We make changes because we want CHANGE. Response. Action. Forward momentum.
It is important, though, to have reasonable expectations toward those results in order to avoid obsession, disappointment, frustration, and burnout. Wanting tomorrow’s results today can distract you from enjoying and celebrating the process of actually putting in the work.
So what is reasonable to expect when it comes to the results of regular exercise and proper nutrition?
First, let’s establish some context for “regular exercise” and “proper nutrition.” By regular, we are referring to at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (reaching the target heart rate zone for 30 or more minutes) most days of the week. Proper nutrition refers to an appropriate energy balance of calories in (food intake) vs. energy burned (through lifestyle and exercise). Alongside caloric balance, we consider proper nutrition to be made up if mostly real foods (“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” Greg Glassman) with little to no processed goods and refined sugar.
Now, we know that exercise and nutrition effect multiple types of health markers at varied times, so we’ll break some of them down one-by-one to see how the results timelines can vary:
Heart Rate and Recovery Time
This is often one of the first results we see in our athletes just starting out, and it’s also the most often overlooked to be celebrated! In unhealthy individuals, the resting heart rate is higher because the heart is working harder even at rest. As you firm and increase capacity for your most important muscle – your heart – it can pump more blood per minute than before. Doing equal or more work with less force means a lower resting heart rate. New exercisers often find that it takes some time for their heart rate to return to normal (from target zone back to resting) during their first couple of weeks, but within 2 weeks or so we typically see them bounce back more quickly. By the time we record scores, give fist bumps and get downstairs, everyone is happily in control of themselves and at a manageable heart rate once again. They often miss it, but we don’t. Recovery is faster because their hearts are stronger, and that is a result worth celebrating.
Losing body fat is managed by taking in less energy (calories) than you output. The basic science of it, without accounting for food quality, which I’ll get to later, has been that you lose one pound of body weight for every 3,500 calories in deficit. This theory has been contested in recent years as we find out more about individuals and their needs for loss, but we know that caloric balance does matter. With a calorie deficit, weight loss can start almost immediately but should be steady and gradual, meaning that it will take a few weeks to really notice the change. At CrossFit Lambton Shores, we measure body metrics with a body composition scanner that looks beyond simply body weight. We track and measure both body fat and muscle mass percentage so that we can be sure those two markers for health and moving in the right direction (body fat down, muscle mass up). For most, changes in those percentages take about 4-6 weeks.
Muscle Gains and Toning
Getting stronger and more toned will be a longer process than weight loss, as muscles need time to adjust to a new routine and develop mass. Strength gains can be noticed more quickly, within 3-4 weeks you may be moving more weight than you could in the beginning. Some of that may have to do with better form and more comfort with range of motion, along with gains in strength. A measurable increase in muscle mass, though, usually takes about 6-8 weeks. Maintenance of muscle mass through regular strength training, along with cardiovascular exercise, means that your body will be stronger overall and less prone to injury.
Other Important Results (that are typically missed)
The mental and emotional benefits of moving your body through exercise, overcoming challenges, and trying new things can be immediate. We have had athletes tell us that they are standing taller and feeling more confident after only one workout! That is your brain responding to something that your body needs – exercise. Regular exercise and proper nutrition can also help you to manage stress and anxiety better and sleep more soundly, as well as giving you more energy during the parts of the day when you tend to drag.
How can I speed up my results?
As with many things in life, results do take time. However, proper nutrition and appropriate amounts of rest are a huge deal in having a healthy body and are not to be overlooked. If you are training your body, you also need to be fueling correctly with the right amount of food to maintain energy, but not excess fat. Eating mostly unprocessed foods that you cook at home will also provide you with the vitamins and minerals your body will need to support the it’s overall health. Avoiding over-training in a persistent race for results is also imperative. Rapid weight loss can strain your body systems and set you up for disappointment down the road. Too much stress on your joints, muscles, abs cardiovascular system can also lead to illness and injury. Notice that the recommendation for exercise is for MOST days of the week, not every. Your body and mind require time to rest, recover, and participate in other physical activities that you enjoy outside of the gym.
Regular exercise and proper nutrition benefit you in so many ways, but at varied time domains. Understanding how long to actually takes to gets results can save you loads of frustration and help you avoid the temptation to quit. Working with a coach or trainer can help you set reasonable and attainable goals for your health, and then break them into smaller steps that will keep you on track and celebrating your personal victories along the way.