If you’ve been watching what you eat and getting your sweat on to tone up and slim down, you deserve some major kudos when you hit your goal—whether that’s fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, setting a new personal best in the gym, or just feeling more confident in your own skin. But once you cross that major goal off your to-do list, you may wonder: Now what?
Hustling to get those strong, toned legs or slim midsection was hard—and now that you’ve got ‘em, you want to keep ‘em! At this point, you’re entering what’s called the ‘maintenance phase.’ That means staying smart about eating healthy choices and working out so you can hold onto your hard-earned progress forever and ever.
Here, experts share the next-steps that will help you eat and train to make your recent health accomplishments sustainable.
The Food: Fuel Yourself Right
When it comes to your grub, take a flexible but focused approach. Turning down ice cream, a glass of vino, or an extra-cheesy slice of pizza 24/7 is just exhausting. Besides, you can maintain your weight and enjoy the good stuff as long as you indulge with a strategy. Follow the 80:20 rule: Focus on nutrition and eating for your goals 80 percent of the time, and on enjoying your favorite indulgences the other 20 percent. That might mean having a piece of dark chocolate after dinner every night, or saving treats for a special meal on the weekends, Trattner explains. Go with whichever approach keeps you sane and satisfied.
And whether you’re eating for your goals or for the pure bliss of your go-to comfort meal, keep an intuitive attitude. Any successful weight management nutrition plan should focus on hunger cues over calories, says dietitian Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you’re about 80 percent full so you don’t end up overeating. Also, keep proper portions in mind, she says. This way you can eat in moderation, indulge occasionally, and stay healthy and trim.
During that 80 percent of your eating (when you’re focused on clean eats and fueling your body right), be sure to eat a balance of lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, fiber, and drink plenty of water. Schapiro recommends eating 30 to 50 percent of your calories from carbs, 25 to 35 percent from protein, and 25 to 35 from fat for weight maintenance.
A food-tracking app, like MyFitnessPal, can help you understand how much of your total calories come from which macronutrient (carbs, protein, and fat), but the following guidelines should land you in that healthy balance.
Protein: Eat at least three servings of protein a day, recommends weight-loss specialist Elizabeth Trattner A.P., L.Ac., N.C.C.A.O.M. Healthy options include four to six ounces of fish or lean chicken, three to four ounces of red meat, a cup of unsweetened plain Greek yogurt, an ounce of nuts, and two tablespoons of nut butter. Eating ample protein is huge for weight management because it’ll keep you feeling full and help prevent mindless munching throughout the day, she explains.
Produce: Shoot for seven to 11 servings of produce—about eight servings of veggies and three of fruit—per day, Trattner says. And the more green veggies the better. Eat a variety of veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, and carrots, and enjoy fruits like apples, berries, pears, kiwi, and bananas. The great thing about fruits and veggies? They add lots of volume—but not a lot of calories—to your meals.
Fruits and veggies are packed with fiber, which slows your digestion and keeps you satiated, and helps keep your bathroom time regular, Trattner says. She recommends shooting for up to 40 or 50 grams of fiber per day.
Healthy Fats: Aim for three to four servings of healthy fat per day, she recommends. (Think half an avocado, ten olives, or one ounce of walnuts). Like protein and fiber, healthy fats also help us feel satiated—plus, unsaturated fats (like those in olive oil and nuts) are heart-healthy, according to Harvard Medical School.
Carbs: We may think of carbs as lean physique enemy number one, but that’s not necessarily the case. Our muscles store carbs for energy so we can power through workouts (as well as recover from them!) and move throughout the day, Trattner explains.
Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?
To get the most fiber—and other nutrients—possible, eat your carbs from complex, whole-food sources, like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, black beans, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and squash, says Trattner. Start with a quarter to a half a cup at each meal and gauge how you feel. If you trudge through your workouts and feel fatigued often, you may need to add more.
Water: Drinking enough water helps keep you regular, prevents you from eating when you’re not really hungry, and can ward off swelling and bloating, Trattner says, She recommends drinking at least 64 ounces of plain water, oolong, green, white, or herbal tea, or seltzer water per day.
The Workouts: Sweat With A Purpose
Nutrition is super important for weight management, but it needs a trusty sidekick. Enter exercise.
Chances are, regular dates with the gym were a big part of your get-fit journey—and you will need to keep up with them to maintain your fitness long-term. But if you hate working out every day, don’t worry, you should be able to hold onto your results with three or four solid workouts a week, says Andrea Fornarola, C.P.T. and founder of Elements Fitness Studio in NYC.
To make sure those three or four workouts get the job done, though, you’ll need to mix them up and give them your all. “Mixing interval training, cardio, and strength training and toning is your best bet,” says Fornarola. You might go for a run or do intervals on the treadmill in one workout, lift weights in the next, and take a Pilates class in the last, she suggests. Not only will this variety keep you motivated and excited for your workouts, but it will also challenge your body in different ways so you’ll continue to adapt, get fitter, and continue to see results.
Strength training with moderate-to-heavy weights can help you build muscle, which boosts your metabolism and helps ward off fat-gain, says Fornarola. And the muscle you build gives your body more shape and definition. Focus on compound movements, like squats, that work multiple muscle groups at once, to get the most benefit. The bodyweight resistance you use in Pilates and yoga—and in exercises like pushups and bodyweight squats—can also help you build strength and endurance.
When it comes to cardio, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a particularly effective way to reap major benefits without spending hours in the gym, she adds. By alternating between quick bursts of all-out effort and rest, you push your aerobic and muscle capacity to the limit, and burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time—and throughout the rest of the day. HIIT workouts offer more metabolic benefit for your time than steady-state cardio, which is a huge plus if you’re trying to maintain your weight.
Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat
Just limit HIIT to a few sessions a week, because the max effort required to charge through it (and recover) can lead to fatigue and muscle exhaustion if you hit it too often, she warns. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up steady cardio cold-turkey. Steady-state cardio still challenges your aerobic capacity (how efficiently your body can get oxygen to your working muscles) and puts less stress on your system than HIIT does, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Finding a balance of different types of training that you enjoy—and that fits your lifestyle—is key to staying active long-term.