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Friday, July 6, 2012

How to Break a Fitness Plateau-Part I

You’ve been working out for…not months, years!  You read all the magazines, talk about workout trends with your friends and you're always trying a new diet.  You’re well-educated in this area and you feel like you’re doing everything right.  But your body isn’t changing and/or you’re not getting stronger and you don’t know why.  You know there’s nothing medically wrong with you yet, you’ve reached a plateau.  It happens to every “gym athlete” at some point.  So what can you do to get “unstuck” and move forward with your training program, to start seeing results again?  Here are five suggestions that will help; and they will work-IF you do them!  
  • Eat more protein -Most people have no idea how much protein they’re really getting because they don’t (or won’t) keep a food journal.  Protein should be the cornerstone of all your meals; the rest of your meal should be built around that protein source.  Protein is satiating (keeps you fuller longer), helps build muscle tissue (the more of which you have, the more fired up your metabolism will be), and does not promote water retention (unlike some macronutrients I know.)  Yogurt has protein.  Nuts have protein.  But are they good sources of protein, the kind that the  body will use to help you get stronger and leaner? No. Stick to clean, lean sources of protein such as organic chicken, wild fish, lean cuts of steak, turkey, water packed tuna, omega-3 eggs, or a high quality professional grade whey protein powder such as Chocolate Whey Protein Isolate by Thorne Research.  Add a small amount of starchy carb (brown rice, yam, beans) and a heaping helping of leafy green veggies-and now you're talking! 
  • Drink more water -I sound like a broken record with this but if only people understood the importance of drinking water! Back in February of this year, I wrote a post about the importance of drinking water, and here are some of the reasons I gave for doing so: Water is critical to the health and youthful appearance of our skin.  It helps control appetite, assists with processes that metabolize fat and helps lessen fluid retention by relieving the body’s need to hold onto water.  It flushes out toxins that are stored in fat tissue and released into the bloodstream when fat is metabolized. It improves energy metabolism, lubricates joints (research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers), and it serves as a way to bring vitamins, minerals and other nutrients into cells, assisting with digestion, absorption, transportation and use of those nutrients.  Water ensures the elimination of toxins and wastes and contributes to proper body temperature and energy production.  All these factors have a synergistic effect on training, recovery, and creating the proper environment in which your body can burn fat and build muscle.
  • Cut down on starchy carbs -In spite of what you may have heard, carbs, in and of themselves are not evil! No one should look at carbohydrates as the food of the devil but, as with anything, some choices are better than others-and it ultimately IS all about choices.  You want to cut carbs down; not out. Vegetables for instance, are carbohydrates.  Then again, so are donuts (with a hefty amount of “damaged” fat fried right into them.)  This is why those who say a calorie is a calorie or, that maintaining a healthy weight is based on a simple mathematical equation of calories in/calories out are not looking at the whole picture. Who amongst us believes you can maintain your weight by eating donuts if you "just don’t eat too many?"  Calories count.  But where they come from counts more.  Keep away from the bagels, cookies, desserts, pretzels, chips, French fries, and yes, donuts.  A half a bagel or a cookie every now and then will not do too much damage, it’s true.  But most people “can’t eat just one” and every now and then soon becomes daily. So you’re better off not having temptation in the immediate vicinity (if you know what I mean.)  To move your fitness to another level, your diet has to be in sync with your training.  Just as there is no crying in baseball, you can’t out train a bad diet.  Healthy starch choices such as yams, artichokes, brown rice, beans, oatmeal, and fruit are all part of a good or “effective,” diet, if you will-(when kept to small portions-about half a cup.)  Starchy carbs are needed for sustained energy and mental clarity and even fat loss IF you choose healthy choices and eat them in small amounts.
  • Sleep -There is nothing complicated about this.  When you sleep, your body repairs and recovers from your training.  It also goes about the business of maintaining normal bodily functions related to muscle growth, cell turnover and renewal, detoxification of the body’s natural waste products and so much more. When it comes to sleep, the most important consideration for those focused on improving athletic performance and physical appearance is what happens hormonally during this time.  There are many different types of hormones in the body.  The ones that serious exercisers and athletes are the most concerned with are the hormones responsible for “building” muscle (anabolic) vs. “breaking down” (catabolic) muscle. Growth hormone and testosterone are the primary anabolic hormones affecting muscle strength and growth and are secreted in the greatest amount during very high intensity exercise and/or during sleep.  Both men and women also need testosterone to complete these functions.  Growth hormone secretion begins to decline after the age of about twenty so you can see that the older you are, the less of it you make. To maximize its potential, so to speak, 7-9 hours of sleep is essential.  When the sleep process is interrupted (by getting any less than 7 hours of sleep per night), it’s then easy to see what can happen to your progress in the gym.
         To be continued...

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Fitness expert and integrative performance coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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