The following article is comprised of various emails, phone calls and conversations I've had with clients on The Program over the years.
Thanks for providing me all those details in regards to your training, diet and your goals. After reading through everything the issue behind your health problems is clear. This may hurt and sound brash but it needs to be said, so here goes:
You're doing far too much! You're stressed, you train more than you should, you don't sleep enough and your diet is a mess. You will never achieve of your goals of losing the belly fat & increasing testosterone by doing what you're currently doing. In fact, with the way you currently train, eat and sleep, you're only going to get fatter and sicker.
So what has gone wrong? My guess is that you fall into one of the following categories:
I have worked with countless clients who fit the above moulds. They all come to me with the desire to drop the body fat, fix the gut issues and feel a bit better. They also expect me to increase their training load, reduce their calories and introduce some magic pill supplement. If that's what you were hoping for then I have some bad news. I'm going to do the opposite and here's why.
We live in a very stressful world. When you think of stress what do you think of? Running late for that meeting? Getting in an argument with your partner? Those bills you need to pay?
All these things are stressors yes, but there are many more stressors on the body that you may not recognise.
Let's take exercise as an example. Exercise is a stressor on the body. In fact it's one of the most primal forms of stresses. Every time you go to the gym and throw weights around, do another sprint on that bike, or aim to complete that met-con circuit in record time, you are stressing the body.
It's not 'healthy' to exercise. Sure the benefits of exercise combined with adequate recovery leads to beneficial change. Change that can have some health and fitness benefits. But from an endocrine point of view, doing that 6am spin class every morning is no different to sitting in a traffic jam while your boss is screaming at you on the car phone.
No one would do the latter in the name of 'health', yet we PAY for the former in the name of 'health and fitness'. Now I know that you're training for the 200km bike ride later this year so some form of training is important, but I want to emphasise one thing - training is a stress on the body. Understood?
Think about it from an 'ancestral' point of view. We live in a tribe, sleep in a cave, and spend our days in basic survival mode. We collect or hunt for food during the day, and eat, relax, talk, mate and sleep at night.
We don't have bills to worry about. And we definitely weren't trading in our precious assets to the local 'health freak', so he can scream at us while we lift rocks over our heads!
But our bodies were still exposed to stress. And this was a good thing, as without the stress exposure and our bodies stress response, humans wouldn't be around today.
Let's go back to our caveman scenario for a moment. We're out collecting tubers and fruits from the bush with our caveman buddies. You hear a rumble in the distance. As you stand to see whats going on you notice a big grey dust cloud. It appears to be a herd of elephants in full charge heading straight towards you. Knowing you will be trampled if you don't move, a wave of adrenaline flows through the body.
Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in as the adrenal cortex releases the stress hormone cortisol. The cortisol releases stored glucose from the liver. Blood is redirected from the gut (where it was helping to digest those berries you had been snacking on) and is sent to the muscles for movement. Digestion stops all together. Saliva and tear production halts. Your mouth seems dry all of a sudden.
Your big muscles - quads, glutes, lats etc start drawing on the glucose present in the blood for extra energy.
The body's immune function is suppressed. This is no time to fight off infection, resources are prioritised to the immediate threat.
The adrenaline causes an accelerated heart and respiration rate. Meanwhile blood pressure rises as blood vessels constrict.
Your pupils dilate and your vision is narrowed. You only notice the moving grey blur that's heading towards you at a frightening pace.
That cute girl digging for the tubers in the bush beside you is no longer on your mind. Not only that, those fantasies you had earlier have completely being suppressed. What use is libido when you might be dead in a few minutes. Blood flow is redirected from the sexual organs to the muscles. The building blocks of testosterone (pregnenolone) are shunted towards the creation of cortisol and adrenaline. Making babies - the essence of life - is no longer a priority.
The brain returns to its primal state - move, fight or die. More complex cognitive functioning is suppressed. This is no time to contemplate the meaning of life, or stars, or music.
All this happens in a blink of an eye. Without any conscious thought you have started sprinting towards the ledge on the nearby cliff. You make what seems like an impossible jump, leaping up to grab a tree root. With one arm you pull yourself up onto a small ledge out of harms way. Moments before the elephants rush through, you see that cute girl making a jump for the same ledge. Without thought you reach out to help her.
With the extra energy, blood and adrenaline flowing through your muscles you grab her hand and pull her up to the ledge next to you. In the process you form micro tears on the bicep muscle and fracture a rib.
Moments later the herd has passed through and the dust has settled. Despite the injuries you and your female acquaintance have survived.
A sense of relief and exhilaration overcomes the both of you. As the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) shuts down, you return to a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). You make love to your new partner before passing out for a well deserved nap.
Later that evening, you return back to your cave to heal and eat. Around the fire you tell the story to your mates while eating the wild gazelle, trampled by the elephants, and tubers you had previously dug from the ground. With a full belly and the throbbing pain from the rib, you hit the hay as the sun sets in the distance. You sleep 9 hours in deep sleep, reliving the life threatening moment but also with the blissful state of finding a mate. Cortisol is suppressed as melatonin & growth hormone is secreted - all helping to repair the damage done to the body. Blood is pulled back from the muscles and sent towards the gut to digest the evening's feast.
A few days later your rib has healed, stronger than ever, and your new partner remarks how big your biceps look. All this because of our primal stress response!
Hopefully while reading this you resonated with all the typical symptoms of stress. Don't get me wrong, these symptoms are important for survival. The problem with our world today is that we suffer from this stress response many times in a day. And 99% of the time it's nothing close to a life or death scenario.
The body doesn't differentiate from the cause of stress, it triggers the same stress response whether it's a lion chasing us or the traffic jam in front of us.
This is a problem.
You see there are many things that can trigger this stress response in our modern world. It could be something like training at 6am in the morning, the PUFAs our food is cooked in, our exposure to nnEMF or even our thoughts and worries.
Merely thinking about something that could hurt us can cause a stress response. How many times have you become worried about that big upcoming meeting and noticed an elevated heart rate? You have triggered your body's sympathetic state, despite laying in the safety of your own bed. There are no tigers around yet the body is responding like there is.
When we think back to our caveman story, we see that most of his day would have been rather simple, without a lot of stress. Yet when the time came for a stress response it was undoubtedly needed. Then, after the stress had passed the body could relax, recover and repair.
Now I'm not saying that we should be living the life of a caveman. I would much prefer my stress response to be activated by a traffic jam than a charging herd of elephants! But the problem with our modern life is that we are stuck in these fight or flight stress states. Our daily lives expose us to numerous 'hits' of adrenaline and cortisol.
Think about your day:
You wake startled to a screeching alarm clock. Immediately sending a shot of adrenaline through the body.
You start getting dressed while watching the news. The news is full of negative content, the body tightens up as it prepares to enter this 'doom & gloom' world.
Your 5 hours of sleep leaves you feeling flat. You make a double shot of coffee - the first of many for the day - this perks you up due to the huge spike of adrenaline.
You look at the time, you're late and this will mean hitting peak hour traffic. You sprint out the door as if a lion were chasing you.
You are stuck in traffic when you realise you left your usb stick on your home computer. The documents are needed for the mornings meeting. You call home in a frazzled state to see if your wife can email you the documents. Your wife is busy with the kids and can't help. Your body senses danger and and releases more cortisol and adrenaline to deal with the situation.
Your work day is super stressful, deadlines, angry customers, not to mention the massive exposure to nnEMF in the office, the poor quality food that is served at the client lunch and then the flight exposing you to poor air quality and high levels of radiation.
At the end of the day, you feel burnt out but know you have that big race coming up so you must train. Despite the massive amount of stress the body has been through already, you decide to go to the gym and cycle. Frustrated with how the day panned out you decide to up the intensity while listening to heavy metal. You push the body to the limits and in turn the body - sensing the charging elephants - stops all blood flow to the sexual organs and gut, redirecting it to the muscles.
After training you have a ice bath as you've heard about the health benefits of these in a magazine. Your body again senses immediate danger and secretes adrenaline. You get out feeling amazing and think you've done your body some good.
On the way home you get stomach pains, that junk food you had before training hasn't had a chance to be digested.
Finally at home, you want to sleep but know you need to do some work. After work you reward yourself with some Netflix. You watch a thriller, it leaves you on the edge of your seat with an elevated heart rate.
You trod off to bed, your wife makes a move but you're not interested. Your testosterone levels are rock bottom due to the chronic stress in your day. The body is in survival mode, responding to the signals in the environment. Those signals are telling the body 'it's not a good time to make babies'.
You look at the time, it's 1am, you have an early flight so you need to be up at 5am. 4 hours of sleep. This causes mild anxiety.
You can't sleep due to the worry, so you check your emails on your bright iPhone. The blue light shuts down any melatonin that was present and spikes cortisol. You're wired and tired.
Eventually you drift off, only to wake to a screeching alarm and another stressed out day.
With this chronic stress state we cause damage to the body from elevated cortisol and adrenaline. Sure, we can handle the odd 'stressful' day here and there. But when these stresses are compounded on top of each other we start seeing health damage
Examples of this damage include:
All this wouldn't be so bad if we could simply recover from all this stress...
Where am I going with this? You want to look and feel better, not worry about stress. Understanding the importance of stress, and being able to manage your stress load, is fundamental for being able to look and feel better.
Stress, in and of itself, is not bad. It's the inability to recover from the stress that causes the damage. Remember, the caveman story had one massive acute stressor, but as everything else in the day was relatively carefree, the caveman didn't have the same problems that modern man does.
Modern man may not have life or death events on a regular basis. But we do have stressful events on an ongoing basis. It's the difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Think about a blister. If we go for a hike with brand new boots we may develop a blister. If we only hike once a month then this blister heals and the skin thickens up. Next month when we hike the blister isn't as severe. Eventually we stop getting blisters altogether. We are more resilient. This is analogous to the caveman story.
Instead, if we decide to go on a 30 day hike with brand new boots, the blister never gets a chance to heal. A blister is formed on day one, despite 10 hours of rest that night, it's not enough time for the blister to heal. The next morning the stress returns - more rubbing from stiff boots.
One day the blister pops. Now we have a big problem. If you continue to push through with your 'no pain no gain' attitude, the stress load gets to breaking point. Your blister becomes infected, leading to a full body infection. Now you're facing a life or death situation, all because you wouldn't remove the stressor long enough for it to recover.
You may have heard the term hormesis. This is defined as:
...a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.
Source: Getting Stronger
Strain a muscle and give it time to recover = it gets stronger.
Strain a muscle and don't give it time to recover = it gets weaker.
This can be applied to all areas of the body, not just a muscle.
"But the top riders train twice a day, I want to be the best'".
Training is only one side of the coin. Yes it's important to train like the best to be the best, but you also have to rest and recover like the best. Your professional cycling mates get paid to train. That's their job. They can get up at 6am and ride hard all morning because afterwards they have time to refuel, have a nap, see their masseur and read and play.
Meanwhile you have a company to run. To be the best you also need to recover like the best.
Time for a quiz.
Heres the situation:
You are burnt out from years of hard training, poor diet, lack of sleep, and work stress. You are sick and overweight. You want to improve your health and lose that spare tyre.
You go to bed at night and are about to set your alarm. Do you:
A) Set it for 5am so you can get to that 530am spin class before work at 7am.
B) Set it for 5am but instead of the spin class you decide to book a massage before work.
C) Set it for 6am and sleep for an hour longer before work.
Which one did you choose?
If you answered C then you answered correctly. Let's break each situation down.
In scenario A, you increase your stress load with the intense spin class (an added stress) while decreasing your recovery time (shortened sleep). The net effect is stress (sympathetic) dominant. You'd better hope you have a easy day at work!
In scenario B, you remove the intense training load (though some massages can be rather stressful!) but you still shorten your recovery time through the lack of sleep. The net effect is stress/recovery balance
In scenario C, not only do you remove the stressors from your morning, but you also increase your recovery time. The net effect is recovery (parasympathetic) dominant.
This is why clients on The Program must sleep in and train less!
After years of burning the candle at both ends, working hard, training harder and not paying attention to your diet or sleep, it's time to make a change.
Especially if you are serious about making health and body changes! As Albert Einstein once said:
'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.'
If what you are currently doing isn't working for you, then it's time to make some change.
When it comes to dealing with stress levels, we have two ways we remedy the situation.
1. Decrease the stress load:
This includes removing stressors:
2. Increase your recovery time:
I could sum up all of this with a few words - Slow Down. Do less. Relax more. Sleep in. Skip Training. Eat Healthy. Take Holidays. Walk. Play. Love.
So there we go Paul. That was a long way to say 'you're stressed out, doing too much, and if you don't make a change soon something will break (if it hasn't already)'.
If you are serious about making change and reaching your health and aesthetic goals, then simply apply the advice I have listed above.
If you need someone to guide you through this process, provide the protocols and programs for you to follow, hold you accountable, and help you remove the stress burdens in your life then Yes. I am the man for the job. Simply fill out THIS form to get the ball rolling or head to this page - http://jointheprogram.online/
Yours in Health,
* Paul is a fictional character
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is an ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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