Monthly Archives: May 2016

Powering Down

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Technology is running our lives these days. People are either burying their heads in their phones and tablets at every waking hour, or staring deeply into the warm, loving gaze of their HD TVs or laptop screens. We fall asleep with the TV on and read on our tablets and phones until we can’t keep our eyes open. We view this as our “relaxation time,” when, in fact, its having the exact opposite effect. These “relaxing” activities are costing us quality sleep, causing us to wake up tired, and putting us into a state of chronic fatigue.

So, if you are you sick and tired of being sick and tired, it’s time to learn how to power down.

SleepingWoman

The Sleep Problem

Simply put, technology is running our lives and ruining our quality of sleep. A study performed by The National Sleep Foundation found the 95% of people are using some sort computer, TV, video game, or cell phone within the hour before bed, multiple times per week.

 

Research shows, the light emitted from these electronic devices stimulate the excitatory branch of your nervous system, delaying the release of the hormone, melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps control your sleep wake cycle. Exposure to light has a tremendous effect on melatonin production. This is why it is common to get tired earlier in the winter months.

The suppression of melatonin, caused by exposure to the light emitted from electronic devices prior to bed, can have many adverse effects. The most immediate effect of this exposure is that it takes us longer to fall asleep and causes us to spend less time in deep, restorative sleep. Chronic suppression of melatonin can lead to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it has been tied to prostate, colorectal, and breast cancers. Finally, melatonin suppression leads to chronic sleep deprivation, which can commonly lead to obesity and diabetes.MelatoninSuppressionMeme

In other words…

Melatonin suppression = bad times.

 

The Sleep Solution

 

The solution to this sleep problem is simple.

It’s time to power down.

Work on developing a 1-hour pre-bedtime routine. Start by turning off all electronics 1 hour prior to bed. Instead of checking emails, playing on your phone, or watching Netflix, establish a routine of relaxing activities. Take a hot bath or shower, do some diaphragmatic breathing and stretching, or read a book.

Read an actual book. Like, the ones made of paper, because they do still exist.

Whatever you choose, make it routine. Turn off those gadgets and let your body and mind chill out. You will get to sleep, sleep like a baby, and wake up feeling refreshed and energized.

What Your Heart is Trying to Tell You

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Stressmeter

In the past few weeks we’ve discussed the role that stress plays in your health and performance. The amount of stress you subject your body to and how your body is able to handle that stress may very well be the determining factor in whether or not you are able to reach your peak in health and fitness.

In this lesson we will cover another way to manage stress, stay in touch with your body, and monitor how it is responding to the physical, mental, and emotional stressors you face on a daily basis.

 

What Your Heart Is Telling You

 

You may not realize it, but everyday your heart is telling a story.

It is describing how you’re handling all that pressure from your boss at work. It’s revealing how nervous you really are for that exam you have coming up this afternoon. It’s exposing how well you really recovered from your last workout. It is dishing the dirt on just how torn up you are over that recent break-up.

Ok, that may sound slightly ridiculous on the surface. However, your heart is revealing a lot more than you realize.

What your heart is trying to tell you is how your body is handling the combined effect stress is having on your body.

 

Heart Rate Variability

 

Your resting heart rate holds the answer to how well your body is managing stress.

As we have discussed before, your body will do whatever it takes to maintain homeostasis to keep things operating within an optimal range. When your body is subjected to a stressor, whether physical, mental, or emotional, it raises your resting heart rate to maintain homeostasis while trying to remove the stressor.

This is why your heart was racing when you had to present in your high school speech class or when you asked your crush out for the first time. This is why your heart beats out of your chest after a workout.

So, how do we interpret the story our heart is telling?

Well, when your body is managing stress well, your resting heart rate will be elevated during your exposure to a stressor and slightly after. However, shortly after exposure to the stressor, things should return to normal.

For example, your heart rate will be elevated when your body is dealing with the physical stress experienced during a workout. If your system is working properly, you should be able to chill out fairly quickly after you are done. You will be seeing progress, reaching goals, and having a good time.

When the system isn’t working well, however, times are not so good.

When our bodies are subjected to too much stress, we become anxious, our breathing is jacked up, we sleep poorly, and we don’t recover well from workouts. This happens when the cumulative effect of work stress, relationship stress, financial stress, etc, becomes too much for the body to handle.

Now, even if things are fine and dandy with work, family, finances, and everything else, too much “good” stress may also have this effect.

If you workout too much or too often, your body will not be able to handle that amount of stress, and you will not recover properly. Essentially, you will be doing yourself more harm than good.

 

Track Your Resting Heart Rate

 

By simply taking your resting heart rate every morning you can avoid experiencing the negative effects of too much stress.

How do you take your resting heart rate?

  • Carotid Artery

Before you get out of bed in the morning, place your index and middle fingers on your carotid artery. You can find this in the crease between the front and side of you neck. Grab a stopwatch and count every beat for 60 seconds.

 

  • Heart Rate Monitor

If you don’t know how to count, or simply don’t want to, you can find a heart monitor to do it for you.

 

  • BioForce HRV

Finally, if you want to go high-tech, order a copy of Joel Jamieson’s BioForce HRV (heart rate variability) software. This is a great program that will show how well your body is recovering and adapting to your training.

 

The Benefit

 

Obviously taking your resting heart rate every morning is going to require a commitment of time, albeit small.

So, how exactly will this help you achieve your health and fitness goals?

As we have discussed, monitoring your resting heart on a consistent basis will help you see the warning signs of stress before they manifest themselves as significant health problems. By monitoring your resting heart rate on a consistent basis, you will be able to customize your daily workouts and workout at the appropriate volume and intensity.

If your resting heart rate is trending down in the morning or on the low-side of normal, consider that a green light. These are the days to crank out those intense workouts.

On the flip-side, if your resting heart rate is trending up in the morning or is on the high-side of normal, this signifies you are starting to accumulate a little too much stress or you simply haven’t quite recovered from your previous training session.   On these days, take it down a couple of notches. Go easy, and give your body a little more time to recover.

 

Start Counting

 

Monitoring your resting heart rate has the potential to greatly improve your quality of life and propel you towards your health and fitness goals.   It will allow you to monitor your stress levels and improve your training. And trust me…

 

Less stress + better training = better results in less time

It’s basic math.

So start counting.

 

3 Reasons Sleep is Stealing Your Results

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Side view of an overweight man sleeping on exercise ball in health club

Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. Diet and Exercise.

That’s seemingly all anyone wants to talk about in regards to health and performance.

While these are, in fact, quite important in promoting optimal health and performance, there is a huge link missing here.

Sleep.

Everybody thinks they know how important it is, yet as a whole our society doesn’t’ place nearly enough emphasis on getting adequate sleep.

I’ve mentioned in prior posts, your progress toward your health and performance goals are going to be greatly dependent on your ability to recover from training and even every day stressors.

Well, the truth is, sleep is the cornerstone of recovery, and if you want to be successful in reaching your health and fitness goals, you may need to make it a greater priority.

So, today we are going to take a look at 3 ways in which a lack of sleep can limit your progress, or steal your results.

 

  1. Sleep and stress have a very close relationship

Stress and sleep have quite an intricate relationship. If we allow them to, they feed off one another, creating a vicious cycle.

How does it work?

In my article, Managing Stress, I broke the bad news on how stress is simply an inevitability. Whether the stressors can be viewed as “good” or “bad,” the body treats all stresses the same, and each person’s body essentially has a limit on how much they can handle.

We discussed how everyday we are subjected to physical, mental, and emotional stressors. These stressors, both “good” and “bad” accumulate through out the day. However, during deep sleep, our bodies get a chance to take a break from stress and recover. Stress hormone levels decrease and your body recharges.

However, when we fail to get enough deep sleep and our bodies miss their chance to recover, stress continues to accumulate.

If this continues, eventually our body’s stress limit is surpassed. This leads to chronic fatigue, poor recovery from workouts, jacked-up hormone levels, and ironically even further decreased quality of sleep.

It truly is a dangerous and vicious cycle.

 

  1. Sleep has a profound influence your hormone levels and metabolism

 The influence sleep has on your hormone levels and metabolism is going to have a significant contribution toward your progress in reaching your health and fitness goals.

Now, hormones can be a rather complex topic, so I’ll refrain from doing my best impersonation of a science book and we’ll stick to a few bullet points.

 

Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone commonly associated with fat gain.

Now, under normal conditions, with adequate sleep, cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day.   Levels are high in the morning, as cortisol serves to help us wake up, and lower in the evening, allowing us to wind down and go to bed.

However, with a lack of quality sleep, cortisol levels become elevated throughout the day. This will often leave you feeling tired in the morning and a little too wired in the evening, making it hard to get up for work or class and difficult to wind down before bed.

In addition, these elevated cortisol levels over-stimulate the reward center of the brain, the amygdala, leading to cravings for high-calorie foods and ultimately fat gain.

 

 Hunger Hormones 

In addition to screwing up our cortisol levels, poor sleep will also have a significant effect on our hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin.

Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates the feeling of hunger, while leptin stimulates the feeling of fullness. The balance of these two hormones is crucial for those looking to lose fat or maintain a healthy weight.

A lack of sleep, however, will suppress the release of leptin, leaving you with the feeling of an empty stomach, while stimulating the release of ghrelin.

This increase in production of ghrelin will not only stimulate hunger, but also work to slow your metabolism.

High levels of ghrelin combined with elevated cortisol levels will leave you feeling hungry all the time, as the two hormones effectively work to shut off the areas of the brain that signal satiety, or fullness.

 

Growth Hormone

Growth hormone levels will have a huge impact on your body composition. In fact, many have referred to it as a “fountain of youth.” It helps build muscle, burn fat, and fight the aging process.

Sounds pretty freakin’ great, right?

Well, growth hormone is primarily released during deep sleep.

So, if you are getting poor quality sleep, or just simply not enough sleep, you are going to see a swift decline in growth hormone.

On top of that, the elevated cortisol levels resulting from poor sleep will work to further suppress growth hormone levels.

Simply put, low growth hormone and high cortisol levels are not a cocktail for success.

 

Insulin

Poor sleep is also going to have an effect on your body’s ability to properly use insulin, and the effects don’t take long to show.

A study at the University of Chicago showed a 30% decrease in insulin sensitivity after just 4 nights of poor sleep.

This is something that can easily happen to any one of us during the work week.   It’s easy to use coffee and other stimulants to get through the days and plan on catching up on sleep on the weekends.

However, this mindset will put you on a slippery slope.

When your body becomes less sensitive, your body is forced to produce more and more insulin to prevent sugar from accumulating in the blood. This excess insulin will cause you to begin storing fat in the upper back, “love-handle” areas, and around organs, such as the liver.

Overtime, elevated insulin levels can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

 

  1. Sleep impacts your physical and mental performance

Now, this one may seem pretty obvious to you.

I’m sure you’ve received numerous lectures your parents, coaches, and teachers on getting a good night’s rest before a big game or exam.

Well, to be honest, there’s quite a bit of conflicting evidence as to whether one poor night of sleep has any effect on performance the next day, with the except of hand-eye coordination.

So, one night of poor sleep probably isn’t going to do too much to hinder your training the next day.

Chronic sleep issues, however, are a different story.

If you fail to get adequate sleep night after night, you will see a continued decline in coordination, agility, motivation, and energy. This will obviously affect your performance in the gym, on the athletic field, at work, or in the classroom.

 

The Bottom Line

Ok, I’ve thrown ship-loads of words at you today.

The bottom line is that sleep is going to play a huge role in how you look, feel, and perform. It’s quite likely you need to place a greater emphasis on getting quality sleep if you want to progress toward your goals.

So, start to evaluate your current sleep habits and begin to make sleep a higher priority.

1 Supplement You Should Start Taking

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Nutritional supplementation is a hot-button issue in the fitness industry today, and it likely always will be.   There are countless viewpoints on the topic, and many misconceptions as well. While we won’t be delving deeply into the topic today, it is important to preface any supplement discussion by emphasizing that supplements are just that: supplements. They are meant to supplement a healthy diet, making up for what the body does not get through normal food consumption.

Knowing this, it is quite logical that as all human bodies are different and no two diets are exactly the same, supplement needs will vary with each individual. That said, there is one supplement I highly recommend for everyone, fish oil.

Now hang with me… we’re not quite done here.

Some of you may think you have this down. You may eat fish several times a week, or you may already take a fish oil supplement. That is great, and you are already a step ahead. However, whether you are one of those already getting fish oil in your diet, or if you are starting from ground-level, there are a few things you need to know about fish oil and how to it incorporate it into your diet.

 

Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 Fats:

Before we get into the importance of fish oil, we are going to briefly discuss the difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Let me preface this section by clarifying that Omega-6 fats DO play important roles in the body and are necessary part of a healthy diet. However, excess intake of Omega-6 can promote inflammation, high cholesterol, and depression, as well as increasing risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease. Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, essentially work to counteract the negative effects that can be caused by excess Omega-6 intake.

Basically, what this means is that we need a healthy balance of these two fats in our diets, a 1:1 ratio being ideal.

So how are we doing?

Yeah…Not that great…

Today’s typical North American diet is loaded with Omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are found in products containing corn oil, safflower oil, and meats from factory farms. This has led to a highly disproportionate intake of Omega-6 fats to Omega-3 fats. In fact, most people consume a ratio of the two somewhere between 10:1 to 20:1.

So, I’ll go ahead and give us a big “F” on that.

This may go a long way to explain why inflammation, high cholesterol, depression, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are so prevalent in America.

 

DHA and EPA:

Obviously the takeaway to this point is to increase Omega-3 fats and decrease Omega-6 fats. But where do you want to get these Omega-3 from?

Yes, fish oil… But before I get to that, let’s break things down just a little further. Don’t worry we won’t get too in-depth.

The 3 main Omega-3 fats are DHA, EPA, and ALA.

DHA and EPA are the Omega-3 fats you will find in fish oil. Together, they offer many benefits. DHA and EPA, in combination, have been shown to improve cognitive function, improve behavior and mood, reduce the liklihood of depression, reduce the risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer, and decrease both joint and systemic inflammation.

The third omega-3 fat, ALA, is found in nuts and seeds. Flax and chia seeds are two sources of ALA that have gained a fair amount of popularity. Some people argue that these are better sources of omega-3 than fish oil due to the fact that ALA can be convert by the body into DHA and EPA. However, before for you run to the store to fight Crossfit Mom for the last five packages of flaxseed, its worth noting that multiple studies show this conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA happens at an extremely low rate.

 

Why Supplementation?

To this point we’ve used a lot of words to make a few points. So, in case you’re just joining in here’s what we’ve covered so far:

  • More omega-3 and less omega-6
  • ALA is cool, but DHA and EPA are where it’s at

Now, you may be wondering why you need a supplement instead of just eating fish. To be honest you may not. But before you jump to that conclusion here are a few things to consider:

  1. You need 1-3 grams of EPA and DHA per day

Many of the benefits we listed above were observed in studies where the subjects were consuming at least 1-3 grams per day. Subjects consuming less than 1-3 grams per day did not consistently exhibit the same benefits. To reach roughly 3 grams of DHA and EPA you would need to eat one of the following amounts of wild-caught fish on a daily basis:

  • 7 oz. salmon
  • 9 oz. tuna
  • 14 oz. cod
  1. Get your fish oil from wild-caught fish

Most of the fish we purchase at our local grocery stores and eat at chain restaurants come directly from fish-farms. These farm-farmed fish are fed an unnatural diet full of antibiotics and live in an environment full of chemicals and pollutants. These fish also provide far less EPA and DHA per serving than their wild-caught counterparts. So, although more expensive, wild-caught is the way to go.

  1. Heavy metals and environmental toxins

Despite being far better than farmed-fish, wild-caught fish are not completely free of potentially harmful substances for consumers. Wild-caught fish may contain carcinogens, as well as a significant amount of mercury and other heavy metals they encounter in their environment. Consumed in large quantities over consistently over time, these substances can have adverse effects on the human body. That said, research suggests that the benefits of eating oily, wild-caught fish far out-weight any potential adverse effects. So instead of avoiding fish, limit your consumption to a couple times per week.

 

How to Supplement Fish Oil

Again, fish oil supplementation may not be necessary for everyone, but it is likely beneficial for most. If you have access to fresh, wild-caught fish that is low in mercury and other toxins (generally small fish), and you eat them on a daily basis, you may be set. However, for the rest of us, here are a few guidelines on how to properly supplement fish oil:

  1. Check amount of EPA and DHA

Remember, you need 1-3 grams of EPA and DHA per day, not just fish oil in general. Low quality fish oils will contain far less EPA and DHA.

  1. Small fish-based formulation

Purchased a supplement with a small fish-based formulation, such as herring or mackerel. These fish are far less likely to accumulate environmental toxins.

  1. Look for an expiration date

Make sure you can find an expiration date on the container and use it before that date.

  1. Refrigerate

Keeping your fish oil in the refrigerator will help avoid breakdown, or oxidation. This is also a good way to reduce those dreaded “fish burps.”

  1. Buy smaller bottles

Fish oil will maintain its quality for up to 40 days if refrigerated. As a rule of thumb, try to consume your entire bottle within a month of purchase.

  1. Take it multiple times per day

Depending on the quality of your fish oil supplement, you may likely have to take several pills per day to reach 1-3 grams of EPA and DHA. Try breaking this up into several servings over the course of the day. Take some with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Now it’s time for action!

Get out there and get yourself a quality fish oil. However, don’t expect the benefits to appear overnight. Be patient and persistent, and after about 6-8 weeks you will begin to feel the difference.