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The Matrix: Optimizing Nutrition & Exercise for Maximum Results

The Matrix: Optimizing Nutrition & Exercise for Maximum Results

Take out a piece of paper, create a 2x2 square matrix. Repeat. On the first one, write over the top left box “Effective Workouts” over the top right box “Ineffective Workouts.” To the side of the top left box write “Enjoy” below that “Don’t Enjoy.” So, the bottom right box represents Ineffective workouts you don’t enjoy, and the upper left hand box is for effective workouts you enjoy.

For the 2nd matrix write “Nutrient Rich” and “Nutrient Poor” across the top 2 boxes. Along the left side “Enjoy” and “Don’t Enjoy” respectively. Here the lower right hand box is for foods that are low in nutrition that you don’t enjoy, and the upper left hand box is for foods you enjoy and are really good for you.

Most people spend their time in the upper right hand box: enjoy but not that good for you (food and workouts). The goal is to move to the upper left hand quadrant.

Specific examples. I had a client who used to do around 30 minutes of elliptical per day. I don’t want to say that is a total waste of time, but it is an extremely ineffective way to achieve fitness. Enjoy/don’t is by definition subjective, so I’ll hold back comment on whether doing an indoor elliptical is enjoyable. After some discussion, we identified exercises that she enjoys and benefits from physically and beyond. She now hikes vigorously outdoors and does martial arts/weight circuit training 4 – 5 days a week. She enjoys these activities and the results she got over time versus the elliptical training was material. She’s also learned new skills, built her confidence, and enhanced social time (as she hiked with different friends and used that time to catch up as well). How many of these added benefits can you really get out the elliptical day after day?

As there are far more activities than we could possibly analyze in a short space, my goal here is to bring your awareness to this matrix and to get you thinking on things you enjoy but are not currently doing as part of your routine. This will provide you with a more effective and efficient workout than your ho-hum, tired one. Some activities may be seasonal, e.g., in the summer you might play tennis and body surf as an alternative to sitting on an indoor spin bike. Feel free to contact me with any specific thoughts or questions.

On the nutrition side, there are some obvious “Enjoy/Not Nutritious” examples: Pizza, white bread, coke/diet soda, alcohol, chips. Again, enjoy is subjective so the point is you need to experiment and find the foods that you like – that also like you (swipe right for kale…). Some that fit the upper left hand box for me include: water, spinach, kale, nonfat Greek yogurt, blueberries, salmon (almost any kind of fish). Not coincidentally, those foods tend to be both nutrient rich and low in calories versus pizza which is low in nutrients and high in calories – another great matrix to draw. Some foods like almonds are nutritious but calorie dense, almonds having around 500 calories per cup compared to under 10 for spinach.

The Holy Grail of nutrition is to find high nutrition, low calorie foods that you enjoy.

As with working out, the variety of foods is almost endless, so I’m offering a template for building awareness. Your next step is to do a little external research and look within to find those foods that are near or in the upper left hand box. Move even a little from upper right to upper left, and your world changes big time. More energy, less fat, healthier skin and internal organs, etc.

I grew up in the Midwest where carbs dominated the food pyramid. Even once I ventured East and ultimately West to California, the combination of being young, engaging in endurance sports like triathlons - and habit - kept my nutrition firmly in the carb-centric realm. However, as life’s responsibilities took over – along with age – I could no longer ‘get away’ with long runs and extended pizza munching sessions. Through research and experimentation, I quickly learned that shorter, higher intensity interval training along with fish, veggies and the like could give me more energy, strength, and endurance than I enjoyed even as a younger person. Look to find foods and exercises you enjoy that have a more positive impact than your current regimen. As noted in previous blogs, some great ways to find new activities include joining friends in what they do, learning a new skill (e.g. surfing or skiing), or doing what your kids do. Not only will you engage new muscles and thus see better results, but you will learn a new skill (vital for keeping your mind young and strong) and build social ties (a great way to be happy) along the way. Win win win!


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