Are you looking to level up your workouts, and improve your performance and results from your training in 2023? We all love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with improving strength and fitness, and smashing performance-based goals. Is there any better feeling than lifting an extra 5kgs, or getting through an extra burpee than you were previously capable of? Beating your own personal bests in your training takes work, consistency, and preparation. And if you’re smart about it, there are a few strategies you can implement to help you get there faster. While we know what you do in the gym is important, it’s actually the things you do outside of your sessions which are just as critical for performance. So here are 4 ways to optimise your workout performance, and start smashing your goals and levelling up, pronto!
1. Fuel your body.
Eating a high-quality diet rich in protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, and eating enough consistently is the key to optimising your performance during your training sessions. While we often focus on how important protein is for supporting muscle growth, synthesis and repair between sessions, it turns out that carbohydrates are the MVP when it comes to workout performance. Consuming carbs regularly throughout the day, and at least 30 minutes prior to a big gym session has been shown to improve performance significantly, as they act as an unmatched source of easily-accessible energy for both high-intensity and longer duration exercise.
While fasted training has become the latest and greatest trend in the health industry, owing to claims it helps you burn fat faster, the truth is that consuming quick-digesting carbohydrates prior to a decision has been found to improve your work capacity and endurance, reduce the perceived effort you feel when performing movements, and even support your recovery after each session. So while it’s up to you and what feels best for your body and training style, fuelling with fast-absorbed carb sources such as dates, smoothies, a banana or some toast provides your body with the glucose it needs for muscle growth and maintenance, improved performance, and increased energy levels, so you can expect to see improved performance and results from your workouts quickly.
Fat and protein also play important roles in performance, with protein responsible for muscle repair following each session, allowing your muscles to grow in strength and recover faster so you can elevate your results, in a shorter time frame. Plus, fat offers another useful source of energy to fuel your workouts and optimise your performance, particularly during longer duration exercise at lower intensities. Fat supports healthy hormone production too, which is essential for anyone hoping to improve performance at the gym without sacrificing general health.
However the main thing to note is the importance of eating enough, in addition to prioritising carbohydrates. If you’re under-fuelling day-to-day, and not providing your body with the energy it needs to function at its best, you can expect your performance to suffer as a result. You’ll feel more exhausted in the gym, your output will drop and your perceived exhaustion required to perform your regular movements will feel higher, and your ability to smash out a workout will dramatically decrease. So while you may have been sucked into messaging around eating less and working out more to achieve a desired aesthetic goal, this is often counterintuitive – sometimes you need to eat more to improve your performance, and see the results and improvements in strength and fitness you’re seeking. Take a moment to evaluate your energy levels and perceived exertion each time you hit the gym, and this should give a good indication as to whether you’re fuelling your body adequately or not.
Next we come to hydration. Hydration plays such a crucial role in supporting performance, as well as reducing your risk of injury and promoting recovery after your workouts. For those who exercise regularly, you likely experience significant water loss through sweat or heat production during your training sessions, which means you need to drink significantly more than sedentary people to make up for this. Particularly during endurance training, you may be losing up to 3-4 L of fluid per hour, depending on the climate, temperature and type of exercise you’re doing. Studies have shown that even being slightly dehydrated (equivalent to just 2% of body mass or more) leads to dramatic decreases in workout performance and capacity. This is because you experience reduced blood plasma volume, reduced cardiac output, reduced blood flow, increased body temperature, increased energy use, and greater perceived exertion during training, all of which compromise your potential output. So make sure to aim for at least 2 L of water daily at baseline on days you’re not training, and increase this amount in accordance with your workouts to compensate for fluid losses and increased demands on your body.
2. Prioritise sleep.
Sleep is possibly the most effective strategy to support your workout performance. Increased quantity and quality of sleep have been shown to help athletes improve performance, by improving your motivation and concentration during sessions, reducing perceived exertion and effort, and making your body feel stronger and better equipped while you train.
Sleep also helps your body recover and repair between sessions, and supports muscle strength and synthesis. Similarly, while you sleep your body produces growth hormone, which is responsible for building lean muscle and recovery from workouts (as the name implies). Without adequate sleep, you’re not producing optimal levels of this hormone, so your workouts aren’t going to be nearly as effective. Growth hormone is crucial for athletic performance and recovery, and sleep is essential for its production.
Essentially, the more well-rested you are, the better both your mind and your body will function in and out of the gym. Sleep has been shown to help people feel more motivated, more able to stick to (and complete!) their workout regime, and more likely to work out to your maximum capacity and experience the resulting improved performance.
On the other hand, if you’re not getting the required 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep each night, you’ll fatigue faster, find it more difficult to work out at your maximum capacity, and everything will feel that much more difficult, meaning your endurance performance will decline significantly.
So to put it simply, better (and more) sleep = better performance and results from your workouts!
3. Switch things up.
When you’re devising your workout routine, make sure to incorporate variety and change things up regularly in order to optimise your performance and results. Including a bunch of different types of training styles and movements in your regime means you’re constantly challenging your body in different and dynamic ways, creating new stimuli which leads to improved progress over time. You’re recruiting different muscle groups, different body systems, and challenging different aspects of fitness, meaning you’ll reap the rewards by seeing improvements in various aspects of your training – from improved strength, to endurance, to aerobic and anaerobic fitness and performance. Consider including strength or resistance training, high-intensity interval training, cardio, Pilates, yoga, dynamic stretching or active recovery, swimming, or as many different types of training you can into your fitness routine – provided you actually enjoy them. After all, the most effective workout is the one you’re consistent with!
Keeping things interesting also means you’re less likely to get bored and abandon your training consistency, so you’re giving yourself a better chance of seeing results and improvements. Plus, by rotating exercises on the reg, you’re putting your body and muscles under less strain, meaning you’re less likely to experience injury.
Change up your workouts and feel the difference in both the motivation and enjoyment you feel during your sessions, and the performance and results you see from your workouts.
4. Take rest days!
More is not more when it comes to improving your performance in your workouts. Smashing your body every day without taking time to rest and recover is not the way to see results or achieve your goals. In fact, it’s a one way ticket to burnout, injury and loss of motivation and enjoyment from your sessions.
Rest days should be a non-negotiable in every fitness routine, with 2-3 rest days per week being ideal. Whether you schedule a few complete no-movement days into each week, or you use these days for active recovery protocols like gentle walks in nature, stretching or foam rolling, the physical and mental benefits of rest are essential for anyone wanting to improve performance in the gym.
Even professional athletes make sure to include rest days, as these are the days on which your muscles repair and grow, allowing you to build muscle mass and recover in order to smash out your workout next time you hit the gym. You know the feeling you get when you return to the gym after a day or two off, when you’re super motivated, energised and ready to smash out a super session? If you’re neglecting your rest days, you don’t get this benefit, and instead you’ll experience fatigue, increased perceived effort, and reduced performance. Plus, you’re more likely to injure yourself when you’re pushing your body too hard. Overtraining and skipping rest days risks both mental and physical health, so don’t neglect your rest and recovery!
Learn to listen to your body to identify when you need rest, more than another workout. If you’re feeling really depleted and low in energy, consider switching your planned HIIT session for an active recovery day. Then, chances are the following day you’ll be ready to smash out a really effective session, which you’ll benefit far more from than you would have when you were fatigued. Remember, not every workout has to be sweaty, exhausting and intense.
Rest days are an essential component to any routine targeted towards improving results and performance, so schedule them into your fitness regime as you would any other session.
There you have it, four tried and tested strategies for optimising your fitness performance, and seeing results faster, without putting excessive stress or strain on your body. Remember, being proactive with your recovery, sleep, nutrition and hydration is essential, as is keeping things dynamic and tuning into your body and how you’re feeling. Not every session has to be intense or long – sometimes the ones you benefit most from are those intended to support recovery, rather than the ones in which you push yourself to your limits!