Thursday, May 22, 2014

Of Course I Can Lift This: Gainz and Your Brain

I think I'm pretty lucky. I have a natural propensity to put on muscle. I was the muscular one when I was a dancer. I could hold my own against the guys in judo. And I could put on strength fairly easy in the gym.

And I've thought about this ever since I started dedicating myself to my college weight room: how much does the expectation of gains factor in to my actual gains?

Obviously, you can't just think biceps onto your arms or dream you way to a double bodyweight squat. And yet.... sometimes it seems that when I think of squats, my quads respond. When I am training with the mentality that "of course these rows will pack meat onto my back" it seems that the hypertrophy comes along faster than when I'm in the mentality of "well, I should probably do this."

How much do expectations affect your training outcome?

There was recently an article from NPR about how your perception of food can affect how your body responds to it. You can read it here. 

The jist of it is, if you don't think that the food you're consuming is particularly filling or caloric, your levels of ghrelin (a hunger promoting compound) doesn't subside as much as if you think you're eating SO MUCH FOOD. Even if the actual caloric content stays the same.

If that works so well for eating, why not for training.

So really, this is just a thought experiment, but...

I'm willing to bet that if two people busts their asses, and one person thinks "I'm awesome, strong, and just going to get stronger!" while the other person thinks, "Gee, I hope that was enough work. What if I don't make the gains I want?" you're going to see some different changes in the biochemistry of each person.

It could be anything from that mentality makes me choose heavier weights or higher reps or it could actually change the way my body responds at a biochemical level. Either way, that would be a pretty cool study to do if someone could figure out how to do it. Humans are so fickle, after all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I still recommend low carb to most of my new clients.

I was reading this article on Precision Nutrition about how low carb advocate, Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, went on a high carb diet experiment and surprised himself with the results.

I thought it was a really good article, and to me it drives home the point that the main factors to eatting healthy and keeping your weight in check is:

1) Keep your protein between 1g per kg of body weight and 2g per pound of body weight, depending on your activity level and recovery needs.

2) After that it's calories in and calories out. Calories are a unit of measure for energy, we could have as easily called it Food Joules. If you take in more than you need, like an over flowing gas tank, you can put on fat.

3) The rest is details, mostly for elite athletes (actually, for their coaches) to worry about.

So why do I recommend low carb to my clients and athletes? For a couple of main reasons.

People have a weird relationship with food.

In most cases this presents itself with either an inability to control their urges around high carb items (ice cream, pastries, cookies, etc) or an in ability to accurately gauge the amount of calories they're eating of these items in a sitting. Giving a hard and fast rule takes the decision making out of the equation and leaves their willpower energy for other things.

People have lost their connection to hunger cues. 

Almost everyone that comes into the gyms I work at are dehydrated and aren't getting enough sleep. Rather than reaching for a glass of water (which can also wake you up, topic for another time), they just register something as missing in their body. It must be food. They reach for a soda, donuts in the office kitchen, take a walk to the area restaurant. Same goes for sleep. People are connected to their jobs 24/7, and aren't getting their at least 8 hours of sleep. If you're coming to a CrossFit gym regularly, you'd better believe you need that 8 hours of recovery.

Again, the hard and fast rule of "no sugary, carby, bready things" can help guide people to new solutions for the 3pm slump. I hear a lot of people hitting that realization that their midday exhaustion can be cured with a large glass of water. Suddenly they're drinking water all day.

Humans have a limited amount of will power.

This isn't a dig, this is just a reality. If you're having to make food decisions right from the get go, do I want the croissant or the cereal, you're setting yourself up for being impulsive later in the day as your energy wanes. When people initially go low carb, they can often only think of a handful of meal options. Eggs and bacon for breakfast. Salad for lunch. Meat and veggies for dinner. A routine is set, habits are formed.

People lose track of their satiety cues.

The mindless eating (see above about "something is missing") usually results in people not even realizing they are getting full because of the constant grazing. Then they thinks they need these huge portions of food to reach satiety. When switching over to low carb, the high amounts of protein and fat usually help a person feel full sooner and for longer. People start to get a sense that they don't need that much food, volume wise, to feel full. Their sense of proportions starts to change.

In the end, it's mostly about habit formation and getting back in touch with your body's cues. 

By taking the decision-making part out of decision making, you can focus more on how these foods make you feel. Do you sleep better? Are you hungry less? More? Do you still get the 3pm slump? Are you always in a slump? I've heard it all from people who have tried low carb for 30 days, but in the end they all also have a better understanding of how they best work with food.

I don't promote low carb as a life long eating paradigm, it's a tool, a sort of reset, to reframe someone's thinking about food and their eating habits. After that, we usually have an idea of what steps to take next.