My livelihood is health and fitness...something I never would have guessed I'd be doing during my college years. I don't really write about this very often, but I was born without hip sockets. I think that's the first time I've written those words...and it just doesn't look appealing. There is no other way to write it, so I'll keep it there.

Early on, I had a permanent casts and braces fashioned on my legs. They helped create the joints in my hips. The end result was me walking a little later with a slightly awkward gate - really not a big deal. When I was in my teens I tried to run. Let's just say I didn't look like a natural. By the time I got to college, I started making an effort to run, but I was in more and more pain. I went to a doctor who x-rayed my hips, and as it turned out, the images showed I had arthritis (not a surprise) and was urged not to run more than three miles a day, three times a week. For a college girl who loved to socialize, socialize and socialize - this didn't bother me too much. A few years after I graduated from college, I was talked into running a 10K. I trained a little and really dug deep to strengthen my hips. A few months later I did the race. It was a painful experience. My lungs felt cashed and I thought the 6+ miles were far, far too long. But after I crossed the finish line I knew I was hooked. I started running regularly - and guess what...the pain in my hips eventually became nonexistent.

What's the point? I was not an athlete. In fact, I don't think I was born with any real natural abilities at all. But I like to have goals and training/races provide that.  More importantly, I'm healthy - a lot healthier than I would be if I let the whole "poor-me-I-have-arthritis-in-my-hips" thing keep me inactive.

Who is an athlete?
An "athlete" is just someone who trains hard with a goal in mind. That training usually involves eating right and working out for results.
You might be experienced looking for direction, or totally inexperienced looking for motivation.  If you're at all a goal-oriented person, or looking for a way to get fit by training/eating like an athlete, here are five steps that will point you in the right direction.


1. Cut Out Refined Sugar
It's really important to maintain optimal blood glucose levels at all times, particularly while working out. There is nothing worse than a crash half way through a run,  bike ride of heart-pumping class. For many, the automatic go-to before, during and after exercise seems to involve primarily refined carbohydrate. Whether it's a bowl of fat free cereal with fat free milk, a bottle of Gatorade or a post-workout "energy" bar, you're eating way too much sugar.

Tip: Try to go one solid week without eating or drinking anything that a) comes from a package and b) contains any form of refined sugar. Pay attention to how you feel while you're working out. Cutting out refined sugar can be challenging the first couple days. After that it becomes easier and often times has a positive effect on long-term energy levels while exercising.

2. Ease Off of Carbs
Refined or unrefined, make an effort to avoid starchy carbs for one or two meals a day.  If you're working out for 90+ minutes, you need more carbohydrates to replenish your system. If you're working out less, your liver should have plenty stored. A big pizza or gigantic bowl of pasta after a hard day of working out is not necessarily going to give you more energy for the next big workout...but it will probably give you indigestion and make you look a little puffy.

Tip: If you're game for cutting out refined sugar for a week, try cutting out starchy carbs for two or your three main meals. That is, eliminate bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, quinoa, etc., for two meals. It's not difficult, but does require planning. If you usually eat cereal or toast in the morning, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner, you're eating too much starch. If you were to cut out starches for breakfast and lunch, alternatives might be yogurt , cottage cheese or eggs for breakfast (with berries or sauteed vegetables), salads, lean meats or homemade soups for lunch (with an abundance of leafy greens or other vegetables).

3. Do Intervals
Nothing breaks up the monotony of a boring routine like a good set of intervals. And nothing boosts your body's ability to burn fat and improve lung capacity like a good set of intervals.  I often reference running when I write about intervals, but really, any type of workout can include intervals. Essentially, an interval moves you from slow, to fast and back to slow...over and over again. You work hard, then rest. It's hard, but the light at the end of the tunnel is never far away. Anyone and everyone should do these.

Tip:  Try interval workouts twice a week. Consider your interval workouts your "work" days. That is, they're they days you'll be pushed outside your comfort zone. Within three weeks, you will begin to notice a difference in not just your athletic performance, but also in how your body adapts to the new workouts. Let's say you're an easy 10-minute miler type of runner. Commit to running intervals a couple times a week, while sticking with other good workouts, and you'll probably see your average pace begin to drop.

4. Incorporate Plyometric Exercises
Plyometric exercises are more explosive in nature. Jumping, sprinting, forceful pushing and pulling are examples of plyometric exercises. The greatest benefit of incorporating plyometric exercises is that they take you out of your "linear" mode. So much of what we do is in done in a straight line. Incorporating plyometric exercises often involves movement in different planes, particularly lateral movements.

Tip: If you're brand new to working out, or recovering from an injury, you probably need to condition your body by building a base or good workouts before jumping into any explosive work. Talk to your doctor if you question this at all. If you're a regular to workouts, here's a good jump start to a plyo workout...and all you need is a jump rope.

5. Recover
Take some time to rest and recover, especially after your hard workout days. For some people, this might mean a full day off, for others it may mean a brisk walk, and yet for some it might mean an easy four mile run. The purpose is to scale back on volume and intensity.

Tip:  This really goes without saying, but a good night of sleep goes a long way. If you've had a great workout, one of the best things you can do for your body is sleep. Yes, you'll rest, but you'll also repair. Your body gives no brownie points for burning the midnight oil.


Want more tips like this? Traci D Mitchell is a healthy living and fitness expert. Follow Traci on Facebook. She’d love to see you there! Interested in working with Traci? She works privately with clients specializes in nutrition coaching and weight loss as well as functional fitness and personal training. All sessions are done via Skype or telephone if outside of Chicago. For more information, contact Traci here.

Looking for a simple way to get into great shape and eat right? Try Traci’s 40-Day Shape Up!