Readers’ biggest fitness questions answered: Part one

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Last month, I shared a post about fitness and workout terms you should know, and based on that post, I got a few additional questions from readers about all things fitness. Then, I polled the lovely people of A Lady Goes West Friends group for some more questions and recurring themes. So today, I’m going to give you my answers to many of the most popular questions. And this is a long one, so sit back and prepare to learn a little something (hopefully).

And remember, a lot of times, fitness isn’t black and white. What works for one person may not work for the next person. And every personal trainer and group fitness instructor has their own theory on what is the best way to get in shape. The only way to know what is the best method for you, is to assess your goals and give it a try. Also, please note that I am NOT a registered dietitian. The best way to know how you should eat for your body is to pair the fitness advice you get from a trainer with the nutrition advice you get from an RD. But here are my general thoughts …

Readers’ biggest fitness questions answered: Part one

Readers' biggest fitness questions answered by A Lady Goes West

How can I learn to love cardio?

I feel ya! The only type of cardio that I love is teaching BODYATTACK (which sadly, I’m not doing right now) or perhaps some super fast sprints in a dark group fitness studio with music blaring. But, believe it or not, we all need a little cardio. However, you may get a cardio benefit from your other workouts. If you do full-body weightlifting sessions and add in some plyometric moves to every few sets, which get your heart-rate up, you could count that as cardio. (See the fitness terms post for a definition of plyometrics, by the way.) Yet, doing straight cardio sessions is very beneficial for the body. Both HIIT and LISS (high-intensity interval training and low-intensity steady state) have their perks.

Here are my hacks on learning to love cardio: Plan to do it two to three days a week, depending on your fitness goals. And you want to do it after weightlifting or on a day on its own. Then, play a mental game when you do it. If you choose to do an interval power-walking session on the treadmill for 25 minutes, have a KILLER playlist queued up on your headphones. The way I like to do it is go super hard during the chorus of the song, and then go lighter and rest during the verses. It’s a fun game! Secondly, you could also watch a Netflix show on your iPad while doing low-intensity steady state cardio once a week as well, which is a good chance to flush your muscles and break a sweat. 

Also, if you choose to do HIIT, the way you can love cardio is to know that your workout can be SUPER short. You could do a tough 15-minute HIIT session twice a week as your workout of the day, and that means you have WAY more time for yourself than if you were at the gym for a 45-minute weights session or one-hour class. Efficiency can be a real attractive factor, right?

Finally, a great way to learn to love cardio is to know and appreciate that cardio is a great time to LOSE yourself. You don’t have to do a ton of thinking, like you do when you focus on perfect form in weightlifting or staying with the beat in a group fitness class. Let your mind wander, push yourself a little bit past your limits, recover, soak up the beautiful oxygen you need to feel better and do it again. Try some mental imagery as well and picture yourself running a race or performing onstage, and rock your star power as you move. At the end of your workout, write down how awesome you feel from those cardio endorphins, and promise yourself you’ll do it at least twice a week. And reward yourself with a nice sparkling water or coconut water when you’re done. (And remember, power walking outside or doing stairs in your apartment building counts for cardio too, as does taking your favorite dance class. 

What are the best things to eat pre- and post-workout?

Of course, this is a question that really should be asked of a professional nutritionist. But I can tell you what a lot of people in the fitness industry agree on, and what works for me. I like to eat about 30 to 60 minutes before my workout. If it’s a morning workout, then I usually grab half of a protein bar and slather some almond butter on it. I’m always looking for a mixture of protein, carbs and long-lasting fat to keep me energized, because the pre-workout snack should NOT be all carbs, which will only make you crash and will be the first thing you burn off. That means, don’t just have a banana, but have half of a banana covered in peanut butter or a handful of almonds and an apple. You can also try one of these tasty chocolate protein no-bake bars.

Chocolate peanut butter protein bar by A Lady Goes West

Then, after my workout, I reach for a combination of carbs and protein, and not as much fat. Unless, I’m having a full lunch or dinner, in which case I have more fat included. Typically, I like to have a protein shake (like one of these pre-made Premier Protein ones) after my workouts, because they usually have the protein and the carbs that I need, and liquid gets absorbed a little faster than food in my body. I usually have the shake within 25 minutes of finishing my workout, then I will eat a meal about 90 minutes later. If you are going straight to the meal, try to have it within an hour of finishing your workout and make sure you include plenty of healthy carbs, like sprouted bread or a sweet potato. (And quite honestly, the norm of most fitness peeps I know is to go with a shake after the workout.)

If your workout is a short bout of cardio only, you won’t need a full protein shake to refuel, just some water, coconut water or a small snack will do. But if you do a full hour of exercise or if you do any weightlifting, I’d go for the protein shake and carb combination. And remember, pre- and post-workout fuel is a totally personal thing, so see what feels right and ask a professional nutritionist for more help.

Premier Protein shake after a workout by A Lady Goes West

Do I have to warm up before cardio and strength workouts?

Yes! I think that warming up in some form before any exercise will help you to perform better and will improve the way you feel during the workout, as well as reduce your chance of getting injured. Even if all you ever do for a workout is run (which I hope isn’t the case), if you properly mobilize your muscles and body before a run, you are less likely to get an injury or develop an overuse injury.

Your warm up before cardio exercise can be short and simple. If you plan to run, then you want to do some leg kicks front and back and side to side. You should also do some bodyweight bridges for glute activation. You could even try some light jumping jacks and knee grabs. This will open up your hips and loosen up your muscles and ligaments.

If you plan to lift weights, your warm up can be more specific. If you are doing a day of upper-body lifting, then to warm up, you want to do arm circles, W to Ys on the wall and even some snow angels laying on the ground. These “dynamic” warm-up moves will awake your muscles, loosen up the joints and make it so that you can get greater range of motion in every single rep that you do from the beginning. 

When in doubt, warm up. And it doesn’t need to be too long. Even just two minutes will do.

What are the best pieces of equipment for a home gym?

Great question! You should probably have a simple mat, so that you don’t sweat all over your floor. Secondly, everyone should have a resistance tube (this is my favorite brand, and I’d suggest getting a medium resistance one to start). You can do tons of moves with a resistance tube, and because it works against your own bodyweight, you can make it as heavy and as light as you want. You can also do some mobility moves (like shoulder dislocates shown here) and hamstring stretches with a resistance tube, so it is multi-purpose, plus it travels well.

If you have a larger budget and space for your home gym, then you could add in two sets of dumbbells. I’d get one lighter set (5 to 10 pounds) and one heavier set (20 to 25 pounds). Then you can do your upper-body work with the lighter weights and lower-body weight with the heavier weights. That should be all you need! (You can perform your cardio outside, on stairs or do burpees and jumping-jack type moves inside.)

I know some people love to have a TRX strap set-up to hang from their doors, but the space needs to be right for it, so I don’t recommend it for everyone. It’s also a bit more expensive. Truly, a tube, a mat and some dumbbells should be all you need.

When should I foam roll?

You can foam roll any time of day, but based on my experience, I believe the VERY best time to roll is right before your workout (and here’s a foam-rolling 101 tutorial). Using the roller in a moderate tempo for several rolls along your quads, glutes, upper-back, lats, calves and hamstrings not only loosens up your fascia, but it also gets blood flowing to the muscles to prepare your body for your workout. It can also help improve your range of motion and your whole workout. And it feels good! Bring your own foam roller to the gym to ensure you get it done before you lift.

Foam roller at the gym by A Lady Goes West

The second best time to roll is right after your workout, in which you want to hold the roller on tight spots a little bit longer to loosen up any adhesions you may have from your workout.

But if all this fails, roll on your roller every other night when you watch TV, so that you can get some of the benefits. It’s a HUGE piece of the recovery puzzle. And by the way, I ALWAYS bring my foam roller to the gym for weightlifting and BODYPUMP workouts, and I use it before I begin my workout, sometimes at the end too, even if just for two minutes at a time. That means I complete at least three foam rolling sessions each week, religiously. (Bonus tip: If you have knee pain, try rolling your IT bands before and after your workout.)

 Should I do fasted cardio? Or fasted anything?

Fasted exercise and fasting is a huge thing in the fitness industry right now, and it definitely has its uses for some people. However, if you have any blood-sugar issues, do not fast. And if you tend to faint or get light-headed when you don’t eat, do not fast. And if you have hormone issues, do not fast. Although, technically, we all fast overnight when we sleep and then break our fast with breakfast each day.

Fasted cardio means that you go to the gym in the morning (or work out at home) as soon as you wake up and do a cardio workout before eating anything at all. (By the way, you are allowed to consume less than about 50 calories of something such as a cup of coffee or tea if it doesn’t have creamer or sugar.) The verdict is still out on the effectiveness of fasted cardio. The people who tell you it works, are the people who have had it work on their bodies. The people who tell you it is unproven, have seen the scientific studies that show it is unproven. And that’s the truth.

Personally, I have tried fasted cardio in the mornings, and I have felt totally fine. I’ve also noticed that it really slims down the midsection on my own body when I do it regularly. BUT, here’s the caveat, you should NOT do other workouts fasted. I do NOT recommend doing anything other than cardio or light yoga on an empty stomach, because not having any fuel in your body means that you can’t work to your full potential. So if your goal is to push to your personal best or build muscle, have something to eat before your workout. And NO, skipping lunch and going to the gym on an empty stomach in the afternoon is not true fasted cardio, it should be done first thing when you wake up. (And there are many benefits to working out in the morning anyhow, which you can read about here.)

You should proceed with caution with fasted cardio and know that it’s more of an extreme fitness tool for burning fat. But as I said, the studies out there do not have a lot of results backing it up compared to working out when fueled. It’s mostly fitness buffs who have used it to burn fat who say that it works. So you have to try it on yourself to know for sure. If I was trying to slim down, I would probably do it twice a week. But of course, currently I’m pregnant and putting on the pounds, definitely not losing them. Therefore, I am not doing fasted anything. In fact, I snack before I snack, just to make sure I’m fed. Truth!

And that, ladies and gents, is the end of today’s reader question post! For some short workout ideas and other fitness-related posts, head to the fitness page.

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Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Premier Protein. I received complimentary product and compensation, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. Also, there are affiliate links in this post as well. Thank you, as always, for supporting the A Lady Goes West community.

Thanks for reading, friends! If you have more fitness questions, place them below in the comments, and I’ll answer them soon. And if you think any of these questions above deserve a full post with expansion, let me know that too. 

Questions of the day

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  1. SUCH a great post, Ashley! There are so many topics that are big fat question marks for so many–and you have done a great job answering some of the biggies! Now excuse me while I go eat… before my cardio ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Hahhaha YES! I like to eat before my cardio most of the times too. We like what we like! ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad you enjoyed this one, friend!

  2. Oh my gosh I am sending this to a friends daughter. She’s a senior in high school. She wants to chat with me over the weekend about fitness and has a bunch of questions. I am really really very very confident you have nailed all of her questions. With a big highlighter around the what do I eat before and after workouts!

  3. Great points! I often wondered about the benefits of fasted cardio myself. However, I know I could never do it on a totally empty stomach. Thanks for putting so much work in to answering these questions–very helpful!

    1. Hi Heather! Totally — like I said — fasted cardio is a bit of an extreme and not necessary for everyone. That’s for sure! Glad you enjoyed this one, friend! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Great post!! Really some good info. I have a quick question about supplants – specifically BCAAs. Do you take them (or did you before you were expecting)?

    1. Hi Deanna, I don’t. I’ve never liked the taste of them. But I know some people like to drink them before, during and after a weightlifting day. Sorry I’m not more help. I’ve always found that regular protein powder after a workout was good enough for me.

    1. Hi Marielle! Well now you know what fasted cardio is! But you don’t have to do it heheh! I prefer to eat before my workouts too! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you have a great evening!

  5. Hi! Those answers certainly helped me and my wife. She is just taking her first steps into fitness world, so I wanted to give her something good to read on the beginning of her journey and it is an article filled with so much knowledge, that she must have a great start now!

  6. Very informative read! I’ve always wondered if there’s a certain timeframe when you could eat after a workout and if you need to eat pre-workout. Reading this cleared things up for me. Thanks!

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