In last week's article, I introduced you to Mrs. T, the busy restaurant manager who seems to have her exercise and nutritional habits completely perfect, with a rigid fitness program and sound nutritional practices. However, not only has she seen few results on the weight scale, but she is actually experiencing a disturbing increase in body fat as time progresses, which has put significant negative stress on her already stressful life. Although there really aren't really any problems with her exercise routine, Mrs. T is unaware that a combination of frequent physical activity and a hectic lifestyle can actually result in a severe catabolic effect on the body.
What do I mean by this? While some may think that the more you do and the faster your lifestyle, the "skinnier" you'll be, this is simply not the case. Exercise can result in significant muscle fiber tearing, the production of damaging free radicals in the body's tissue, and build-up of toxic metabolites. In the absence of proper recovery and adequate sleep, cortisol hormone levels become elevated and thyroid function decreases. Elevated cortisol levels decrease blood sugar stabilization, decrease utilization of fatty acids as a fuel, decrease testosterone levels, and increase deposition of adipose tissue in the waistline. Low levels of active thyroid hormone can depress your body's basal metabolic rate, or the total amount of calories you burn throughout the day. The result is not only a feeling of chronic fatigue, but also a propensity to gain fat and lose lean muscle tissue.
Combine these effects with the fact that lack of sleep can depress key neurotransmitters involved in regulation of appetite and food cravings, such as serotonin and dopamine. Furthermore, inadequate rest and recovery can decrease leptin (the "fat control" hormone) and increase ghrelin (the "eat more" hormone).
I used a word last week called "synergy", and referred to it as an optimal combination of Exercise, Nutrition, and Lifestyle. Unless all synergestic compenents are in place, results are impossible to achieve. Mrs. T is deficient in the "Lifestyle" component of synergy. As you can see, she is not only setting herself up to "plateau", and see no results from her rigid exercise and nutrition program, but she is, in fact, leading what should be considered an unhealthy lifestyle.
So let's say that Mrs. T calls me on the phone, e-mails me, or walks into my office desperate for advice on how to fix her weight gain problem. Here are my thoughts for her:
Begin by altering your exercise program to allow for more time in the day to complete your other tasks. 20 minutes of high intensity cardio combined with 20 minutes of high intensity, full body exercise is enough for the busy person to maintain a healthy, lean weight. This would be even more successful if split into a "two-a-day" type of routine.
Ensure that all your healthy snacks are prepared and packaged at the beginning of each day, so that maintaining a sound diet takes very little extra time and energy. This may mean going to your job at the restaurant with a small backpack that contains a ziplock of almonds, a cucumber/tomato wrap, one pear, one banana, and a healthy snack bar.
For optimal neurotransmitter levels, try to maintain as natural a circadian rhythm as possible with your sleep cycles. This will mean going to bed around 10 or 11pm, and rising at 5-6am, allowing for at least 7 hours of sleep, and orienting your body to a normal light-dark cycle.
Be creative with time management. Skip your daily newspaper reading and opt for an audio news podcast on your mp3 player during your cardio session. Work while you eat, such as filling in your dayplanner while you drink a fruit smoothie. Switch to loudspeaker and perform your daily stretches during phone meetings.
Ask yourself whether certain parts of your busy lifestyle are worth the weight gain and constant fight against stress and fatigue. How much are you enjoying life vs. running in a rat race?
By adopting a synergestic approach to her goals, Mrs. T can and will experience success. Often, my job as a personal trainer or coach is not to "write out the perfect exercise routine" or "recommend the ideal diet", but rather to assist in finding creative ways to achieve an optimal lifestyle for goal setting and achieving. There are often multiple components of an individual's life that simply go unnoticed as enormous barriers to success and wellness.
In last week's article, I also introduced you to a young triathlete named Flash. Despite good training, fuel replenishment and lifestyle, Flash has experience improvement in quite some time, and is, in fact, feeling fairly drained during his training routines and experiencing performance deficits in his racing. Next week, I'll tell you what Flash's problem is, and how he can fix it.