SPRING IS THE ideal time to get your body into shape for the summer. Getting fit means that exposing flesh on the beach will be less of a worry, and the higher energy levels that come from regular exercise mean you can make the most of the sunshine. Trainers say the best approach is to start now with small changes, making healthy food a key part of the strategy. Nutritionists say that a tailored diet combined with physical activity is the only way to get the body and mental attitude you want. 'When starting any exercise regime, it's important to determine what your goals are before changing your diet,' says Central-based dietitian Gabrielle Tuscher. The targets you set determine what you should eat. 'Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand, so planning ahead is essential,' she says. Tuscher says that when you exercise regularly, carbohydrates are the main source of energy. By eating a balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, the body will be provided with the fuel it needs to maintain optimum energy levels. If you're trying to increase muscle, Tuscher recommends lean, quality protein such as grilled white meat (skinless chicken or turkey breast), tuna, salmon, seafood, tofu, low-fat yoghurt, skim milk and egg whites. You could also supplement the diet with protein powder (for those doing intense weightlifting). If losing weight is your goal, simply cut out full-fat dairy, fried foods, creamy dressings, butter and excess oils. Use healthy cooking methods (grilling, steaming vegetables) and 'keep your portions small according to your individual caloric needs'. Overall, Tuscher says it's wise to make small, realistic changes. She recommends drinking more water, switching to olive oil rather than butter when cooking, always eating breakfast, and focusing on five small meals instead of three large ones. 'This will boost your metabolism,' she says. 'Try to get in more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates and minimise processed foods high in fat, sodium and sugar.' Pure Fitness manager Jonathan Gabler says that people who aren't regular exercisers can commit to three easy, relaxed, 20-minute sessions for a week. 'The sense of accomplishment can be very powerful and something to build on the following week,' Gabler says. After an initial foray into regular exercise, he recommends speaking with a fitness trainer or a doctor to ensure you're healthy enough to continue. He also recommends yoga. 'You can control the intensity. It has amazing health benefits, and flexibility training is an important component of overall well-being.' Gabler says it could be an idea to buy a healthy cookbook. Caffeine and sugar dependencies can be fought by substituting water for coffee and soda. He also warns that some people become bored with their exercise routine. 'Try a group fitness class,' he says. 'You should be able to choose something entirely different from your regular workout and your body will notice the change.' Personal trainers are another option, because they know of hundreds of exercises and can set new challenges. 'Write down the exercises you've been doing and tell them you want something different to shock your body to new results,' he says. Gabler says regular exercisers should buy a heart-rate monitor so they know how hard they're training. It's possible that people may exercise too strenuously or not hard enough to get the results they're looking for. 'A monitor will take the guesswork out of it,' he says. Paige Waehner, a trainer who writes for www.about.com , says the biggest mistake new exercisers often make is repeating the same workouts. 'Progression is the key if you want to get stronger, fitter and healthier, and it's the one area that seems the most confusing,' Waehner says. People should look for ways to change their position, she says. If you do squats, try taking your feet wider and making it a bit harder, or change a chest press by doing it on an incline bench, and perhaps elevate your feet while doing pushups. Changing the resistance can work, too. Use free weights instead of machines, or vice versa. Try balance training as a challenge - using a Swiss ball or a foam roller, for example - or do unilateral training focusing on one leg or arm at a time. Lastly, Waehner suggests doing two exercises at once, such as squats with an overhead press (supporting a weight while squatting down and up). Nutritional therapist Louise Purvis says she talks to her clients at length before advising them about what to eat and how to change habits. Stress, exercise and personal problems affect different nutritional needs. 'There are many pieces of the puzzle,' she says. 'But whether it's summer or winter, if you're going to take the bull by the horns, then make it a lifestyle change.' Purvis says some people may suffer from hormone deficiencies because they're under the impression that all fats need to be taken from their diet. But healthy fats - found in nuts, avocado, nut oils and from good quality vegetables - are necessary for optimum metabolism. 'This is particularly true for peri-menopausal women,' she says. 'They shouldn't be overly obsessed about cutting out some fats.' Unsalted almonds and Brazil nuts are great snacks because they're full of energy-boosting protein. For those who haven't made it to a gym or dislike long training, make an effort to get into postural shape each morning or evening, says Asian Institute of Sport operations manager Liam Fitzpatrick. 'A simple routine of four or five stretching exercises each day will ensure that, by summer, your muscles and joints are well mobilised and able to better deal with your daily requirements,' Fitzpatrick says. 'You need a minimum of 10 or 15 minutes to make a difference in the way your body functions bio-mechanically.' As the weather warms up and the humidity rises, the body will lose a lot of water in everyday activities, he says. This not only affects fluid movement of the muscles and joints, but also brain and neurological function. Depending on body size, everyone requires different amounts of water to hydrate. 'A good method of keeping hydrated is to put a one litre bottle of water on your desk and make sure you finish it by the time you leave the office,' Fitzpatrick says. 'If you have to fill it up during the day, then even better.' The institute classifies health and exercise into several categories: Physical health refers to the musculoskeletal system and posture. Office posture is often neglected, Fitzpatrick says. He recommends finding out what you need to do to maximise your potential, with advice from a physiotherapist, myotherapist or osteopath. Mental health refers to the wellbeing of the brain. Whether you need to stimulate your mind more or take time to destress, the best athletes in the world plan their schedules around rest periods. Technical health means working smarter, as well as harder. Perfect your running or swimming technique by seeking professional advice. A common cause of boredom in exercise is reaching a plateau and not improving as quickly as desired. By perfecting technique, your efficiency and benefits will improve. For a more holistic perspective, David Ogg, who runs a wellbeing company called Inner-Sense, says relaxation training can be the key to creating more energy and improving overall health. 'For those in stressful jobs - and many other people - I would recommend learning how to release tension,' he says. 'It can bring immeasurable benefits to one's health, clarity and sense of well-being. 'By releasing accumulating tensions throughout the day, we can avoid reaching that crisis point where things get out of control and we feel fried. The first step is simply giving ourselves permission to be more relaxed.' Ogg teaches relaxation through a variety of techniques, including breathing exercises, visualisation and creative thinking. Once someone has found a technique they like, they simply use it several times a day to return to a base level of relaxation. 'When practised over a sustained period of time [21 days or more], it can profoundly affect our sense of wellbeing without detracting from our performance,' Ogg says. 'If anything, it may enhance it.' David Ogg Inner-Sense baseline training workshops, tel: 9199 8635; Jonathan Gabler, Pure Fitness, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 8129 8000; dietitian Gabrielle Tuscher, tel: 6085 3066; nutritionist Louise Purvis, tel: 2849 5474; Liam Fitzpatrick, Asian Institute of Sport, tel: 2529 1818.