Improving fitness starts with improving recovery, nutrition

  • Published
  • By Capt. Zach Garrett
  • 51st Aerospace Medicine Squadron
"If you want to be more effective, improve your fitness." -Sir Richard Branson, knighted in 1999 and is currently worth more than $4 billion.

While he is not a member of the military, I think his undeniable success justifies observing his methods. I will be clear and state that I am not advocating for everyone to adopt part-time residency status at the gym.

On the contrary, increasing the amount you exercise is not as critical to improving overall fitness as proper recovery or nutrition. I think all three are important to overall health, but too often we don't effectively prioritize these key components.

The first step in improving your fitness is improving your recovery. I do not limit this to recovery from working out. The daily grind itself requires a certain amount of recovery, which is where many individuals fall short.

They do not recover enough to support a couch-potato lifestyle, let alone an active lifestyle. Thus, beginning an exercise program without first establishing solid recovery habits will reduce the gains made from exercise.

There is no way around the physiological need for sleep. The standard recommendation is eight hours per night, and applies to virtually everyone. Achieving this does not have to occur in one night, but can be a gradual change by going to bed just 10 minutes earlier than the previous night and continuing this trend until a more optimal sleep pattern is established.

One caveat is that your day-to-day energy levels and alertness will lag behind your sleep habits by about seven to 10 days. So you will have to achieve seven to 10 consecutive days of adequate sleep before you can expect to see the difference.

Following sleep, the next step in improving fitness is nutrition. Most of us will consume sustenance two to four times per day, but will not have a strong recollection of what we ate, let alone the exact caloric and macronutrient content of what we ate.

This is fine if your meal choices are vegetables and lean sources of protein 75 percent of the time. However, if this isn't you, then you may need to evaluate your "tracking system." This isn't just for weight loss, because it's possible to be "thin" but be as unhealthy as any obese or overweight individual.

Back to what Sir Richard Branson was saying, there is no better confidence booster than mastering your own body. On top of the physical changes that occur with fitness improvement, the desire to continue to improve usually persists.

So, while taking care of ourselves is something that can be difficult to prioritize above our other endeavors, it's often that self care that can enable us to achieve more in the long run.