Why you aren’t making Gains like you used to… Most of us have been there at one point or another. You started off your fitness journey with great promise, enthusiasm and dedication. You made pretty good gains in shape and strength that first year or two as your body grew and adapted to the stress you put it through in the weight room, the plates of chicken, sweet potato and broccoli and the 8,9 or even 10 hours of sleep you were getting (lucky devil). Then you left school, uni/college and got a job (hopefully) in the real world. Suddenly you don't have 4 hours to lounge around in your dressing gown do food prep and watch ‘Scrubs’, you definitely aren't getting 8-10 hours of sleep a night 6-7 at best for most people. However you still managed (if you’re dedicated enough) to find the 1-2 hours a day to get to the gym and crush your session… Or do you crush it. Do you scrape through it, massively over stimulated by your third coffee of the day and post more or less the same numbers you've posted for the last 2,3,4 years? Maybe your body is starting break down through year of slightly out of alignment heavily loaded movement and zero mobility work and lack of sleep? Are you stuck in a cycle of gaining and losing the same ten pounds every year, convincing yourself that this is the year you really focus on counting your macros and being the best built//sexiest/strongest/fittest guy or girl you can be…Any of the above relevant? We will look at 1 Topic every week on how you can improve you performance at work, in your mood, and in your performance in the gym whether you are an athlete or a regular gym goer. SLEEP! Typically only 6 to 8% of an athletes time is spent training. As Strength and Conditioning coaches or Personal Trainers we know that our clients only spend 2 to 4 hours of their time with us, there are 168 hours in a week so that leave a lot of time for the athlete or client to go ‘rogue’. Nutrition and rest are keystones to peak performance. This week we will primarily be focusing on the effects of sleep deprivation. Unfortunately this side of performance is often over looked, and athletes (in this context all people are athletes) suffer from it for a number of reasons. Sleep deprivation (6 hours or less) will affect the chemicals and hormone production in your body greatly. For a start your Leptin levels will drop (this is the hormone responsible for making you feel full after eating) and your Ghrelin levels will rise ( a hormone with many purposes, one of which stimulates your appetite ) so you will be more inclined to over eat during the day, leading to unwanted weight gain. Your prefrontal cortex will also be affected (that’s the bit that deals with inhibitions, so not only are you hungry and insatiable, but you’ll be more inclined to hit the junk food hard. Which of course will affect your performance in the gym, and your body fat percentage. Your Testosterone levels will drop, significantly. Chronically sleep deprived men have shown a drop in testosterone levels equivalent to having aged 10 to 15 years. A pretty sizeable drop off for something that is well within your control. Testosterone is pivotal in maintaining and building muscle mass, strength, bone density and keeping your body fat down. It’s also responsible for your libido and sperm production in males so bear that in mind next time you pull and all-nighter at the office. I would strongly advise anyone who is weight training upwards of 3 times a week to be getting at least 7-10 hours sleep a night to maximise natural testosterone production and numerous other long-term health benefits. The question is what can you do to build good ‘Sleep Hygiene’? Here are 3 key work ons to help you get that edge. 1- Ditch the Screens! I really hope you aren't reading this in bed… IPhone screens, tablets, laptops and TVs all exude sleep wrecking blue light. This light is similar to the light your body perceives during the day time and thus makes your body produce day time hormones (i.e. cortisol). 2 hours of staring at a screen will significantly reduce your level of melatonin. Meaning it will take you longer to get to sleep and the quality of your sleep will be worse. 2- I’ll just have an Espresso… before I go to bed??? Caffeine is without a doubt the most widely used stimulant on the planet. Because it’s amazing. First of all you need to be aware that caffeine is in other consumables aside from coffee. Chocolate is a major offender (I know you hate me, Chocolate has Fat, Sugar and Caffeine!) so now you have an extra reason to skip dessert. Caffeine works by binding to adenosine receptors in your brain (adenosine is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy) so you keep moving without realising that your tired. Unfortunately your brain was designed to adapt, so simply creates more adenosine receptors to get you to realise to stop playing Playstation at 4am in the morning and go to bed, meaning you need more caffeine to operate. Now the tricky part with Caffeine is you may not realise you are losing sleep (remember sleep quality is very important), if you have caffeine in your system it is much harder for your body to reach the deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that we need, even if you slept for the same length of time. I would advise depending on sensitivity to caffeine not drinking any after 2pm, and trying to go at least 2 days a week without Coffee (now you really hate me) 3- Train! The research is undeniable, the more lean muscle you have on your body the younger you will be for longer. Muscle tissue is a gold mine of anti-ageing hormones. Lack of sleep will without a doubt make you age faster, biological markers called ‘telomeres’ cap the end of your chromosomes and keep them from fraying. While we age chunks of these telomeres are removed and cellular breakdown occurs. In other words, you age! However you can directly control this process to some extent. Sleep deprivation has been shown to be the greatest accelerator of telomere breakdown. Have you ever met someone in their mid to late twenties who looked like they were 35 going on 40? I know I have. What most of these people have in common were alcohol consumption, smoking and chronic sleep deprivation. Now how does this relate to exercise? Telomere length can also be maintained with exercise! People who exercised over a 100 minutes a week have been shown to have the telomere length of someone 5-6 years younger than someone who doesn't exercise at all. In a 5 day week that’s only 25 mins a day! Make sure that you train in the morning, this is a tough one as most people hate getting out of bed in the morning until they have to go to work. Your hormones especially Testosterone and Growth Hormone will be highest in the morning, as you've spent all night producing them in abundance! Restructure you day so that you get to bed earlier and hit the gym before work or at lunchtime. This will help you sleep better, improve your performance in the gym and at work and free up you evenings for more social activities and getting to bed on time! Right here’s the important bit. YOU MUST LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS. First of all I will qualify that statement, heavy is relative and good form must be paramount in any exercise and training program. Mobility is key and muscle imbalances must be corrected. Either through unilateral strength work or corrective stretching. However to get the best anabolic hormone response, heavy resistance is the key. Cardio and resistance bands alone will not cut it long term. For women this is particularly important. Without the aid of Strength training even if you aren’t a calorie deficit and train hard on the conditioning side of things you will lose weight but will not achieve the visual result that you are probably looking for. For example you will go from and apple or pear shape to a smaller apple or pear shape. When you combine this hard training with Strength training, your odds of going to a lean, sculpted hourglass shape are dramatically improved. Lifting weights will not make women large and bulky as they lack the hormonal cocktail in order to do so. Lifting weights will not make you big, Chocolate and wine will. Strength training at least twice a week is essential, read non-optional, if you’re a girl/guy who actually wants to make significant differences in the way you look, feel, perform (in any activity including sex) at a high level. It’s extremely important to remember that you don't get in better shape at the gym, you start the process there with hard, intense training but the building/recovery process happens while you sleep. More and better sleep is the most effective (and free) performance enhancing booster that you have in the fitness weapons rack. Good night and Good Luck!! Joe