No matter what your goals are for the new year, proper fueling is crucial to your success.

No matter what your goals are for the new year, proper fueling is crucial to your success. Without proper timing of meals and snacks, along with choosing the right foods, you will end up selling yourself short. You wouldn’t put a low-grade gasoline into a Ferrari and expect it to run efficiently, so why would you continue to eat unhealthy foods and expect to train efficiently?

To make changes, you first need to know what you’re doing. Keep a food log for a week, this can be on paper or through an app (such as My Fitness Pal), and afterwards sit down to examine what you’ve consumed. From here, determine what you’d like to change in your diet. Do you find yourself grabbing anything in sight hours after your workout because you forgot to eat afterwards? Or do your days go by so quickly you forget to eat so by the time you get home your famished and your pantry becomes a free for all?

Making changes to your diet may seem easy on paper but then life happens, and it’s all easier said than done. What happens when you come home late from work and don’t feel like cooking a meal? Or, you are traveling and not sure what to bring on the road?

Before we dive in, let’s talk about the word “diet” and the negative connotation it receives. Your “diet” is what you are eating right now; your “diet” consists of any changes you make to become healthier. The word itself is simply that. It’s nothing more, nothing less.

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Here are a few tips to help you start your 2018 nutrition strong.

1. Set small goals. Look at your comprehensive list of things you’d like to change about your diet. It’s tempting to change them all at once, but while that may work for a few weeks or even months, the odds are that you’ll get burned out and end up back to your old routine. I’ve found in making smaller changes over time sets you up for lasting success. With your list, choose one thing you can focus on for the week. Do not worry about anything else, just focus on that one change. In the weeks that follow keep adding changes from your list and over time you will develop habits that are lasting.

2. Meal prep. Meal prep comes in many forms. Some like to cook the same meals for the entire week, while others will double what they cook for dinner to eat for meals the following day. No matter what your preference is, set yourself up on the right foot during a busy week and plan out your meals prior. If you choose to plan daily meals, at the beginning of the week decide on your proteins, vegetables, and starches. Grocery shop for the week when you’ve made your list and then decide the night before what you’ll have the next day to ensure you have everything you need. Grilling chicken, beef, or fish is quick and requires little prep if you have a gas grill, roasting vegetables in the oven on broil with olive oil, salt and pepper can be done in 10 minutes, and potatoes in the microwave takes 3-4 minutes tops which can give you a full meal in under 30 minutes. Crockpot meals are also an excellent way to plan ahead and have leftovers for lunches or dinners the following days. Instapots are extremely fast at making meals in no time as well. Make double for dinner to ensure you have leftovers for meals the following day. The key here is to make a plan for the week so you have all of the ingredients you need without having to make stops at the grocery store during the week. However, when “life happens” and you need to make a stop, whether you have kids in tow or not, look into stores offering online ordering with curbside pickup! This is a great way to cut time in the store (and unnecessary purchases) especially with little ones and not having to drag them into the store. Some stores do not charge for this amenity either!

3. Take healthy snacks on the go. Some healthy snacks to keep on hand include nuts and seeds, dried fruit, or granola bars such as Kind bars and Lara bars, essentially ones with minimal ingredients. If you’re traveling in your vehicle, more and more gas stations are offering healthier options to include Greek yogurt, veggie and fruit packs, prepackaged salads, prepackaged hardboiled eggs, and nuts and seeds. When searching for a healthy snack always pair a carbohydrate and protein. For example, a piece of fruit with a plain Greek yogurt or 1 to 2 ounces of nuts with fruit is a great snack. Grabbing items with simple sugars such as candy bars and gummy candies provide no nutritional value leaving you hungry. If stopping at fast food restaurants, choose grilled items over fried and opt for the salad or fruit as a side.

4. Make sure you’re eating enough. You get faster as you get leaner, right?! This is true until you hit a point where the opposite occurs. Compromising your diet too much can lead to deprivation, which leads to an adverse effect from training. Instead of getting faster, you will be lethargic, have a longer recovery time between workouts, and experience overall fatigue. Frustration ensues because you are not seeing the gains you’re expecting from the efforts in your workouts. If this is the case, are you consuming enough calories or are you skimping to lose that extra 5 to 10 pounds or that percentage of body fat? Becoming too obsessed with the scale can leave you frustrated and tired. Instead, focus on proper timing of meals and snacks. This includes consuming meals and snacks throughout the day and especially a carbohydrate and protein mix within 30 to 60 minutes after your workouts. A perfect example is 20 ounces of chocolate milk and a banana or a turkey sandwich and a piece of fruit. For those lactose intolerant, there is a new milk product called Fairlife. My personal favorite is Fairlife chocolate milk paired with a banana post workout. It’s simple and easy.

5. Finally, cut yourself some slack! Do not set goals so rigid you cannot maintain them. There may be days or weeks at a time where “life happens” and sticking to your plan goes out the window. But consistency in healthy eating day in and day out is what garners results. Recognize this, but don’t beat yourself up over an unhealthy choice and get back to making the small changes towards a healthier plan!

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Christina Bologna is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a two-time Ironman finisher working as a dietitian for the U.S. Navy. Find her at Runawayrd.com. Note: The views expressed are those of the individual only and not of the Department of Defense.