Most likely if you exercise, you are looking for some kind of result. Either to lose weight, gain muscle, be faster, stronger…the list goes on. In order to achieve those results, our body needs to be able to create adaptations. We need two things to be in the right balance: Stress and Recovery.
When I refer to stress here, I am talking about ALL stressors to the body. Not all stress is bad. For example, the training we do is a stressor to the body. However, your body doesn’t really know the difference between sitting in traffic yelling at someone that cut you off, an impending deadline, a hard workout or if you are being chased by a bear. It just knows it’s stressed so it creates a stress response. It kicks on your sympathetic nervous system (SNS, responsible for fight or flight) and you have some involuntary hormonal and physiological responses. Your heart rate increases, you may sweat, your breathing changes, shut down of non-vital bodily functions…
The problem doesn’t lie in the fact that we have this response. It’s automatic, your body is keeping you alive! The problem is that we live in our stressed state most of the time and expect our bodies to create the adaptation we are looking for. In order for our body to create the adaptation (i.e., result), we need to give our body what it needs to adapt. So what does it need to create the adaptations?
- Incorporate activities that are parasympathetic in nature. Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS, rest and digest) counteracts the SNS and puts you back into a state of calm. Some examples are walking, breathing exercises, colouring, meditation, etc.
- Pull back your intensity in training. There is something sexy about ending up in a sweaty pile on the floor at the end of a workout. But going 100% everyday isn’t actually going to make you better in the long run. Most of your training time should be spent around 70-80%, with one or two days a month that you go 100%. Trust me, going 100% everyday is going to lead to some messed up hormones and set you up for injury.
- Eat some carbs! I know carbs have been vilified in mainstream media. But if you train with high intensity and are looking for one of the adaptations I talked about in the top, even weight loss, you need to get in some carbs. Carbohydrates are our shut off valve to the stress response from training. When you train, cortisol is released, you shut off cortisol by having an insulin response, we get an insulin response by eating carbohydrates.
- Get to sleep! Don’t tell me that you do fine on 5 or 6 hours of sleep. You NEED more than that. This is when your body is going to be able to adapt and recover. There are also very important hormonal changes during your sleep. Turn off your phone and TV, turn down the lights, establish a bedtime routine and get into bed before midnight. Don’t make excuses.
- Periodize your nutrition. If you are constantly living in a deficit, you are not going to gain muscle mass or get stronger. Physiology hasn’t changed no matter what fad diet or template tells you differently. In order to get stronger and/or gain muscle mass, you need to be in at least maintenance calories or in a surplus. Does that mean you may gain weight? Yup. Does that mean it is forever? Nope. Your nutrition should change based on what “season” you are in. Getting ready to go on vacation? Cool, let’s do an active weight loss. Getting ready to compete in a sport? Cool, let’s make sure we are fueled to adapt and recover.