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By Jennifer Ward, RD, LDN, CLC, CPT

I’ll never forget finishing second in the swimming section of a local triathlon and my boyfriend (now husband) asking me what happened. Even though I told him that I swam competitively for 10 years, no one knew at the time that I was going to the gym early every morning and training for at least an hour in the pool. I was the second swimmer out of the water because I swam faster than (almost) everyone else. It was a surprise because no one knew what I was doing for training. It was the ultimate example of “stealth training”.

The concept of stealth training does not only apply to athletes. It can be the perfect approach to maintaining fitness when you hit a period of time when you are crunched for time and have so many responsibilities that the thought of training or eating healthy hardly seems possible. The stealth part is about fitting exercise in short bouts and developing better habits to healthy eating. The biggest barriers to this can be related to prioritizing and not realizing that consistent, small changes do in fact make a difference.

Grab and Go

Having no time to cook doesn’t mean nutritious eating can’t happen. Try stocking your kitchen with healthy, whole foods. The less ingredients on the package, the better. Pick any combination of the following:

  • Fruit (fresh or frozen): berries, bananas, oranges, apples, grapes
  • Vegetables (fresh or frozen): pea pods, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, peppers
  • Healthy protein/fat sources: olives, nuts, natural nut butters, hummus, seeds, hard-boiled eggs, plain yogurt, avocados, string cheese, beans, canned tuna

By having access to the foods above, you will literally be able to pack enough food to get through the day within minutes. When snacking, focus on produce with a healthy protein source. For quick meals, choose from the above three different categories.

Prepare in Bulk

If you do cook (more power to you because this is quite a skill), then cook in big batches. The beauty of cooking is that it gives you much more control over what you eat to begin with. Eating leftovers increases your food quality for the same effort as convenience products the next day. Clean Eating magazine offers many great recipes for maintaining this healthy nutrition program.

Avoid High Calorie Beverages

Be aware of caloric content of beverages. The problem with liquid calories is that they are consumed rapidly and – sadly – don’t provide much in the way of feeling full or satiated. So the person who downs a 400-calorie latte is going to get hungry again fast and will likely go on to eat just as much as if they hadn’t had the high calorie beverage. Since we are fast approaching the holiday season, be aware that just one cup of egg nog is almost 400 calories. All the more reason to live by the motto: “Eat your calories and drink water.”

On the topic of beverages, there is a lot of hype about smoothies. While it is best to eat solid food, skipping meals is not a good thing because it diminishes the nutrition and energy your body needs. If a smoothie keeps that from happening, then it’s the right choice. But avoid pre-made smoothies that may be loaded with sugar, or diet smoothies packed with artificial sweeteners. Instead, use unsweetened milk as a base (dairy, organic soy, almond or hemp), whole fruit (no juice), vegetables and a healthy protein or fat source (yogurt, flaxseeds, nuts or chia seeds). If you want to use a protein powder, choose unflavored powders, as the flavored versions often contain sweeteners (both caloric and non-caloric), artificial flavors and dyes. Shakes made with whole foods, protein and healthy fats will boost the nutritional quality and also make it more satisfying.

Workouts in Short Bouts

When it comes to exercise, a few short sessions can add up. Last year, on Mondays, my kids had four different activities, which required me to drive across town twice a day. It would have been so easy to just sit in the car, but with some creative problem-solving, I found an alternative to inactivity. By walking two miles at work, walking another two during my daughter’s ballet class and fitting half of a lifting workout after dropping my son off at swim team and the second half after picking my daughter up from tap, I was able to log in two hours of training, just during my kids’ activities! Take a look at your schedule and look for small pockets of time that you can use.

Remove Obstacles—and Excuses

In addition to time constraints, start taking an inventory of what helps you follow through with exercising and what gets in the way. If you don’t walk at lunch because you forgot your sneakers, bring an extra pair to work. If you can’t get motivated to drive to the gym after you go home, then go to the gym first thing in the morning. Pack your gym bag the night before. If getting dressed to go to the gym early in the morning is too much, then sleep in your exercise clothes. If the thought of running for an hour is too much, then start with five minutes and see what happens. Chances are you will keep going.

Be Selfish!

Know that it is okay to put yourself first. In all honesty, being healthy and fit takes a little bit of selfishness, but it is for a good cause. Not saying “yes” to everything can free up more time for yourself (and it also doesn’t make you a bad person). Saying “no” can release you from doing things that you don’t really want to do to begin with.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up if things go wrong. Learn from the experience and move on. The ability to get back on the stealth health track fast and continue is what’s important.

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