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Friday, February 7, 2014

Lean, Toned & Spectacular: A Frugal Guide for Health & Happiness

Frugal fitness can be yours 

“I lived off ramen noodles for years in college,” my co-worker confessed. “I once had this roommate with a serious bank account who was always bringing in organic stuff, but not me. Even though I was a trainer, I was dirt poor and couldn’t afford to eat healthy.”
If you didn’t guess, my coworker and I were reminiscing about our sometimes-frugal college days. She still seemed a little pissed about this student I mentioned last week who abruptly ended her training sessions because she could no longer afford them.
Our conversation broached a bigger concern:
Can you eat, supplement, and live well on a budget, whether you’re a college student or a recently laid-off middle-age worker? If you’ve visited your local health food store lately, with its $4-a- pound organic broccoli and $20-a-pound grass-fed meat, you wouldn’t think so.
I beg to differ. I’ve lived healthily for decades in two of America’s most expensive cities (New York and Los Angeles). Some years, before I became a trainer, I brought in shockingly little money, yet I still ate clean and supplemented smartly.
What we focus on, we become. I’ve always made my health a top priority. When you consider the long-term costs of eating unhealthy, that “value meal” isn’t such a great value. I want to live a long, vibrant, happy life, and I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.
Even then, you needn’t surrender half your paycheck on healthy foods and supplements. With the right strategies, you can give your body the foods and nutrients it demands for peak performance at the gym, work, and life. Here’s how.
Food Shopping on a Budget
“When did shopping for wild salmon mean giving up half my paycheck?” a friend recently asked as we perused a popular store that some folks not-so-affectionately call “Whole Paycheck.”
You certainly can spend a ton of money at these places. If you’ve got a company credit card or a passive source of income that drops, oh, a few grand into your bank account every month, you might not wince at your $123.54 bill. If you’re like the rest of us… Yeah, those triple-digit grocery bills hit where it hurts.
I’m not going to tell you to grow your own food (not possible for most of us big-city types anyway) or volunteer your time at a co-op (who has time?) to save money. I am also not going to suggest clipping coupons like those extreme-coupon fanatics on that show.
Nope, I’m realistic that you’re a busy professional who doesn’t have time to comparison-store shop or inclination to stalk your butcher for inexpensive cuts of meat.
With that in mind, let’s cover a few basics for healthy, frugal food shopping:
·   Buy in season. Organic blueberries will be less expensive in July than January. Duh.
·   Buy what’s on sale. Again, duh.
·   Farmers markets make a great place for fresh, locally grown produce. Folks like me in warmer climes can shop nearly year-round in farmers markets, but if you’re like my sister who lives in Connecticut, you’ll probably need to hit a co-op during colder weather. Regardless, you’re supporting local business.
·   Stop it with – or at least minimize – the coffee store treats and fancy drinks. Make that coffee store run a special event (to, say, meet a friend) rather than a daily habit.
·   Ditto with snacking. Keep plastic baggies of nuts, seeds, protein powder, hard-boiled eggs, and other essentials on hand so you’re not tempted with overpriced vending machine and gas station food.
·   Don’t be afraid to buy frozen. Today’s frozen spinach isn’t the gray mushy stuff you might have grown up eating. You can stock up for weeks or months when your store runs a sale on this stuff.
·   Join a warehouse club. I realize that won’t work for everything, but for non-perishables it can save you time and money.
·   Order staples like canned coconut milk, olive oil, and organic coffee from Vitacost, Amazon, or another discount online store. They usually have free shipping when you order a certain amount, you’ll pay below retail, and it’s conveniently delivered to your doorstep.
·   Plan ahead. I wrote a whole blog about planning because it’s that important for meeting your goals. This tip alone will save you hundreds if not thousands every year. Remember my motto: Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Supplementing Smartly on a Budget
Last week you incorporated my ass-kicking workout into your fitness routine. You have a better idea about how to buy healthy foods on a budget. Now let’s cover how to choose supplements frugally.
I hear a lot of opinions about supplements, and I’ve known people who on a tight budget eliminate them. I think that’s a serious mistake. You see, supplements help create a healthy foundation to build muscle, stay lean, and feel and look your very best.
Of course, you could live without supplements, but to paraphrase my good friend Dr. Jonny Bowden, you could also live without electricity but why would you? Don’t screw up an otherwise-great plan by neglecting the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
What’s the first thing you think of when I say “budget supplement”? I bet you’re thinking those mega-tubs of protein powders at your supplement store or a year’s worth container of megavitamins at your warehouse store, right?
I want to turn that whole idea on its head: The most expensive supplement is the one that doesn’t work. Think about it. If you’re taking, say, 300 mg of a supplement and only absorbing 5 mg, it’s kind of a waste of money, wouldn’t you agree?
So you’re only going to buy professional high-quality supplements. As an athlete and all-around healthy person, which ones will give you the most bang for your buck? These are my “foundation” fitness supplements everyone should take:
    A multivitamin/ mineral – think of this as covering the nutrient bases you’re probably not getting in food

I assume, of course, that you’re getting optimal amounts of fiber from whole foods like avocado, leafy greens, and berries as well as probiotics in unsweetened Greek yogurt and other fermented foods. If not, consider fiber and probiotic supplements too.
The Best Things in Life are… You Know
I often talk about how building muscle and becoming your fittest depend more on what you do outside the gym or your workout. Here’s the best news for the most budget-minded folks: Many of the things you need to maintain strength and stay lean are free.
Nada. Not a penny.
You can’t buy them – well, I suppose you can buy bottled water – but neglecting them can destroy your health and wellbeing. My favorite essential freebies:
1.  Get more sleep. I talk about sleep so damn much because it’s that important. It doesn’t cost a penny, but it will do more to make you a stronger, leaner person than nearly anything I can think of. Seriously, make time for eight hours of high quality, uninterrupted sleep starting tonight

2. Stress less. Chronic stress keeps your hormone cortisol ramped up, breaking down muscle and storing fat. Stress also exacerbates hunger and cravings. It tempts you to blow off the gym to sit on your ass and watch Sex and the City reruns. You can’t eliminate stress, but you can manage it with yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or whatever works for you.

3. Drink more water. I’ve talked about water’s numerous benefits, and how even slight dehydration can stall your metabolic machinery. Get a BPA-free canteen and keep it filled throughout the day. You’ll save money not buying overpriced drinks and give your body the fuel it demands.

4. Give back. Friends in my life who volunteer seem happier and cope better with life’s great demands. They work out hard and care for themselves so they can care for others. What you give, you receive. I’m not trying to get all New Age-y here, but getting out of your own head and making someone else's life better can do wonders for your health and well-being.

5.     Make time for joy and happiness. Routine is good, until your routine becomes: Work, workout, sleep, repeat… Create down time (schedule it if you have to) where you watch a fun movie or catch up with an old friend who always makes you laugh. Life is short. Make sure you stop, savor, and occasionally splurge a little.

When you’re on a tight budget, what food, fitness, and lifestyle factors do you minimize and what stays essential? Share your thoughts on my Facebook fan page or in the comment section below. 
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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