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Optimizing Your Workout to Avoid Vet Bod

Diet & nutrition 101
Diet & nutrition 101
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Summer is coming faster than we think, so it’s time for us to have some real talk. As veterans, we can sometimes let ourselves go a little soft over the colder months, and when beach time comes around it’s already too late to get those last few pounds off. The time to get back in the gym was yesterday, but let’s not worry so much that you arrived late to the party and celebrate the fact that you showed up at all.

First and foremost, 80% of all fitness is nutrition. If you drink too much or overindulge in fast food, all the working out in the world won’t help after you hit your upper 20’s. No need to be a monk, just keep it reasonable, and watch those macros.

Now we get to the more difficult part. The majority of research shows that a mix of cardiovascular activity and weightlifting gives a well-balanced return, but everyone’s body is different, and everyone has a different goal. So, let’s look at some options.

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio, is any activity that increases your heart rate and respiration. This includes activities such as running, cycling, and swimming. Cardio is great for improving heart health, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and burning calories. It also helps improve endurance and stamina. For a large percentage of service members and veterans, running is an ingrained part of your physical training regimen, love it or hate it, so this is an easy option to maintain.

Weightlifting, on the other hand, is any activity that involves lifting weights or resistance training. This can include using weight machines, free weights, or bodyweight exercises. Weightlifting is great for building strength and muscle mass, improving bone density, and boosting metabolism. This option does require either access to a gym or some home equipment, which can get ridiculously expensive. Most bases have a decent gym if you’re active duty or close to your reserve station. If not, use what you can get, even if it’s just a full sandbag.

Which One Should I Focus On?

For losing weight, either can work so long as you know how. Cardio is great for burning calories and can help you lose weight with a lower time commitment each day. Weightlifting on the other hand can help you lose weight by the immediate action of burning calories during your lift, and by increasing your metabolism; as you build more muscle, your body burns more calories at rest, which can lead to long-term weight loss. If you’re thinking about both, many studies show that weightlifting in the morning and cardio in the evening gives the best results.

For building muscle, weightlifting is the obvious choice. Cardio can potentially interfere with muscle growth by using up energy reserves that could be used for muscle building. You won't be lifting your best if you just finished a 10-mile run right? That isn’t to say you should skip cardio; it's hard to see muscles under adipose tissue, so maybe just don’t go training for the marathon and the Atlas competition at the same time. 

For heart health, cardio wins, no contest, by strengthening the heart muscle and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Weightlifting has some ancillary benefits of heart strengthening, but much less efficiently.

Ideally, you should aim to incorporate both types of exercise into your routine, but how much of which is up to you. Remember always that your goals in the gym are yours. Keeping yourself operationally fit isn’t just for operators, but it also doesn’t mean you have to look like a Force Recon Marine straight from central casting. Work hard, take care of your health, the rest tends to take care of itself.

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