Dr. Abbie Smith-Ryan is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science, the Director of the Applied Physiology Laboratory, and the Co-Director of the Human Performance Center. She is considered one of the leaders in sports nutrition and was honored as Nutrition Researcher of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). These are her tips for living a healthier, more nutritious life.
I used to think I was "busy" and understood how difficult it is to eat well and stay active. But, time changes everything. Throw in two young children (thankfully they’re now sleeping through the night), traditional wifely duties, a full-time job, and fitness goals, and most days are a blur.
But, I’ve found that re-evaluating my priorities, and then setting priorities, can make all the difference with setting values and building a plan that works.
I will never claim to have it all together, but I’m lucky that science (particularly my science) has helped me to be more efficient and effective with my exercise and nutrition goals. As a former collegiate distance runner, I was programmed for hours of cardio and lots of carbs. Believe it or not, I also used to have a hard anti-supplement stance.
It took me years of research to understand that this doesn’t have to be the only approach to fitness, and, honestly, avoiding supplements shouldn’t be the way you fuel and support your body (and health goals).
If I were to analyze the practices that are most important to my success, these are the practices that make it easier for me to stay healthy on a day-to-day basis.
The Magic of 30 Grams (Of Protein)
For most people, meal frequency isn’t a huge deal and not something to stress. But, eating enough protein and spacing it throughout the day can be beneficial for curbing feelings of hunger and maintaining your lean muscle.
Unfortunately, at about age 30, we start to lose muscle and slow our natural production of things like collagen, which plays a vital role in bone and joint health. As our production slows, we can lose those collagen benefits. That's why ensuring that you eat enough high-quality protein every day can help keep the muscle that you do have. My secret: focus on 30 grams of protein when you eat. It might sound like a lot, but it's not as bad as you might think.
In my case, here's what 30 grams of protein might look like at any meal:
Lunch and Dinner
Everything is based around a high-quality protein: chicken, lean beef, or fish paired with leafy greens or other vegetables.
Greek yogurt, protein bar, or a whey protein shake.
With all of my meal, I keep it simple and feasible. I also bring my meals to work and cook at home in bulk. This saves me time and energy and frees up time to squeeze in work and exercise.
Add Green to Every Meal
Strange but true: only 1 in 10 adults consume enough vegetables and fruits. While I believe in supplements, I’m a bigger believer in trying to knock out the majority of your vitamin and mineral needs through high-quality foods (and, if you need it, you can fill in the gaps through Ladder Superfood Greens).
I strive to add a vegetable to every meal. Personally, my meals are filled with fresh and frozen greens, like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, Brussels sprouts. Believe it or not, the vitamin content of frozen veggies is nearly identical to fresh—and as a busy mom, frozen options are much more feasible (and cheaper).
Be "Active" Every Day
Whether I'm lifting weights, pushing through high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or chasing my kids to the park, physical activity is my therapy. It’s become so much of a habit that it has to be a part of my day-to-day routine.
Sometimes it’s only a 20-minute workout to get my blood flowing and that's enough. A few times a week I do intervals (running or biking). The workouts are short but intense: 10 minute total where I push hard for 1-minute and then go easy for 1-minute. This protocol is research-based, efficient, and effective.
Consistency is the key. Because I’ve trained consistently for so many years, I need less of a stimulus to maintain fitness. Do I have goals to be leaner or fitter? Of course, but at this life stage, I’m more intentional in the ‘free’ time that I carve out.
In fact, even in my thirties, I can still sustain 6:30 min/miles and squat, bench, deadlift more than my younger self (and my students). For now, I’ll take it. I personally get my workouts in at the end of the day before I pick up my kids. That way, I don’t waste time washing my hair twice. So I’ll work out, head to pick up, and be a role. I love morning workouts, but my kids are little, so they wake up at random times and it’s hard for me to have a consistent routine.
The supplement industry is hard to navigate, which is a big reason I do research on products to help determine what is safe and effective and choose NSF Certified for Sport products like Ladder. While there are many bad supplements, there are others that are extremely beneficial. Here's a quick overview of the supplements I take regularly:
Creatine Monohydrate (5 g daily): Creatine benefits include everything from improved exercise performance and increased strength to brain health. I take mine in the afternoon for a mental boost and around my workout. [This is the exact dose used in Ladder Pre-Workout]
Probiotic: I take this once daily before bed
Fish Oil (2,000 mg): Taken daily with food
Vitamin D (2000 IU): Taken daily with food (you can find a 3,000 UI dose in Ladder SSuperfood Greens]
Whey Protein: I take1 serving almost every day
Beta-Alanine: When I’m modifying fitness goals or upping my volume, or just feeling like I’m in a rut. [Also included in Ladder Pre-Workout]
Brene Brown said it best: "It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful."
Even if I don’t make the best food choices or my workout is sub-par, being grateful for having access to healthy foods and the ability to exercise puts things in perspective.
Some days I only train for 20 minutes, but I make those 20 minutes count. Some days I under-consume protein, but I try to plan better the next day. Collectively, I check more boxes on most days of the week, which makes a difference.
Even more, being grateful for my kiddos and the chaos, brings out the joy in life, instead of being nagged by the feeling of always needing to do more and be better.