Day 23: Replace processed fats with healthy fat. Vegetable oils (corn, canola, soybean, etc.) have an inflammatory impact on the body when consumed in large quantities. Start replacing them with high-quality olive oil, coconut oil, and butter.
Many people are confused by the recommendation to eliminate the “heart healthy” oils like soybean and corn oil in favor of saturated fat-filled butter and coconut oil. Here’s the deal: At first glance vegetable oils like canola are not so bad because they contain a high percentage of monounsaturated fats and omega-6s.
But, too much of anything is bad for health. Surveys show Westerners eat entirely too much vegetable oil because it’s a cheap oil. For example, diets high in soybean oil are associated with insulin resistance and obesity. In fact, soybean oil consumption has increased more than 1,000 times from 1909 to the present day and is thought to be one of the leading causes of obesity in the Western world.
Therefore, avoid all foods that contain any kind of vegetable oil (corn and soybean are the ones you’ll see most often). Condiments and salad dressing are big ones you need to watch out for, but you’re already a step ahead if you are making your own salad dressing with olive oil, vinegar and fresh herbs.
2019 PG 31-Day Challenge Overview:
If you’re fed up with failed diets and broken New Year’s resolutions, you’ve come to the right place. The 2019 PG 31-Day Challenge is here to ensure you make progress with your health, nutrition, and body composition goals.
This Challenge takes the big goals of fitness training, eating healthy, and improving lifestyle habits and breaks them down into bite size chunks that you can master one day at a time. You start with one small change each day and build from there, gaining momentum as you succeed, one challenge at a time. By focusing on a single target each day, you can avoid the overwhelming feeling that often accompanies all-or-nothing approaches.
The cool thing about our Challenge format is that you can pick and choose which tasks to try, focusing on the ones that resonate most with your goals and energy levels. And because obstacles often arise, our Challenge doesn’t send you back to the beginning if you miss a day or slip up. Each day is a new opportunity to work on forging change and revitalizing your health and metabolism.
Use the PG Challenge to make 2019 the year when you become one of the successful ones who effectively transforms your life for the better.
This Challenge is the perfect opportunity to allow the science and coaching cues that have paid off for our clients and students to go to work for you! Check in daily on the Tip section of our website for the full breakdown of that day’s Challenge and download the 31-day calendar for the Challenge Overview. Send us your comments, questions, and success stories on social media using #PGChallenge.
Day 1: Start a 3-day food journal in which you write down every single thing that goes into your mouth. An honest food journal will give you raw data you need to overcome bad eating habits and it will allow you to get a handle on how many calories, carbs, protein, and fat you are currently eating.
A common mistake when trying to lose fat is to think you have a clear picture of what you’re eating. Humans are notorious for underestimating how many calories they are eating. This is easily one of the most common reasons people don’t lose fat even though they think they are doing everything right. After all, it’s impossible to solve a problem that you don’t know exists.
Food journals work because they allow you to identify solutions to weak spots in your diet—for example, are you skipping meals? Or do your food choices deteriorate on stressful work days or when you eat out with friends? This sort of troubleshooting pays off: In one year-long study, women who consistently did food journals lost an average of 6 pounds more than those who didn’t.
Day 2: Start testing your morning glucose to assess your metabolic health. It should be between 70-90 mg/dl, with a goal of below 84 mg/dl. Get test strips and a glucose meter at any drug store.
Blood glucose is a measurement of the amount of sugar in your blood. Testing blood glucose provides information about your metabolic health and allows you to identify weak spots in your diet and activity. High fasting glucose, or glucose levels that are sustained at an elevated value after eating, indicate poor insulin sensitivity and a need to improve your diet and training.
You can also start testing your fasting glucose and compare it with your post-meal glucose level because this will provide a window into your body’s insulin sensitivity. Ideally, you want your post-meal glucose to be below 135 mg/dl. Large post-meal spikes in glucose indicate poor insulin health, which can be solved though exercise, physical activity, and diet (all of the daily challenges will help).
Day 3: Drink enough water. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Figure out how much you want to drink a day (2 liters is a good place to start). Get a bottle and fill it up in the morning. Make sure it’s all gone before you go to bed.
What if you don’t like plain water? Well, we haven’t gotten to the challenge where you remove juice, soda, and other unhealthy beverages, but the reality is that if you can’t make friends with water, your health goals are going to be a lot harder to achieve. A few solutions for jazzing your water up:
- Get a filter to ensure you are getting clean, pure water.
- Add lemon, lime, cucumber, or ginger for a little flavor.
- Try electrolyte packets to give your water some fizz along with the nutrients.
Suggested Intake: 33-35 ml/kg bodyweight or 15-16 ml/lb bodyweight
Day 4: Eat protein for your first meal of the day. By eating protein first thing, you set your neurotransmitters up for a productive day. Try eggs, meat (e.g. organic turkey slices), Greek yogurt, fish (e.g. smoked, canned, or fresh salmon), or a whey protein shake with berries.
Instead of starting your day with cereal, toast, fruit, or some other carb-centric meal, prioritizing protein will improve brain function and reduce hunger later in the day. Eventually, you should replace all refined carbs such as cereal, toast, juice, pastries, bagels, and so on with protein. If you’re not ready for this, you can start by eating some protein in addition to your regular breakfast.
Eat the protein first. Chances are you’ll eat less, and switch to a protein-filled breakfast all together pretty quickly.
Day 5: Start reading ingredient labels on everything you eat today. This will allow you to become more aware of what is in the food you’re eating so that down the road you can start to remove problematic ingredients.
Ingredients to watch out for include the following:
- Unhealthy fats from vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, safflower, and hydrogenated oils.
- Corn, soy, rice, and wheat, often in the form of protein, starch, or flour.
- Added sugar, which is identified by myriad names including dextrose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, sugar, evaporated cane juice, barley malt, and rice syrup, to name a few.
- Artificial flavors and dyes.
- Sodium, MSG, carrageenan, gums, and other additives.
Day 6: Stretch your muscles for 5 to 10 minutes. Currently underappreciated, stretching has numerous health benefits, including improving blood flow, moderating stress, and balancing out tight muscles.
By beginning a stretching program, we are easing you into getting active. Stretching will allow you to get in tune with your body and lay the groundwork for a successful warm-up when you start exercising on Day 8. Every workout should be preceded by 5 minutes of movement that raises heart rate and warms up your body. Then you should do 5 to 10 minutes of stretching, typically focusing on dynamic movements that activate the muscles throughout the body.
This initial stretch session can focus on static movements, such as stretching your calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, shoulders, and neck. Push to the point where you feel your tissues are challenged, but never go to the point where you feel pain.
Day 7: Remove refined carbs from your first meal of the day. Avoiding juice, bread, most cereals, pastries, and foods with added sugar in favor of high-quality protein first thing will give you less hunger and more energy over the course of the day.
This should be easier since you’ve already added protein as the focal point of your first meal. The bad news about refined carbs (those that come in a package and contain flour and sugar versus whole carbs like vegetables, fruit, grains, and beans) is that they spike blood sugar and activate a network of chemical transmitters in the brain that makes you sleepy and makes you feel sluggish.
Happily, high-protein foods do the opposite, turning on neurons that make you active and alert, so once you start eating protein first thing, you’ll feel better and won’t even want to eat cereal, donuts, or toast.
Day 8: Work Out. If you’re not exercising at all and don’t have a gym membership, start at home—try a vigorous 15 minute walk or a series of body weight exercises (squats, modified pushups against a wall or counter, and step-ups onto a chair or stool).
Exercise is medicine for the body because it radically improves your metabolism so that you burn fat more easily. Fixing your metabolism is necessary in these early stages because it will make dietary changes easier down the road.
If you already have a training routine, this is basically a free day in which you can hit the gym and focus on training with renewed effort and enthusiasm. For novices, this is a chance to incorporate strength training or interval work into your routine because both modes will improve lean mass and make you stronger.
Day 9: Start eating more vegetables. Add a salad or steamed veggies with olive oil to lunch or dinner. Try salad greens with cucumbers, artichoke hearts, baby tomatoes, colored peppers, olives or avocado, and a few nuts.
Most people think they don’t like vegetables, but once they start eating them prepared properly (fresh, not from the can, and lightly cooked with olive oil, tamari, and spices for example), they realize how delicious they can be. Additionally, vegetables are nutrition powerhouses and people who eat more of them have better cardiovascular health, lower diabetes risk, less cancer, and lower chronic disease.
Vegetables are also great when you’re trying to lose body fat because they are high in fiber and water but low in calories and can go a long way towards filling you up. The fiber in vegetables is especially important because along with moderating hunger and blood sugar, it feeds the healthy bacteria in the GI tract, allowing for less inflammation and better digestion.
Your goal is to work up to eating five servings of vegetables a day. A serving is generally considered about ½ cup (64 g).
Day 10: Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with non-caloric options. It’s time to put your feet to the fire and eliminate liquid sugar. Best choice is to stick with water, coffee, and tea, but if you must, diet soda is a better choice than sugary soda.
Sugar-sweetened beverages have zero nutritional benefits and they are the greatest provider of calories in the American diet. But these drinks don’t just provide empty calories: They have little effect impact on satisfying hunger, so people can consume large quantities without reducing appetite.
Additionally, soda, juice, and other sugary beverages appear to be a primary cause of the high rates of diabetes and non-alcoholic liver disease that are appearing in people of all ages. There’s a reason that cities are attempting to ban these drinks: They are killing people and removing them from your diet is a must.
Day 11: Include protein at lunch and dinner. It’s time to shift from planning meals around carbs (pasta, sandwich, pizza, granola bar, crackers, etc.) to making whole protein the center of your plate by choosing meat, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, dairy, beans, lentils, and nuts.
Protein is a godsend if you want to optimize body composition and feel motivated: The body prefers to use it to build muscle rather than store it as fat, and it improves chemical transmitters in the brain involved in cognition and energy. This helps you stay on point with your eating and it sustains motivation to reach other goals.
Additionally, protein is satiating and improves your hormonal response to a meal, helping to manage blood sugar and insulin so you avoid cravings for sugar.
One important point when it comes to protein: Choose real proteins rather than foods with protein added: Say “yes” to chicken, turkey, steak, fish filets, legumes, and minimally processed dairy, and “no” to cereal, protein bars, protein-added yogurt, bread, crackers, and so on.
Day 12: Start training with weight. Gym workouts in which you do squats, presses, rows, and deadlifts are an excellent place to start because they use big muscle groups and will get you strong and lean fast.
If you haven’t joined a gym yet, you can stick with your body weight exercises but find a way to load them. Challenge yourself by holding a gallon jug of water when doing squats, lunges, and step-ups. Increase the incline on your push-ups and add incline rows, either at a local park or with a TRX. Consider buying some resistance bands or checking out your gym options.
If you’re already hitting the gym, make sure your workouts are designed around big muscle exercises and your training scheme fits your goals. For strength and performance goals, go heavy with lower volume (3 to 8 reps for 4 to 6 sets). For body composition goals, weights should be challenging but your volume should be high (8 to 15 reps for 3 to 5 sets).
Day 13: Pick a set bedtime. Establishing a reliable bedtime takes advantage of your body’s natural circadian rhythm and sets your hormonal system up to help you make good dietary and exercise choices each day.
Many people procrastinate bedtime, doing one more chore, staying up to watch a show, or piddling around the house until the wee hours of the morning. Instead of leaving bedtime up to whenever you are so exhausted you can’t keep your eyeballs open, it’s time to create some structure and get your body on a reliable schedule.
Figuring out how much sleep you need is an individual thing: Some people thrive on 5 hours, but most people will function best on more than 8. This might sound like a pipe dream, but research shows the benefits of sufficient sleep are powerful and pay off in terms of better physical and mental performance. The key is to make sleep a priority and get the zzzs what sets you up for success.
Day 14: Walk more—shooting for 500 steps 3 to 6 times a day. Getting active during the day revs up more than calorie expenditure: It stimulates bone and muscle building, aids circulation and heart function, and protects your metabolism.
Time to get a step tracker so that you can get a handle on your daily step counts. Your ultimate goal is going to be 10,000 steps a day but people who are largely sedentary need to work up to that volume slowly. A realistic way to do it is to start by incorporating short, 500-step walks throughout the day.
Start with a walk after each meal. Then add one at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. After work is another perfect time to get some steps in because it lets you shake off the rigors of the day and transition into relaxation mode so that you can be fully present with family or friends in the evening instead of zoning out on the couch.
Day 15: Always eat vegetables with protein. A little known fact is that protein is somewhat inflammatory. But eating protein with a variety of veggies provides antioxidants that allow the body to eliminate free radicals that cause inflammation.
Vegetables are a godsend for anyone trying to lose body fat because they are packed with nutrients and water, contain loads of indigestible fiber that improves reduces hunger, and are very low in calories so you can eat as much of them as you want.
In addition to a green salad, try sautéed greens (collards, spinach, chard, kale, broccoli), or steamed cauliflower, yellow squash, and green beans. Season veggies with olive oil or cook them in coconut oil with fresh herbs and spices for flavor and variety.
Day 16: Get more omega-3 fats in your diet by eating fish at least once a week. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are good choices. Other good sources of omega-3 include pasture-raised meat and dairy, wild meats, nuts (walnuts), seeds (hemp and chia), and cold pressed oils.
Studies consistently show health and body composition benefits in people who get more omega-3 fats from fish in their diets.
Why are omega-3s so good for you? The fatty acids you eat are incorporated into the outside lipid layer of the cells in your body. When those layers are made up of omega-3s and other healthy fats (like monounsaturated fats), cell signaling or “messaging” improves, allowing for better insulin sensitivity, lower inflammation, and better metabolic function.
Intake should be individualized, however, the American Heart Association recommends 1,750 mg of omega-3 fat from fish oil a week. Per 3-ounce serving, mackerel contains 1,100 mg of omegas, salmon provides 1,825 mg, and sardines has 1,250 mg.
Day 17: Enhance your workouts. Let’s get down to details here: Complete novices can work on establishing their exercise habit by continuing with the Day 8 and 12 recommendations. For everyone else interested in body composition, use 30- to 60-second rest periods with weights that allow you to do 8 to 15 reps, using multi-joint lifts, deadlifts, presses, rows, step-ups, squats, etc.
Fat loss and muscle building are achieved with a higher volume, moderate loads, and short rest periods. An example of this type of training program is available in our GBC Burst Training. For performance and strength oriented goals, go heavier, with lighter loads (3 to 8 reps for sets in the 4 to 6 range). Check out the German Volume Training FAQ for guidance.
Day 18: Eat a probiotic food once a day. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that improve gut health and digestion. Examples include yogurt, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables (ginger, kim chi), kombucha tea, and kefir.
Improving the healthy bacteria in your GI tract has benefits that extend beyond better digestion. Eating probiotic foods or taking a supplement has been found to improve body composition and reduce inflammation. Probiotics may also reduce depression and improve brain function because over half of the neurotransmitters are synthesized in the gut.
Other probiotic foods include miso, tempeh, fermented cheeses, and vinegars. Many probiotics are salty and soothing, so add them to meals as condiments.
Day 19: Remove added sugar from meals and snacks. From all your ingredient label reading you know how sugar is added to almost every packaged and processed food. It’s time to remove those foods from your main meals, concentrating on eating whole foods without added sugar.
You don’t have to eliminate sugar entirely, but the goal here is to consume it intelligently and not as part of your primary meal. Save it for dessert when you can truly enjoy the flavors and textures of a small serving of ice cream, pie, chocolate, or whatever delights your fancy.
Why is removing added sugar so important? First, it supplies empty calories that you don’t need if reducing body fat or weight management are a goal. Second, sugar stimulates areas of the brain that make you crave more, leading many people to over shoot their calorie needs. Finally, sugar spikes glucose and insulin, leading to metabolic derangements and increasing your chance of diabetes.
Day 20: Do 5 to 10 minutes of deep breathing. It’s time to cultivate mindfulness by taking a few moments out of your day to focus on your breath. Take deep belly breaths in which you expand the diaphragm and clear your mind, noting as thoughts or images pass through.
Deep breathing is a first step to starting a meditation practice—a habit that can give you back significantly more in terms of both mental and physical benefits than the effort required. By spending a moment breathing deeply, you get in touch with the sensations in your muscles and limbs, clear your mind of nonsense, and moderate your stress response, lowering cortisol.
Deep breathing will also activate the rest-and-relaxation parasympathetic nervous system, helping you switch from the hyperactivation that we often experience as a chronic state in daily life.
To start a deep breathing practice, take 5 to 10 minutes in which you just focus on the air coming in and out of your body. When you feel stress, aggravation, or annoyance in your daily life, you can use cleansing breaths to break away from these uncomfortable feelings and recenter your body and mind.
Day 21: Get more active by hitting 10,000 steps. Walking is protective: Studies show that people who get in 10,000 steps have better health markers (lower cholesterol, better insulin sensitivity) even when their diets are not optimal.
Simply walking 10,000 steps a day when on a high calorie diet prevents belly fat gain and deteriorating metabolic health that occurs when activity is reduced to 1,500 steps a day (average for a sedentary desk jockey). Walking doesn’t just protect your waistline: It is important for cardiovascular function because it helps blood vessels stay flexible and improves the amount of blood pumped by the heart with each beat, thereby lowering the load on the heart.
Walking is also great for your brain. It may help lower inflammation so that you avoid cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, and a vigorous walk is a great chance to work through problems and let off stress. There is even evidence that some of the best thinkers are avid walkers, using physical activity to perform unconscious work that fuels creativity and entrepreneurship.
Day 22: Make your own salad dressing from vinegar, olive oil, citrus and spices. Salad dressing and other condiments are a surprisingly huge source of added sugar and unhealthy fat.
Salad and other vegetable dishes are a staple of a healthy diet and we hope you’ve jazzed up your taste buds and are regularly enjoying multiple servings a day. One concern is that many people don’t like plain vegetables, so having healthful, delicious condiments is key.
Making incredibly delicious sauces can help you cook more flavorful food to replace fast foods and processed foods that have chemical additives. Over time, you’ll find you prefer authentic tastes instead of artificial ones. Plus, spices and vinegars have the added benefit of improving insulin sensitivity so that the carbs you eat get stored as an energy source in muscle rather than as fat.
You can find recipes for healthy sauces and dressings on the internet but staples for making great veggie meals include tamari (soy sauce), lemon and lime, spices (rosemary, thyme, basil, etc.), salt and pepper, good olive oil, vinegars, mustard, and seeds (sesame, chia, poppy, etc.).