Every January, many of us commit to eating better or getting fit, but we often forget one very important thing: Nutrition and fitness don't exist in separate vacuums. What we eat literally makes it possible for us to be physically active. For a truly successful, healthy year, you need a strategic nutrition plan that gives you the fuel to complete an effective exercise routine.
With help from nutrition and fitness experts, we've created a four-week program that does just that. Starting on Monday, January 6, we'll focus on a new optimized food-and-exercise pairing each week so that by the end of the month you'll know exactly what to eat to get the most out of every workout you do in 2020 and beyond.
Your Weekly Food-and-Fitness Pairings
How the Challenge Works
This challenge is designed to set you up for long-term success, so in addition to the optimized food-and-fitness pairings, it also incorporates two research-backed approaches to help you stay the course: food and fitness tracking and community support.
Every day, you'll log your meals and workouts in the MyPlate app. Why? Because it's much easier to make sure you're reaching your daily nutrition goals when an app is doing the work for you, and because research has consistently linked food and fitness tracking with more effective and sustainable weight loss as well as the development of healthier habits.
Read more: 10 Dos and Don'ts for Using a Food Diary
Ready to Start Tracking?
You'll also post your progress in the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Facebook Group. Having a built-in support network — IRL or virtual — when you're adopting a new plan can help keep you accountable, inspire a little healthy competition and provide a welcoming space to connect with people who know what you're going through and can help ease frustrations and worries, according to the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
If you're concerned about sharing such a personal journey with strangers — don't be. Our Facebook group is an oasis of support and encouragement and is truly one of our favorite places on the internet. In the group, you'll find exercise fiends and healthy eaters, as well as some of the experts involved in creating this challenge, who will also be joining the group for scheduled Q&As to offer advice and answer your questions.
And if that's not enough motivation for you, you'll also have a chance to win prizes throughout the month, including MyPlate's premium Gold membership. (Scroll down for more details on the prizes!) Gold membership gives you access to advanced stats, additional recipes, a Gold-members-only message board and more.
How to Join the Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge
- Step 1: Download the MyPlate App. Meal and activity tracking is linked to successful weight loss and is an effective way to stay on top of your goals, which is why we'll be using MyPlate to log our progress throughout the challenge.
- Step 2: Join Our Challenge Facebook Group. A supportive community of fellow Fuel-Your-Fit challengers, the LIVESTRONG.COM Challenge Group is where you'll find tips, motivation, expert Q&As and enter to win prizes throughout the month.
- Step 3: Fuel Your Fit! Follow the food and fitness plans each week, being sure to log your food intake and fitness activity in MyPlate. At the end of each week, comment in the Challenge Facebook Group with a screenshot of your MyPlate Food Diary to be entered for a chance to win MyPlate’s premium Gold membership or a $250 gift card! (Get more details on the prizes and sweepstakes here.)
About the Prizes
To enter to win the prizes, you'll need to first download and become a registered user of MyPlate, as well as join our Challenge Group on Facebook, which is where you'll be able to submit your pre-challenge and weekly challenge entries.
To enter for a chance to win one of the pre-challenge prizes (25 winners will get 1-month MyPlate Gold memberships), comment on the official Facebook post with either your MyPlate username or a screenshot of your MyPlate home screen before 11:59:59 p.m. Pacific Time on January 5.
Each week, to enter for a chance to win one of that week's prizes (two winners will get 6-month MyPlate Gold memberships each week), comment on that week's official Facebook post with a screenshot of your MyPlate Food Diary before 11:59:59 p.m. Pacific Time each Sunday.
At the end of the challenge, anyone who has submitted weekly entries will automatically be eligible to win one of 25 1-year MyPlate Gold memberships or one of two $250 gift cards.
For the full rules and more details about the Fuel-Your-Fit Sweepstakes, click here.
Ready to Get Started?
Read on for more details about and links to each week of the challenge.
Carbs for Cardio
Your goals for Week 1 are:
- Do three 30-minute cardio workouts
- Before each cardio workout, eat one serving of high-quality carbohydrates
"I'm exhausted and have no energy, so I'm going to go run a marathon right now," said no one ever. To run, walk, swim, row, dance or do any other kind of physical activity that gets the heart pumping, your body needs energy. That energy comes from carbs.
This week we'll focus on how carbs give us the energy to do what we need to do, and why certain types are better for cardio performance than others. You'll get a list of high-quality carbs to eat before your sweat sessions, as well as a thorough breakdown of different cardio workouts so you can find the one that best meets your personal needs and goals.
Get the full Week 1 plan here.
Protein for Strength Training
Your goals for Week 2 are:
When you lift weights, you make tiny tears in your muscle fibers. That might sound like a bad thing, but it's in the repair process that your muscles get bigger and stronger.
"In order to help recover and grow those muscles, you need to eat enough protein," says personal trainer and dietitian Jim White, RD, CPT.
It might be a little easier to ensure you're getting "complete" protein from animal sources, but it's still very doable with plant-based proteins. You just need to know which plants and plant combos fit the bill — and lucky for you, we've made a list of them!
This week will focus on the two different sources of protein — animals and plants — and which ones are best for getting you to your strength-training goals. As for this week's workouts, it's lifter's choice: You can grab dumbbells, heave a barbell, swing a kettlebell or rely on your own body weight — or try a mix of all four.
Get the full Week 2 plan here.
Energy-Boosting Foods for HIIT
Your goals for Week 3 are:
Caffeine, carbs and some healthy fats make for a winning combination before a high-intensity workout. "Because carbs are easily utilized, they are a preferred energy source for the body and great for quick and intense physical activity," says Maya Feller, RDN, CDN.
A bit of good-for-you fat from foods like almonds, avocado or chia seeds helps stabilize blood sugar for sustained energy, and caffeine can give you the extra jolt you need to actually perform better in your workout, according to an October 2019 study in Nutrients.
That combo will help you power through HIIT sessions, which by definition require a lot of effort. Expect a high calorie burn during the workout and continued burn afterward, says Mike Donavanik, personal trainer and creator of Sweat Factor.
Get the full Week 3 plan here.
Balanced-Macro Meals for Recovery
Your goals for Week 4 are:
The days of go-go-go fitness are... well... still here (lookin' at you, HIIT workouts in Week 3), but they're now intertwined with crucial rest days, as well. And that's a trend we're very happy to see continuing.
"Most people think the magic is in the workout, when in reality the magic is in the recovery," says Autumn Calabrese, personal trainer and creator of several Beachbody programs.
Much like the protein in Week 2 helped your muscles recover and grow stronger, the balanced meals of this week help your whole body recover and grow stronger.
"All three macros are important for recovery," says Cynthia Sass, RD, a Los Angeles-based performance nutritionist and plant-based eating expert. "Each plays a unique role in either replenishing fuel and nutrients that have been 'used up' during workouts or healing from the wear and tear training puts on the body."
Get the full Week 4 plan here.
After January: Put It All Together
You didn't think we were going to make you do all this stuff just to abandon you at the end, did you? The whole point of this challenge is to help you learn about and establish sustainable habits that you can incorporate into your regular routine for a healthy 2020 and beyond.
After January, you can still aim for three days of cardio and two strength-training workouts each week, supported by quality carbs and protein. You can experiment with turning some of your cardio sessions into HIIT workouts if you're looking to burn belly fat, or you can add an extra strength-training day with heavier weights to prioritize muscle-building gains.
You'll be able to seamlessly integrate stretching and foam rolling into your cooldowns, while leaving plenty of time for days off and active recovery.
You might even decide to tweak your plan every month as your goals shift with your progress. We cover some of your options in our sample seven-day plan for continued success.
And don't forget to lean on the ongoing support from members of our Challenge Facebook Group and to track your meals and workouts with MyPlate. Both can help you make smart eating and exercise decisions long after January ends.
Get the seven-day plan that incorporates everything from Week 1 through Week 4 here.
For more information on the MyPlate + LIVESTRONG.com January Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge Sweepstakes, click here.