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.

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.

Zucchini Noodle Bolognese

Due to loving absolutely everything about Italy; the culture, the scenery and most importantly the food, not having pasta is probably the only thing I miss now that I follow a paleo based diet. ALAS, on a warm, Sunday evening I have managed to re-create one of my favourite dishes to be completely grain free. This version genuinely tastes better than the original, so much so that I’m already planning to make it again tomorrow. (YAY). So without further ado here is the recipe:

Ingredients:
• Zucchini Noodles (sometimes called courgette spirals)
• Coconut Oil
• Low-Fat Minced Meat
• Tomato Puree
• Spinach
• Mushrooms
• Tomatoes
• Red Pepper
• Asparagus
• Chia Seeds
• Flax Seeds

Method:

  • Wash, chop and peel the mushrooms, tomatoes and pepper.
  • Put a spoon of coconut oil into a frying pan and add approx. one serving of mince (125g) Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes.
  • Put a spoon of coconut oil into a second frying pan and add the mushrooms, tomatoes, red pepper, asparagus and a large handful of spinach. Fry on a medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
  • Now add the tomato puree to the mince and continue to fry for 5 more minutes.
  • Add the zucchini noodles to the veg and continue to fry for 5 more minutes.
  • Plate up the zucchini noodles, add a bed of spinach, mushrooms and red peppers, followed by the mince then add the asparagus, chia seeds & flax seeds to complete the dish.

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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Meal Prep: Your New Best Friend?

Despite being painfully overused on social media, the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” is in fact very true. You can train seven days a week but if you’re not feeding your body with the correct nutrients then you will see limited progress. More often than not, eating the wrong type of food isn’t down to purposely neglecting your body, it’s simply an issue of lack of time and preparation.

Spending half an hour at night prepping your meals for the following day, or getting up a bit earlier in the morning, is a highly effective way to stop you from quickly grabbing the same supermarket meal deal which you have eaten every day for the past year and a half. I found it fairly difficult to know where to begin with meal prepping when I first started, but I now swear by these five steps.

 

Make A Meal Plan

There’s nothing quite like planning your meals for the week ahead to cure Sunday night boredom. For each day write down what you’re going to have for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner as well as leaving room for two interchangeable snacks. I personally base what I choose for my daily snacks on whether they’re going to be pre or post workout, and what area of the body I’m training on that specific day. On glute, leg and shoulder days I like to incorporate a lot of protein so I’ll have protein balls or a protein bar. Whereas for a day when I’m training abs I’ll have something lighter like sliced banana on oat crackers.

 

Double Up

The great thing about planning your meals, alongside the heavily reduced stress levels, is being able to double up. If you’re making tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad for your dinner, then double up on the ingredients and set some aside to take to work, university or school the next day. This saves both time and money and ensures you won’t be tempted to the vending machine.

 

Keep A Food Diary

For those who are just starting out with meal prepping and changing your diet, a great way to see which foods make you feel like Beyoncé and which foods make you want to crawl into a hole is to keep a food diary. You’ll be able to tell exactly which foods don’t agree with you within a couple of weeks if you keep your meals fairly consistent. For me, I found that I felt lethargic whenever I had consumed a fruit salad, due to the sudden high intake of fructose, therefore I now only include a handful of fruit on some of my breakfasts, which prevents this feeling.

 

Have One Cheat Meal A Week

Unless you want to go certifiably insane and start hallucinating pizza, then it’s important to have one cheat meal per week. This will be enough to satisfy your cravings, provide more motivation to smash your workouts and give you something to look forward to every week. I usually time my cheat meal with my rest day, so I’m 110% focused to get back to clean eating and the gym the following day.

 

Don’t Overthink

Meal prep certainly aids your fitness routine as a structured guide, but it’s important not to overthink and become obsessive. If you’ve had a really bad day and you’re sadly staring at your designated snack wishing it was a packet of crisps, then swap it. As long as for the majority of the time you’re sticking to good, whole foods then one change isn’t going to make ANY difference. One workout won’t transform your body therefore one packet of crisps won’t revoke your progress.

Weekly Food Order & Healthy Meal Plan

Nothing in this world makes me more excited than the delivery man ringing to say my weekly food shop is here.  Being in university, I find that one big order based on meal plans for each day saves time, money and it prevents (most of the time) snacking on the student union shop’s chocolate aisle.

I usually tend to stock up on staple food cupboard items such as pasta, rice, eggs and any cereal or granola in bulk once a month, therefore my weekly shop mainly consists of fresh food. After following a pescatarian diet for the past month, I am now back to having meat, but I still want to ensure I am getting the same large portions of fruit and vegetables as I was having with the medetarian based diet. Therefore, I have planned my meals around a guideline of 1/4 of protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 fruit or veg.

Food Order

  • Eggs
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Bananas
  • Koko Dairy Free Milk
  • Actimel Yoghurts
  • New potatoes with herbs
  • Gluten Free Pasta
  • Buckwheat Pancake Mix
  • Wholemeal Ciabatta Rolls
  • Genius Plain Bagels
  • Mixed Salad
  • Asparagus
  • Peppers
  • Sweetcorn
  • Tinned Tuna
  • Minced Meat
  • Cod and Parsley Fishcakes
  • Steak Burgers
  • Tilda Coconut Rice
  • Mixed Carrots and Peas
  • Smoked Salmon Slices
  • Nairns Oat Crackers
  • Roast Chicken Slices
  • Pears
  • Buckwheat Granola

I try to stick to breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner. My meal portions vary depending on whether they’re pre or post workout, so if I’m going to the gym after breakfast I’ll have something small and energy fuelling then if I’m going later in the day I’ll have something bigger and then a smaller lunch.

Using the food order above, my meals this week will consist of:

Breakfast

  • Granola, Yoghurt and Fruit
  • Buckwheat Pancakes and Fruit
  • Salmon & Scrambled Egg Bagel
  • Mushroom and Spinach Omelette

Lunch

  • Sliced Chicken and Salad Ciabatta Roll
  • Tilda Rice, Salmon, Peppers & Asparagus
  • Cod fishcake, Spinach & Salad
  • Tuna & Sweetcorn Pasta
  • Sliced Chicken, New Potatoes & Peppers

Afternoon Snack

  • Blueberry, Strawberry & Banana Smoothie
  • Bagel & Prutella Hazelnut Protein Spread
  • Sliced Pear & Coconut Yoghurt
  • Sliced Banana & Honey Oat Crackers

Dinner

  • Low Fat Mince, Peppers, Mushrooms & Low Calorie Tomato Sauce
  • Fishcake, Carrots, Peas & New Potatoes
  • Ciabatta Steak Burger, Carrots, Peas & Salad
  • Salmon, Coconut Rice, Asparagus & Peppers
  • Tuna, Sweetcorn, Pepper & Spinach Pasta