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Saturday, August 17, 2013

My #1 Secret to Getting Lean and Muscular… In the Bedroom

Sleep more; weigh less
Several months ago a top client began stumbling in 10 minutes late to our sessions with some lame excuses. Suddenly she wasn’t performing at peak capacity, she complained about gaining fat, and her sex life was virtually non-existent.

I had trained her for years so I knew this wasn’t like her. Upon closer inspection, I learned she was doing
everything correctly. Her food journal showed clean eating: a low-sugar protein shake for breakfast followed by optimal protein, good fats, fiber, and leafy greens at every meal. She wasn’t abusing caffeine or alcohol, nor did she struggle with any stressful life situation. She used professional-quality twice-daily packets, and testing showed nutrient deficiencies weren’t a problem.

Regardless, I watched her get worse. She struggled during our hour sets even though I wasn’t training her any harder; she simply didn’t have the stamina to keep up. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t building muscle, and when I measured, her body fat had increased nearly two percent.

Then she dropped a bomb. “I used to sleep a solid seven hours every night,” she complained. “During the last month I’m lucky to get five.” She wasn’t partying or working late hours; she just couldn’t get to sleep, and when she finally did, she would awaken three or four times during the night.

Talk about an a-ha! moment for us both.

The Practical Consequences of Poor Sleep

Like most people, my client didn’t make the connection between sleep and fat gain, muscle building, and low libido.

What we do know is a poor night sleep’s next-day repercussions, beginning when you curse your alarm as you realize you’re already half an hour behind schedule. You grab a Red Bull from the fridge and reluctantly acknowledge breakfast won’t make this morning’s agenda.

As you swing into Starbucks, you realize you forgot to grab that Cobb salad from last night. Along with your venti dark roast, you sheepishly order a low-fat blueberry muffin. You need a little sugar to get your brain going, right?

You stumble into work muttering a lame apology to your boss, who’s left a pile of paperwork on your desk. Dammit, it’s only 9:30 and you’re already stressed. An hour later, the waft of your coworker’s famous banana walnut crumb cake fills the office and you reason one little slice will pull you through lunch.

Except that lunch doesn’t come quickly enough and you’re hungry again, which leads you to snap at the new receptionist as she asks you the umpteenth annoying question. Your assistant announces he’s doing a coffee run. You slip him a five and ask him to pick up a raisin cinnamon bagel with your French roast.

That sugar/ caffeine fiasco continues throughout your workday. When 5 p.m. finally rolls around, you’re too tired to hit the gym and decide instead to make it an early night with a drive-thru double cheeseburger and Friends reruns. Tomorrow, you resolve, will be a better day because you’ll slumber solidly tonight.

Except that you don’t, and a vicious cycle develops.

The Hormonal Consequences of Poor Sleep

Underlying this fateful scenario are numerous hormonal imbalances and other complications. Simply put, too little sleep knocks your body out of whack. Let’s briefly look at how that might play out.

You know that recovery is a huge aspect for optimal muscle building. When you don’t sleep well, your body doesn’t reach its full muscle synthesis and recovery potential. You also make less growth hormone (HGH), that fabulous fountain-of-youth hormone that helps maintain strong muscle and a lean physique.

In fact, numerous hormones suffer with poor sleep. Hang with me as I discuss a few key players here.

Insulin is a biggie. You see, every time you eat a sugary muffin or a bowl of pasta you raise your blood sugar. Insulin swoops in to pull your blood sugar down, but it often over-compensates and pulls your blood sugar down too low. Cravings and hunger often result. Let’s put it this way: those cravings aren’t for wild salmon and broccoli!

Insulin is a storage hormone. Guess what it stores really well? Yup: fat. Keep your insulin elevated and you become a chronic fat-storing machine.

Glucagon, a hormone that releases fat from fat cells (in other words, a lean body’s best friend!), gets shoved in the backseat as insulin slams those fat-cell doors shut.

How does this tie in with sleep? Well, lack of sleep also elevates insulin levels. In fact, one study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed just one night’s poor sleep could knock insulin out of whack to pave the way for insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.

Now, I don’t want you freaking out and thinking you’re doomed if you only got five hours’ sleep last night. I’m simply trying to show the vast ramifications of not getting sufficient slumber.

Another keep player in sleep management is your stress hormone cortisol, which should be highest in the morning and gradually lower throughout the day. Numerous culprits keep your cortisol levels revved up all day. Gulping coffee and energy drinks can do it. So can exercising too late in the day, eating sugar, and maintaining high stress levels. In every case, sleep takes the hit.

Countless other hormones also become out of whack with too little sleep. Leptin, a hormone that tells your brain to stop eating, gets crowded out by your hunger hormone ghrelin, which tells your brain to EAT… NOW! (Yes, ghrelin is a diva and definitely a screamer.) Simply put: you’re more likely to nose-dive into the deep-dish with high ghrelin levels.

I could go on, but you get my point. Too little sleep can do more than make you a miserable, cranky coworker and girlfriend (although as we know, it sure as hell can do that too!). Eventually too little sleep triggers a vicious cycle of overeating, over-caffeinating, and under-sleeping that leaves you fat, chronically tired, and unable to build muscle.

“But I’m Doing Everything Correctly…”

Let’s go back to my client who was eating perfectly, supplementing wisely, working out with a challenging trainer (that would be me!), and yet couldn’t reach gains and losses where she wanted.

I focused on hindrances that impede sleep, and within a week my client noticed a dramatic difference. She didn’t need that second cup of coffee to get moving, she no longer craved sugar, and best of all, I started noticing muscle development for the first time in a while.

That next week we measured and she had lost three percent body fat. She felt better than she had in ages. And sex with her boyfriend… Well, let’s just say neither of them had any complaints.

“Welcome back!” I jokingly told her. “No joke,” she replied. “I feel like a completely different woman.”

Step-by-Step Sleep Repair

I’ve seen time and again how lack of sleep can hinder peak performance in nearly every area. I wrote a blog several weeks ago about our over-caffeinated, energy-drink gulping society.  I often see this with my own clients (well, until I tell them otherwise!), who are often very successful but attempt to squeeze numerous tasks into their already-full day at the expense of sleep.

In all but the toughest cases, I’ve developed detailed strategies to help these hard-working folks finally get a great night’s sleep. What a difference it makes in the gym, with their measurements, and yes, in the bedroom.

Next week I’ll share these same strategies with you to get your best night’s sleep, even if you’ve been struggling for weeks or months. Even if you are sleeping soundly, you can’t afford to miss this blog. Stay tuned!

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Fitness expert and strength 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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