Monday, 13 August 2012

Is exercise making you fat and sick?

Hey friends! You probably guessed that uni has resumed given my utter neglect for this blog. Apologies!! I will endeavour to get a couple out over the next few weeks. But in the meantime, my fantastic other half has once again come through with the goods for you. Woo hoo! Nothing like a good guest post to mix things up a little. 

Note: images, videos, emphasis and (probably useless) comments in purple added by Kate! 

OK so you’ve been eating well, training hard and yet you’re just not losing any weight. In fact that layer of belly fat seems to be getting bigger! What’s worse is you can’t shake this!

In desperation you decide to up the training…

Sound familiar?

As hot as this chick is, this is NOT the right attitude to have with training! She's a model people! That bar probably doesn't even have any weight on it! (Image courtesy of Jan Hutnan who keeps tagging me in photos such as this on FB. Thanks??? Jan). 

The "Calories In vs Calories" Out Fallacy
Many of our training beliefs have been built around this concept of calories in vs calories out i.e. "If I eat a chocolate that is 200 calories I need to do X amount of time on the rower, bike etc to burn it off". Unfortunately the numbers just aren’t that clean and can be heavily influenced my many biological and environmental factors, such as:

Gut flora health
Genetic tolerance 
Foods' individual influence on endocrine (hormone) system
Sleep quality and quantity of the individual
How balanced your endocrine system is
How much environmental toxins you’ve been exposed to
How much fat you’re currently carrying

All of these factors (and probably more) have a significant influence over how your body will deal with that 200 calories you just ate. 

Why Do We Exercise?
Well, if we’re not worried about how many calories we’re burning per session, what are we trying to do with exercise? Easy:

Feel, Look and Perform Better

As you know the benefits of exercise are many:

Increase immune system function
Maintain body composition
Slow aging process
Stress management
Decrease risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis
Decrease risk of depression and anxiety
Increase feel good hormone serotonin
Slow aging process down in the brain (i.e. dementia)

As fantastic as this magic bullet is we need to remember just because some is good doesn’t mean more is necessarily better.

The reality is that at the end of every workout, you’re in worse shape than when you started. (Oh great!) But with adequate rest, hydration and of course fresh, whole foods your body will adapt to cope with these specific stresses which you place on it.

Back To The Belly Fat
The body is such a fantastically put together machine. If you’re aware and prepared to listen and look it will give you clues on how it is feeling, functioning and how efficiently it is performing.
It’s a very common pattern to see someone with a very lean upper and lower body but with a soft midsection.

This soft midsection is often an indicator that there is too much cortisol in the blood. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Again - some is good and in fact vital for survival, but too much can affect where you store your fat. A rise in cortisol can be driven by many factors.

Food intolerances
Environmental toxins
Sleep quality and quantity
Excessive training
Emotional stress
Being chased by a lion

Today we’re going to consider how we can manipulate our exercise routine to minimise the stress on the system when needed, which will in turn accelerate your results.

Great! Less work for better results. Sounds good to me!

“But I Use Exercise To Control My Stress”
I agree exercise can be one of the best tools you can have for dealing with this modern world and all the stress it throws at you from all angles. The key is realising that if some is good, more is not always better. 

At the end of the day training is just another stress on your system. The key to getting the most out of your training is to understand where you are on the stress continuum. What days do you turn up the heat? What days to you chill out?

How hard should I train today?
A big step towards optimising your training and health is to perform a quick daily assessment.
Ask yourself these quick questions to get a better understanding of where you are on the stress continuum:

How did I sleep? How long for and how was the quality?
When did I last train? (e.g. if you trained this morning, you probably don't need to train again this afternoon - get outside and enjoy life!)
How is my motivation to train today?
How are my energy levels?
When did I last eat? (this is very individual - some people train better in a fasted state, others need a little somethin' somethin' in their belly...yes, I meant to write it twice)
What sort of day/week have I got ahead?
Am I feeling tight or injured at the moment? (pushing through injury will quite literally floor you! I'm working through this at the moment....although I have managed to get off the floor)

This is by no means a complete list and please feel free to add specific questions that are relevant to your lifestyle. Give yourself a score out of 10 (clearly there are not 10 questions - it's more of an overall rating). If you get a 9 or 10/10 then you’re good to go. Game on…it’s hammer time.....

(Surely you saw that one coming!!)

If you’re only a 5/10 then you do your planned session but reduce the volume (i.e. less sets and/or less reps).

If your score comes out at a 2/10 then maybe it’s time for a rest day or a light walk outside to help your body regenerate, then you can hit it hard again when your energy levels come up.

Callaghan, You’re Getting Soft In Your Old Age! (clearly referring to A.Callaghan, not K.Callaghan)
So this all sounds good in theory but isn’t just another example of taking the soft option.
A great example of what can be achieved when these concepts are utilised is to take a look at the athletes competing in the Olympics. Many of these athletes have worked for four years+ to arrive at the Olympics in peak physical condition. This is achieved by constantly listening to their body, tweaking the volume and intensity, and maintaining the belief that each part of the puzzle is taking them a step closer to their goal or dream.

Enjoy the Journey
The advantage an athlete has is that they have a very defined goal and time line i.e. compete at the Olympics 2012. We need to remember that for peak performance and optimal health one workout has very little impact. But consistent positive habits over a period of time have the potential to create massive change on how you look, feel and perform now and over the last 30-40 years of your life. If in doubt you’re better to under-train and then come back another day to take on the battle.

Every session doesn’t have to be a fight to the death.

There is nothing tougher than watching someone work incredibly hard and not get the results they deserve. The truth of the matter is your training should be as individualised as your eating.
The idea behind this article was to give you a deeper understanding of the positive and negative effects exercise can have on your body and how you can tweak your program to get maximum results.No need to worry about how many calories you’re burning but instead be aware of where you are on the stress continuum.

The next instalment will be on how to train to spike your anabolic hormones and slow the aging process.  

Aaron Callaghan
Director, Primal Fitness