While participants in the Fitness Challenge always get plenty of exercise thanks to their trainers from Anytime Fitness and Husker Health, those who have participated in the Challenge will tell you it’s not the workouts that are typically the greatest struggle.

For most, changing their diets and sticking to a healthier nutrition plan is the most difficult part of the challenge.

“If you’re navigating this journey completely on your own, I realize that all the health and nutrition information out there can be confusing and sometimes contradictory,” explains Bryan Seibel from Anytime Fitness. “An excellent first step a person can take on their own is simply eliminating processed food and incorporating more ‘real food’ into their diet. Lean meats from the meat counter and fresh fruits and veggies are all great examples of ‘real food’.”

While avoiding processed foods is something the majority of trainers agree on, that doesn’t necessarily mean spending more at the grocery store.

“It’s just how a person sees the price of food in a way,” said Husker Health’s Dylan Warford. “Many foods that are very healthy and nutritious are a little more expensive, but not that bad. It can vary in price by like $1.50 or so.”

Seibel offered a few shopping tips for those trying to eat healthy on a budget:

• Don’t buy ready-made meals or prepared vegetables. These meals often have high levels of additives, especially sodium and some form of sugar. It’s often healthier and cheaper to prepare them fresh yourself.

• Choose fruits and veggies that are in season, as they cost much less than they do out of season.

• Look for cheaper product swaps. For example, frozen berries are usually cheaper than fresh—and last longer! Or quick oats are less expensive and healthier than pre-packaged, sugary oatmeal.

Warford also cautions that protein shakes and bars are not a necessity when it comes to eating healthy.

“Protein is mainly for muscle recovery and for individuals that need more protein included in their diet. It will not hurt you if you drink shakes and eat protein bars all the time, it will just add more protein in your diet which in turn will add more calories.”

Seibel agrees that there are practical short-term uses for protein supplements, but stresses they are not long-term tools.

“I personally am not an advocate for using them as a meal replacement tactic for trying to achieve a long-term healthy lifestyle,” Seibel said. “A meal replacement option will never help a person learn how to eat naturally healthy for the rest of their life. Moreover, a person’s complete nutritional needs can almost always be found by making proper choices at their local grocery store.”

In the 2017 Fitness Challenge, trainers have focused on instilling habits in the challengers that they can continue to benefit from long after the challenge ends. Part of that reality includes eating at restaurants on occasion.

“Most restaurants these days have a smart diet menu with healthier options,” Warford said. “One thing to look for is to see if the food is fried or grilled. Caloric intake is also a thing to watch when eating out. If you are on a diet plan and have a certain amount of calories to hit this is where that will play in.”

For fast food dining that doesn’t offer a calorie guide, www.fastfoodnutrition.org lists menu items at nearly every fast food restaurant.

“For a typical lunch or dinner, try to stay with a meal that is around 400-600 calories or less,” Seibel said. “Ask for sauces and dressings on the side rather than already mixed in. It gives you more control over your nutrition.Go with water or unsweetened tea as your beverage choice. A 32 ounce soda can add more than 400 calories to one meal.”

Regardless of what diet plan or goals you have, being aware of how many calories you are consuming is one of the most important keys to a successful plan.

“There’s no doubt that knowing exactly how much your consuming is far better than simply thinking ‘I’m eating ok’,” Seibel said. “In my experience most people tell me ‘I’m eating ok,’ but when I have them keep a detailed food diary for 10 days, the results aren’t quite so forgiving.”

“I think that the most important thing is portion control and sizing of meals,” Warford added. “Also reading labels is important when shopping for foods because this will make you watch for certain things that are unhealthy and healthy nutrients, this aspect will help you in your nutrition planning and meal prepping.”

In short, both Warford and Seibel agree that a sustainable diet plan mixed with regular exercise is the best path to long-term improved health.

“Nutrition recommendations have to be sustainable, and they must be paired with a consist exercise program,” Seibel said. “Without including proper exercise and strength training, a person’s weight loss will often include a significant loss in muscle mass. Muscle is the engine that burns calories. And without it, the weight a person might lose from a crash diet is hard to keep off. In the end, a sustainable nutrition plan paired with consistent exercise/strength training, equals success!”

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