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Lack of Sleep: It Affects Your Brain & Your Training

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This post is going to cover the ins and outs of sleep deprivation, looking at how it affects your brain, and then how a lack of sleep can also impact your training. We’ve all been there, the odd late night or early morning; but there comes a point during that day where it instantly catches up with you and you remember just how little sleep you’ve actually had.

There are many, many effects that a lack of sleep can cause, ranging from general productivity loss, to your wider health and general well-being. Of course, it goes without saying that without the correct and proper sleep, we cannot perform as normal, but just how much of an impact can inadequate sleep really have on the body?

 

The Effects of Insufficient Sleep on the Brain

Are you sitting down? If not, you might want to for this next piece of information. A recent study, conducted just last year (2017) in Italy, revealed that depriving yourself of sleep can result in your brain cells consuming parts of their own synapses.

These brain cells are also known as astrocytes and it their primary responsibility to get rid of the worn-out cells, However, following a period of sleep deprivation, these cells actually eat the brains synapses. Another significant effect of sleep deprivation on the brain is a sharp increase in anxiety and anger. This is because the amygdala which is a specific part of the brain that is responsible for controlling emotions is also heavily impacted as well. This results in the generation of a more emotionally charged response when we are faced with negative stimulation, it makes staying in control of your emotions even more of a challenge.

And, it doesn’t end there...

There is another part of the brain that is severely affected by a lack of sleep. This has another interesting name, and its called the Hippocampus. This is essentially what controls your ability to store new memories. I’m sure you can relate to this; it is the reasons why it is very hard to take on new information and retain that information when you are tired or haven’t slept well the night before.

Everything from problem solving, controlling emotions, making decisions, and remembering information is affected when you do not get enough sleep.

While everyone is different, and some people suggest they can survive on just 4-5 hours per night; there are others who feel they need between 7-9 hours per night in order to get enough rest. The optimal amount of sleep has not been clinically defined, but for most people, around 7-9 hours is the average accepted count.

 

How A Lack of Sleep Impacts Your Training

Getting the right amount of sleep is vital when it comes to your training regime. With enough, your performance, results, and recovery are all going to be affected.

It goes without saying that there are always going to be occasions where you simply cannot get the required 7-9 hours. However, if this starts to occur more frequently, and even takes on form as a regular occurrence, you will find that your levels of energy are unable to be sustained, you will have less motivation, and your recovery rate will be much slower.

Metabolism

If you don’t get enough sleep, your body will produce less of a specific hormone called leptin. Leptin is a key hormone that helps you to feel full; with less of this in your body you are more likely to want to eat more, thus thwarting your chances of keeping your weight under control. According to scientific research, another hormonal consequence of not sleeping is enough is the increase it will cause to your levels of ghrelin, and this will actually make you want to eat more. The overriding result of both these factors is weight gain.

Energy and Motivation

It goes without saying that sustaining energy and motivation without sleep is tough. Your workout will be restricted if you are deprived of sleep, which can seriously hamper your progress. Just a single night of sleep deprivation has been scientifically proven to affect your anaerobic abilities for up to 36 hours following that period of inadequate sleep. Energy levels are also impaired as a result and your peak of energy following a period of sleep deprivation will be much lower than normal.

Muscle Strength and Repair

By not getting enough sleep, you will limit your progress. During a normal night’s sleep, a growth hormone that strengthens your muscles and bones is released into your body. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will significantly reduce the availability of this hormone in the body, which negatively affects the body’s natural ability to recover and repair the muscles. Don’t underestimate the importance of the Human Growth Hormone; without it, you will limit your ability to lift weights and recover easily following intense workouts.

Performance

Last, but by no means least, is physical performance. As I have already covered, both motivation and energy are both affected by inadequate sleep. However, one of the biggest impacts is on performance. The easiest way to explain this is to provide you with a tangible study that was conducted at Stanford University, the results of which were measured over a 2-4 week period Basketball players were asked to increase their sleep time to ten hours per night, compared to their normal average of 6-8 hours. After sleeping more, their recorded times for sprinting increased significantly. The accuracy was also improved with a demonstrated increased of almost 10% which came about as a result of their sharper focus and enhanced levels of concentration.

 

As you can see, insufficient sleep can really wreak havoc on the body, both mentally and physically.

It also goes a few steps further by speeding up the aging process, it can cause depression, and impact the immune system, which as we know all too well, can also affect your ability to train hard and stay fit.

In quick summary, skipping sleep just isn’t worth it. It is just as important to your health and wellbeing as what you eat, and how much you exercise.

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How To Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity

I’m sure by now you’ve probably heard the term ‘insulin resistance’, or maybe even ‘insulin sensitivity’. If not, no problems, let me run over it for the folks who don’t know. Insulin resistance is associated with elevated levels of insulin circulating throughout your body, followed by an intolerance for glucose, if left ignored this can eventually lead to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. So essentially it’s your body losing the ability to effectively control, use, and store glucose.

Here are some of the symptoms of insulin resistance:
- PCOS;
- Inability to lose weight;
- High blood pressure;
- Fluid retention (looking ‘puffy’ due to insulin signalling to your kidneys to hang on to sodium and water. This can be seen with swollen ankles, fingers, or abdomen, and even a ‘puffy’ area under your jawline);
- Elevated blood sugar levels;
- Fat storage in the abdominal area;
- Acne;
- (In women) male-pattern baldness; and/or
- Cravings for sugar/high-carb foods, and a constant feeling of hunger.
Remember this is not a diagnosis, and you should never self-diagnose. If these symptoms seem familiar, please request to have tests done by your healthcare professional.

Insulin is not the bad guy though! Insulin is what tells your body to absorb sugars and use them for energy, and balances your blood glucose levels. High levels of glucose in your blood will be sent to your liver for storage. So when the body has insulin resistance, your cells are responding in an abnormal way. Glucose is inhibited from entering the cells with ease, and it begins to build up in the blood.

From having insulin resistance myself I’ve done a lot of research on methods you can use to improve your body’s insulin sensitivity. I’ll list them below, and I’ve also included all my references at the bottom of this article if you’d like to read the full journal studies.

 

INOSITOL

Inositol is a supplement which is frequently used for treating metabolic syndromes, gestational diabetes, and PCOS. D-chiro-inositol (ie. Inositol) and myo-inositol are able to mimic the effects of insulin, and help your body better absorb the glucose for use, rather than sending it straight to storage. Studies have shown that after three months of myo-inositol treatment HbA1c (Glycated hemoglobin, which is a form of hemoglobin that is measured primarily to identify the three-month average plasma glucose concentration) levels and fasting blood glucose levels had significantly decreased compared to their initial readings (Pintaudi, 2016). Both myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol showed the ability to mimic insulin in animals and humans.

 

CINNAMON

My naturopath has instructed me to take 1 teaspoon of cinnamon per day, as 1 teaspoon of cinnamon has a very similar effect to one dosage of Metformin. Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug used for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon has been show to reduce insulin resistance, lower blood glucose levels, lower lipid levels, decrease inflammation, increase antioxidant activity, decrease body weight, and increase the utilisation of proteins throughout the body in both human and animal studies (Qin, 2010). Cinnamon extracts increased insulin activity more than 20-fold, making the body’s insulin efficient again.

 

BLUEBERRIES

Randomised, double-blinded and placebo-controlled studies on obese and insulin-resistant subjects have shown that incorporating 22.5g of blueberry bioactives into the daily diet insulin sensitivity was increased, with no inflammation, and no changes to the overall daily energy consumption by the participants (Stull, 2010). Blueberries have demonstrated the ability to increase the uptake of glucose into the bloodstream. This is largely believed to be due to their antioxidant properties.

 

CHROMIUM

As early as the 1850s studies have shown that chromium is essential to the human body for the effective metabolism of glucose. Many diets do not contain the adequate amount of chromium, and when your body has lowered levels of Chromium, it requires even higher levels of insulin to effectively use glucose (Anderson, 2003). There are many factors involved in insulin sensitivity, and chromium is just one of those, unfortunately there is still no test available to truly determine if you have chromium deficiency. Chromium should not be self-medicated. If your healthcare professional is treating you for insulin resistance try to make sure at least one of your supplements has chromium in it.

 

SLEEP

An inappropriate amount of sleep is associated with the incorrect use and storage of glucose in the body (Buxton, 2010). Sleep restriction to a maximum of 5 hours per night for only 1 week was shown to significantly reduce the ability of insulin to function correctly.

 

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

HIIT exercise has shown the ability to lower blood glucose levels, increase fitness levels, increase the body’s basal metabolic rate (rate at which is burns energy), and increase insulin sensitivity (Marcinko, 2015). In clinical trials HIIT has improved insulin sensitivity, regardless of the body weight of participant. You can download My HIIT Guide training program from here.

 

MAINTAINED WEIGHT LOSS

If you’ve lost weight, this is even more incentive to keep it off, rather than returning back to your old habits. Overweight or obese women who maintained at least a 15% reduction in their body weight over 12-18 months have shown to have improved insulin sensitivity, rather than those who gained their lost weight back (Clamp, 2017). The opposite also reflected, with those who gained the weight back showing signs of decreased insulin sensitivity.

 

REDUCING EXCESS FRUCTOSE CONSUMPTION (Ditch the added sugars)

Standard diets now have shown a 26% increase in consumption of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup compared to the standard diet in 1970 (Elliott, 2002). This is a result of the increase in added sugars to many foods, and there is major concern regarding the impact of health of diets that contain a large amount of free sugars (fructose particularly). Recent human studies (within the past 5 years) show a clear and direct link between changes in metabolic activity and high fructose intake. Fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion, and also does not increase the production of leptin, which play a major role in the regulation of energy expenditure and metabolism of sugars, as mentioned previously (Grant, 1980). The lack of insulin and leptin stimulation can then lead to weight gain, causing more issues for the subject.


References

Anderson RA 2003, ‘Chromium and insulin resistance’, Nutrition Research Reviews, vol. 16, pp. 267-275.

Buxton OM et al 2010, ‘Sleep restriction for 1 week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men’, Diabetes, vol. 59, no. 9, pp. 2126-2133.

Clamp LD et al 2017, ‘Maintained weight loss for 1 year increases insulin sensitivity in women’, Nutr Diabetes.

Elliott SS et al 2002, ‘Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 76, no. 5, pp. 911-922.

Grant AM, Christie MR & Ashcroft SJ 1980, ‘Insulin release from human pancreatic islets in vitro’, Diabetologia, vol. 19, pp. 114-117.

Kleefstra N, Bilo HJ, Bakker SJ & Houweling ST 2004, ‘Chromium and insulin resistance’, Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde, vol. 148, no. 5, pp. 217-220.

Marcinko K et al 2015, ‘High intensity interval training improves liver and adipose tissue insulin sensitivity’, Molecular Metabolism, vol. 4, no. 12, pp. 903-915.

Pintaudi B, Di Vieste G & Bonomo M 2016, ‘The effectiveness of myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol treatment in type 2 diabetes’.

Qin B, Panickar KS & Anderson R 2010, ‘Cinnamon: Potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes’, J Diabetes Sci Technology, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 685-693.

Stull AJ et al 2010, ‘Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant mem and women’, The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 140, no. 10, pp. 1764-1768.

Wilcox G 2005, ‘Insulin and insulin resistance’, Clinical Biochem Rev., vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 19-39.

Woods SC, Chavez M & Park CR, et al 1996, ‘The evaluation of insulin as a metabolic signal influencing behavior via the brain’, Neurosci Biobehav, vol. 20, pp. 139-144.

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Not Seeing Results from your Training Program? Here's Why


 

Written by Matt Stuhmcke

Eat Run Lift's strength training & female fitness coach. Matt is available as a specialist trainer both in studio and online.
Learn more about Matt here>
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How many times have you decided to start working out, then given up because you didn’t get the results you wanted?

Here is the hard truth about why it happens.

1. You don’t really have a program!

It’s all well and good to head into the gym, set up at home or in the park and do a workout. If that's what you’re doing then well done, I am already proud of you! But how much are you really getting out of just doing what you feel like on the day, are you progressing? 

If you are training already, you probably want it all. You want to lose weight and maybe see some abs, get stronger and lift some heavy weights... all at the same time. It's definitely possible, but it's not going to happen without some forethought. How does one workout affect the next? Is my focus on cardio affecting my strength training or vice versa? And at the end of the day, how does everything I do affect my ultimate goal?

Which brings me to my next point...
 

2. You don’t actually have a goal!

Now this one seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many people I talk to don't have a specific goal they want to work towards. Focus on the word specific in that sentence. Saying your goal is something like “be healthy”, “lose weight” or “get stronger” is a good start, but you need to go further and think about specifics.

The key to a successful training program is creating an achievable and specific goal. Anyone can “lose weight’ or ‘get stronger’, but how much weight exactly?  Where do you want be stronger? Do you want to barbell squat your bodyweight, do a set of chin ups un-assisted or be able to do push-ups from your feet. These are all specific and measurable goals, but it's not just down to that, you need to think about when, or how quickly, you want to achieve your goal. Maybe you want to look amazing in the outfit for your best friends birthday, or have an awesome summer body. Whatever the reason may be, having a date set out will provide you that extra push to achieve the goal.

By creating a specific goal, and a specific time frame, you can customise any training program to get you there as quickly and efficiently as possible. This brings us to number 3 on the list….


3. You’re scared of pushing yourself.

I’ll be the first to admit that training can be scary. Some people might be scared of the weights, for others it’s a fear of failure. Regardless of your fear, learning to embrace, and push past it will be the best thing you can do to ensure you improve in your training. There are many different strategies to overcoming your fear, whether it's a daily reminder of your goals on your phone or a note on your mirror so it's the first thing you see in the morning. Any reminder that keeps the ‘WHY’ in the forefront of your mind will be your most powerful tool.

Everyone has fear, and each person deals with it in their own way. Just don’t let it stop you. If you can accept the fear for what it is…an emotion, and continue to work towards your goals, then you will overcome it; you will beat it.


4. You don’t have the right knowledge or motivation.

You have set your goal, you know where you want to finish, but you don’t know how to get there. So you keep doing the same things. You need some extra knowledge and motivation to help you get there. You're lucky though, the world we live in today means that information is literally in your pocket all day. You can check out different resources like blogs, journal articles, “how to” videos or get the help of the people putting that information out there.

This is exactly why we designed our Eat Run Lift online coaching system – a tailored program from a fitness specialist that you can trust (I am one of the Eat Run Lift specialists offering online coaching, you can email me directly through here if you'd like to learn more). An online coach will create a program to suit your goals and how you like to train, while providing the knowledge to guide you through new exercises and training styles, and keep you on track and motivated. We believe everyone should have access to the same amount of care and commitment when it comes to their health and fitness. We’re here to help you to overcome any limitation, any obstacle that has been holding you back. Your trainer should feel more like a coach, a mentor, a friend - someone who takes time to take into account your health, your fitness and your lifestyle. Your biggest commitment in life should be your health and fitness, so you should feel certain that your coach is there for you, with all the same service you would experience at our Brisbane studio.

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High Calorie Does Not Equal Unhealthy

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A common event we see take place when people start a new training or exercise program, or start adjusting their diet, is that they often opt for low calorie foods. From a young age the media, people around us, and even the education system have told us that calories (and counting them daily) is a way to stay on top of what you're eating, or a way to lose weight. "Low calorie" is a selling point on the labels of products you'll commonly see in the grocery store. While yes, it's true that a caloric surplus over an extended period of time can cause weight gain, most people don't realise that they simply aren't eating enough (for some, this can be noticed by bad cravings or wanting to binge eat).

After a few weeks of eating a low calorie diet a change will take place in your body. Your metabolism will begin to slow and your weight loss will plateau. In this situation it is common for people to cut calories again to see more weight loss. After a few months you may begin to find yourself getting fatigue, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea and even gallstones. If you still continue to stay on a low calorie diet after a few months you may see more serious side-effects, such as extremely low blood pressure, swelling of the joints, trouble concentrating, anaemia, brittle fingernails, potassium deficiency, heart abnormalities, and depression.

Often diet plans or online advice will tell women to opt for calorie ranges as low as "1200-1400" (note: depending on your height, age, sex 1200 cal/day may be acceptable for your body). We've also noticed that apps such as MyFitnessPal will generally set your "calorie goal" for the day at 1200, as standard. Calories are not something you should be overly worried about, just something to check in on from time to time; you should be more concerned about the type of foods you are eating. 500 calories of vegetables will not have the same impact on your body as 500 calories of a doughnut. Often, a correctly calculated and sustainable caloric intake will be higher than you think, you'd be surprised how difficult it can be some days to get enough calories in of the right foods (especially if you're someone who eats a plant-based diet). The Get Lean: Nutrition Guide offers a full explanation and way to calculate your daily caloric intake if you're unsure what it really is.

I have compiled a list of some calorie-dense healthy foods to help ensure that you're not under-eating!

Note: some of these foods you simply would not eat '100G' of, this is just to keep the measurement standard.

Note: some of these foods you simply would not eat '100G' of, this is just to keep the measurement standard.

If you'd like to learn more, grab your copy of the Nutrition Guide, or subscribe to the blog so we can keep in touch!

 
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12 Reasons You Aren't Seeing Results From Workouts

If you have been working out or dieting and haven't seen any results whatsoever it's time to assess what you are doing and why nothing is happening. There can be many causes for results to not occur to it's important to figure out what is relative to you and how you can fix it. Being stuck at the one set of measurements or body fat for an extended period of time even when you are exercising can be frustrating and upsetting, here are a few basic steps to overcome it:

 

1. Scales

Are you only weighing yourself to try and see a difference? This is not the most accurate way to track your progress. Sure, it's handy for a rough guideline, but muscle weighs more than fat. Try taking measurements or measuring your body fat percentage instead.

 

2. Overeating

Everybody is different when it comes to how much they can eat in a day. It's important to know what your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is, there are many calculators online which will help you do this. For example, I want to lose weight I need to aim to be eating around 150-200 less per day. Usually this works out well if I average it out to be 1400 less over the whole week (200 x 7), that way you can factor in your lower calorie days for your rest days, and higher calorie days for the days you do a big workout. It's important to remember that even if you are eating 'good' food your body still can't process too much of it in one go.

 

3. Under eating

The opposite end of the spectrum is under eating. Your body is burning calories regardless of whether you are lifting weights in the gym or sleeping, it needs energy to function. If you are only going to feed your body 500 calories per day and you expect it to function as per usual - it won't. If you let yourself go into starvation mode you start to slow your metabolism and you will burn less calories as your body wants to keep a hold of these just incase you don't feed it again.

 

4. Stress

If you are stressed your body kicks your sympathetic nervous system into gear, this guy is best known for controlling your stress hormones (i.e. triggering your 'fight or flight' response), which is great if you're about to be bitten by a wild animal and need to get away quickly, but if you let it run on for too long you are doing yourself more harm than good. Cortisol is responsible for fat being stored around your mid-section, particularly on your lower belly. It's important to find ways to help yourself relax, these can be yoga, meditation, breathing exercises or going for a slow walk.

 

5. Dehydration

Drinking enough water can play a huge factor in weight loss. Water promotes fullness and appetite control and minimise your craving for snacks. Having enough water in your system every day also helps your body stop retaining water (similar to the under eating principle) and you will find the more water you have regularly, the more your energy levels increase. When you have water in your system your body is also able to disperse proteins, amino acids and other vitamins and minerals more effectively. 

 

6. You're not eating healthy

Did you swap regular soft drink for the 'diet' variety, your regular butter for 'low fat' butter and replace having 3 cups of coffee a day with just 1? Chances are these are still holding you back. The difference between reduction and elimination when it comes to unhealthy foods and weight loss is absolutely incredible. Look for real food like fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains and don't drink your calories. 

 

7. You need to be more active

When I first started losing weight I thought going for 3-4 long runs a week was all I would need to do because I had lost weight that way before… wrong. It's great to get some cardio in when you are trying to cut fat, but to help keep the fat off (and burn even more) you need to train strength - and yes, this may mean you have to pick up a dumbbell to burn your carbohydrates more efficiently.

 

8. You don't eat enough fat

Sounds backwards right? Well you actually need to be consuming good fats to lose weight. You want to be aiming for monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. They help raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, improve your mood and immune system and can help give you beautiful hair, skin and nails. Easiest places to find these? Salmon, canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed, almonds, cashews, nut butters, seeds, and avocado. 

 

9. You have too many excuses

"I'm tired today so I'll just do half the set". "I'm in a bad mood so I will just eat these even though I know they're not good for me." "It's fine, I will just have an extra cheat meal this week." "It's cold so I won't go for a run". "I just won't write this down in my food dairy".  Any of these sound familiar? Stop. If you can't force yourself to stop making excuses maybe it's time to invest in a personal trainer who can help you along your journey.

 

10. Rest and recovery

When you sleep your body goes into repair mode and the proteins in your system are very active and trying to repair the tiny tears in your muscles. Proper rest and recovery ensures your body is functioning at it's optimum level and will help you have less pain the days following a workout.

 

11. Party lifestyle

The amount of calories that are in alcohol don't just contribute to your BMR for the day, but the lack of sleep will deny your body of the rest it needs. If you drink alcohol your liver is busy trying to process the toxins you have loaded it up with for up to 3 days after your night out instead of trying to process your carbohydrates, fats and proteins that are needed to sustain a regular workout. 

 

12. Hormonal imbalance

If you are following all the above steps, feel like you have exhausted all avenues and you still aren't losing weight it can be a good idea to get your thyroid or adrenal glands tested to ensure that your body is dispersing the right hormones.