Welcome to part 2 of my 2-part article on why some people get leaner, stronger and fitter, quicker than you!
Hopefully you remember from our previous instalment that the number 1 reason is Stress, and that cortisol is the primary stress hormone. Well, this month our old friend cortisol rears its ugly head again, so if you’re ready, here we go…
2. Sleep & Rest
Like it or not guys and gals, if you get less than 8 hours sleep at night, you may have up to 80% higher cortisol levels throughout the day…
- Lowering your testosterone, growth hormone, and fat burning capacity
- Making your body up to 40% more resistant to the effects of insulin, and
- Leading to abdominal weight gain and potentially diabetes
Sleep and wake cycles
Remember, cortisol performs a key role in alertness and wakefulness - when we need to be active, cortisol is higher. Like when we get stressed. Cortisol levels shoot through the roof. So cortisol is also a key hormone governing our sleeping and waking cycles. A healthy body’s cortisol levels will vary throughout the day. They will:
- Be highest in the morning, between 6-8am, when you need to be alert.
- Drop between 8am and 11am
- Gradually decline throughout the day
- Reach a low at around 2am, by which point you should be in the deepest stage of sleep (been under for at least 4 hours)
- Start to rise toward morning, to help you prepare for another day.
If you don’t allow yourself 8 to 9 hours of sleep, your cortisol metabolism doesn’t follow its normal rhythm. You’re tired in the morning, but awake at night! In extreme cases you may wake in the night and be unable to get back to sleep.
The problem with our modern ‘late to bed, early to rise’ lifestyle is that our cortisol levels never have time to fully dissipate.
If you think that’s the case for you, the most anabolic (muscle-building, fat-zapping) activity you can do is sleep, sleep and sleep!
On top of all of this, studies show that those who get less than 6.5 hours sleep are 40% less efficient at metabolising insulin. Here’s what that means:
- Insulin normally helps move sugars and nutrients out of the blood, into the muscles. E.g. after we eat.
- With high stress and/or little sleep, cells stop responding to insulin.
- So insulin stays in the blood, along with the sugars it can’t get rid of.
There are just a few problems with that:
- The muscles don’t get the nutrients they need.
- High blood sugar is toxic, damaging arteries, increasing blood pressure and likelihood of heart disease
- As long as your blood contains insulin, the body cannot break down fat as an energy source – so fat stays where it is!!
“SUMMARY PLEASE!!” I hear you scream. Here it is:
Lack of sleep…
- Raises cortisol levels, AND
- increases insulin resistance.
So (1) means you’re tired when you should be alert, and alert when you should be tired!
And (2) prevents muscle gain, creates fat gain, causes heart disease and diabetes.
When I do body-fat readings with my clients, I take a sub-scapular reading which represents insulin-resistance, and therefore, stress, lack of sleep and overall cortisol levels. Typically, if it’s over 10mm (for a guy) or 15mm (for a girl), you’re in need of some major R&R!
So folks, 8 hours sleep a night, or… Fat city, here we come!!
I’ve written previously about nutrition and its importance. So today I’ll say just two things:
- If you want to drop fat, cut complex carbs (rice, bread, pasta, etc.) and limit fruit intake to 2 pieces per day, in the morning. Replace carbs calories with protein. This all comes down to controlling your insulin response from food. Again, we’re talking about hormones and how they control your body composition.
- If you don’t eat enough protein, you won’t build muscle. If you want to be more ‘toned’ what you really mean is you want more muscle. For that you need 1g protein per pound of body weight, per day. Protein increases metabolism. Carbs don’t. Excess protein passes through the body. Excess carbs stay.
So no matter how hard you train, if you don’t get your nutrition right, you won’t get the results you want!
Without training, let’s face it, your body composition and strength aren’t going anywhere.
All the programs I design maximise muscle-gain, testosterone and growth-hormone production (yes, even the fat loss ones!! Shock, horror!).
That’s because when testosterone and growth hormone levels go up, cortisol goes down. And so does body fat – in both men and women!
Remember – weight training increases testosterone. Long, slow, distance cardio tends to lower it! So by training smart, you can manipulate your hormone levels and thereby achieve your goals much quicker.
So why put it last on the list?
Because if you’re training with me, the workout programs you’re doing will be more than enough to help you make great gains. Turning up to the gym and being coached through a workout that’s been thought through, designed and planned with your needs in mind, is almost the easiest part of all this.
If your progress is stalling, look to The Big Four for answers.
Til next time… Stay strong, be healthy!