Some of the most disciplined and motivated people on the planet are endurance athletes. Training for long-distance events requires commitment to healthy habits over time, including both exercise and nutrition. Luckily, you don’t need to run a marathon or train for a triathlon to garner some of that motivation.
We chatted with elite runner Nick Arciniaga to get some tips on how he rules himself—or how he trains to be the best runner he can day after day. He helped us confront some of the most common roadblocks many of us face and gives us strategies to bust right through them.
Roadblock: Lack of time
Solution: Plan ahead
It’s easy for exercise to fall to the bottom of the priority list in the face of a busy work schedule and family engagements. That’s why scheduling physical activity ahead of time can help keep you on track.
“It’s like setting a deadline for yourself,” says Arciniaga. “When you schedule exercise, every day should have a purpose in helping you achieve your goals.”
The same goes for healthy eating. You’re far more likely to get derailed if you are faced with a cupboard full of junk food at the end of a long day. Planning meals, shopping and prepping ahead of time can save you in a weak moment.
Roadblock: Getting out of bed in the morning to work out
Solution: Establish a routine
When diet and exercise are guided by whims, it is easy to falter. However, when you have a routine, you’re less likely to fall off the bandwagon. What’s more, your body and mind grow accustomed to routines—both healthy and unhealthy—so over time, you’ll find that it’s easier and easier to stick to those healthy habits.
“Being able to set aside a time of day to get out and run, walk or go to the gym is important,” says Arciniaga. “The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to achieve your goals.”
Roadblock: Exercise boredom
Solution: Add some variety
Let’s face it, exercise can be boring. That’s why it’s important to mix up your workouts to keep things interesting. “There are many people who use a variety of workouts, a change in location and even different training partners to keep themselves motivated,” says Arciniaga.
Instead of dreading exercise, you may find you actually look forward to it because it offers something new and engaging. Not only will this make it more enjoyable, but it’ll also help you stay committed.
Roadblock: You’re not seeing the scale move
Solution: Step back, and reflect
This is where a training log can come in handy. When you keep track of your diet and exercise, you’ll be better able to look back and figure out why you aren’t seeing your desired weight-loss results.
“I would recommend taking a step back and analyzing why you’re not achieving as much as you want with your exercise routine,” says Arciniaga.
Whether you need to bump up the number of minutes on your feet each day or take in fewer calories, logging your exercise and nutrition can help you pinpoint why you may be falling short. Keep in mind that results take patience, so if you feel you’re doing everything right, forge ahead and see if your body just needs a bit more time to adjust.
Roadblock: You aren’t sure what you’re working toward
Solution: Set goals
Aimlessly subscribing to healthier eating habits or exercise can be a prescription for failure. Setting diet and exercise goals goes a long way in motivating you to stick with a plan long term. “It gives you a purpose, whether it’s preparing for a race or losing weight,” says Arciniaga. “Goal setting allows you to give yourself benchmarks to achieve and a reason to workout every day.”
When setting those targets, be sure to create SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused and Time-bound. When you define goals in this way, you’re less likely to let yourself off the hook when you feel your motivation waning.
Roadblock: Unpredictable schedule
Solution: Be realistic about training demands
If your daily routine is, well, not so routine, this is important to factor in when planning exercise. “Between work and family, people can find it difficult to train as often as they want,” says Arciniaga. “Setting expectations too high and then not achieving them can be discouraging.”
Take a look at the big picture when you are considering your weekly exercise goals. If walking or going to the gym four days a week is what fits, then pencil in workouts on the days you anticipate having time. When unpredictability rears its ugly head and you get sidetracked, simply reschedule for another day.
Roadblock: Healthy eating is complicated
Solution: Simplify your approach to food
Pick a handful of easy meals that are realistic in terms of your culinary skills and time for preparation. Also be sure to choose healthy foods that you actually enjoy eating. It’s easy for those good intentions to fall away if the food you eat doesn’t taste good to you.
“Meals with fruits, vegetables, dairy, carbs and protein can be easy to make and are great for your whole family,” says Arciniaga. “There are so many fast and inventive meals that can be found on the internet now. I would recommend having a weekly meal routine set up and then once a week try a new recipe to keep your diet interesting.”
Roadblock: Don’t know where to start
Solution: Commit to a structured diet and exercise plan
It is important to have a tangible method by which to reach your long-term diet and exercise goals. This is where a structured plan comes in. There are plenty of online resources and nutrition experts who can help you determine what you need to do in terms of diet to reach your weight-loss objectives.
The same goes for exercise. Whether you’re hoping to start walking every day or subscribe to a strength and stretching routine, seek out a plan online or contact a coach or trainer for help. “A consistent routine makes each training day as important as the one before it,” says Arciniaga. “Knowing that each day will give you a benefit helps keep you motivated to exercise day after day.”