I’m a big fan of productivity and efficiency. And that should appeal to all of us. If we can get a similar result with less effort or a better result with the same effort, than we should do this.
In the business world we’ve learned, in some cases the hard way, that multi-tasking doesn’t work. We can’t carry on a conversation with someone while replying to emails. We may miss part of what is being said to us or we make a typo or grammatical error in our reply.
When someone matters we should eliminate distractions and focus on what we’re doing.
For example, I can remember back in school and studying for exams. Some people would listen to music. This approach never worked for me as part of the brain is paying attention to the lyrics and melody. And I didn’t want to give up this fraction of my attention to anything other than preparing for the exam.
When what we’re doing doesn’t really matter we may be able to get away with doing two or more things at once. This might be something like folding laundry and watching a show. You can probably do both at the same time without too much difficulty.
So what about training?
Where do we draw the line in terms of multitasking or including a distraction in the training process?
With moderate intensity exercise listening to music has been known to lessen perceived exertion (1). The music serves as a distraction and helps the exercise feel less hard than it would normally.
Usually the type of exercise done in these studies is steady state aerobic exercise like riding a stationary bike. There’s not much to think about and you can even your close your eyes and go for it.
The same wouldn’t apply to high performance training. Imagine a highly technical sport performed at high speed. Pole vaulting comes to mind. When you think of how precise you need to be able to clear the bar successfully all of your focus needs to be on the task at hand.
Recently Liz Gleadle posted something similar on her IG. Liz is a two-time Olympian from Vancouver who competes in javelin. We connected at a winter camp in Santa Barbara a number of years ago.
Liz’s post was about how listening to music while training can become a distraction. See below for what she has to do say regarding music, focus and multi-tasking.
I’ve noticed something similar with my own training recently. I’m not suggesting my training is high performance but more that listening to music wasn’t helping as much on the hard training sets.
During of our sessions together I asked Canadian Marathon record holder Malindi Elmore if she listens to music when she trains. She didn’t have to think about the answer. She didn’t have to qualify it with ‘it depends’. The answer was a simple and straightforward ‘no’.
Going forward with your own training consider why it is you train? Is it for health? Is it to rehab an injury? Or is it to compete in a sport?
If your goal is sports performance than you should consider setting the music aside for the more intense and technical aspect of training. If you want to warm up with your music, as part of your cool down or on an active recovery day that’s probably alright. But when it comes times to perform, which you practice during training, than you should look to replicate the conditions and have no distractions.
Potteiger, J. A., Schroeder, J. M., & Goff, K. L. (2000). Influence of music on ratings of perceived exertion during 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Perceptual and motor skills, 91(3), 848-854.
It’s no surprise that exercise is good for the body. And more recently we’ve learned of the benefits of exercise on the brain.
New research indicates the effects are further improved when there is a nutritional shake included with the training.
A study out of the University of Illinois looked at the effects of exercise and nutrition on the body and the brain. The study ran 12 weeks and included 148 active Air Force servicemen.
The study participants were divided into two groups. Half of the 148 did the exercise program as well as a twice a day nutritional supplement. The nutritional supplement was a mixture of omega-3 (DHA), lutein, phospholipds, vitamins B and D and HMB. The control group took a caloric controlled placebo beverage lacking the nutrients listed above.
In terms of the exercise this included strength and high intensity intervals made up of aerobic challenges.
So what did they find?
Exercise is good for the body apparently. Serviceman got stronger, fitter, more powerful and more mobile. What was interesting is that mobility and stability improved the most, i.e. 22%, of all physical qualities measured.
The group that took the nutritional supplement saw enhanced improvements in their cognitive function. Compared to the placebo group there was increase in working memory (+ 9.0%), fluid intelligence reaction time (− 7.7%), and processing efficiency (+ 1.8%). The supplement group also lowered their resting rate more (− 2.4%) and and added more muscle i.e. lean muscle mass (+ 1.5%).
It would have been interesting to see what the improvements would have been had there been a group that only took the supplements and did not do the exercise. We know exercise improves circulation which facilitates digestion, assimilation, transport and uptake of nutrients. But to what degree?
As well, the nutritional shake had quite a few ingredients. Which ones conferred the most benefit? We’re well aware of the benefits of omega-3 on brain function. But what about taking vitamin B and D? And HMB is an interesting supplement that was more popular about 20 years ago. It seemed to work for some and not others.
Lastly, the shake was taken twice per day. What would the results be with one dose and the same daily amount of ingredients? Or three shakes?
Although there a number of questions yet to be answered it is interesting that the physical and the mental can improve so much more when exercise is accompanied by a nutritional intervention.
So the take home message going forward to have a plan for both exercise and nutritional. Your body and your brain will thank you.
Zwilling, C. E., Strang, A., Anderson, E., Jurcsisn, J., Johnson, E., Das, T., … & Barbey, A. K. (2020). Enhanced physical and cognitive performance in active duty Airmen: evidence from a randomized multimodal physical fitness and nutritional intervention. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-13.
We all know someone that has had cancer. In our family my dad and sister are cancer survivors.
And although this disease is very close to all of us we often don’t know what to do when it comes to exercise and cancer. Should you exercise or not? Does it help or harm?
I’m not an oncologist and so don’t take these ramblings as medical advice. But I still keep an eye on the research and stay informed as more information on this topic becomes available.
A paper out of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden gives some promise for exercise with cancer.
The authors looked at over 100 studies, involving over one million adults and 13 different types of cancer.
What they found was that exercisers had better outcomes, related to their cancer, than those who didn’t exercise. It appeared that exercise helped prevent the onset of cancer. And it helped the body fight back more effectively against the cancer.
So how does this happen?
Well it appears there are particular immune cells, cytotoxic T cells, that are positively influenced by the effects of exercise. These immune cells, aka killer T cells, have enhanced function with individuals that exercise.
Researchers have transferred the T cells of mice that exercise, to non-exercising mice, and seen tumour reductions.
More specifically it appears that certain metabolites are produced during exercise that play a role. Lactate, in particular, seems to bolster T cell activity. When mice where given sodium L-lactate there was an increase in T cell activity and greater decrease in tumour growth.
While this all sounds promising there are a few things to keep in mind:
The papers reviewed and cited included adults with cancer. We might expect similar results with children but the research didn’t include younger people.
The results were based on 13 different types of cancer. This is about 10% of all known types of cancer. It is possible that different types of cancer would respond differently to exercise as an intervention.
The studies where T cells or lactate were transferred or injected to non-exercisers involved mice. Again, we must take a conservative stance that not every animal will respond in the same way to disease and treatment.
When we hear lactate we may assume high intensity exercise when this is produced. Make sure you ease into exercise and build a solid aerobic base before incorporating intense bouts or intervals.
The take home message here is that exercise is beneficial for those with cancer. If you have never exercised before make sure to talk to your doctor first before getting started. Start slowly and build a base. And if you have any questions or need some help make sure to reach out.
Rundqvist, H., Veliça, P., Barbieri, L., Gameiro, P. A., Bargiela, D., Gojkovic, M., … & Ule, J. (2020). Cytotoxic T-cells mediate exercise-induced reductions in tumor growth. eLife, 9, e59996.
Do you have a training partner? Is there someone you meet up for exercise? When I was going to university my brother and I used to train together.
This was great as we had similar goals, enjoyed training the same way and we’re both competitive. We pushed each other because we trained together moreso than if we trained on our own. We would even do things to try and throw each other off their game. For example, when spotting for bench press it wasn’t unheard of to lean over the bar when spotting and try and drop a bead of sweat on each other. Gross stuff I know but hey that’s what brothers do.
If you are training or you are about to start, there is nothing like the best testosterone booster which is a safe alternative for muscle builders and people looking to improve their sexual performance.
But what does the research say about having a training partner? Does it help?
Well a study with heart attack survivors says that it does help,
The Dutch study included over 800 participants who were all survivors of a heart attack. And they were split into an intertion or control control group. The goals for both groups were weight reduction, smoking cessation and physical activity. There were lifestyle programs to help the participants achieve these three outcomes.
The intervention group was also allowed to have partners join them in the program at no additional cost. Health professionals also encouraged participants in this group to have their partners join. Those in the control group had access to the same lifestyle programs but completed them alone.
So what did they find?
Study participants with a partner involved were more than twice as likely to achieve one of the three outcome goals. And weight reduction was the most positively affected by having a partner join them. This intervention group was 2.71 times more successful in achieving weight reduction than the control group.
So how often did the partners have to join the program?
Over the course of a year a partner only had to attend one session. Can you imagine how powerful that is? Someone supports you once and you are almost three times more likely to achieve a weight loss goal?
So why is this the case?
I remember working with a client years ago with a fat loss goal. And we had a specific program for when they came to the gym. We adjusted their schedule to fit in the training. We gave them the guidelines and habits to follow nutritionally. Everything was set up for success. We planned to end each day at a reasonable and allow for optimal recovery and rest.
And then the family got involved.
But not in a good way.
They (the family) missed their comfort foods no longer in the daily meal plan. They objected to the new schedule which didn’t allow for nightly Netlix binge sessions. And weren’t interested in making sacrifices in their own lives to help another.
So this indivual tried to make dual meals to keep everyone happy. They stayed up late to join in the evening movies. They added time to their schedule to buy groceries for the changes they needed to make as well as the regular groceries the family was in the habit of making.
There was no support at home. It made this person feel guilty for investing in themselves. And they were burned out physically and emotionally. Unfortunately it didn’t result in a positive outcome.
What about you?
Who’s in your corner? Who supports your decision for a better, healthier tomorrow?
If you have a partner or family behind you that’s great! You’re in good company with the intervention group that achieved a great weight reduction.
And if you don’t have that support we’d happy to fill that role. We’ll be your fitness family. From email reminders, newsletters, pump up texts, meet ups for coffee, phone call check-ins, coached training sessions and more we’ll be in your fitness business so much you might wish we were related so you’d have some more space.
To find out more about joining our fitness family, send us an email to athletetraining (at) shaw (dot) ca or stop in to Okanagan Peak Performance Inc.
Minneboo, M., Lachman, S., Snaterse, M., Jørstad, H. T., Ter Riet, G., Boekholdt, S. M., … & van der Spank, A. (2017). Community-based lifestyle intervention in patients with coronary artery disease: the RESPONSE-2 trial. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(3), 318-327.
Weight loss is an interesting topic these days. For some, bringing up the topics of keto, intermittent fasting, plant-based or some other popular nutritional topic of the day leads to heated discussions.
Unfortunately, some conversations are prefaced with ‘I believe…’ and then whatever nutritional opinion follows. Emotions can become so strong with nutrition that facts and evidence get thrown out the window. And positions can be maintained as though defending a religious perspective.
When discussing weight loss there are two predominant positions popping up on social media. One supposes that creating a caloric deficit is all that matters. You can eat fast food every day as long as you are eating fewer calories than you burn in a day. This ignores what the other position claims is vital, which is the quality of the nutrition.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression ‘as long as it fits your macros’ to justify eating certain foods. By macros we’re referring to the macronutrients i.e. proteins, carbs and fats.
The truth is that both sides are correct. It matters how much you eat. A caloric deficit is needed to achieve weight loss. And the quality of the matters as well. You cannot achieve healthy weight loss with low quality nutrition..
But there’s one more piece to the puzzle that typically tends to get ignored. And that’s the timing of our nutrition.
In other words, would you expect eating the same foods in the same amounts at different times to have an impact on our weight loss efforts?
For example, if you ate a 2070 calorie breakfast, a 600 calorie lunch and a 330 calorie dinner…
Would this have any difference on our fat loss efforts than if we ate the following:
A recent study looked at whether there was a difference in thermogenesis based on whether a larger breakfast or large dinner was eaten.
16 normal weight men ate either a large breakfast equivalent to 69% of daily calories or a small dinner of 11% of daily calories. In the example above I used 3000 calories to represent total daily intake, 11% equaled 330 calories and 69% equaled 2070 calories. The participants of the study ate the big breakfast or big dinner for three days. They then followed the opposite protocol of what they did for the first three days i.e. if they ate a big breakfast in the first part they ate a big dinner in the second part.
So what did they find?
Diet-induced thermogenesis was 2.5 higher following the big breakfast compared to the big dinner.
Does this really matter?
It can definitely make a difference. When we are seeking a weight loss goal we want to know how many calories we expend in a day. The total is a combination of our basal metabolic rate (70%), our non-exercise activity thermogenesis (15%), our exercise (5%) and the foods we eat (10%). The percentages listed are averages and will vary based on age, sex, level of obesity, which foods we eat and more.
The foods we eat can be responsible for 10% of the total energy we burn in a day. If someone is burning 2500 calories per day than the food we eat, digest and metabolize could be responsible for 250 of these calories. This study found that those that ate a bigger breakfast had 2.5 times the diet-induced thermogenesis. In other words, if breakfast normally accounted for 100 calorie burned this could be pushed up to 250 calories. For someone looking to create a 300-400 calorie deficit per day this is huge.
It get better.
When subjects ate a bigger breakfast compared to a small, hypo-caloric meal they were less hungry during the day and had less cravings for sweets. This is very important when seeking a weight loss goal as there will be less temptation to grab a treat or eat more than is needed for health.
One way we’ve thought about this in the past was to eat like a king, then a prince then a pauper in terms of calories. So early in the day eat the bulk of your calories and gradually reduce these as the day progresses. And for the best results make sure to eat the best quality foods you can at each meal.
Richter J. et al. 2020. Twice as High Diet-Induced Thermogenesis After Breakfast vs Dinner on High-Calorie as Well as Low-Calories Meals. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 105(3).
Nutrition is one area of fitness and performance that many struggle with. Take for example the recent documentary Game Changers as an example. Since this film has begun to trend we’re hearing of more and more people making the switch to becoming vegan or vegetarian.
What this tells me is that the average person:
A. Can be easily swayed by a Hollywood story i.e. James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan produced and/or directed this documentary.
B. Is seeking more or better results and is willing to make changes to achieve better results.
Knowing that many don’t have a background in nutritional science and want to achieve the best results was the inspiration for this piece. Oftentimes those seeking the best results may invest in a supplement and so we want to provide some direction on that end as well.
As we evaluate the various aspects of nutrition we want to identify if there would be benefit to adding a supplement to the mix. We need to be on the same page as to what is a supplement and here is our criteria.
Something that is in addition to and not in place of.
Something that is morally and legally justified.
Something that has 3rd party labeling to assure the quality.
If a substance doesn’t adhere to these three rules we, the coaches at Okanagan Peak Performance Inc., would not recommend it to our clients. Obviously it is possible to source many products that don’t satisfy these three rules, and find coaches that may recommend them, but these are our rules.
Now onto the nutritional guidelines.
Step 1 – Energy Balance
The first step is to determine is you are eating enough calories to support your goal. The last part of the sentence is key. If we want to change our mass we need to eat for our goal not for our current state. For example, if a young athlete wants to add 15 lbs he or she will need to eat for the mass they want to be not the mass they currently are. And vice versa if someone wants to shed some mass they need to consume calories based on the less massive version of themselves.
So how do you figure out how much to eat? The truth is most people don’t count calories. And we don’t recommend this for our clients either. That being said here’s how you can figure out how much to eat.
A quick start would be to answer the following:
your age (more calories for younger, less for older)
your sex (more for male, less for female)
your height (more for taller, less for shorter)
your occupational activity level (more for vigorous work, less for sedentary work)
your fitness training (more for frequent and intense, less for infrequent and moderate)
your goal (more to increase mass, less to decrease mass)
This provides six criteria to estimate how many calories to eat daily based on a range of 10-20 calories per pound of body weight. For example a 150 lbs person would eat between 1500 and 3000 calories based on the conditions above. If all of the six criteria above were on the low end this person would eat closer to 1500 calories per day. And if the six criteria were towards the upper end the individual would eat 3000 calories. Understand this is a rough starting point and further adjustments may be required.
Instead of counting calories people typically do better with adjusting portion size. If the goal is to gain mass, eat larger portions and to lose mass eat smaller portions. To change your portion size change the size of the dinnerware you eat from. Use a smaller bowl or a saucer instead of a plate. Do the opposite if your goal is gain mass.
If you’ve done everything you can with to change your mass, up or down, there may be benefit of a supplement. For weight loss, look to add some spice to the kitchen as they may help suppress appetite. A couple I use include cinnamon and hot sauce with cayenne pepper.
If the goal is to gain mass, consider a meal replacement in the form of a shake. These are advantageous as you can typically drink calories faster than you can eat them, you can consume them on the go and you can doctor the recipe to more of what you like in the shake.
If there are particular ingredients in a meal replacement you’d like to know more about check out examine.com. Hands down this is the best resource online for unbiased info on all things related to supplements.
Going forward journal everything you eat for two weeks. On a weekly basis track your weight upon rising, your waist circumference and bodyfat. If you are gaining or losing 0.5-1 lbs per week don’t change anything as you’re on the right track. If you haven’t seen a gain in your mass after two weeks add a post-workout shake to the plan. If you haven’t lost anything after two weeks double check where your strength, waist circumference and bodyfat are at. If these are moving in the right direction you’re on the right track. If not try reducing your portion size by 5-10% and track again for two weeks.
Step 2 – Protein
Once you’ve figured out your daily caloric requirement you’ll want to figure out how much protein to eat. The range for this macronutrient is from 1.2-3.3 g/kg bodyweight. The low end of the range is for sedentary people and the high end of the range is for those looking to add mass. If you think in pounds instead use 0.5 – 1.5 grams for pound of bodyweight. If we look at an example for an obese person they should eat 0.5 – 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So a 250 lbs person would eat 125-175 grams of protein per day. Another way to think about this is use the palm of the hand to represent a portion of protein. If a serving was 30 grams this would equate to 3-5 servings of protein per day.
For individuals of healthy weight they may consume more protein depending on their activity level and goal. An active person looking to increase their mass while staying lean may consume up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 200 lbs athlete may consume 300 grams of protein per day.
Eating 300 grams of protein per day can be a challenge. Not only can finding the time to eat this much protein be a challenge it’s also tough to eat some steak, chicken or fish when you’re on the goal. A protein supplement can work well in this way.
There are lots of options when it comes to protein supplements including whey (isolate or concentrate), casein or plant (soy, hemp, pea or rice). Whey will be more quickly digested and casein more slowly. For those that don’t want a dairy-based protein the various plant options work well.
Step 3 – Carbs and Fat
The next step is to figure out how many carbohydrates and fats to consume. These macronutrients are grouped together because they can both be used as energy.
If you are an athlete and speed and power are a part of your game you will need to consume carbohydrates. The graph below shows why this is the case.
If your goal is not high performance and/or your sport doesn’t involve speed and power you may be able to function on fewer carbohydrates. Whereas an endurance athlete may eat up to 6 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight someone on a ketogenic diet may limit their carbohydrate intake to 5% of total calories. In the literature a very low carbohydrate diet (VLCD) means eating 40% of calories as carbs.
When the goal is weight loss or there is a metabolic disorder fewer carbs may be advantageous. On days when you are more active or you compete increase your carb intake. When you do so remember that carbs and fats can both be used as fuel. So if the carbs increase dial back the fat intake accordingly. Sometimes in bodybuilding circles you’ll hear this referred to as carb cycling.
With your fat intake this makes up the balance of your nutrition. Of your fat intake this can partitioned as one third each of mono-unsaturated (olive oil, avocado, some nuts), poly-unsaturated (fish) and saturated (butter, animal fats and coconut).
As for servings sizes of protein, carbs and fats Precision Nutrition has a great info-graphic to remind us how much to eat of each. We may not always carry a scale or at a glance be able to figure out portions. But we will always have our hands with us.
Step 4 – Nutrient Density
The last thing to consider is the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of your food. The goal should be to ensure that essential nutrients are satisfied first though with real food before looking to add a supplement to the plan.
For example, oftentimes a certain nutrient may be deficient from the diet. Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, plays a role in energy metabolism. When someone is low in vitamin B12 they may experience anemia and feel weak or tired. Although you can find breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12 you’d be better off to eat more fish, liver or eggs than a big bowl of Fruit Loops.
The average North American is also commonly deficient in vitamin B6, omega-3, folate, potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, vitamin D and vitamin C. A few foods can satisfy our requirements for all of these nutrients. Increasing your consumption of fish, broccoli, spinach, fruit,eggs and getting outside for 20 minutes of sunlight daily will address all of these deficiencies. Eat some eggs and a piece of fruit for breakfast. Get outside for some sunlight at lunch. At dinner eat fish with a spinach salad or broccoli. It’s simple but not easy.
Wrapping It Up
Going forward approach your nutrition in this order. Make sure you’re eating the correct amount of calories to support your goals. Track your results for a couple of weeks then make small changes, i.e. 5-10%, if necessary. For portion sizes remember to use your hand as a guide for how much protein, carbs and fats to eat.
Once your calories are dialed in make sure you’re eating enough protein. Follow this with the right amounts of carbs and fats based on your goal and how intense your training is. Lastly, address any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies. If you eat a typical North American diet than you may benefit from eating more fish, eggs, broccoli, spinach, fruit and getting some sunshine.
There are a few goals we have for everyone we work with. It doesn’t matter if the individual’s goal is performance, weight loss or rehab we look to achieve this with all of them?
Do you know what ‘it’ is?
What we’re looking to achieve with all these clients is help them be as lean as possible. And here’s why.
For a movement, non-collision sport athlete one of the goals is to generate as much strength and power per unit of body weight. In cycling, the unit of interest is watts/kilo. And to improve is to increase our power, decrease our mass or both. Sometimes an athlete has maxed out on the power they can produce but they are carrying a few extra pounds. Leaning up a little bit can be the difference to increased performance.
Obviously for the weight loss client we want to shed as much unnecessary mass as possible while keeping as much muscle as possible.
And for the rehab client a leaner physique helps in a number of ways. A leaner indivudual can move better than an overweight one. They will have more energy to do more. And a leaner frame takes stress on load-bearing joints. With the knees for example, every pound that is shed takes four pounds off the knees.
With my own training and goals I’m looking to be as lean and strong as possible. With the fondo coming up in a little over a week all the hard training should be done or wrapping up soon. And now it’s just a matter of dialing in the nutrition and resting up.
Obviously a lighter bike helps, especially when climbing hills. But instead of looking to save grams by upgrading seat posts, wheels and bottle cage holders, it would make more sense to shed pounds on the scale.
For example, going from an aluminum to carbon water bottle cage could save you 30-40 grams. Double this if you mount two cages on your bike. This could also set you back about $100 or more.
Contrast this with leaning up 2 pounds before the race which not only doesn’t cost you anything it could save you a few bucks by passing on that extra beer when out for dinner.
So to summarize…
Buying 2 carbon cages = $100 for a 60-80 grams saving
Dropping 2 lbs = $0 (or a possible savings) for 908 grams saving
10X is a popular concept these days. So if you like the idea of getting 10X return on your investment than focus on dropping 2 lbs before you upgrade your water bottle cages.
Now how exactly are you going to drop 2 lbs?
Well it has nothing to do with an extra day of training. And you don’t need to make some drastic nutirtional change. And you don’t need to pick up a new supplement.
Before I give you the answer, I need to tell you a short story. And it goes something like this.
Every night after we put the kids to bed I have a few routines I go through. This includes turning my phone off and making a pass through the kitchen. I’ll poke my head in the pantry and scan for a snack. I’m looking for dark chocolate and some nuts. Or maybe some milk and cookies. On weekends I’m likely to make some popcorn.
It doesn’t really doesn’t matter what I end up snacking on. The key is that I do this almost by default and out of routine. I don’t need a treat. We’ve just had dinner. And I’m a little bit sleepy after cuddling with Olivia in her bed. But instead of paying attention to this message that I should grab a book and go to bed I seek out a snack to keep myself awake a little longer.
So what’s going on here?
Well there’s a part of the brain, the amygdala, that has to do with rewards. And when we’re sleep deprived this part of the brain gets over-stimulated.
In other words, when we’re tired we’re more likely to feel as though we deserve a treat. Which most likely we don’t.
But it gets worse.
While we’re more likely want a treat when we’re sleep deprived, we also tend to choose lower quality, higher calorie foods as well.
A study by Greer et al looked at the impact of sleep deprivation on our food choices.
Let’s look at some of the results depicted by the following two tables.
The first one shows areas of the brain (on the horizontal axis) and the level of stimulation of the brain (on the vertical axis). Above each table there is a corresponding brain image corresponding to the level of stimulation. The bars in grey represent rested individuals and the red bars represent those that are sleep deprived.
Looking at the fourth group of bars from the left we see the red bar is much taller than the grey bar. This is the only case where this occurs as grey is greater than in the other four conditions. And this fourth pairing of bars presents the amygdala which we said refers to the reward center of the brain. In other words, when we are sleep deprived (red bars) there is a much greater stimulation of the amygdala compared to rested individuals (grey bar). In the fourth brain scan image (from the left) we see a bright yellow spot indicating activity of this part of the brain.
The second set of data below shows how strongly the desire for food is among rest and sleep deprived individuals. Again the grey bars represent rested subjects and the red bars those that are sleep deprived. You can see that sleep deprived individuals have higher cravings for food compared to those getting enough sleep. And there is a bigger difference when it comes to the cravings for high calorie foods. People that are tired are going to want high calorie foods much more so than those that are rested.
On the right is a graph showing subject sleepiness on the x-axs (horizontal) and the % wanted of high calorie foods. There is a line that increases from the left to right among the data points. This means as the level of sleepiness increases so does the desire for high calorie food. This isn’t a perfect correlation but has a r=0.59.
So what does this mean for you?
First of all, it shows how important sleep is to getting lean. Almost 100% of the time when someone says they have difficulty dealing with cravings there is also a condition of impaired sleep.
Not sure how to get the best sleep? Click the links here and here for some suggestions.
A couple of things I really like are efficiency and great value. I like it when things are moving forward at a good clip and when the return is better than expected. Who doesn’t like that though, right?
This is no different than our health and fitness. For most the obstacle to better health and fitness comes down to time and finances. We don’t make the time for fitness and exercise and we would rather spend our money on other things.
The truth is that the fittest people in the world have the same hours as the rest of us. It’s what we give our time to, or don’t, that fills up our day.
So with that being said I wanted to give you 11 tips to get lean. And the cool part is these things won’t cost you an extra dime. Plus as your health improves you’ll find you have more time in your day. You see what I did just there, right? Solve one problem and provide a solution for another as well.
Anyways on with the tips.
Minimize liquid calories – If our goal is to be as lean and healthy as possible we’ve got to be mindful of the calories we drink. This can be a chai tea in the AM, a coffee with cream and sugar, a store bought smoothie or any of the other ways we can drink calories. The truth is we only need water. Sure a red wine on occasion or a beer at a BBQ isn’t going to derail your results completely. Just be aware of what you are drinking. And guess what? When we cut back on your liquid calories we’ll find you have an extra $5-10 per day by opting out of the drive-thrus and coffee shops.
Eat meals without snacking – Were you ever into bodybuilding? If so, you’ll remember hearing the you needed to be constantly eating. This was to keep blood sugar stable and prevent crashes. This was to stoke up our metabolism. And this was to ensure our pool of amino acids was always fully topped up. What this has led to is people eating constantly. We finish breakfast and have a post-workout shake after training. Mid-morning at work we break out the Greek yogurt and fruit and nuts. Lunch is always broccoli and chicken. There’s usually a protein bar mid-afternoon with a pre-workout drink. After training we have another shake followed by a dinner of beef, yams and a spinach salad. Quality and health-wise there’s probably nothing wrong with these foods. But in terms of total calories it’s probably overboard for the average person. And the average person isn’t competition in professional bodybuilding. So dial back all the snacking in between meals.
Eat just enough – When we were young kids we were always told to ‘finish your plate’. And while most dinners didn’t end with dessert, there was no way we would be expecting a treat after if we didn’t finish. I can even remember not finishing a meal and being served the same at the next meal. And I don’t mean eating left overs again at the next meal but the exact plate that wasn’t finished at the previous meal. I guess this is a bit of a carry over from wartime/depression era families where everything was used and/or saved. You didn’t throw out or waste. Instead we should look to at a little more slowly. Eat in the company of others. Take some natural breaks for conversation. And stop before you feel full. The message of satiety is a little bit delayed. Sometimes after resting for 15 minutes you’ll notice you are full.
Eat more protein – I’m reading a book on longevity and the author recommends eating less animal protein. And there may be some benefit to that. But his overall daily recommended amount of protein is quite low at 0.3 grams per kg of mass. There is enough evidence that increasing our protein intake helps with maintaining muscle mass, supporting our immune system and helping us feel full (see point #3). If you’re open to it, consider eating more fish and seafood to bump up your protein.
Eat moderate fat – Fat has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 grams for protein and carbs. So every gram of fat has 225% more energy than carbs and fat. We’re not suggesting to stop eating fat but rather be aware of the calories that come with it. An average size avocado can contain 300-400 calories. And this is usually spread on top of toast or to accompany an omelet pushing the whole meal calorie heavy. The other thing to be aware of is that a food that is fat-free with typically have an extra dose of sweet to make up for this.
Eat more vegetables – Very few people who eat enough vegetables have problem with their weight, health and or performance. Vegetables supply so many vitamins, minerals, fibre, hydration and more. And this helps to decrease the energy density of our food.
Be selective with snack foods – If you love chocolate, you should eat some chocolate. And if you have a favourite flavour of chip it’s ok to have these. But indulge while considering how often and to what extent you do. Do you have a treat daily? Is it more than one when you do? There’s a huge difference between having a scoop of ice cream once a week after dinner than to having a big soup bowl every night. As well, there’s a difference between having a large milk chocolate bar versus a square of extra dark chocolate.
Feel hungry before eating – Do you know the best time to ski at a busy hill besides first tracks? It’s over the lunch hour when everyone heads in for lunch. Very few of those skiers breaking for lunch were up for the first chair of the day. But as the clock nears 12 pm the lifts and runs empty as everyone is conditioned to stop for lunch. We are then eating out of psychological rather than physiological hunger. Going forward wait until you are hungry before eating.
Eat less processed food – If food comes in a package it usually requires preservatives to maintain freshness and flavour. In other words, the food gets shelf life at the expense of your life. One of the exceptions to the processed food rule would be frozen fruits and vegetables. Life can get busy and make it tough to always eat fresh food. This is when planning and a little meal prep can go a long way.
Drink enough water – When the weather warms up we are mindful of drink enough water. But during the spring and winter we can sometimes fall out of the habit. And if you’re a swimmer (cough, cough there are a few swimmers I’m thinking of) you need to have your water bottle on the pool deck. Because our bodies are cooled by the water and most pools are indoors we don’t heat up the same way as other sports. Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to be hydrating during practice. As to how much you should drink measure this based on the colour of urine and sweat loss after exercise. Urine should have a light or faint yellow colour. It doesn’t have to be completely clear and void of colour. And it shouldn’t be dark in colour. After exercise drink 2 cups for every pound of water loss. And over the course of the day you can aim for 6-8 glasses. Drink 1-2 glasses upon rising, one mid morning, 1-2 at lunch, one mid afternoon and another 1-2 at dinner and monitor urine colour.
Journal what you eat – When you write things down you can make improvements. Want to be wealthier? Track your expenses and income for a few months to see where the money is coming and going. Want to get better grades? Obviously you take notes in class but then review your grades and see what your GPA is at various points and work on the classes with your lower grades. And if you want to improve your health start writing down what you do in the gym, your sleep and your nutrition. With your nutrition you want to record what you eat, when and how much. Make sure to include the details so rather than just saying toast for breakfast including how many slices, what type of bread, what you put on it and the time.
If you notice a theme with these tips none of them require any extra time or investment. Sure tracking your nutrition may take a few minutes the first few times but then it gets pretty easy and automatic. Keep a journal close at hand, or use your phone, and enter what you ate.
With the eleven tips above a number of people will be wondering which one is the best tip? This is kind of like asking which piece of cardio equipment is the best? In the case of the list above start with one habit and not eleven. Don’t try and do all eleven of these things at once. Instead go through the list and eliminate the habits you are already doing. Of the habits that remain pick the one that is the easiest for you to start doing. Then start tracking this habit for a week by simply marking whether you did the habit or not. For example, if your goal is to drink more water, start recording how many glasses you drink per day. A successful day is when you record the number of glasses, when you increase the number of glasses, or both.
At the end of the week review what you did. What did you learn? On the days you improved a habit what circumstances led to success? On the days that didn’t goes as planned, what happened on those days? Reviewing in this way will help you see patterns that can help you make traction and get ahead with your habits. And pretty soon this habit will become routine. At that point go back to the list and pick your next habit.
At Okanagan Peak Performance Inc we work with a variety of clientele that want to look, feel or play better. And these are quite varied goals. But one thing is in common with these three groups.
And that’s the goal of getting lean.
Sure we get the occasional male teen that is looking to increase his mass. But he wants to get bigger through the chest, arms, legs and back and not necessarily bigger at the waist. As one young male client put it ‘I want to look more like Captain America’.
Getting lean is important for the aesthetic population as this helps them feel better. They have more confidence going to the beach and wearing less clothing. It helps motivate them to do more in their training and spills over to other areas of their lives.
For athletes, being lean improves their relative strength and power. In other words if they can produce the same force at a lighter weight this will be an advantage in competition. Imagine an athlete sprinting with a piano strapped to their back and with the piano removed. Obviously dropping mass that doesn’t help will be an advantage.
And for the group that wants to feel better getting lean is helpful as well. This is important for all the weight bearing joints and the effect it can have on our posture. With our knees every extra pound of body weight is equivalent to four extra pounds of pressure on the knees. Getting lean is one of the best things an individual can do to reduce knee pain.
So if we can agree that getting lean is important and applies for everyone from those wanting to look, feel and play better, than why can it be so hard?
Well one of the reasons might be BLTs. And I don’t mean sandwiches. Instead I’m talking about bites, licks and tastes.
BLTs can quickly and easily sabotage a plan to get lean because these calories aren’t counted when looking at our daily nutritional habits. People don’t enter BLTs in my fitness pal. They don’t enter these in their nutritional journal. They don’t report these when they sit down with their doctor or dietitian.
BLTs get forgotten and not reported.
So where do BLTs pop-up during the day? Consider the following scenarios.
One parent makes the majority of the meals and samples the food as it is being prepared. A taste of the sauce here. A lick of the spoon there.
Getting kids to eat their meals can be difficult. And sometimes you have to know when to allow them to be excused from the table. As a parent it’s not easy to scrape good food into the garbage. Sometimes it’s just easier to finish their last few bites before cleaning the plate.
Imagine going out to dinner. And the part comes to decide on dessert. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to decline immediately while the other selects a dessert. The server returns with the ordered dessert plus two spoons. The spouse that didn’t order dessert may take a taste or two from the plate.
Have you ever been to the movies and one friend orders popcorn and the other doesn’t? It’s rare for the friend that didn’t order popcorn to not reach in the bag at least once during the show.
Picture going to a social gathering at a friend’s house. Maybe it’s a Super Bowl party and there are lots treats and things to nibble on. As everyone is settled in watching the game you don’t want to disrupt the host and go through the food line. Instead you hang out by the food watching the game casually dipping a chip into a seven layer dip and snacking on nuts.
So how many extra calories can BLTs add up to? Some estimates have them as high as 600 calories in a day. Imagine if your plan allowed for 1800 calories in a day and you added another 600 calories in BLTs. You would have over eaten by 33%!
It makes it pretty hard to hit our goal of getting lean when we’re the intake is that much out of balance.
Going forward make sure to be aware of all the energy we consume in a day. If it goes in our mouth it counts. It doesn’t have to full servings. Even BLTs can add and put you over on your daily caloric consumption.
When someone looks to get started with a health and fitness routine it’s always interesting where they put the emphasis.
Do they put most of their focus and effort on the training? Do they train as frequently and intensely as possible?
Do they put their efforts into their nutritional plan? Do they make most of their meals? Drink more water?
Do they focus on getting their sleep in order? Do they get to bed and get up at the same time daily?
There are lots of things that will lead to a positive result.
But often times we skip the one thing that is the most basic and can have a huge impact on results. Think back to the first thing and the last thing we’ll do in this world. And that’s breathing.
Breathing is vitally important to everything we do. Yet it gets skipped over or forgotten completely. Which is surprising when we consider we can’t go 3 minutes without it.
Below are 4 quick ways we can use breathing to help our training or sports performance
1. Calm Our Nerves
Imagine trying to shoot a target with a racing heart rate.
Think of the number of sports that require accuracy and precision. Imagine having to make an 8 foot putt in order to win a PGA tournament. Or having to make a couple of free throws with no time on the clock in order to win a basketball game. Or, the one I think that would the toughest, would be having to shoot targets from a standing position in a biathlon race.With all of these there would be benefit to slowing the breathing pattern and calming the nerves before having to perform.
2. Increase Mobility
These days everyone is looking to increase their mobility. They want to have greater stride length as a sprinter. They want to have greater shoulder turn on the tee box. And they want to minimize the pain that comes when mobility is restricted or limited. As we’re performing our stretches or mobility drills we can use our breathing to help reduce tension and open up new ranges of motion.
3. Increased Fitness
With belly breathing, the diaphragm descends more and facilitates greater gas exchange.
Breathing, or respiration, involves gas exchange to allow for the availability of fuel and the elimination of waste products. When we aren’t breathing optimally we limit both of these. When we are breathing optimally through the abdomen there is more opportunity for the diaphragm to descend and create the negative pressure to draw air in. When the diaphragm doesn’t descend as much e.g. when we breath more through the chest, we limit the amount of air we can draw in and the waste we can expel.
4. It Can Serve as Our Timer
It seems like when we’re given a prescription for stretching we are told to hold the position for 30-60 seconds. But if we don’t have a watch this can sometimes be hard to monitor. And it’s hard to know if we should give it more time or not. Instead of monitoring our stretching with a watch we can use our breathing. If we use the pattern of inhale, hold and exhale we could do each for 2 seconds, 2 seconds and 4 seconds. This 2:2:4 ration leads to balanced inhalations and exhalations. As we calm the system we can get deeper into the stretch and be more attuned to our limitations.
Going forward if you want to give this a try, keep the following in mind.
Use a ratio of x:x:2x in terms of the time. As an example, inhale for 2 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. The same ratio would work for 3:3:6 or 4:4:8 etc. Just realize that the longer ratios can get difficult to exhale that long.
Breath through the nose only. When the goal is to calm the system and switch from fight or flight to rest and digest we want to breath through the nose instead of the mouth.
Make longer exhales the goal. We live in a sympathetic state (stress) and besides involving the mouth and chest, more stress typically involves more inhalations. Pictures the overly excited or panicked person that is hyperventilating. With more stress we inhale more. Look to reverse this and exhale more and for longer.
Inhale as though there was a balloon in the stomach. Limit the amount of expansion through the chest. On the exhale shrink the abdominals back as much as possible as though a corset was being tightened around the waist.
Practice breathing on the back first. Progress to being face down. Eventually look to incorporate the patterns and cues into your stretches and exercises.
That’s it. Four ways you can influence, and potentially improve, sports performance and training with breathing. As the expression goes ‘if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it to your best’.