I’ve recently been asked to write more about fitness, so here it is. At first glance, it might seem like this has little to with personal finance — except for how much I spend on gym memberships, nutritional supplements, and workout wear — but how you keep fit might have more to do with your finances than you might think. Aside from the obvious parallels in tracking and goal-setting, your health as much, if not more, impact on your quality of life than your finances. But if you’re not looking for a workout & diet routine, feel free to skip this post and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming later this week.
“A fit physique is the ultimate status symbol. No money can buy it, you cannot inherit it, you cannot steal it, you cannot borrow it. You cannot hold on to it without constant work. It shows patience, passion, and discipline. It is true wealth.”
I am, right now, as fit as I’ve ever been.
After a childhood and teenage years of gymnastics and cheerleading, I spent my twenties in yoga and running 5K’s at least 3x per week. The first 6 months of my MBA program are one of the only times in my life I’ve been “unfit”, and had 10lbs to show for it. Fed up with how I felt and looked, I got back into yoga, completed the BeachBody Insanity Program and finally went back to lifting heavy at the gym.
When it comes to health and fitness, I am the 1%. Everything about it is a luxury. I feel good almost all the time. Not only do I feel awake, alert, and productive, specific pains like a chronic shoulder injury or the common cold are kept at bay by my active routine. I sleep well and wake up easily. At 29, I look more or less the same as I did at 19. For women, liking the way you look in everything from sweatpants to bikinis is a heavenly state of self-acceptance that can seem unattainable. I enjoy it every day.
I won’t lie, maintaining this level of physical fitness takes far more dedicated effort than it did in my early 20’s. My nutrition is fairly regimented and I hit the gym religiously 3-4 times per week, and when I’m there, I kick my own ass so hard even the personal trainers comment on my “dedication”. To an outsider, my routine might seem fanatical, but as any fit person knows, you hit a rhythm that pumps so many feel-good endorphins into your bloodstream, you hate the days when you don’t workout.
But I bought this luxury. My body is the most expensive thing I own.
I spend $70 per month for my gym membership, which works out to $840 per year. I understand that you can choose to run outside and do bodyweight exercises at home, but I can’t have the body I want without a full weight room. Most women don’t realize there’s a major short-cut to the body they want: lifting heavy weights. The answer to being ultra-fit isn’t hours of cardio and knee push-ups, it’s doing squats with a barbell loaded up until it weighs more than you do.
I burn through 1 pair of shoes per year plus regularly purchase fitness apparel. This probably costs $500 per year. And then there’s my food. So much food and nutritional supplements. Together my fiancé and I spend about $600 per month on groceries, which is a lot for 2 people. I imagine the bill would be closer to $400 if we didn’t consume 2 chicken breasts each, every single day. I’ve outlined what a weight-lifting diet on a budget looks like, and it’s still not cheap, but it’s worth its price tag.
All in, I estimate the individual cost for my fitness routine is $3,000 per year.
It’s the best $3,000 I spend, but I won’t say it doesn’t put a dent in my bank account. $3,000 is not a small amount of money. It’s enough to pay for a nice vacation. It’s enough to pay for my cellphone, Netflix, internet, daily Starbucks habit, and then some for an entire year. Putting $3,000 towards my health and fitness each year instead of into a savings account will leave me $270,000 poorer in retirement. But exercising regularly and eating healthy increases the probability that I’ll see my retirement years in the first place, so that’s the trade off.
At 29, I am 5’8 and about 145lbs, with a bodyfat percentage of ~22% which falls in the category of “fitness”. Most people are surprised at my weight, because my dress size is 4, but since my lean mass is around 113lbs I can’t actually get below 142lbs without taking my bodyfat under 20%. Which would be fine if I was an athlete or fitness competitor and only doing it for a short time, but I’m not. For images that show a visual representation of bodyfat percentages plus explanations of each, there’s one right here.
For those in a truly voyeuristic mood, my diet & workout routine are detailed below.
My Meal Plan, My Rules
- 6 meals per day consisting of 1,800 calories/day on rest days and 2,000 calories/day on days I workout
- 80% of all calories must come from good food, 20% can come from treats & cheat meals (this will usually be enough to have 1 serving of a dessert, candy, or cheat food per day)
- Must consume a minimum 125g of protein per day
- Must consume vegetables or fruit at at least 4 meals per day
- Do Not Eat: bread, dairy, refined sugar, saturated fat, or alcohol
The first time my personal trainer told me to cut out dairy from my diet I LOL’d, but it ended up being the last thing I needed to tip me over into the physique I wanted. At that point, I had already been a long time without bread, which is still absent from my diet except for treats & cheats. When you give up bread, one of the first things you’ll notice is how ludicrously overloaded the North American diet is with shitty carbs. We have the stupid notion that croissants, scones, bagels, and toast are good breakfasts. We think we need sandwiches and muffins at lunch. For dinner we want pasta and garlic bread. I’m not on the gluten-hating bandwagon, but I still think there is something seriously wrong this picture. If you change nothing else about your diet, cut back on refined carbohydrates and it will likely yield dramatic results.
Of course, with so many bad carbs on our plates, we rarely get enough good food. Most Americans are fibre deficient, and while we’re all getting enough protein by stuffing our face with red meat, we’d all be better off choosing lean meats like chicken instead. All the carbs posing as “variety” keep us from eating enough different foods, which leaves everyone missing out on essential minerals and vitamins. Just to make your body suffer all the more, most people aren’t drinking enough water either.
If you feel exhausted and unmotivated, if you frequently get colds, if you find yourself moody or even depressed, try changing what you eat. It’s the likely culprit. Most people think they can out-exercise a bad diet. You can’t. And the sooner you make peace with that, the better off you’ll be.
Keeping treats in my diet is the difference between the body I have now, and that of a fitness competitor. If I ever wanted to achieve the ultra-lean physique of a bikini pro, it’d take about 4 weeks at my current workout, with the crap axed from my diet. Too bad I don’t want to live in a world without wine or cake.
For those that want to attempt to out-exercise a bad diet, I have a treat for you. My gym routine is hell.
My Gym Routine
I hit the gym four times per week, which most people tell me is actually less than they would expect. If I’ve had a particularly bad weekend eating, I’ll put in another workout, but generally I find 4x is the sweet spot to meet my fitness goals without killing myself. I lift heavy, which means I tend to stick to the weight room. I use a chart like this, and aim to be “Intermediate” to “Elite” in all categories, because I am a boss.
My current workout is 45 minutes to 1 hour long, and is one I designed myself, based loosely on the Insanity program and another workout regimen I found in an issue of Muscles & Fitness. I repeat six to eight sets of a three-part series that consists of:
- 1 minute of a full-body exercise like weighted lunges, jump squats, or burpees
- 1 to 1.5 minute sprint (8 mph) on the treadmill at a 5-8% incline (I just leave the treadmill on throughout the workout and hop off to do my other exercises)
- 2 sets of 10 reps of an upper body weightlifting exercise
My general rule of thumb is if I’m not vomiting or close to it, I’m not working hard enough. This is a level of intensity most people aren’t comfortable with, and I get that, but this will burn 500 to 600 calories in less than 60 minutes if you’re willing to suffer through it. That is the reason I can have a cupcake or a glass of wine at the end of the day. Also I really like that crazy exhausted feeling when you’re totally calorie-depleted and your lungs are on fire and all you want to do is nap.
On days when I don’t do the burpees-sprint-lift set but still want to get a workout in, I’ll do just weightlifting, particularly legs. I’m super proud that I can squat 155lbs for 10 reps, and I don’t want to lose it!
I workout hard and I work hard, because that’s just what I do. I don’t really see the point of doing anything half-assed. Not your job, not your body, not your life. Like everything else, you get what you put in, and if your body doesn’t look the way you want it to, it’s because you’re not eating right and exercising hard enough. Just like you choose your income and savings strategy for the lifestyle and wealth you want, you can (and should!) choose your fitness routine based on the lifestyle and body you want.