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Friday, January 2, 2015

My #1 Strategy to Lose Weight, Build Muscle & Become Your Best Self

The best kept secret
“What’s your top strategy to get lean and muscular?” a podcast interviewer asked me several months ago. She probably expected me to excitedly describe a few cutting-edge strength-training exercises or to ditch sugary foods.

“It has nothing to do with diet or exercise,” I replied. “If you’re not getting eight hours of sleep every night, you will jeopardize even the best fitness and eating habits.”

Whatever your New Year’s health resolutions, optimal quality, uninterrupted sleep will help you get there.

You’ve experienced the over-caffeinated, sugar-fueled aftermath of even one night’s crappy sleep that leaves you snappy, on edge, tired, and mentally foggy. By 5 p.m., you’re too tired to hit the gym and call it an early night with a deep-dish pepperoni, a few light beers, and a Game of Thrones marathon.

Fat burning and muscle building
come to a grinding halt. When you don’t sleep well, you don’t reach your full muscle synthesis and recovery potential. Your body hoards rather than burns fat. A cascade of hormonal imbalances underlie those and other problems, including:

  • Growth hormone (HGH) – your body makes most of this fountain-of-youth hormone that helps maintain strong muscle and a lean physique during deep sleep. Frequent bathroom trips and light sleep mean your body isn’t making sufficient HGH amounts.
  • Insulin – studies show even one night’s poor sleep can ramp up this fat-storing master hormone. 
  • Glucagon – insulin’s sister hormone releases fat from fat cells. Sleep deprivation shoves glucagon in the backseat as insulin slams those fat-cell doors shut.
  • Cortisol – this stress hormone should be highest in the morning and gradually lower throughout the day. Caffeine, over-exercising, sugar, and too little sleep are among the numerous culprits that keep cortisol elevated past its prime.
  • Leptin and ghrelin – while leptin normally tells your brain to put the brakes on eating, your hunger hormone ghrelin drowns out that signal with too little sleep, leaving you more likely to nose-dive into the blondie brownies your coworker brought in.
This hormonal-havoc hell triggers a vicious cycle overeating, over-caffeinating, and under-sleeping, leaving you chronically tired, struggling with weight loss resistance, and unable to build muscle.

When I work with sleep-deprived clients, I focus on hindrances that impede sleep. Remove barriers like caffeine, alcohol, and that drama-creating on-again-off-again boyfriend or girlfriend, and replace them with these five strategies. In most cases, clients improve sleep quality and quantity in a week or two.

  1.  Prepare. Turn off all electronics about an hour before bed so you can gradually shift into sleep. Everyone has a different bedroom ritual. Mine includes herbal tea, soothing music, and keeping a gratitude journal that calms my mind and prepares me for sleep. Find a routine that works for you and employ it. 
  2. Train. If you can knock out a workout before office hours, great. Afternoon also become ideal, but avoid rigorous exercise too close to bed, when it can cut into precious sleep time. Really make that hour in the gym count: you want to fatigue your muscles so you hit the pillow ready to slumber.
  3. Balance. A low-fat muffin or plate of pasta will send your blood sugar all over the map, leaving you lethargic when you should be alert and then impede on optimal sleep. A protein shake makes an excellent option when you’re short on time (looking at you breakfast). Make your meals lean protein, good fats, high-fiber foods, and leafy greens.
  4. Hydrate. Awaking at 2:30 a.m. with a dry mouth can keep you tossing for hours as you debate grabbing a glass of water, exposing yourself to the refrigerator’s bright light. Drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day but cut yourself off about three hours before bed. (That goes double for food!) Otherwise, you’ll be running to the bathroom rather than the fridge. Either way, you’re not getting optimal sleep.
  5. Supplement. Reaching for a Tylenol PM or Xanax creates a lasting habit rather than address your underlying problem. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs often leave you with a miserable morning-after mental “hangover.” If you have trouble getting or staying asleep, consider natural remedies like melatonin or herbal-sleep formulas.
Even the best of us occasionally struggle with quality, uninterrupted sleep. What one strategy would you add to this list? Share yours below or on my Facebook fan page. Happy, healthy New Year, everyone!

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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© 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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