Getting the Most from Your Workouts

January 7, 2011 in Fitness, Health by Mary Ireland

Like most other things in life, when it comes to working out, you want to make sure that you get the most benefit for the time and energy you invest. There are few things more discouraging than working out and not seeing results. In Getting More from Less, I mentioned the findings from research at McMaster University, showing intensity training -- using short bursts of high intensity sprints -- not only results in improved muscle and exercise performance, it also improves the function and structure of blood vessels of the cardiovascular system.

For Christmas, I got a digital heart rate monitor. The monitor helps me to take the guess work out of determining how hard my body is working. A heart rate monitor is a great tool for helping you to get in tune with your body. Using data from your heart rate also can help you prevent over-training that can result in possible injuries. Tracking your heart rate allows you to make changes to your exercise routine to gain the most benefit; as you become more fit, you will be able to increase the workout load while your heart rate remains the same.

As I mentioned in Getting More from Less, you need a baseline of fitness before starting an interval program. When you increase your intensity level, your ligaments tendons, joints and muscles must be up to the challenge. The American College of Sports Medicine offers great suggestions for building a work out program. Until you have established a solid baseline of fitness, try adding just a little intensity -- to start just 10 seconds of a little extra effort -- at the end of a walk, bike ride or other aerobic exercise can make your feel better and get to your goal faster. Remember to consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Another technique to improve your workout effectiveness is morning workouts. A study conducted in Belgium found that men who exercised in a fasting state (i.e., in the morning before eating) were able to maintain glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity even when eating a high-calorie, high-fat diet. Even though we strongly advise against a high-calorie, high-fat diet, it is interesting that vigorous exercise in a fasting state can overcome the negative effects on blood sugar.

The advantages to exercising in the morning are:

  • You are more likely to workout since you (usually) won’t have anything interrupt your schedule first thing in the morning.
  • You start the day feeling great and your mind is ready to learn.
  • If you do happen to eat more calories during the day than is on your weight loss plan, you won’t add additional weight.
  • The Belgium study suggests that working out in a fast state is effective in helping to control blood sugar levels.

Of course, those who are not morning people may find it difficult to get up early to exercise and there are times when even those of us who are morning people may not be able to get the pre-breakfast work out in. My advice is to workout when you can, exercising anytime during the day is much better than not exercising at all. I like working out after work because it can relieve a lot of the stress that has accumulated during the day. However, knowing that a morning workout is much more effective, I will schedule my main workout for the morning and find other methods of relieving stress after work such as taking a walk, practicing yoga or dancing in front of my computer as I catch up on my personal email.

I’m including the following recipe in the spirit of Dr. Grandma’s blog Made from Actual Food. The soup is made from real food and prepared faster and more economically than purchasing fast food.

Vegetable Soup with a Mexican Flair


4 cups vegetable broth
      Other options are leftover turkey broth with or without small turkey pieces
      or using chicken broth with or without canned chicken
1 16-oz can of tomatoes with chilies
4 cups frozen vegetables (I bought a large bag of frozen stir fry vegetables - they work well for soup too!)
2 cups cooked Dr. Grandma's Wheat Berries (remember to cook wheat berries ahead and freeze them for later use)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon sour cream per serving


Combine all ingredients except sour cream in a soup pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and top with 1 tablespoon of sour cream.

Measure broth and add to soup pot.

Add tomatoes and chilies.

Add wheat berries.

Add vegetables.

Add cilantro and other spices, then heat.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream.