Want To See Good Results At The Gym? Food And Sleep Are Just As Important As Exercise

Lauren Steadman, our Gym Buddies columnist, is a Paralympian, double World Champion paratriathlete and currently holds the European title, which she has won five times. Sign up for daily fitness inspiration, straight to your inbox.
It’s January and you’ve been hitting the gym for the past few weeks, but have not seen any results yet. You’re frustrated and are starting to wonder whether you should bother at all.

The truth it, it can take up to 12 weeks before you start to see any results from all your efforts. A common mistake people make is not adjusting their lifestyle to suit what they are trying to achieve: just going to the gym is not enough, you have to alter other aspects of your lifestyle to see the results you want.

You may have heard the phrase ‘abs happen in the kitchen not in the gym’ or ‘70% what you eat, 30% how you work out’ – while perhaps clichéd, they are clichés for a reason. You can work out hard in the gym but if you aren’t fuelling yourself properly your body won’t adapt and recover in the right process.  

Many people don’t realise that when you start working out, you should eat more not less, as this helps increase your metabolism, otherwise you’ll store fat, and that you should aim to eat within 30 minutes of exercising to maximise your body’s ability to absorb the fuel.

A motorcar wouldn’t run on fumes, neither can you. One of the reasons I love my sports career is that I can eat so much. I can burn up to 2000 cals in one session and my muscles need to replace what they lost, which means one thing: food.

I learnt from a young age to moderate what I eat, I never stop myself from having anything but I chose to eat healthy and nutritiously. Some of my favourite snacks to have include crushed tomatoes on bread, peanut butter on rice cakes, banana loaf, dark chocolate, granola on yoghurt, and I limit myself to one coffee a day. My guilty pleasure is ice-cream! It creeps into my weekly food plan, but as I said: I don’t deprive myself of things I enjoy, I simply make sure my diet is balanced.

Food prep is a really useful way to avoid snacking and succumbing to less nutritious meals, workout what your going to eat for the whole week, and if money’s tight, eat for lunch what you had the night before.

I used to calorie count and be very conscious of my body shape, as a girl it’s very easy to be self-conscious, but then I decided I’d rather be strong and healthy over skinny. I don’t have the normal athletic body that many people expect of athletes, and this used to bother me, and I had to learn what foods helped me to keep leaner and most importantly I need to stay fuelled for each training session.  

Another key factor that many people forget to adjust is sleep, and one thing my coach said to me from a young age is that recovery is part of training. You should listen to your body and allow it to repair itself after sessions. As a keen young athlete, I used to power through sore muscles or head colds, and I’d end up with injuries or a dose of antibiotics! As a wiser and older athlete, I now know the value of rest and downtime.

It can take a while to workout but finding your optimal sleep time is really useful, I need between six to seven hours of sleep to wake up alert and be able to work out for four hours a day. I experimented for a while with a sleep diary, recording how many hours I had slept and how my energy felt throughout the day.

As an athlete its important to record as much about how I’m feeling and what I’m doing as possible, sort of like a diary but it’s called a log book. That way when you perform well, or have a season with no injury you can reflect back and see what was working well for your routine and implement it into your future workouts.

So grab a notebook to record your sleeping pattern, energy levels, and the quantities and quality of food to take a long hard look at how these factors are affecting your workout and progress.