Sleep, Cravings and High Calorie Foods

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.

sleep 1

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.


amygdala 1

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.





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