Heading back to school, and not sure how to fit in exercise?
This guest post by Hannah Giangaspro, Exercise Science and Nutrition Intern provides awesome tips to get on track and schedule your days.
Whether or not we want to accept it, summer is over and school is back in session. I can practically feel the tension in the air as I walk to my 8:30 class on weekday mornings. This tension is not from school alone, but from the pairing of school with all the other deadlines, commitments, and extracurricular activities that are—for the most part—nonexistent over the summer.
To give you a little background on my life: along with being a full-time student on a Pre-Med track, I am a NCAA Division I athlete, have a job, an internship, and am working on a senior thesis. Balancing all these things while trying to also have a social life can be very overwhelming. I have no doubt in my mind that each and every person reading this blog has a list of commitments that is just as scary—if not scarier—than mine, especially for you parents out there! While you may not be student anymore, you may have children who are and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my parents, your children’s schedules become your schedule.
As we embark on nine months of the never-ending chaos that we call a school year, it is easy to let the stress and busyness get to us in a way that wreaks havoc on our health. When my schedule has gotten crazy in the past, the three spheres that I have observed to suffer the most in my life (and in those of others) are (1) nutrition, (2) exercise, and (3) sleep. As we all know, when these three areas suffer, our weight-loss and/or performance goals suffer as well.
Now that we realize we have a problem, how do we go about fixing it? Let’s talk a little about time.
I often joke that time is my biggest enemy. One thing I have learned through my years in college is that you will never find time for anything. Ever. You have to make time.
How do you make time? You plan ahead. How do you plan ahead? You schedule.
Yes, you schedule. Scheduling is your biggest weapon against time. Schedule everything, not just your classes or your child’s soccer practice schedule. Schedule your workouts, meals, cooking time, etc. This task can seem a little overwhelming so I thought I’d help by giving you a step-by-step method I’ve used to make my schedule.
Step 1) Make a grid
Get out a pencil and paper and make a grid that is seven columns wide (one for each day of the week). Make a row for each hour that you are a functional human being (i.e. not sleeping). For example, my days usually start around 5:00am so that is my first row and I have a row for every subsequent hour until 11:00pm (even though I don’t usually make it that long!).
Step 2) Write in what you know
Luckily, a good chunk of your schedule is already made for you. You know when your classes are, when you have work, when your child’s practice is. Fill these in first. For example, I have a class from 8:30am to 9:45am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, on my schedule, I filled in part of the 8:00am and 9:00am row in both the Tuesday and Thursday columns. Do this for all that you know in your schedule. For those variable activities that may occur at different times depending on the week (e.g. weekend soccer games), don’t bother writing these down yet.
Step 3) Plan your meals and workouts
Now that the framework of our schedule is complete, we can start addressing the three spheres that I mentioned earlier (nutrition, exercise, and sleep). We all know that when our schedules get crazy, the first thing to go is our workouts—we can’t find time for them. This is when we start making time. You first need to figure out how many days you would like to work out and how long each work out session is likely to take. Personally, I work out five days a week (every weekday) for about an hour each session. Knowing this, I found an hour time-block on each weekday and scheduled my workout session for this block. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.
It is also important that we schedule our meals for each day. It may seem like overkill but how many times have you had to skip breakfast or lunch because it didn’t fit into your day? Skipping meals is detrimental to both weight loss and performance goals: it literally starves the body, leading to overeating later in the day, muscle degradation, and bonking in your workouts. Block out a time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. Even if it is just five minutes to throw some instant oatmeal in the microwave, scheduling it will ensure that you now have time to do it.
For those that are cooking your meals, make sure you schedule enough time to both cook and eat. It may sound silly but I have definitely made this mistake in the past. (*Pro-Tip: Pack yourself some non-perishable healthy snacks like nuts and granola bars to keep you going between meals throughout the day!)
Note that this step may take a while to do but I promise that it will be worthwhile once it is done. Scheduling your workouts and meals will ensure that your nutrition and exercise goals stay on track even during the school year.
Step 4) Leave some empty spaces
It is okay if you have some empty spaces in your schedule. In fact, try your best to keep as many of these as you can. These spaces are your wild cards and allow you some flexibility. Need to schedule an appointment, work on some homework, or (on that rare but glorious day) take a nap?! This is where you do that! Also, when life happens and you have to miss a previously scheduled item, this is the time that you can make that up. I personally like to leave as many empty spaces as I can before bed time so that I can take this time to myself and unwind before I go to sleep.
One thing that we do not discuss enough when it comes to health is sleep. While eating right and working out are fantastic, if you aren’t sleeping you are not allowing your body to recover. Your immune system becomes compromised, you can hardly make it through your workouts (or the day in general!), and your weight fluctuates. Make sure you are leaving time to sleep: it is just as important as diet and exercise.
If possible, I highly encourage you leave little time blocks here and there where you can just stop and think, put on some music, or do whatever you need to take time for yourself. Even if it is just five minutes, these moments to yourself are wonderful for your mental health and work wonders to reenergize you for the remainder of your day. If you need to actually schedule these “mental breathers” to ensure they get done, do so.
Step 5) Let your schedule be your weekly guide and fill in the empty spaces as needed
It’s a good idea to type your schedule up and save it on a computer so that you can just print a copy for each week. Fill in any empty spaces that may need to be filled in (e.g. a one-time doctor’s appointment on a Wednesday evening). If you’re feeling extra ambitious, write down daily or weekly goals somewhere below the schedule.
Step 6) Follow this thing!!
This is pretty self-explanatory. Follow your schedule and I promise you will be happy with the results. You will stay on track with diet, exercise, and sleep… even during a crazy school year!
Here at Elite Nutrition and Performance, we have a lot of great time-saving tips for your busy schedules. Want to learn about healthy meal prep or about quick, but effective workouts to keep your fitness goals on track? Schedule a FREE NO OBLIGATION CONSULTATION WITH US TODAY!
Hannah Giangaspro, Exercise Science and Nutrition Intern