as a typical Facebook profile picture receives. Although the person is incredibly happy with their current progress in the gym, they still have insecurities surrounding their body and goals they want to achieve.

In my opinion, for every post in which it is clear that the person behind it is proud of something, we should respond with praise and encouragement. Your reception may be the difference in them deciding to continue to pursue the difference they want to make, or giving up.

Screw the Scales

If you follow me on Instagram (paigefitnessuk), then you’ll know that I’ve talked quite a lot recently about my experiences on a lean//slow bulk. Due to a stomach infection last September, followed by training for a half-marathon, I lost a LOT of weight. I didn’t find this out by weighing myself, I found this out by my worried mum noticing how much muscle I’d lost on my legs, followed by a friend at uni, who I hadn’t seen for a while, commenting on the thinness of my arms after a reunion hug. For some people, I understand that these comments might have appeared upsetting, but for me it was exactly what I needed to hear. Because you are looking at yourself everyday, it’s almost impossible for you to see the extent of personal weight loss/weight gain, so sometimes it takes a family member, friend or even a doctor to inform you otherwise.

I have NEVER been the type of girl to weight herself week in/week out, but out of pure interest following both these comments I weighed myself and I was completely shocked. I weighed 51KG, which at the height of 5″7 is scientifically classed on the BMI scale as underweight. I had been following a Paleo based diet, due to ongoing stomach issues, which is perfectly fine, but seeing as I was still weight-training 4/5 times per week I now realise that I was getting absolutely no where near the calories my body needed to a) correctly function and b) repair and look after my muscles. Looking back on some of my ‘What I Eat In A Day’ posts or videos, I’m convinced that on some days I wasn’t even hitting 1200 calories, which is extremely dangerous for someone of my measurements.

So, after a few days of moral panic, where I started to doubt everything to do with my fitness regime/diet/life (shout out to my mum for rearing me back to sanity), I am FINALLY back and feeling content for the first time in just under a year. I’m aiming for around 2300 calories a day, with the minimum always being 2000, and I’m making sure I’m getting heaps of protein and healthy fats. If you were to compare by current regime to a standardised diet, the #iifym is probably the most accurate. However, I’m not obsessing over every gram or losing sleep if I don’t hit my recommended macros, I’m simply loosely tracking to ensure I’m getting the correct nutrients and calories in which my body needs.

I recently did a comparison picture on Instagram which inspired me to write this post. This particular picture gained the most activity out of all my posts, with the important message being that just because your weight has gone up on the scales, does not mean this a negative thing. Within two weeks of eating properly and consequently smashing my workouts, I’ve had several compliments from family and friends on my current physique, but the most obvious thing which has changed about me is my mood. I can’t describe how much happier I am in myself and my body. I’m starting to enjoy food again and even though some days I feel down if my stomachs playing up, I know that the place I’m at now is exactly where I need to be.

Life Made Easier with Meal Prep

Summer in the UK is a big deal. Well, let me re-phrase, summer which actually represents a summer (aka the sun actually comes out) is a big deal. It puts the majority of the UK population in a better mood, makes for a better Instagram picture and also simultaneously turns said population into alcoholics, with “pub?” or “drinks tonight?” being frequent questions amongst thousands of group chats.

And although alcohol is your fitness stories worst enemy, it would be rude not to enjoy the rare occurrence of being sat outside in the sun with a #bev repeating “wow, it’s boiling isn’t it?”, applying the temperature filter on snapchat or tweeting “this weather” followed by a tick emoji. So, in order to stay on track with that summer body, a simple trick is to meal prep throughout the week so that you can indulge in these types of treats and not feel guilty.

Whether you’re at work or at home, meal prepping saves time, money and prevents you going off track by grabbing the nearest thing in sight when the hunger pains hit. I’m more of a grazer, so I tend to go for a three meals and then 4 snacks throughout the day. However, I am currently choosing to do a ‘slow bulk’, in order to bring back some of the muscle I lost from half-marathon training, so if you’re looking to lean out then three meals and two to three snacks will be sufficient.

I like to keep my meal prep interesting. You should look forward to the food you’ve got to eat- not dread it. Below I’m going to include an example of a lean meal prep and a ‘slow bulk’ meal prep, which can also be followed by those who are planning on lifting heavy weights on that specific day.

LEAN PREP

Breakfast: Spinach, Blueberries, 1 ripe Banana & Almond Milk Smoothie

Snack: Nature Valley Oat Bar / Primal Pantry Bar / Deliciously Ella Ball

Lunch: Protein | Healthy Fats | Greens

Combo 1: Chicken, Avocado, Spinach

Combo 2: Boiled Eggs, Walnuts, Kale

Combo 3: Tuna, Avocado, Lettuce

Combo 4: Salmon, Walnuts, Asparagus

Snack: Sliced Banana on Nairns Crackers with a drizzle of Honey

Dinner: Protein | Carbs | Vegetables

Combo 1: Chicken, Coconut Rice, Asparagus

Combo 2: Sea Bass, New Potatoes, fried Courgette & Tomatoes

Combo 3: Low-Fat Mince, Wholegrain Pasta, Tomato Puree & fried Peppers

Combo 4: Lightly Battered Haddock, Coconut Rice, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Lettuce

Snack (if needed): Two scoops of Swedish Glace Ice Cream

Water Intake: 3-4 Litres & 2 Peppermint Teas

 

‘SLOW BULK’ or HEAVY WEIGHTS PREP

Breakfast: Wholegrain Rolled Oats, Coyo Yoghurt, Blueberries

Snack 1: Pineapple Chunks, Strawberries & Raspberries

Snack 2: Rebel Kitchen Mylk Drink / Kombuccha / Coconut Water

Lunch: Protein | Carbs | Healthy Fats | Greens

Combo 1: Chicken, Sourdough Bread, Avocado Lettuce, Tomato

Combo 2: Tuna, Coconut Rice, Walnuts, Spinach

Combo 3: Salmon, Wholegrain Bagel, Low-Fat Cream Cheese & Asparagus

Combo 4: Sea Bass, Wholegrain Pasta, Chia Seeds, Lettuce, Tomatoes

Snack 3: Gluten Free Ginger Snaps / Nature Valley Oat Bar / Proper Corn Popcorn

Dinner: Protein | Carbs | Healthy Fats | Greens

Combo 1: Chicken, Whole Grain Pasta, Coconut Oil, Spinach

Combo 2: Poached Eggs, Whole grain Bagel, Avocado, Asparagus

Combo 3: Heck Sausages, New Potatoes, Chia Seeds, Green Beans

Combo 4: Low-Fat Minced Burger, Sweet Potato, Walnuts, Peppers

Snack 4: Paleo Blueberry Muffin, Blueberries, Strawberries, Swedish Glace Ice Cream

Water Intake: 2/3 Litres & 1 Peppermint Tea

Meal Prep is a great way to keep on track but it’s important not to get too caught up with it. Make sure you have 2 or 3 treats a week, enjoy these treats without feeling guilty and if you slip from prep don’t feel bad! Just enjoy the rest and be extra motivated to get back to it the next day 🙂

Click here to see my latest video of a KILLER glute workout and my moving to london blog.

My Fitness Story: Part Two

Much like my previous post, My Fitness Story: Part One, upon where I documented how my diet had changed dramatically overtime, my workout regime has also had many ups and downs. During my scary transition from attempting to do something other than aimlessly run on the treadmill, I found myself making a lot of mistakes, having several staring competitions with the ‘how to use’ machine instructions and lots of moments of sheer panic when I realised, 15 squats in, that it was highly likely I would not have the energy to lift the weighted bar back off my shoulders (massive thank you to the many strangers who came to my assistance). It may sound silly, but no matter how embarrassing some of those situations were, I genuinely wouldn’t change a thing. Seeing as I was forced into learning from my many mistakes, this subsequently led to a feeling of gratitude over even the smallest of my personal achievements which, in the long run, helped me keep a clear perspective and improved my confidence.

When I first began training I was often conflicted over which goals I wanted to pursue for my body. Did I want to try and look like a stereotypical sun, sea and sand Instagram model? Or did I want to be able to lift heavier weights than the men at my gym? Firstly, I decided to try the cardio and high intensity approach to my fitness. This definitely brought visible progress and I was happy to be feeling more lean, but one worried question from a high school teacher later (she was concerned I was anorexic) made me cut back from my 5 sessions a week of cardio. Looking back, I now know that doing that amount of cardio, on top of my already naturally high metabolism, was not in fact my finest decision. However, in my head I was going to the gym multiple times a week, therefore I was simply being super healthy.

After pondering over whether I did in fact look too skinny, I decided I liked the appearance of my stomach and my waist but I wanted to gain muscle pretty much EVERYWHERE else. This is the point of my fitness journey where I saw a lot of progress in my body, consumed the most calories and repeatedly overused the hashtag ‘#weights’. I started using heavy weights for my glute, leg, arms and ab workouts, which definitely improved my overall physique. I began to look somewhat curvier in certain areas, particularly my glutes and legs, which only encouraged me to carry on upping both my weights and reps. This was a very bad decision on my part and has now left me with some niggling joint issues. Due to my body responding well to weights at the time, I had no desire or need to research efficient stretching, complimentary cardio to weight exercises or even simply different workouts, therefore I started to suffer from constant achy joints, a feeling of stress and zero motivation towards my workouts.

Coincidently, I developed a stomach infection at the end of last summer which forced me to re-evaluate my whole fitness and diet regime. Due to feeling both physically and mentally weak, I had a sudden drive to want to be strong. Not necessarily strong in the sense that I had bulging muscles and could’ve been mistaken for an aspiring bodybuilder, but in the sense that my body responded well to what I was doing. This brings me to my current fitness routine of weight training twice a week, a pilates or yoga based class twice a week and a cardio session once a week. This balance has given me the best results I’ve ever had; I’m building muscle from weight training, I’m then toning and strengthening these muscles during pilates or yoga and then I’m burning any excess fat during cardio.

I have learnt a hell of a lot about fitness since I started regularly going to the gym and I’m incredibly grateful to have finally realised that being fit is not about whether you look like a fitness model on Instagram or another member of your gym, it’s about feeling good in your own skin and enjoying your preferred method of fitness, whatever that is.

My Fitness Story: Part One

Around four years ago I made the change from someone who occasionally messed around on the treadmill, and didn’t pay any attention to what I was eating, to a regular gym-goer who (finally) enjoys eating healthy. My interest in food came a few months after my new exercise regime, when I began to understand that in order to see continuous progress, my diet needed to aid my workouts.

Since this realisation, I have tried SO many different diets and styles of eating to the point where I have tried bulking, cutting, a coeliac diet, a pescatarian diet, a vegetarian diet and just about anything in between. After a stomach infection at the end of last summer, which left my gut short of several trillion good bacteria, this further heightened my interest in food and the complex ingredients of what actually goes into it. The research I conducted in order to simply stop a painful infection, actually brought up alarming results. So much so, that for the last time I finally changed my diet to one which works for me.

I have never coped well with excessive amounts of dairy produce. When I was younger I always had to have skimmed milk on my cereal, and I could never manage to stomach cream. But, it would infuriate me that I could happily enjoy eggs and have no repercussions, yet as soon as I touched a milkshake * sigh * I would instantly be overcome with a feeling of sickness. Through my research of, what feels like, the anatomy of a British cow, I now understand that it isn’t dairy itself which I am intolerant too, it’s the additives and preservatives in which is added to the likes of milk, cream and some cheeses which don’t agree with my gut.

This got me thinking whether other foods which contain various additives and preservatives, aka the majority of foods on the market, are also harmful. This then led my research to gluten. As Calvin Harris recently tweeted, the food which “everyone in LA is scared of”. Jokes aside, the fitness freaks of LA have a point. In order to ensure that bread, bagels and croissants survive shelf-life there can be up to 5 preservatives added, which are often what causes the instant bloated feeling. If you often feel lethargic after a pizza or pasta dish, then you may benefit from either switching to gluten-free, make sure you use a brand with no added preservatives, or opt for fresh bakery bread which is made on the day.

My next stomach culprit is refined sugar. Basically, the sugar which doesn’t occur naturally from agave, honey or fruit (raw sugar). Refined sugar can be a very hard ingredient to eliminate when you’re first beginning a healthy diet, as it is, worryingly, included in a HELL of a lot of snacks, cereals, yoghurts and carbonated drinks. Therefore, my advice, and the rules I tend to follow, is to not overthink about refined sugar when you’re eating out at a restaurant, as most meals will contain at least a trace, but on the days after your cheat day try to not consume any refined sugar. This may sound tricky, but simple tips I use are adding honey to a snack, eating berries and consuming organic, 100% dark chocolate, as these cure the cravings.

At this stage you might be wondering what in fact I do eat? Fair point. The answer to that is WHOLE FOODS. My staple diet is lots of fresh veggies, lean meats and fish. I try and make any sauces that I can myself, and I steer clear of processed food. For snacks I either have a small portion of fruit, such as 1 ripe banana or a handful of berries, or an energy or protein ball. This diet is often referred to as the ‘Paleo’ diet, upon where you have an exceedingly low in-take of grains, if you’re craving the likes of rice, pasta or granola then you simply always opt for gluten free, 8+ portions of fruit and veg a day and plenty of healthy protein. Oh, and white wine is also an element to the diet. Win, win.

For the first time in years, I finally feel like I’ve found the perfect diet for me. Everyone is different and no one diet will fit all, but in terms of how I feel both on the outside and the inside, this is definitely the healthiest I have ever felt.

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