If you're wondering why achieving your fitness goals seems elusive as ever, it may not have anything to do with how many reps you're cranking out or your mileage on the treadmill. Your workout plan and habits outside of the gym are just as important. These bad habits can ruin your workout and affect your health in the long run.
1. Bad Form
Whether from a lack of proper guidance, not asking for advice, or being new to the gym, many people don't realize the importance of good form when exercising. Exercising in the wrong way can be dangerous to your joints and muscles, and even minimize the effect of your workout. Make sure you learn the right form from a certified instructor or expert from the get-go. Bad habits can be difficult to get rid of later in the game.
2. Exercising on an Empty Stomach
Experts recommend fueling your body before you start exercising. Jay Cardiello, a fitness expert and ISSA and NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, says fasted cardio—AKA doing cardio on an empty stomach in the morning—can be both good and bad for your body, but it's not sustainable. Instead, he suggests getting in your glucose before starting your workout. That's because when your blood sugar is too low, your body extracts glycogen from the muscle tissues once it runs out of available glycogen. What does that mean, exactly? You start losing muscle instead of building it. Yikes. Not to mention low blood sugar can also cause dizziness and weakness during training, so eat a banana, berries, or low-fat yogurt 45 minutes before working out to skip those negative side effects.
3. Too Much Cardio
Cardio can burn a lot of calories, but overdoing it can minimize strength, cause muscle atrophy, and even lead to fat-loss plateaus. And, if you're on a strict diet plan and combine it with an overdose of cardio, it can take a toll on your muscles. Karina Baymiller, a powerlifter, suggests "a few 15-minute HIIT or conditioning sessions a week to keep your fat-loss rolling and strength maintained." (These Instagram Girls Will Inspire You to Try Powerlifting.) Instead of overcompensating with cardio, focus on strength training and consider fine-tuning your nutrition habits—after all, a healthy diet is the foundation of any effective, long-term fat-loss plan.
4. Starving or Eating the Wrong Food
Too many people think that skipping meals can help them lose weight, but that's far from true. You need to eat after working out, and you need to eat right. Otherwise, "your body breaks down muscles into amino acids to convert into glucose," says John Ivy, Ph.D., chair emeritus of kinesiology at the University of Texas, and your body will essentially start sabotaging itself. Avoid eating refined or processed foods, and aim to have a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. (Here's 6 Smart Snacks to Eat After a Workout.)
5. Not Enough Zzz's
Adequate sleep allows your muscles to recover. Without it, you can't exercise at full intensity and muscles feel sore from yesterday's gym sesh because they couldn't repair themselves. Not to mention sleep helps mitigate stress, which in turn reduces cortisol levels that are responsible for balancing testosterone and HGH production to metabolize fat. All that's to say that you should aim to get 6-8 hours of sleep, though that number is customizable for everyone.
6. Protein-Deficient Diet
Protein is essential to help your body recover from training and helps repair sore muscles. A protein-rich diet helps to increase the fat metabolism in your body, since you burn more calories while digesting and protein takes longer to break down. Science backs it up: studies indicate that the body burns up to 30 percent of the calories consumed from protein during the digestion process, so load up in every meal—even breakfast.