When it comes to weight loss and bodily overhauls, Day 1 sometimes starts with an epiphany—a too-tight pair of jeans, an is-that-me? look in the mirror, or an innocent “are you pregnant?” from a toddler. But for other folks, the inspiration to change may come from somewhere else: A deadline.
Whether your fast-approaching day comes in the form of a wedding, a reunion, a beach vacation, a race, or something else, the right nutrition and fitness tips at the right time can be exactly what you need to get you where you want to go. Depending on your deadline, check out these strategies to get your best body—just in the nick of time.
1 Year Out: The Overhaul
With this much time, you have a chance to change your body the right way. Ease into both your new eating and exercise routines to ensure you’ll stick to them, says Mark Beier, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and owner and founder of Chicago Fit Clubs.
Start by incorporating one to two days of strength training per week and supplement with two or three days of light cardio activity, which can be as simple as a walk outside or a bike ride for 30 to 45 minutes. Each week try to add a bit more speed, resistance or time than the week before.
For diet, start by looking at what you drink, says David Buer, Atlanta fitness expert and celebrity personal trainer. Americans consumes more than a quarter of their calories via fluid, Buer says, so reducing or eliminating soda, juice and sweetened coffee can reduce your weekly calorie intake.
Make sure to populate your diet with protein and fat. Buer encourages incorporating lean quality proteins with each meal in order help stabilize blood sugar levels, accelerate fat metabolism, improve recovery after workout and increase energy throughout the day. These are vital to maintain good muscle balance while dropping unwanted fat pounds, he says. That means beans, turkey, chicken, fish, and pork.
To include more fat, eat raw, unsalted nuts, olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and avocado. Fish also contains healthy fats, which have positive impact on our fat metabolism, overall cellular energy and function, and even brain function and appearance of hair, skin and nails, Buer says.
6 Months Out: Damage Control
So perhaps you have a short engagement or your cruise is only a half a year away. There are still plenty of changes you can make that will get you ready.
If you’re new to exercise or haven’t been regular about your routine, use strength training to complement cardiovascular activity. Start with one to two days of strength training per week, and do some light cardio activity on the other days (at least two days a week). You should challenge yourself weekly by adding more resistance, speed or time to your walk, run or bike ride. Write your goals on a paper or dry-erase board and cross them off when you achieve them. If you power-walked 45 minutes last week, try incorporating a jog (10 minutes or whatever you can handle) somewhere on your path.
To keep it fun, set rewards at specific intervals (every month, let’s say), and when you achieve a goal, treat yourself to a massage, pedicure or new exercise clothes. Just remember to keep your rewards calorie-free so you stay on track to your ultimate goal.
Once you’ve done some strength training for a few weeks, Beier suggests converting to a three-day full-body, upper-body and lower-body split, while also implementing high-intensity interval training. Buer recommends that two to three days include interval training – bursts of 20 to 120 seconds of intense activity followed by 20 to 120 seconds of rest for a period of 5 to 10 minutes. Eventually work your way to 20 minutes of this style workout. These types of workouts can supercharge your metabolism by revving your heart rate, which can burn off that extra fat.
Full-body days can include moves like pushups, pull-ups, and mountain climbers. Upper-body days should focus on chest, arms, shoulders, back and abdominals – chest press, lateral press, rows and core work. Lower-body days target legs, hips and obliques with lunges, squats and a host of others.
Beier advises a workout that consists of a dynamic warm-up, core work (such as planks, side planks, bridges), high-intensity interval training session that incorporates full-body movements and cardio. For example: Keep a set of dumbbells and a Bosu ball next to a treadmill and do four or five strength exercises (8-12 repetitions per exercise). Then jump on the treadmill and do interval speed work such as a minute sprint followed by a 30-second rest. Then return to your strength exercises.
Your diet should consist mostly of chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, dairy, low-sugar Greek yogurts, along with dark leafy green vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, spinach and asparagus, says Buer. Sticking with those types, which are high in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber, will help the digestive process and balance blood sugar levels. If you can control sugar levels, you can help to control the expansion of fat cells, which can lead to weight loss.
3 Months Out: Fine-Tuning
While three months isn’t a long time for a body change, the right nutritional intake and exercise routine can make a significant difference—but you may need to amp up the intensity. Cardio activity should be a staple (at least three days a week) and Beier suggests implementing a four-day strength program – two days of full-body, one day of lower body and one day of upper body. This breakdown allows the major muscle groups (legs) to engage in fat-burning one day, which can improve overall body composition. This pays off on upper-body and full-body days when your exercises will seek to define the smaller muscles that don’t burn as many calories.
Nutritional changes are critical at this stage, if you haven’t been watching your diet. Stick to lean meats, proteins and healthy fats and try to reduce any major carbohydrates after 3 p.m. when people typically are less active. Unused carbohydrates will convert into stored energy – also known as fat. Stick to a diet low in sugar and high in vegetables and protein and make sure you are eating every few hours to keep metabolism in check.
While a three-month cram session can be tough, the key to success in training is setting tangible goals and making them part of your everyday ritual like brushing your teeth, says Lacey Stone, Hollywood fitness expert and personal trainer.
“Go to the gym with hot people, take a [group fitness] class with an attractive instructor. Go to a class and create some sort of community,” she says. “The bottom line is once you start to see results you get to the point of no return, you don’t want to go back to where you were. That momentum makes you want to live a healthy lifestyle.”
A Few Weeks Out: Last-Minute Changes
Perhaps you booked a last minute beach weekend or you’re in a hurry to get married. A few weeks out doesn’t give much time, but there is something you can do to look a little tighter.
Typically we look bloated or puffy when our body retains too much water, says Laurel House, a lifestyle author, personal trainer and editor of QuickieChick. So several days before the event, start drinking a lot of water and include a splash of lemon or lime to flush out toxins. Diuretic foods – celery, pure cranberry juice, Dandelion tea, green tea, fennel and parsley – also help with de-puffing as they minimize water retention.
High-water foods including asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelon also help eliminate excess water, and foods high in potassium – avocado, dates, papaya, bananas, spinach and salmon – will counterbalance puffiness caused by salt or alcohol.
Three days leading up to event, minimize carbohydrate (especially white rice, potatoes, pasta and bread) intake to allow the body to slim down and shed excess water. For every one gram of carbohydrate, your body retains 2.5 grams of water, causing you to bloat, she says. You still need carbohydrates for proper brain function and energy, so stick with green vegetables, kale and Brussels sprouts. You can also include fat-burning foods a couple days before the event – House calls them “Bites with Benefits.” These de-puffing, fat-burning foods actually help to break down fats by liquefying them in your body. They include grapefruit and hot herbs – jalapeno, cinnamon and fresh ginger. Flush fats with foods high in pectin and lecithin such as soybeans, apples and berries.
As for exercise, cut down on resistance training four days prior to your event and focus strictly on cardio so that you are really just burning calories and slimming your body. Two days before, minimize cardio and the day before, House suggests no exercise. Muscles will relax and shrink and you’ll look leaner all over. Minimize water the day of the event to get that sculpted look.
If you’ll be showing off a particular body part (say, shoulders and arms in a strapless dress), House suggests doing 100 seconds of an exercise 20 minutes before the event (say, seated dips).
“Your arms will look nice and defined and tight. You will have that toned look – even if you are not toned,” she says.
But like any cleanse or strict diet, “this is not a healthy way to live long term,” House cautions. “You can do it for one day, you can do it for two days, but you cannot do for more than that.”
“People say it’s so hard, but in the end wouldn’t you rather feel amazing about yourself?” says House, referring to the big day. “Instead of the temporary pleasure of eating seconds, wouldn’t you want to feel amazing for an entire day?”