We want strong, healthy bodies. We all want to be energetic and productive. BUT…. daily life often obscures the path to achieving our physical goals. In this article, I will discuss highly effective, yet SIMPLE modifications to your lifestyle that will maximize the potency of your workouts and take your results to the next level.
H2O — the fundamental, life-giving compound. Virtually no relevant biological process is unaided by the presence of water, so adequate hydration is ABSOLUTELY critical for athletic performance. My recommendation: put lots and lots of water into your body. Get into the habit of drinking enough water to fill your stomach when you wake up every morning. You will instantly feel rejuvenated and alert, and doing so will kickstart your hydration for the day. In an excerpt from Sport Nutrition (2009), as little as 2% dehydration of one’s total body weight can reduce training capacity by 10%. Imagine going in for a hard training session and taking 10% off the top of your squat triples or your mile time. If you’re serious about progress, this is not an affordable reduction in productivity. Naturally, attempting to determine the extent of dehydration in real time is invasive and cumbersome, so here’s a useful rule of thumb: If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated and sacrificing performance.
One way this occurs is by a reduction in blood volume and an increase in viscosity. As the volume of plasma decreases and blood thickens, the body’s ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to muscles is impaired. Another somewhat more obvious way dehydration inhibits performance is by increasing core temperature. Work capacity is highly contingent upon the body’s ability to keep itself cool. A disruption in this process is detrimental to sustained cardiopulmonary and metabolic output. Finally, dehydration increases the rate of glycogen use. Glycogen is fast-acting, carbohydrate-derived energy stored in skeletal muscles (and in the liver) consumed during quick bursts of intense movement. With depleted glycogen stores, the ability to perform work between 60% and 90% of maximal intensity is severely compromised. If you want to put in effective, high-quality work, it is imperative that you hydrate gratuitously.
Also note that if you are an avid coffee-drinker (like myself), caffeine is a diuretic and as such causes your body to lose fluids. The more caffeine you consume, the more water you will require to make up this deficit.
For as long as I’ve been involved in fitness, I’ve encountered an absurd, albeit somehow prevailing myth that muscle gains are lost during sleep. Let’s go ahead and plant this flag early and where everyone can see it: apart from properly nourishing your body and engaging in work to elicit the desired adaptation, getting plenty of restful sleep is the single most important thing you can do to promote recovery and advance athletic development.
In an article published by the NSCA in February of 2016, Geoff J.G. Marshall and colleagues explain that the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and other anabolic hormones peaks during the deep stages approaching REM sleep.
Sleep experts estimate that adequate rest for an active adult male may increase levels of free testosterone by up to 300%. Now, if you’re the guy who grinds through the work week, parties on the weekend, averages 5 – 6 hours of sleep per night, wants to make gains in the gym, and considers “hormone replacement therapy” because your T-levels are below average; I may have a solution for you. Set aside extra time and prioritize 8 – 9 hours of deep, quality rest. There is simply no substitute.
In addition, melatonin acts as an antioxidant helping to prevent inflammation and oxidative stress, and promotes immune function by engaging the nervous and endocrine systems.
3. Dietary Fat
In recent years, an abundance of truth has been revealed on the topic of dietary fat, and people are likening to the fact that it is not the health hazard it was once thought to be; in fact, quite the opposite. It is now a well-subscribed guideline by sports nutrition experts that approximately 30% of an active person’s caloric intake should be from fat. The primary performance-related contributions of dietary fat are maintenance of healthy, supple soft tissue (tendons, cartilage, muscles, skin, etc.) and homeostasis in the production of hormones. Lipids are not only a source of energy utilized by the oxidative system during aerobic activity, they are the very substrate from which hormones are synthesized. Bottom line: without sufficient fat intake, your body lacks the necessary building materials to manufacture chemical messengers that elicit growth.
Most (legal) testosterone boosting supplements claim to increase free testosterone up to about 25%. Depending on the starting quantity and quality of an athlete’s lipid intake, one can expect to see similar results by simply modifying their macronutrient ratios to allow for more fat from “clean” sources. Some excellent sources of healthy fats are avocados, flax seeds, various nuts and coconut oil (hang tight, I’ll get to it). Even animal-based fats can be highly beneficial, such as dairy from grass-fed cows, high-quality fish/krill oil, egg yolks from healthy, pasture-raised chickens, etc. If you’re concerned about the sheer volume of fatty foods to get your 30%, don’t be! Fat is more than twice as calorically dense as carbs and protein (9 kcal per gram as opposed to 4 kcal per gram), so you can consume the same calories in less than half the quantity.
Regarding coconut oil: It’s a sad day when the American Heart Association must be taken with a grain of salt (speaking of salt, did you know that pink Himalayan salt is packed with an abundance of minerals that support hydration? Spam it on your food. See point 1). Onnit Academy recently published a comprehensive breakdown of the underlying context of the AHA publication defaming coconut oil as an unhealthy fat source. Here is a link to the article: https://www.onnit.com/academy/the-truth-about-coconut-oil/
Whatever source of dietary fat you prefer to consume, it’s a safe bet that you could use a bit more of it and have only positive performance and aesthetic results to show. As with all your food, the less processed, the better.
Finally, we come to the least popular piece of performance advice that any coach can recommend: spend less of your free time sitting down. I realize this seems trivially easy to suggest and cumbersome to apply, but it is vital that we understand the processes at play and how to counter their adverse effects. The foundation of this understanding is to know that no matter what you’re doing, your body is becoming better at it. Precisely the same physiological processes that allow muscles/tendons to tolerate greater ranges of motion through stretching and that cause muscles to become larger and stronger through progressive overload, also cause a sedentary body to adapt to the specific “demands” of maintaining a seated position for prolonged periods of time. Atrophy deteriorates the posterior chain, the hips become stiff and immobile, the spine succumbs to chronic flexion, the scapulae freeze over and through compensatory movement habits, the plague of rigidity radiates distally throughout the extremities.
Dr. Kelly Starrett released a book in 2016 called ‘Deskbound’ which has tremendously advanced the accessibility of relevant information on this topic. In this book, he cites the work of specialized scholars and researchers in this field and helps to reveal the extent of peril associated with an overtly sedentary lifestyle, and has detailed recommendations to correct movement dysfunction. I cannot speak highly enough of this book and I recommend it to anyone interested in optimizing posture and basic locomotive mechanics.
Standing up all the time is obviously not the most practical remedy, so experts advise that for every 30 minutes spent sitting, 2 minutes should be spent mobilizing. This may be as simple as getting up to walk around or as methodical as a top-down resistance/mobility circuit targeting the aforementioned problem areas. As sitting-related habits are adequately addressed, mobility and performance will reliably scale upward.
- Proper hydration will facilitate delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles, improve regulation of core temperature, and maximize the efficiency of glucose utilization. Reduce intake of all other fluids in favor of water, and consume more than you need.
- Quality sleep drastically increases levels of human growth hormone and testosterone, the most important endocrine contributors to muscle growth and repair. 8 hours is your new minimum.
- Dietary fats provide the essential materials to produce and regulate hormones and keep joints healthy. Try to get 30% of your total calories from a variety of clean, healthy fats.
- Sitting is the bane in your gain train. Spend less time sitting down and mobilize two minutes for every half hour you spend seated.
It is important that these recommendations be applied consistently as lifestyle changes, not simply seen as temporary fixes for periods of significant fatigue. Total implementation of these changes into your routine will result in considerable strides in your ability to perform at a higher level. I hope those who read find this entry useful and enjoy the monumental improvements in training and daily life that await. Until next time, in the unadulterated pursuit of vitality
~Joe Groves CSCS(f)
- Starrett, K. (2016). Deskbound: Sitting Is the New Smoking. Victory Belt Publishing.
- Starrett, K. (2015). Becoming a supple leopard: The ultimate guide to resolving pain, preventing injury, and optimizing athletic performance.
- Marshall, MSc, CSCS, G. J., & Turner MSc, CSCS*D, A. N. (n.d.). The Importance of Sleep for Athletic Performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 38(1). Retrieved from https://www.nsca.com/uploadedFiles/NSCA/Resources/PDF/Education/Articles/NSCA_Classics_PDFs/importance_of_sleep_for_athletic_performance.pdf
- National Strength & Conditioning Association (U.S.), Campbell, B. I., & Spano, M. A. (2011). NSCA’s guide to sport and exercise nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- NSCA Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) Report, & Stavinoha MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, T. (n.d.). Hydration and Electrolyte Considerations for Tactical Athletes. Retrieved from https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/tsac-report/hydration_and_electrolyte_considerations/