MAXIM’s resident Clinical Nutritionist, BROOKE BENSON CAMPBELL (BHSC Nut Med), takes a look at the handbrakes that may be keeping you from your ideal body and sabotaging your health goals…
You run. You tackle. You spar. You lift. You jump. You sweat. Now you need to ensure the hard work pays off by removing any problems preventing you from achieving a healthy and happy body. This month, I challenge the age-old exercise myth that weight gain is all about energy expenditure and also discuss the ways in which hormonal imbalance, sleep deprivation, gut health and overtraining can manipulate your body shape, muscle anabolism and basal metabolic rate. So, safeguard your sweat sessions by tackling these common obstacles to the perfect body…
LACK OF SLEEP
Poor sleep quality or quantity can suppress your six-pack goals and stifle your weight loss dreams by reducing your metabolic rate, increasing cravings and impacting appetite regulation. Research has shown that inadequate sleep is associated with an increase in weight, body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio. Interrupted sleep ultimately affects your energy balance which heavily influences what you eat, how much you eat and how strong your willpower and motivation remain. The evidence here is overwhelming: when sleep goes up, weight goes down.
Sleep deprivation causes changes to hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. The hormone leptin suppresses appetite and encourages the body to expend energy. Lack of sleep reduces leptin concentrations. On the other hand, the hormone ghrelin triggers feelings of hunger and increases when you’re short on sleep. In short, the fragile see-saw of hormonal balance shifts when you snooze, and if you’re not hitting the hay hard enough, your weight will be one of the first things to suffer (and it won’t take long). A fascinating study at the University of Colorado found that just one week of sleeping five hours per night (rather than the recommended 7-8 hours) led participants to gain an average of 1kg. That may not sound like a huge amount, but remember that a kilogram per week equals four kilograms per month: a huge setback in any training plan.
We also know that even after a moderate amount of sleep deprivation, you’re likely to eat more the next day. Interestingly, lack of sleep also makes you more likely to eat a higher amount of calories at night, which can lead to further weight gain. Studies show that increasing sleep by one hour reduces average daily sugar consumption significantly – by around 10 grams a day (nearly one tablespoon, or a can of Coca Cola every three days).
Skimping on shut-eye also has consequences for existing muscle tissue. A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Advanced Sciences found that 15 young healthy men who experienced a single night of sleep deprivation suffered not only from an increase in fat storage capacity, but also an increase in skeletal muscle breakdown. The findings also revealed that with a short-term loss of sleep, skeletal muscle proteins had a reduced ability to use blood sugar as fuel. This may explain why sleep loss over time can reduce a person’s ability to control blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes. Sleep should not be underestimated – it is the most beneficial sedentary activity you can do to protect against weight gain and muscle wastage.
To boost sleep and regulate circadian rhythm, look for a magnesium-based powder supplement high in Magnesium Glycinate. Magnesium works to relax the nervous system and promote sleep, while Glycinate is derived from a nonessential amino acid called glycine that provides a calming effect on the brain while increasing GABA levels (our anti-anxiety brain chemical). Take 30 minutes before bed to quiet the mind while boosting metabolism.
Overtraining is one of the most common barriers to weight loss, exercise endurance and muscle development. When you overdose on workouts (particularly those that are cardio-based), you are more likely to cause ligament and tendon damage, muscle break down and elevated cortisol levels – all of which thwart body goals and exercise capability. While we know that exercise is health promoting and studies show that light to moderate runners have a lower risk of death than those who don’t exercise, in a surprising turn, recent research has also found people who ran at a faster pace for more than three days per week had a similar risk of dying as the non-runners. It appears that running too much, and too intensely, seems to undo health benefits gained by regular moderate exercise. Extreme endurance exercise, like marathons, may also lead to heart-damage, heart rhythm disorders and enlarged arteries in some people. Experts believe that extreme endurance puts extreme demands on the cardiovascular system, and one study found that repeated extreme exercise can “remodel” the heart, thickening the muscle walls and scarring tissue.
While moderate exercise can improve your immune system, excessive exercise can actually suppress its function, leading to a greater rate of coughs, colds and upper respiratory infections among athletes (and illness means less training, less energy expenditure and less muscle building). Studies show that there is a 72-hour window of impaired immunity after intense exercise at which time athletes are more vulnerable to infection by bacteria and viruses. Interestingly, however, research has also found that the cellular damage that occurs during overtraining can lead to non-specific, general activation of the immune system, including changes in natural killer cell activity and increased activation of peripheral blood lymphocytes. This hyperactivity of certain cells can even contribute to autoimmune disease.
The message is clear: those extra miles on the treadmill are placing excessive strain on an already overburdened body and this leads to an elevation in stress hormones, and particularly fat-loving cortisol. Our major stress hormone contributes to weight gain in several ways. One of the roles of cortisol is to release glucose (sugars) and lipids (fats) into the blood to be utilised by our muscles. When cortisol rises so do these levels and that triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that promotes the uptake of glucose into the muscle in order to regulate glucose levels in the blood. However, insulin also plays a role in fat storage: when insulin levels are high, excess blood sugars are converted to fat and stored around the organs – whether you call it a beer belly or muffin top, the resulting fat, also known as visceral fat, is the most dangerous to short-term body goals and long-term health. In short, when it comes to exercise, it seems the “Goldilocks” principle applies: to reap the rewards, follow the rule of not too little and not too much.
To prevent damage by overtraining, employ a recovery regime that maximises healing and promotes endurance. Optimise tendon, ligament and joint repair with a marine collagen supplement – ligaments and tendons are approximately 95 percent collagen and providing your body with this essential building block will prevent injury and repair existing damage; specifically Type III collagen (found in marine collagen) is believed to be of great advantage during the healing process due to its ability to form rapid crosslinks and stabilise the repair site.
A sports probiotics with strains specific to exercise recovery is also essential. Recent studies show that using a probiotic containing strains Lactobacillus acidophilus 3796 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 aids in reducing muscle inflammation caused by excessive exercise. These probiotic strains also protect the body against the immunosuppressive effects of intense and strenuous exercise.
Regardless of the type of hormone imbalance, ignoring your hormonal health makes it virtually impossible to lose weight and build muscle mass. Testosterone (in men and in women) is the hormone that promotes fat burning and muscle building. Optimal levels of this hormone are necessary to create and preserve bone density and are also vital for keeping your muscles in an anabolic state rather than a catabolic one. When testosterone levels are too low (and cortisol levels too high) the body compensates by breaking down muscle to use the proteins it contains for energy.
Testosterone also contributes to the body’s maintenance of energy levels, so an abundance of this hormone will also increase energy during your workouts and improve your endurance. Finally, testosterone contributes to effective brain activity, including learning and memory skills, which is important for athletes who need to learn new plays and routines. Unfortunately, for most men, testosterone levels begin to decrease after age 30 at the rate of 1-2 percent per year, and interestingly, a study that monitored the health of men over a nine-year period showed that men who became overweight or obese during this time experienced a more rapid drop in testosterone levels than those who kept a normal weight. According to the study, with respect to testosterone, thinner men may just be manlier men.
Fat restriction also reduces testosterone concentrations. Research shows that “diets” that involve eating low-fat food while avoiding good monounsaturated and saturated fats lower testosterone dramatically. Studies have observed associations between energy intake from saturated fat and resting testosterone concentrations, and it is also worth noting that vegetarians (who naturally consume less saturated fats) have lower testosterone levels than omnivores. Studies also show that olive oil and argan oil (both high in monounsaturated fat) increased testosterone levels in healthy young men. Regardless of whether you drown your vegetables in melted butter or olive oil, a solid diet containing fats is essential for hormone balance.
Ancient Ayurvedic supplements Shilajit and Tribulus work to encourage testosterone production through a negative feedback mechanism to boost muscle mass and energy levels, making them a Tarzan-friendly option for extra support. Zinc and selenium are also important for adequate testosterone production and should be supplemented when following a testosterone-boosting regime.
Optimal thyroid function is crucial to working metabolism and experts agree that thyroid problems are a common barrier to the perfect body. Thyroid hormones are utilised throughout the body to govern development and energy expenditure and work as the body’s pacemaker to control basal metabolic rate, body temperature, circulation, healing and bone and muscle growth. Therefore a low level of these hormones (known as hypothyroidism) is likely to cause weight gain as well as intolerance to cold, mental impairment, hair loss and muscle pain. In fact, up to 79 percent of people with hypothyroidism present with muscle and joint pain due to abnormal changes in muscle enzyme activity. Selenium and iodine supplementation can boost thyroid function, but if you suspect thyroid function to be a problem, the best way to determine levels is through a blood test with a GP.
Another common obstacle to weight loss and the perfect body is poor gut health. Gut health determines whether certain nutrients, vitamins and good bacteria can be absorbed and whether bad bacteria can settle in the intestinal system and colonise. In fact, research shows that a lack of diversity of beneficial (“good”) bacteria increases inflammation in the body, which is associated with a slow metabolic rate and weight gain. A malfunctioning gut barrier (known as “leaky gut”) will also lead to digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, daily tummy trouble and chronic inflammation.
Recent studies also demonstrate that the type of bacteria that make up an individual microbiome also impacts the way your body responds to and craves certain foods. A concentration of bad bacteria in the gut can cause sugar cravings and influence food choices, impacting weight gain. Interestingly, the gut bacteria makeup differs in obese individuals versus lean individuals proving that for a perfect and muscle-bound body, a perfect and balanced microbiota is essential.
When it comes to giving your gut and metabolism a helping hand, probiotics remain one of the best places to start. It is thought that certain probiotic strains, such as the Lactobacillus family, actually inhibit the absorption of dietary fat and increase the amount of fat expelled. Probiotics may also help release the satiety (appetite-reducing) hormone GLP-1 and increase levels of protein ANGPTL4, which leads to decreased fat storage, making them an essential part of your body transformation arsenal.
If your gastrointestinal system isn’t performing optimally, add bone broth to your weekly regime to strengthen stomach lining, boost amino acid profiles for muscle development and energy production and get naturally-derived collagen for protection of cartilage, bone and joint lubrication. This is the true superfood of champions.
Brooke Benson Campbell (BHSc) is a Clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, speaker, writer and presenter with a passion for all things health, beauty and wellbeing. A self-proclaimed human test subject, she is constantly trialing the newest products, seeking the latest discoveries and reading the current clinical studies, in order to share her findings with the public through private practice, social media and industry education.
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