I take my sleep seriously. And food. Sufficient, peaceful sleep and good food keep me healthily and happily ticking over. It also makes life a bit more pleasant for those in my company on the next day 😀 We’re talking sleep today, though.
Sleep is arguably one of the most overlooked pieces of health and fitness. Yet of all the pieces, it may have the greatest influence on just about every bodily function. Our bodies are incredibly active during sleep as they undergo an array and growth and restorative processes necessary to keep the mind and body healthy.
Sleep is essential for learning. A full night’s sleep keeps your memory sharp and improves your problem-solving the next day. It also keeps you attentive and creative, fosters prompt decision making and improves your overall mood and energy. Much of this research has associated these changes in mental health to altered activity in parts of the brain.
During waking hours all body systems are exposed to all kinds of stressors. The environment, exercise, sensory stimulation, and unfortunately for some, trauma. Sleep is when the body replenishes expended mineral and energy stores, rebuilds damaged tissue (including nerve tissue which probably undergoes the most daily restoration), and grows.
Sleep deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, some of which is the result of overeating and obesity caused by an imbalance in the hormones that manage hunger and satiety. Research has also established a strong correlation between sleep quality and quantity and body composition. The mechanisms thereof are complex, but it results in excess weight gain and an inability to gain and maintain muscle.
A good night’s sleep will improve athletic performance, including speed, accuracy and overall energy. And sleep is especially important for kids and teens, and those who exercise because it induces the release of human growth hormone, an important hormone in cellular regeneration.
Getting sick a lot of late? Your immune system is most active during sleep – partly why when you are sick all you want to do is sleep! A consistent dose of daily sleep reduces your risk of getting the common cold and other illnesses and makes you more resilient to those daily stressors.
Sleep deficiency also affects your endocrine system, thereby affecting the production and sensitivity to important hormones such and insulin and cortisol.
So just like exercise and nutrition, there’s a big picture perspective to sleep. It’s essential to long-term health.
How much is enough?
How much sleep we need varies between individuals, but most of our differences in sleep requirements vary with age. Babies need the most while adults (regardless of age) need the least. Adults need seven to eight hours a day, but I’m of the opinion that for optimal health and fitness you need eight to ten hours a day.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Just as how much sleep we all need varies, so does what leads us to sleep. Our circadian rhythm is the body’s sleep system. It sets in motion the temperature and hormonal changes required for sleep and waking. If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you’ll know what it’s like to have that system thrown out.
To help lead you to a good sleep, get as much natural blue light during the day as possible. Natural blue light is the sky! Start winding down 30-60 minutes before you plan on hitting the hay. Dim or switch of all artificial blue light such as ceiling lights, TVs and handheld devices. Have blackout curtains in your bedroom and for the light sleeper, wear ear plugs – as long as you can still hear your alarm in the morning!
Health and fitness requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. For those committed to improving themselves daily – like the people we see in our gyms – there’s some risk involved too. You could cut your shin on a box jump, twist your ankle while running, or sprain a shoulder muscle while practising some gymnastics.
You could also get hit by a bus while crossing the road, or by a buck while cycling through the bush. Those are all educated risks.
You can either sit back to become overweight and unhealthy to avoid the short-term risk of a niggle from training, or you can overlook that small short-term risk for massive long-term benefits. Just as you can stay indoors to avoid the world, or you can go on with living your life.
There are some educated risks to leading an active and healthy lifestyle. Every now and then you’re going to pick up a niggle or an injury. So how should you approach training while you are nursing an injury? I see two approaches: the pigheaded approach and the smart approach. Let’s talk about the smart approach because that pigheadedness (that is a word) is what gets you injured.
Tip #1: Pain Free RoM
The most common symptom of an injury is pain. While there are varying pain sensations, pain is inevitable and is a sign of damage. You should never move through pain. This might mean reducing the range of motion (RoM) about a joint for particular movements and in more severe cases it means not moving that joint at all.
At the end stage of the recovery and rehab process you typically have no pain through the full RoM, but as soon as you add load there is pain. RoM is significantly more important than load. Therefore, reduce or remove load to ensure full RoM with no pain.
Tip #2: Seek Treatment & Guidance
If you have picked up a musculoskeletal injury then you really should have already seen a physiotherapist for diagnosis and treatment. If you haven’t then you’re veering towards the pigheaded route. A physio can determine which structure is injured and treat it accordingly. This manual therapy aids the recovery process.
The physio and your coaches will then be able to guide you on what to do in training to ensure that you continue improving fitness while the injured area recovers (as long as you listen). You can’t do this alone or with Dr. Google, neither of you have the relevant skills, education or mindset. Even physios need physios.
Tip #3: Make Strict Bodyweight Movements a Priority
Injuries generally prevent you from moving external loads. Fitness isn’t just defined by how much load you can move, and gymnastics comes before weightlifting in your development as an athlete. So RE-focus your time and efforts on strict bodyweight movements. That means no kipping.
This has the huge benefit of better strength with no downsides. And even though you aren’t doing them, when you do get back to more dynamic movements you’ll be MORE proficient at them thanks to your bigger base level of strength. Yeah, you should be doing that from the very beginning, but one can only lead the horse to the water, yeah?
Tip #4: Prioritise Your Nutrition
Nutrition is the most important aspect of your health and fitness. You need to eat enough to support your activity levels but not body fat. When you’re nursing and injury your activity levels generally drop. If they do drop, you should be eating less. “My nutrition is better when I’m training properly” is just an excuse to stuff your face because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.
Less exercise = less need for calories. More importantly, what you eat directly influences your body’s ability to recover from any form of trauma.
Tip #5: Have a Game Plan
You’ll need to follow Tip #2 in order to have an effective and realistic game plan in place. That’s because the most common behaviour with athletes and injury is returning to their pre-injury levels of intensity as soon as they’re feeling “good.”
You might be completely pain free, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the injured structures are fully recovered. Soft tissue takes a long time to recover, and you also need to recognise that you aren’t just recovering from the injury itself – you need to recover from the inactivity too 😉
Part of the game plan is continuing to train. One of the most important aspects of rehabilitation is ensuring that other parts of the body and other areas of fitness continue to improve while the injured area recovers. And that is totally doable. Take a look at the Instagram video below of Kevin Ogar. Kevin was a Regional level CrossFit athlete who was injured in a freak accident. He is now bound to a wheelchair, but his fitness has continued to improve – so much so that he is now able to sit in a squat!
Working that #ParaSquat @stouty08 put out last week! Got up to a full 90secs freestanding then started to play around with moving my arms around. Sotz Press, I'm coming for ya. This is some good mobility work for my ankles and hips. My backs been feeling way better since I started playing around with this. @wheelwod @adaptivecrossfit @crossfit @crossfittraining @crossfitwatchtower @progenex @barbellsforboobs @stephthehammer @angel_cfredefined #stillgotaprettygoodlookingsquat #bootygainz? #FullROM #hadtovideotomakesureofdepth #notgoodatfeelingwhenImlowenough #harambereincarnated #shutupmeag
Tip #6: Be Smart, Not Pigheaded
Protein powders, proteins, and performance aids are the most popular products in the supplement industry. Too little attention is given to recovery and health based supplements. Vitamin and mineral supplements are becoming increasingly important as the quality of our food diminishes concomitant to ever increasing life stressors. One such mineral is magnesium.
What is Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the four micronutrients (along with sodium, potassium, and calcium) essential to all life. Magnesium is necessary for bone formation as well as calcium metabolism, and converting Vitamin D into an active form in the body.
Magnesium can be found in abundance in a variety of natural foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, Brazil nuts, almonds, rice and sesame seeds. While magnesium deficiency is primarily the result of poor diet and food choices, your magnesium levels could still be low even if you follow a healthy diet AND you lead an active lifestyle
How do you know if you are magnesium deficient? Different forms of stress, including exercise, increase magnesium consumption in the body. Adequate magnesium absorption may also be adversely affected by consuming disproportionate amounts of protein and fat relative to carbohydrates (another good reason to calculate your macros), and excessive alcohol consumption. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Significant decrease in energy levels
- Reduced immunity
- Poor memory
- Training plateaus
- Retrograde performance.
Magnesium and Training
Individuals who train frequently at high intensity need more nutrients because of the increased demand on the body. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to be beneficial for athletes. Studies have found that athletes that supplemented with magnesium were able to perform at higher (relative) intensities for a longer period of time and increased their VO2max (maximum oxygen consumption) during exercise. This effect may have to do with the role magnesium plays in muscle contractions.
Magnesium supplementation has also been shown to combat fatigue. That may be the result of reportedly better sleep with magnesium supplementation, or it could be due to the role magnesium plays in energy production. Regardless, it improves restful sleep and reduces fatigue, and everyone could do with some of that!
Other Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation
- It contributes to a healthy metabolism
- Magnesium contributes to maintenance of healthy teeth and gums (it is necessary for calcium metabolism.). It also contributes to the maintenance of healthy bones. When we exercise we place a large amount of stress on the skeletal system and magnesium has been shown to assist in the repair and maintenance process.
- It contributes to electrolyte balance, which in turn plays a critical role in hydration.
- Magnesium contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system and has been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system.
- It aids protein synthesis.
Even if your magnesium levels are normal and your diet provides optimal levels of the mineral, a magnesium supplement will be beneficial to your health and performance. When looking for a magnesium supplement, get one that has no additives.
Along with creatine and BCAAs, glutamine is one of the most used supplements in the fitness industry. While people seem to have some idea about the benefits of the former supplements, glutamine seems to be less understood. It’s a supplement we sell at the gyms, and we’ll only sell something we truly believe is of benefit to you. So let’s talk about what it is and why it may be of benefit to you.
What is Glutamine?
Glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in dietary protein. It’s also one of six conditionally essential amino acids. That means you typically have enough glutamine but it becomes essential (needs to be consumed) when trauma, illness or stress creates a need that is in excess of its natural availability. Exercise is a form of stress. Therefore, glutamine becomes essential if you are exercising regularly because it is depleted faster than the body is able to produce it. There’s the short answer to the topic question – you should be taking glutamine if you are training regularly. But it does have other benefits too.
Glutamine has a few recovery roles. Research has shown that glutamine levels in overtrained athletes are depleted compared to healthy, well-recovered athletes, and that the amount of glutamine found in muscle is related to the rate of protein synthesis. Therefore, adequate levels of glutamine may promote faster muscle recovery and building post exercise.
Aside from protein needing resynthesis after training, muscle glycogen (glucose) stores need to be repleted too. This is largely accomplished by consuming the right types of carbohydrates after training. But, glutamine has been found to speed up the rate of glycogen repletion. So if you include a glutamine supplement to your post-workout carbohydrates you’ll recover faster!
Some research has shown that poor immune function has a correlation with low levels of glutamine. This is something I’ve seen in many of the array of athletes I’ve worked with over the years. Many of them were more susceptible to colds, flus and other illness during periods of high-volume training and competition. Depleted glutamine may have had a role in that due to physical stress of training and psychological stress of competition.
Glutamine assists in the repair and healing of the gut lining in a similar manner to its influence on muscle repair. While this is not directly related to training, it may have implications for you if you do have a problem with gut health. However, if you do believe that you have leaky gut syndrome it may cause autoimmune disorders so you should consult with a relevant medical professional. You may also need to remove foods from your diet that cause gut irritation.
Reduce Sugar Cravings
I had a small debate with myself about whether or not to include this glutamine benefit because I know many of you are only going to end up remembering this. And off you’ll go to buy a stash of glutamine (which is okay of you get it from us!) with the belief that it will magically cure your sugar cravings. It won’t.
I’m all about educating you and leaving you to make the best decisions, so I decided to include it because it’s interesting and may help you. Up to 10 grams of glutamine consumed before a meal may reduce carbohydrate intake and reduce cravings for something sweet after the meal. This could be related to the glutamine’s ability to improve the rate of glycogen replenishment, but that’s a topic for a Masters or PHd student to examine! Just remember that glutamine may help cravings, but you still need to control them.
How To Take Glutamine
You can safely take up to about 0.65 grams of glutamine per kilogram of bodyweight in a day. Five to 10 grams per serving seems to be the most effective dosage. If you’re using it for recovery from training, include it in your post workout drink along with those BCAAs. If you need it to help with repairing your gut, take it with water on an empty stomach. And if you’re keen to see if it helps with the carb and sugar cravings, have it before or in between meals throughout the day.
Much like creatine and BCAAs, supplement companies will use a variety of marketing ploys to sell different varieties of glutamine. In my opinion, a pure glutamine powder or capsule is all you need.
It has been reported that people are now more likely to consume caffeine on a daily basis than fruit. It may be the most widely used stimulant in the world, most commonly in the form of a variety of coffee drinks such as espresso and cappuccino. However, caffeine is a common ingredient in many other sources like tea, nutrition supplements, soft drinks, chocolate and energy drinks. Many people, like myself, consume caffeine daily for the love of a good cup of coffee and the stimulant effect it has on the brain. Others use it to aid performance or for suggested health benefits. While others have no idea how much caffeine they’re getting by knocking back all those soft and energy drinks!
Caffeine consumption for health and performance has been reasonably well researched, and in general, it’s not bad for you. It may actually be really good for you. While there’s still a ton of research that could be done, let’s look at what we do know.
Coffee or caffeine does NOT dehydrate you. In fact, caffeinated drinks contribute to your daily fluid intake. Research has shown that urine losses for people who consume high and low doses of caffeine are relatively the same as for people who consume no caffeine at all. Just as I have written in the past, the body’s hydration control system is finely tuned. You’d have to be very sick, in extreme environmental conditions, or consuming far above the average daily caffeine amount (200mg) to get dehydrated.
During nutrition consults and general discussion I often have people say that they need to cut out coffee to help with fat loss. If you’re drinking flavoured lattes, frappucinos and two sugars with that cappuccino, or have the biscuit every time you have coffee, then yes you need to cut out coffee to lose body fat. Or at least change your coffee drinking habits. Coffee has no calories – what you put in it or what you have with it contains the calories.
Energy drinks, pre-workout supplements and soft drinks do however contain sugar – real or artificial. Use with caution.
Performance and Recovery
Up until 2004 caffeine was a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). But after a lot of research examining habitual caffeine consumption and consumption specifically for performance, it was dropped from the list of banned substances. Caffeine remains one of the most tested ergogenic aids and is still widely used by athletes of all sporting codes and at all levels of competition.
Studies show that caffeine can improve endurance performance by about 12%, enhances mental focus and acuity, and also reduces perceived exertion. These effects are greater in athletes who rarely drink caffeine because they are less tolerant to it’s effects. Everyone, however, responds differently to caffeine. So if you don’t drink coffee much and decide to use it before an event or even just before a workout, nausea, the jitters, and anxiety are common!
We also know that caffeine may help mobilising fat stores for use as fuel, thereby delaying muscle glycogen depletion. This partly explains why caffeine as a performance aid is better for longer bouts of activity. It also indicates the benefits of caffeine consumption for fat loss. An interesting study showed that caffeine consumption with a carbohydrate-based drink four hours after exercise significantly improved muscle glycogen compared to a carbohydrate only drink. This could speed up the recovery process post-training.
So, it’s legal and potentially really good for you. I do however suggest you get your fix primarily from (good) coffee – not instant coffee – while limiting consumption of energy and soft drinks as a source of caffeine. Thanks to all the research and all the coffee nuts out there, there are so many types of coffee that are easily prepared. One of the most common coffee recipes today is bulletproof coffee. A quick search will quickly give you an insight into its origins and original recipe. I have been starting my day with a cup of that goodness for years now, and was recently shown a bunch of different recipes to try out – some healthy and some treats. I’m going to be making my way through them. Check them out here: Bulletproof Coffee Recipes.
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