Here in the US, summer is finally approaching…hopefully. The warmer weather usually brings outdoor fun, family gatherings, and more social events. This also means that there will be different challenges to staying fit and/or continuing to make progress with your fitness goal. I personally love cookouts and brats! Now, if you think because I am a “fitness” guy I will skip having these foods and summer cocktails from time to time, you are wrong.
I am from Wisconsin, the brat and beer capital of the world, every gathering has them! I do, however still try to plan when these events fit (no pun intended) into my overall fitness and nutrition plan. The key is to make sure that one or two summer parties do not ruin your workouts and lead to overindulgence throughout the season.
Here are some great tips to help you manage your fitness and nutrition through the summer months.
#1. Stay hydrated... with water.
As the temperatures rise, it is imperative that you as a first responder stay hydrated! Hydration is critical for optimal performance and stress management. Progressive dehydration from exercise (or fireground operations) over time impairs performance, mental capacity, and perception of effort, and it can be life-threatening. With as little as a 2% shortage of body water, the ability to perform a high-intensity activity can be greatly impaired (Kleiner, 1999). And, dehydration can lead to higher instances of sudden cardiac arrest and stroke.
Drinking water can also help you feel more full and can minimize stomach “pangs” that can be mistaken for hunger. At a minimum, consume 64 oz. of water a day. Optimally try to aim at ingesting half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. If you weigh 180 pounds aim for 90 ounces. Increase that amount when exercising on duty and after you’ve completed your workout to avoid being dehydrated at the scene.
I created a hydration guide for first responders that you can post around the firehouse. Feel free to print them out. (Click here to download a printable version)
#2. Slow down and only eat until you are 80% full.
Use this trick to help you manage your nutrition and lose fat, especially during those summer barbeques and social events. The brain is always behind the stomach in signaling that we are full. Hunger and satiety cues are based on the release of hormones within our bodies. It takes about 15-20 minutes for the body to signal to the brain that you are full. If you are eating too quickly while talking to other people or distracted, then you won’t even sense these subtle changes going on internally. Then, you go back for a second (or third) helping because you still feel hungry. A couple of minutes later you discover you are too stuffed! This is a common occurrence at social gatherings and in most firehouses.
Eat too fast and miss the "stop" sign our body sends us and consume too much food and over-tax our digestive systems. We have all experienced that feeling at one time or another (some more than others).
Slow down when you are eating, take smaller plates and wait before going back for seconds. And, don't graze around the appetizer table. If you are around the food table, you will be more likely to eat. Move conversations to the other side of the room or yard.
#3. Have some healthy fruits and veggies with every meal.
Around my firehouse, we have replaced the random cookies and muffins with celery and orange slices. Please note that I do not throw the cakes and cookies away, I just place them in a cupboard or on a remote counter so that it takes a little more effort to eat them. Then, I put veggies and fruit on the table and in the areas where all these processed and sugary foods usually are. We are creatures of habit, after a call or late at night, it's a habit to walk to the kitchen to see what is there, if there are healthier options out, we are less likely to search for the crap. This works in the firehouse and in my own home. This also works when you are eating at a social gathering and/or barbeque. Stay away from the dessert table and make sure to fill your plate with fruits and vegetables. Give it a try.
On a side note, summer is also the best time of the year to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The faster food gets from the farm to your plate, the higher its nutritional value, so head out and frequent your neighborhood farmer's market to stock up. Look for those fruits and veggies that are in peak season. My favorites are high-fiber raspberries, anti-inflammatory strawberries, nutritious leafy greens, celery, apples, and oranges.
#4. Prepare for temptations with smart and healthy snacks.
Eating healthy all summer long is as challenging as eating healthy in the firehouse. There is always an abundance of sweets and good-tasting foods in both the firehouse and summer gatherings. Now, just because they are there, does not mean you have to eat them. I know, easier said than done. But, one way to help you avoid all of those "not-so-healthy" food choices is to have readily available "healthy" snack options to reach for in those tempting times.
Though snacking might not seem like a trusted fat-loss method, munching on the right snacks throughout the day is one of the best ways to keep your waistline in check. According to a recent study, researchers found participants lost significantly more body weight when they incorporated low-sugar, high-protein snacks into their daily food routine. Fitting in healthy, high protein snacks (such as a handful of unsalted almonds) helps to maintain blood sugar levels—which keeps your brain from triggering hunger pangs—and stops your body from indulging in unhealthy foods.
#5. Do not drink your calories.
It is very easy to get caught in the fun wheel during summer events. One or two glasses of lemonade or an adult beverage can easily turn into five or six glasses. These beverages contain calories and, in a lot of cases added sugars. The extra calories can easily add up and the sugar can mess up your metabolism and add to the waistline. Instead of having sugary fruit juices, sweet teas, and/or sodas, replace them with some fruit-infused water or green tea. My favorite water infusion is to cut some lemons, mangos, limes, or other seasonal fruits and put them in the pitcher with some water and ice. This is a great way to intake more water and it tastes good too.
A note on alcohol consumption. If you are trying to lose fat, your alcohol use is important to think about. Alcohol and its mixers have empty calories and it can change the way your metabolism functions. It also lowers your inhibitions, so you’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods. If you are going to consume some summer libations, make sure to do so in moderation and avoid the late-night “munchies” that can go with it. For someone trying to lose weight, choosing low-calorie spirits and drinking less frequently may help. Alcohol and mixers are often caloric, and the market is trying to offer consumers fewer sugary options.
#6. Don’t get LAZY with your fitness.
It is easy to just give up on your workouts and go into "procrastination mode”, especially on the day(s) after a social gathering. That is why it is important to have a plan and stick to it. Make a deal with yourself to not skip workouts after social gatherings and parties. Create a plan each week and account for these cheat days. Always remember that fitness is good for your body and mind, anytime! Working out can help manage your waistline and help you mentally get more out of each day.
Your workouts don’t have to be hours long either, try to work out 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes. If you need a program and some workout ideas, FRF has a program to try. You can get the FRF 28-day Catalyst Program for FREE to help you get and/or stay on track. The program includes workouts you can do in the gym and at home. It also includes exercise pics and videos and even access to the FRF tracking app.
#7. Take your workout outdoors.
Outdoor activities like jogging or workouts in the cold are no fun. But, as temps rise there's no reason you can't ditch the gym in favor of an outdoor workout instead. If you need some incentive, consider that research has shown that breaking a sweat outdoors may be more beneficial than burning calories inside. According to a 2011 study published in Environmental Science and Technology, exercising in a natural environment outdoors may improve energy levels and decrease stress more than working out indoors. Make sure you wear the appropriate attire that is lightweight and breathable. Also remember to check your shoes, make sure they have good support, especially if you are starting to ramp up your running miles.
#8. Challenge yourself with a Charity Race or Workout Event.
Everyone experiences ebb and flows with our training and level of fitness. The times we seem to train the hardest are in the build-up to some sort of event – often a holiday, a wedding, a reunion, or a fitness race/run. Choosing an event with a timeline and following a training plan makes the exercise more interesting. Training for a special event gives you a preset goal to focus on for each workout, and throughout the weeks of your training program. When you sign up for an event like a 5K or bicycle race, you keep yourself accountable by preparing to participate. Knowing there is a culminating event in the near future means you can give yourself checkpoints along the way, which will help you stay on track with your goals.
FRF has created an event to help you stay motivated! The FRF 5K+343 is a virtual workout event that raises money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the First Responder Center for Excellence. You can participate in the event by training for the 5K+ 343, 10K bike +343 reps, 5K walk/run, or a 2K walk. Event registration includes a workout program to help you train for the event, an event shirt or sweatshirt, a chance to win cash and prizes, coaching, and a donation to the NFFF. Stay tuned! The 2022 Event registration will open in July.
And, as a bonus tip, if you really overeat, consider fasting for 14-16 hours after. Fasting gives your digestive process a chance to catch up and rest. It is not as difficult as you think- stop eating by 8 pm, then skip breakfast the next morning, and do not eat until noon. It really works.
Continually make the commitment to your family, your crew, and your community to be the best version of yourself. It starts with working on improving your fitness and your health.
Enjoy the Summer, Be Grateful, Be Present and Be Kind.
And GET FRF (fire rescue fit).
ZAM (Aaron Zamzow)