- EAT SNACKS WITH COMPLEX CARBS AND PROTEIN (i.e., eat foods with less sugar including whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese, fresh fruit, turkey or chicken sandwich, plain yogurt, can of tuna)
- REDUCE CAFFEINE CONSUMPTION (more than three cups of coffee may affect the quality of sleep)
- EXERCISE REGULARLY (physical activity releases endorphins which enhance your energy level)
- DRINK PLENTY OF WATER (water contains no calories but enhances your energy level by flushing toxins and circulating nutrients within your blood)
- GET ENOUGH SLEEP (get into a sleep pattern of waking up and going to bed at the same time each day)
- ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE AND BE OPTIMISTIC (don't be a "hater" as this diminishes your energy level)
- ORGANIZE YOUR HOME (clutter tends to increase stress levels)
- EAT ENOUGH FOOD (eating more food may lessen you body's tendency to go into "starvation mode", a state when your metabolic rate decreases, bodyfat storage increases, and muscle tissue is catabolized for energy)
- EAT EVERY TWO TO THREE HOURS (this lessens dramatic fluctuations in your blood sugar levels)
- REDUCE STRESS LEVELS (lessen your anxiety by writing things down in a "To-Do List" and checking things off as you accomplish each task--the sense of accomplishment will make you feel good and energized!)
Here is a list of things you can do today to increase your energy level throughout your day:
What are some of the most recommended supplements you should take to support a particular fitness goal or when you're deficient in certain micronutrients?
The following is a listing beginning with the more essential supplements:
This particular blog does NOT pertain to middle-aged men or older who may require testosterone supplementation due to low blood levels of the hormone. It is well known that natural testosterone levels decrease with age. Rather, I want to focus on the worrisome trend of young men in their twenties and thirties opting for testosterone supplementation. Why should this be of concern? Because in most cases these young men do NOT need testosterone supplementation.
The real issue is the supplement industry marketing test supplement products as anabolic boosters (remnants of "energy" supps come to mind for those who feel they need an energy boost) as the means to build muscle mass. My question is why take any supplemental testosterone when there's no clinical evidence that you're deficient in this hormone. Have you taken a blood test to verify that your testosterone level is low? If not, then why would you consider taking a supplement that has unwanted side effects? It makes no sense to me.
More concerning is the possibility that your natural test levels will be compromised from taking the supps and as a result, testicular shrinkage may occur (your testicles produce most of the testosterone in your body). You might as well inject yourself with steroids while you're at it. Do you see my point? Taking artificial hormones is not something to be trifled with as the side effects can be very undesirable. In other words, the risks will undoubtedly outweigh the benefits. Let me count the ways: infertility due to low sperm count, liver problems, male breast growth, increased male pattern baldness, possible harm to prostate health, increased risk of blood clots, congestive heart failure, and worsening of urinary symptoms (JAMA Internal Medicine, 2013).
There are legitimate reasons for low T. Lifestyle is primarily the reason why many men are low in test. Regular exercise is known to boost test along with having enough saturated fat (i.e., lean red meat, egg yolks, etc.) and certain micronutrients (e.g., zinc, magnesium, etc.) within the diet. Endurance training (e.g., marathon running) can compromise test levels as well as overtraining (i.e., high intensity level, lack of recovery time, etc.). Lack of sleep, daily stress, medication usage, as well as overindulgence in alcohol may also lower testosterone levels.
BOTTOM LINE: Testosterone supplements are being oversold to consumers who, for the most part, should NOT be taking them. Simply exercising will boost your natural testosterone level. So instead of relying on potentially dangerous supplements, you should get adequate exercise, eat healthier foods, reduce medication usage if possible, and lose bodyweight (there is a correlation between obesity and lower testosterone levels in men).
Here are the worst foods you should avoid eating before you hit the pillow:
So what are some foods that you should eat before going to sleep?
You may be surprised to learn that sleeping pills, in many cases, work not because of the ingredients within the pills, but rather because you believe they will work. This is commonly referred as the placebo effect. If you think or believe that a pill will do what it is supposed to do, then chances are it will. A recent study published in BMJ investigated the efficacy of several popular sleep drugs including Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata. The researchers concluded that the drugs worked as advertised for many people but that even more people who took a placebo pill also experienced positive benefits. There are some risks when taking sleep aids including the potential for addiction and certain side effects including memory loss, daytime sleepiness and increased risk of falls. Health problems usually arise when people take the drugs far longer than they are commonly prescribed. Also, in many instances, these drugs are overprescribed.
BOTTOM LINE: If you truly have insomnia (i.e., unable to get to sleep for several nights in a row), then taking sleeping pills may be warranted. Just be sure to follow the label recommendations for dosage amount and duration of usage.
Your lifestyle is the predominant factor affecting your hormone levels. In other words, if you live a mostly sedentary existence, your testosterone level will most likely be lower than someone who exercises regularly. Thus, exercise is a natural way to boost your testosterone level.
Here are some lifestyle-related factors that affect your testosterone level:
Solution: Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Solution: Maintain a healthy bodyweight. See elsewhere within this blog for tips.
Solution: Become more active by walking briskly at least 20 minutes daily and performing some strength training exercises 2 to 3 days per week.
Solution: Reduce your work hours to less than 10 hours daily and spend at least 2 hours daily doing something you like (e.g., reading, listening to music, playing games, etc.).
Studies have established a link between sleep quantity and performance level in any skill-based sport. It is the central nervous system (CNS) and in particular, the brain, that's intimately associated with control of the body and athletic performance. The body and mind need rest to recover from the fatigue brought on by intense training. Sleep provides the opportunity for the body and mind to recharge from hard training.
Cognitive and physiological impairment inevitably results when the CNS is fatigued. Brain scans have indicated that lack of sleep affects blood flow within the brain. The lack of blood within the brain can affect cognitive and physical performance. Cognitive impairment is characterized by an inability to focus, memory loss, increased anxiety, decreased reaction time, decreased motivation, irritability, and emotional instability. Physiological impairment is characterized by physical exhaustion, increased susceptibility to infections, fatigue and decreased speed and power.
Catabolic hormones (e.g., epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol) are emitted due to sleep deprivation, inhibiting muscle growth. On the other hand, anabolic hormones (e.g., testosterone, human growth hormone) are released when adequate sleep has occurred, enhancing muscle growth. Performance potential is therefore predicated on sleep quality and quantity.
Here are some tips to get better quality sleep:
What I've found with the majority of my clients is that they're not getting enough sleep. It becomes very apparent when, for instance, a client feels sluggish and yawns during the exercise session (!). Not giving your body and mind the needed recovery time via sleep is a recipe for disaster in terms of losing body weight. In fact, I would go so far to say that the time working out in the gym is virtually wasted if there is a lack of sleep. In essence, sleep is what the body and mind need to recover from the day's events and to feel refreshed and more energized upon waking up.
Getting adequate sleep (e.g., 7 to 8 hours) is just as important as nutrition and exercise in staying healthy and fit. There is a growing body of research that indicates that lack of sleep is a contributing factor for the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our country. Hormones such as leptin, ghrelin and cortisol are affected by sleep quality and quantity. Not surprisingly, all of these hormones are also involved in governing appetite. Thus, there is a correlation between lack of sleep and increased appetite. In other words, inadequate sleep makes you feel more hungry, especially for high-fat, high-calorie foods during the evening.
What can you do to increase the amount of sleep you're getting? Start by watching less television at night and restrict the amount of time spent on the computer.
Need more reasons to get more sleep at night? Here's eight benefits of getting more shut-eye:
When you lose bodyfat a whole multitude of positive healthy outcomes takes place including:
BOTTOM LINE: Exercise and a healthy diet can resolve many chronic conditions plaguing humans today. Instead of reaching for quick-fix medications which may have side-effects, reach for a dumbbell and eat your broccoli.
Should you take sleeping pills or night time pain relievers if you're having trouble getting to sleep?
Recent research from the online journal BMJ Open has found that prescription sleeping pills (e.g., Ambien, Restoril, Lunesta, Sonata, Halcion) as well as over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (e.g., Tylenol PM) may cause an increased risk of death. The risk of dying over a 2.5-year period was four times higher for those taking sleeping pills. The more frequent the usage, the greater the risk of premature death. The sleeping pills do not directly cause death but may increase the risk of death due to unforeseen circumstances (i.e., accidental falls, auto accidents, etc.). The indicators of possible health problems (i.e., heart disease, cancer) may be hidden when taking sleeping pills regularly. OTC pain relievers contain acetaminophen, which when consumed in high doses over time may increase the risk of liver damage.
If you feel it necessary to take sleeping pills, be sure to take them for a relatively short period of time (i.e., 3 to 4 days)--the drugs are not recommended for long-term usage. Generally, sleeping pills are not recommended for chronic insomnia as the drug loses its effectiveness over time. Try to make it a habit of getting to bed at about the same time each night and avoid physical exercise in the evening. By the way, there is some evidence to support that regular exercise (when performed earlier in the day) does promote a better night's sleep. People who exercise regularly are less likely to have trouble falling asleep.
Bottom line: Sleeping pills have limited effectiveness, have potential side-effects, and long-term safety is unknown. If you do decide to take sleeping pills, be sure to take the smallest dose needed. Avoid mixing alcohol with sleeping pills. Avoid driving the morning after taking sleeping pills.
If you find it difficult to sleep during most nights you may be suffering from a sleep disorder called insomnia. If you can answer "yes" to any of the following questions, you may have insomnia:
Even though intuitively we know this can't possibly be a wise move, surprisingly many people do eat within an hour of going to sleep (and sometimes a heavy meal--think the European lifestyle of late-evening family meals). "So what's the big deal?" you may ask. The list of adverse health consequences range from acid reflux (AKA heartburn) to high blood pressure to type-2 diabetes to obesity and so on. Of late is a new study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2011 which found a correlation between sleeping soon (specifically within an hour) after dinner and an increased risk of stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. One theory for the causation may be related to acid reflux disease which causes sleep apnea which in turn is a risk factor for stroke. Yet another theory is that soon after eating blood sugar levels rise along with cholesterol levels which affects blood viscosity and flow, increasing stroke risk.
Whatever the cause, it would be better to have a light snack (e.g., 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, slice of cheese, half of a sandwich, a handful of whole-grain crackers, or a protein shake) rather than a big meal. In this way, indigestion risk will be minimized and glucose levels will not fluctuate dramatically. Remember the old saying, "Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper."
Medical research has indicated there are three lifestyle-related factors which have the biggest impact on blood pressure:
You can check my blog under the "Nutrition" link for healthy eating habits although key points to lower blood pressure include:
If you have high blood pressure it may be because your body feels deprived of adequate sleep to be optimally healthy. Strive to get at least six hours of sleep by getting to bed at about the same time each night and waking up at about the same time in the morning. Your body has its own unique biorhythms and ensuring you hit the pillow at the same time each night is what the body "likes". Sweet dreams!
The answer is most likely due to a lack of recovery or inadequate rest after an intense exercise session. This is why you should "listen" to your body as it always "tells" you what you need to know. In this case, your body is telling you, "cease and desist with the hard training and please let me rest!" What many people fail to do is actually listen to the body and abide to what it says. You may have reached the stage referred to as "over-reaching" (short-term fatigue) and are in danger of getting to the stage called "over-training" (long-term fatigue) if you're not careful. If you've just experienced a feeling of sluggishness recently, all that's needed is to allow your body and mind to rest at least one but maybe two days. Failure to take time off from training will cause your body to regress into a state of longer-term fatigue which could require at least a week of rest! In addition, your immune system may be compromised, causing you be become sick more easily. As your exercise intensity and/or volume increases, the risk of compromising your immune system function increases. This means that your risk of contracting an infection increases. To maintain your immune system function while engaging in intense weight training, be sure to get adequate micronutrients. Vitamins A, B6, B12, thiamin, C, D, and E and the minerals iron, zinc, selenium, copper, and magnesium are associated with immune function.
Active recovery is an option if you cannot resist hitting the gym most days of the week. This simply refers to exercising at a low-intensity level (i.e., 50% loading with high repetitions) on days when you do not feel your best. In this way, you can enhance your recovery. Another option is to "periodize" your workout days--for instance, rotating your workouts with hard, medium and light intensities every other day (e.g., Monday is hard day, Wednesday is medium day, Friday is light day). "Periodization" refers to a concept wherein your training is broken down into chunks (e.g., hard, medium, light workouts) as a means to avoid overtraining and to keep your training "fresh". Training in this way is very practical and will enable you to get stronger, more powerful, and gain muscle mass while lessening the risk of injury.
There are several factors which determine one's ability to recover from workouts. These factors include age, training intensity, nutrition, stress, and level of cardiovascular fitness. The most significant factor is age because younger people recover much faster from workouts than older people. Training intensity is the next significant factor because high-intensity training requires more recovery time. Nutrition should not be underestimated since a lack of nutrients will inevitably slow recovery. Of course, high stress slows the recovery process. A high level of cardiovascular fitness hastens the recovery process because the circulatory system is able to deliver more nutrients and remove metabolites more quickly.
Some of the markers of overtraining are the following:
Do some of these markers seem familiar and apply to yourself? If so, then you need to make a change in either your lifestyle, your training routine, or both.
Regarding a change in your lifestyle, consider the following:
Research just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) points in the direction that inadequate sleep does indeed have a negative effect on testosterone levels as well as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Both of these hormones are anabolic (i.e., promote muscle mass growth) and a reduction of them can collectively contribute to a highly catabolic state (i.e., inhibited muscle mass growth) . A lack of sleep also may increase norepinephrine, a stress hormone that increases your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. A regular sleep deficit may also increase your risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. A new study indicated that a week of sleep loss lowered testosterone levels by up to 15% in a group of healthy young men. Relatively low testosterone levels may impact your sexual health and behavior because low amounts of this hormone can reduce your energy, libido, ability to concentrate, and fatigue threshold. Of course, testosterone is well known for being the primary hormone involved in building muscle mass, strength and bone density. In addition, decreased testosterone may contribute to increased bodyfat. So now there is more evidence to support how important getting enough sleep is in regard to physical health.
If you find it difficult to get at least seven hours of sleep, here are some tips:
Cardio per se is not the problem. In fact, cardio exercise may enhance muscle mass because it can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), improve sleep quality, and increase one's tolerance for intense weight training. Cardiovascular exercise promotes blood vessel dilation, ideal for increased nutrient delivery to and waste products from muscle tissue--this is what may reduce DOMS. Sleep quality can be enhanced because the body will need restful sleep in order to recover from the energy expended during cardio. Weight training intensity may be increased when performed in conjunction with cardio because one's aerobic capacity may increase, allowing for lessened rest period durations between sets.
The real issue here is over-training and/or dieting. Over-training occurs when one performs physical activity at frequencies, intensities, and/or durations that overly taxes the body's ability to recover. Dieting in this context means caloric reduction. Over-training and/or dieting are not conducive for muscle anabolism (growth). Rather, muscle breaks down (catabolism) as the body resorts to its protein stores for much-needed energy.
So the key here is to perform cardio exercise in moderation and eat plenty of carbs and protein to spare muscle tissue. Moderation means three to five days per week at 65-85% MHR from 20 to 45 minutes. Recommendations for how much in the way of carbs and protein one should eat to preserve muscle mass can be found in the nutrition section of this blog.
You should also consider eating fibrous foods from grains (e.g., brown rice, whole-grain bread, whole-grain cereal), vegetables (e.g., broccoli, carrots, beans, sweet potatoes), and fruit (e.g., apples, berries, prunes). Eating foods high in fiber stabilizes blood sugar levels, reduces insulin resistance, reduces appetite, blocks fat absorption, and most importantly (in the context of this reading) reduces bodyweight.
Another easy way to lose bodyweight is to take hourly breaks when sitting and stand up, step away from the computer or desk, and walk about for a few minutes each hour. This act alone may trim your waistline and more importantly lessen your risk of metabolic diseases plaguing American society today (e.g., heart disease, obesity). According to a recent study in the European Heart Journal (Jan 2011), reducing sedentary behavior by taking small breaks and standing and/or walking can reduce stomach fat. The bottom line is any little bit of movement throughout your day adds up!
Another very important consideration is getting adequate sleep every night! What constitutes adequate sleep? Strive to get at least seven hours of restful pillow time each and every night. Studies have shown a correlation between decreased sleep and increased abdominal fat due to a greater caloric intake when awake. Yes, you read that right--less sleep equals more calories. When we sleep less, appetite increases as do cravings for high-calorie sugary and fattening foods (e.g., soda and fast food). This may be due to a disruption in the normal circadian rhythm of eating and sleeping that is ordinarily synchronized. This disruption may affect appetite hormone levels (e.g., ghrelin and leptin) which leads to increased hunger and food intake, decreased calorie burning, and increased fat storage. Human growth hormone (HGH) levels fluctuate throughout the night when you're asleep but the level increases particularly upon waking up after a good night's slumber. Increased HGH levels, along with testosterone, affect your metabolic rate. As these hormones increase, metabolism is stoked and the fat-burning process is accelerated. Thus, your body becomes more efficient at burning bodyfat when it gets optimum sleep. Optimum sleep for most people varies between seven to nine hours per night. If you're not able to get at least six quality hours of sleep during the night, try getting in a midday nap. Studies have indicated that a quick ten minute nap is enough to boost memory and increase concentration, focus, and alertness. Sweet dreams!eams!
If you don't get at least five hours of sleep per night, you will be 50% more likely to gain bodyweight. Hence, getting enough sleep (e.g., 7 to 8 hours) has been attributed to maintaining or even losing body weight. If you find it difficult to get continuous, uninterrupted sleep at night, seriously consider getting in a nap during the day (recommended in the mid-afternoon when metabolic rate has slowed down somewhat). Naps can be very effective in helping you to recharge (energize) but be sure to keep those naps brief--within the range of ten minutes. A longer nap will most likely make you feel sluggish. If you feel you need to nap for longer periods of time or for several times daily, consider this an indication that you are sleep-deprived. In this case, you may need to make some changes in your lifestyle to ensure you get adequate sleep during the night.
Sleeping too much also appears to not be very healthy. Research has indicated that sleeping more than eight hours per night may increase the risk of angina and coronary artery disease.
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I'm a personal trainer who loves to help others fulfill their health and fitness goals. I consider myself a bodybuilder in that I live the lifestyle of eating healthy food, working out regularly, and sculpting my body.