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Working out after work

How can I find the motivation to hit the gym after a long day at the office? And is a lunch-hour workout actually doable? Smart Fitness answers your queries.
Too tired to go for a spin after work? There are ways to rev up your engine and get on the fast track to fitness, experts say.
Too tired to go for a spin after work? There are ways to rev up your engine and get on the fast track to fitness, experts say.Getty Images file

How can I find the motivation to hit the gym after a long day at the office? And is a lunch-hour workout actually doable? Smart Fitness answers your queries. Have an exercise question? To e-mail us, click here. We’ll post select answers in future columns.

Q: My work day is normally from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and I try to work out afterward. But many days I'm just too tired for exercise. Any tips?

A: After a long day on the job, it's understandable that the couch may be calling you. But if this is the only time you have to exercise, there are some strategies for success, experts say.

For starters, make sure you're eating and drinking properly during the day, says registered dietitian Molly Kimball, a sports nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. Dehydration and lack of fuel will make you feel sluggish and decrease your motivation to work out.

Kimball recommends eating something about every three hours to keep energy levels up and avoid crashing by the end of the day. Aim for each meal or snack to include some lean protein and whole-grain carbohydrates, she says.

"The carbs provide a rapid energy release, while the protein will provide a longer-lasting energy boost," she says.

A small afternoon snack before your workout is especially important. Good choices include whole-grain crackers with cheese, fresh fruit with cottage cheese, an apple with peanut butter, or trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, says Kimball.

In addition to diet, also consider whether you're getting enough sleep, says Debra Wein, an exercise physiologist and registered dietitian at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

"Clients often ask me for tips on food and/or supplements that will boost energy, and when I ask about sleep patterns, it becomes obvious that people are looking for a simple solution to make up for regular sleep deprivation," says Wein, who is also president of The Sensible Nutrition Connection, a consulting firm.

Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night to avoid that afternoon slump.

Another tip for getting in your exercise after work is to drive directly to the gym. "Don't stop home on the way," says Wein. "When you're tired, it is much easier to convince yourself to relax and skip the gym when you are mere feet away from your sofa."

Kimball even recommends changing into your gym clothes before getting in your car. That way, you're already dressed and ready.

Another strategy is to find a workout buddy, perhaps someone at the office, to help you stay committed to your exercise plan, says Larry Krug, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and former consultant to VH-1's "From Flab to Fab."

"You're accountable to each other," he says.

Setting goals, such as firming up for a class reunion or lowering your blood pressure, also can help, says Krug. Then you'll be working toward something — not just working.

Q: I get an hour for lunch. I can squeeze in exercise, but by the time I get to the gym and get changed, I've already lost 15 minutes. Then, after a 35-minute workout, I have 10 minutes to get back to work. I'm not so sure about sitting at the work place after a workout, hot and sweaty. And there's not even time to grab a small bite to eat. How do people do it?

A: Sounds like you're trying to accomplish too much in too little time, says Karyn Gallivan, an athletic trainer at the Tennessee State University Wellness Center and a spokesperson for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

It can be difficult if not impossible to drive to the gym, get in a full workout, shower, get dressed, get lunch and drive back to work, she says. (You're already skipping the shower, which can't be a good career move!)

"It is much easier to use that travel time to do your workout in or near your office," says Gallivan.

Instead of getting in your car and driving, use that time to walk or jog near your office, climb flights of stairs in your building, or do calisthenics in your office, says Gallivan. For strength training, buy some exercise bands with door attachments that will allow you to work all major muscle groups.

If you're committed to getting to the gym during your lunch hour, Wein advises doing just part of your workout — either the cardio or strength portion — at that time.

If you jog before work, for instance, you could work out on the strength equipment at the gym during lunch. Or if you love the elliptical trainer at your health club, use it during your lunch hour and then work out with weights at home.

It's important to keep in mind that all exercise adds up. So you don't need to do everything at once. Even if you can squeeze in a brisk 15-minute walk at lunch and then again after dinner, you're getting the amount of physical activity that will boost your heart health.

As for squeezing in both exercise and eating during your lunch hour, Kimball recommends packing a nutritious lunch the night before.

Then if you do go to the gym, you won't be tempted to hit the drive-through as you rush back to work.

Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.