posted on July 31, 2018
We mentioned months ago that we were changing the format of our blogging here at UF: a focus on longer form, more targeted posts meant to inspire you and guide you in achieving your goals. This week’s blog, from Alexa, ties together a lot of the topics we’ve been hammering this year. She gets a little deeper into the science of why we need to sleep, to eat well, and to focus. I think you’ll get a lot out of this one.
The goal of this blog is to give you some insight on how you can prepare for your next training day and also, to adopt a plan that works for you. There are three big ideas I want to touch on that I think are essential to set yourself up for success prior to training: Sleep. Nutrition. Mental preparedness. With these three, you have more than half of the battle covered.
First and foremost, let’s talk about it. Sleep and exercise are interrelated. You NEED sleep to perform your best and for recovery. And exercise can also help promote a better night’s rest. But why is sleep important? Well if you are an active individual your body DESPERATELY requires 8-10 hours of quality sleep. Getting an adequate amount of sleep for your workout tomorrow will help reduce fatigue, improve reaction time, and performance. The majority of us have goals to reach at the gym. You can train your little heart out but if you are lacking in the self-care department, you will create a vicious cycle of stops along the way.
Sleep is when we repair and build from the repetitive microfiber tears that our muscles endure during our training sessions. During sleep, hormones are released: growth hormone (see picture below), testosterone, and plenty of others. We need the release of these hormones to recover, perform at our best, and not to mention, this will in return help improve our body composition by building muscle tissue. When we neglect sleep, we are at risk for injury, impaired judgement, slow reaction time, weakened immune response, fatigue, and possibly not even making it to the gym because we are unmotivated and sleepy. Also, leptin and ghrelin are hormones that are increased when sleep is scarce. These are not hormones you constantly want circulating, for they are hunger hormones that signal our higher brain to overeat. Want to feel better, perform better, and look better? Make sleep number one.
This is a case by case variable to play around with for some. Why do I say that? Some people do well exercising within an 1-3 hours of eating…and some do not. Some people do well with glucose prior to training, some are fat-adapted, and some train fasted. However, I will give you my reasons on why eating is important and what it does.
I am sure somewhere you have heard that food is like the gas to a car. Food is our fuel.
Carbohydrates are specifically important before a workout (along with some protein). Carbohydrates are macromolecules that are broken down into smaller components (substrates) and are utilized by the cells of our working muscle tissue. We even store carbohydrates as glycogen in our muscles, however those storages are emptied after exertion. They need to be re-filled. I do not mention fat intake before training for two reasons: fat slows down absorption, meaning we need tons of extra time to breakdown and absorb them, and second, fats do not provide nearly as much energy as carbohydrates UNLESS you are in ketosis and are fat-adapted.
Some suggestions of carbohydrates to consume 1-3 hours before a workout: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, fruit, rice cakes, oatmeal. The same goes for post-workout nutrition, get in a substantial number of carbs, preferably faster digesting like white rice, white potatoes, fruit. However, add a tad more protein for your post-workout because protein is necessary for muscle growth thus, improving out muscle to fat ratio!
Having the mental preparedness to reach your fitness goals is 90% of the battle. Let’s talk about five rules to help you through the process.
Many, if not all of us have those days where we are constantly “in our heads.” Maybe not wanting to train, let alone even move…
Number one: Take a moment and recognize the thoughts. Thoughts telling us that we are too tired, weak, not in the mood, feeling like progress is slow or that it’s not even worth it to get up and move at all. Accept the stream of thoughts. Then, challenge and find what’s rational. Most of us know the “correct” answer to our thoughts. That voice inside tells us otherwise and is sometimes overpowering. Train your mind to be present. Know your plan. Prepare, but also prepare for setbacks. Take a seat and do some belly breathing. Belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) has been shown to ignite your parasympathetic system (rest and digest), decrease cortisol (stress hormone) and decrease blood pressure. All things we want kept to a minimum prior to training and post training. I know all of this is way easier said than done. I never said this was an easy task for me either. This is to be practiced every. single. day. Just like exercise, the more we do, the more we get better.
Number two: Leave out the extrinsic motivators. Build your fitness journey for you and only you. Don’t do it to prove anything or impress anyone. Motivation from outside factors will catch up eventually and hinder your journey. Motivation comes in bursts. There is a point where motivation does not exist and all we have is discipline to rely on. Discipline is the key to productivity. If you want it bad enough, regardless of your head talk, environment, etc. you will do it. And you will let VERY few excuses take precedence.
Number three: Learn to let go of the things we cannot control. It is the manner in which we react that counts. If you do this, you can make doing what you need to do (exercise) a heck of a ton easier. Exercise is stress to the body. Having multiple layers of stress exist in your head and body prior to exercise will not make things easier and can potentially hinder that day’s performance.
Number four: Have a plan. Breakdown your larger goal(s) into smaller, manageable parts. Your plan of action is to focus on today’s goal. This will make it easier to accomplish today while also alleviating stress by shifting focus off of the long term, bigger picture. Write things down and visualize your progress.
Number five: Remember your why. Why did you start your journey into fitness? Having that why at your forefront will make this journey more meaningful and allow for passion and effort to shine. Put in the time, learn and understand your actions, make sacrifices, and most of all have love for what you are doing.