We’re all impatient creatures. In today’s society, we expect instant results – and for good reason! We have instant streaming movies, instant foods, instant music, same day delivery (hell, same hour in some areas!), instant messaging – we even have speed dating for Pete’s sake! So is it any wonder that when we’re forced to deal with something that takes time, we feel frustrated? This often is the case with fitness and proper dieting. We’d like the results to be instant here too, but sadly, they’re not. Changing the body takes time, whether it’s losing fat, gaining muscle or endurance, it’s a biological process, and that means two uncommon commodities are required – patience and perseverance.
So how long does it take to see results?
The most important part of this answer is your definition of results. No matter what you’re talking about though, there are two versions of “results” there’s “progress” and there are “goals”. I advocate that if you’re beginning any program that you should lay out a clear set of mini-goals for yourself. So if your goal is to lose 100 pounds, then set 10 mini-goals of 10 pounds. These mini-goals represent progress. While it may take you up to a year to safely lose 100 pounds, you can lose 10 pounds much more quickly, which helps keep your motivation high during the slower progress toward your ultimate goal!
Results are a little different when you’re talking about seeing muscle gains. It depends a lot on how frequently you workout and how intense your workouts are. For someone working out 3 days a week, it may take between 2 weeks and two months to see results depending on your body’s physiology and a host of other factors.
However, these are outward signs of results. Bear in mind there are a plethora of other results that you can expect from eating right and exercising regularly which we’ve talked in depth about in The Psychology Behind Exercise – The Positive Benefits of Eating Right and Starting a Fitness Program. As a quick recap:
The Effects Of Exercise
- Stress reduction and resiliency to stress
- Mood enhancement and lowered anxiety
- Improved self-esteem
- Pride in physical accomplishments
- Increased satisfaction with oneself
- Improved body image
- Increased feelings of energy
- Improved confidence in your physical abilities
- Decreased symptoms associated with depression
- Better sleep
The Effects of Proper Diet
- Lower inflammation
- Less oxidative stress
- Better quality sleep
- More controlled appetite
- Less mood swings
- Less pain
Some of these effects are things you can experience immediately, others may take a little time, but can still be measured as signs of progress in your diet and fitness plan! Don’t discount even the smallest changes, because they are due to conscious choices that you have taken to take control of your body and your life – and that right there, is probably the biggest overlooked “result” of all!
Tips for seeing progress quicker
- If you’re talking about weight loss – Focus on your mini goals, how clothing fits, how you feel, what’s your energy like etc.
- Bear in mind your methodology – if you’re dieting and lifting heavy weights to lose weight, realize that you may be gaining muscle. The scale doesn’t see the difference between fat and muscle, so while the pounds may be dropping slower than you’d like, there are other positive changes taking place that may be skewing your metric. With that said, be honest with yourself about your diet! I see too many people who use “muscle gain” as an excuse for what’s really a bad diet.
- If you’re lifting weights – Obviously, increase the weight that you’re lifting, if that’s not a realistic goal, or you’re trying to tone rather than increase mass, increase the number of times you lift the weight, instead of 10 times, shoot for 12 or more. Add in another set, so instead of three sets of ten repetitions, go for 4 sets of 8 repetitions (or 10 reps if you can do it!).
- If you’re running – Change your course, add in a few difficult hills, make one of your days a “long run day” where you add more distance than you’re accustomed to. Push yourself to run a little faster for a little longer a few times in each run.
- Get your rest! Especially for anything physical, make sure to let your body recover in between workouts / runs etc. At least one day between each workout. Not only will this help you to avoid injury, but it will also ensure that your muscles are ready to perform at a higher level – something we like to call progress! This day off doesn’t mean you’re on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching Netflix. Change what you’re doing, work in a cardio day after a lifting day, or maybe a stretching day after an intense run. But the message is the same, give the worked muscles some time to re-build stronger without tearing them down more.
Tips to increase your results
These tips are specifically for the gym-goer moving heavy weights around, but may also be adaptable to other physical work.
- As mentioned above – get your rest. ’nuff said about that I’m not going to beat that dead horse any more.
- Eat for fuel, not pleasure. It’s so easy to think of eating as pleasurable because we ave access to so many foods that just taste so damn good! But the truth of the matter is we eat because our bodies need fuel to repair the damage that’s done to them daily through the act of simply living, let alone what we do to them from working out. If we treated our cars like we treat our bodies, we’d be putting all manner of things in the gas tank, not just the gasoline that’s recommended for it. Stick with healthy, whole foods for your body! Consider the Mediterranean diet. Of course, eating is pleasurable, and it should be, but temper that pleasure with making sure that you’re doing what’s best for your body, not just what tastes best.
- Increase the intensity of your workouts, and the amount of protein you’re consuming. If you’re trying to gain size from lifting, you need to make sure that you’re consuming the calories needed to put on mass. Additionally, you need to make sure that a large portion of these calories are coming from protein sources. This is related to eating for fuel, make sure you’re giving your body the tools it needs to accomplish the results that you’re after. How much? The USRDA says about 10 – 35% of your daily calories should come from protein – that’s about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. Also, eat a small – healthy snack before your workouts to help increase your intensity levels. Consider carbohydrates for a quick energy burst, but go with complex carbs for an extended release (think fruit instead of cookies) around 1-200 calories should do the trick.
- Prioritize strength training over cardio if weight loss is your goal. Back in “Ten important benefits of resistance training” we talked a little about the afterburn effect. In a nutshell, when you lift (especially in lower body workouts) your body burns a chemical called ATP for energy. When you’re done lifting, the body replenishes this chemical. The act of replenishing of ATP can last for as long as 10 hours and can burn an additional 150 – 200 calories – That’s on top of what you burned during the workout.
- Lastly, Switch up your workouts every month or two. You can still work the same muscle groups, but change up the exercises you’re doing so that you’re working the same muscles differently. This will help avoid muscle adaptation which can cause plateauing to occur where the great results you may have been seeing suddenly just stop.
Changing your body takes time. As Tony Horton says “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your body”. Be patient with the process. Impatience can lead to injury, and if you want to see your progress not only stop, but backslide, try nursing an injury for a few months. Don’t give up on the process, but don’t rush it either. Enjoy the ride, celebrate your progress, but learn from setbacks and slowdowns. Ultimately, forget about the setbacks, because if you truly stick with this over time, you WILL see results.
Know someone who might like this article? Please share it with them, or via your social media network, it helps the blog out, and you never know who you might be responsible for motivating to live a healthier lifestyle!