I have been in the fitness industry for the last 14 years. I have been asked this very question countless times. The answer is "it's complicated". I am not saying that you can't look, feel and perform your best. It means that sometimes it takes digging deeper to get to the route of the problem.
Advertisers, the USDA and many "health professionals" would like to imply that ideal body composition and sports performance is all about the calories and movement. There is an inference that if we eat less and move more that we will magically have the perfect body, perfect health and the world would be a better place filled with unicorns and rainbows.
Nowhere in the above calories in/calories out (eat less/move more) scenario is the mention of hormones. Hormones are the real driver of how much body fat we burn or store. This does not defy the Law of Thermodynamics.
In order to have good body composition and performance, we need to understand some of the hormones that drive fat loss, fat storage, hunger and muscle growth. Our hormones dictate how our bodies perform. I hope the following list gives you an idea of some of the hormones that are regulating your body.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Notice the “store glucose for future use”.
Glucagon is released in response to low blood sugar and signals the liver to break down glycogen stored in the liver. Glucagon also signals the body to convert amino acids to glucose and to break down stored fat (triglycerides) into fatty acids for use of fuel cells.
Leptin is a hormone that is produced by the fat cells in the body. Its main role is regulating how many calories we eat and burn, as well as how much fat we carry on our bodies.
Ghrelin is secreted when the stomach is empty. When the stomach is stretched, secretion stops.a It acts on hypothalamic brain cells both to increase hunger, and to increase gastric acid secretion and gastrointestinal motility to prepare the body for food intake.
Somatostatin is a hormone that inhibits the secretion of several other hormones, including growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone, cholecystokinin and insulin.
Thyroid stimulating hormone regulates the production of hormones by the thyroid gland. Thyroxine and triiodothyronine are essential to maintaining the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain development and maintenance of bones.
Thyrotropin-releasing hormone has effects on the arousal and feeding centres of the brain, causing wakefulness and loss of appetite.
Thyroxine is the main hormone secreted into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland. It plays vital roles in digestion, heart and muscle function, brain development and maintenance of bones.
Calcitonin is a hormone that is produced and released by the C-cells of the thyroid gland. Its biological function in humans is unclear. Yep, the experts have no idea what the heck Calcitonin does.
Parathyroid hormone is secreted by the parathyroid glands and is the most important regulator of calcium levels in the blood and within the bones.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced by the kidneys that helps to control the concentration of calcium in the blood and is vital for the development of strong bones.
You might be thinking “Wow, that is a lot of hormones!" Yes it is, and those are not the only ones in your body! Not only are there a lot of them, they all work together. The food we eat affects the hormones, so does sleep, stress, exercise and genetics.
The magic combination to achieve optimal health, body composition and sports performance is complicated. There are things we can do to focus on our overall health that is not limited to eating and exercising.
If you have dialed in nutrition and are not seeing results, it is is worthwhile to explore the other areas of life that affect hormones to optimize health and performance.
Wired to Eat
Have you ever experienced stress? Of course you have, there is not a human alive who has not experienced some sort of stress. As many people know, stress can hurt your performance and your health. Stress negatively affect the body's ability to get into a state of fat burning.
There are many articles to help reduce stress, but I think there is a better strategy. Decluttering life and cutting the stress out before it happens. Cutting stress can mean making tough decisions, but it will help you look, feel, and perform better in the long run.
Here are my top five recommendations to have a happier life:
1) Declutter your possessions - Items in your home and immediate surroundings should bring you joy and happy memories. The clothes in your closet and in your drawers should all make you feel happy to wear them. Go through your possessions. If you have items that are sitting around and taking up space, give them away or donate to charity. There is someone out there that could be enjoying that item and by getting rid of it, it allows you the space to have peace and enjoyment in your surroundings.
2) Decluttering your calendar: Most up us have full calendars with work, family and recreational commitments. Learning to say "yes" to things you love to do and "no" to-non essentials and events that bring you happiness will leave you feeling more refreshed and less stressed.
3) Decluttering your goals: In endurance training, my clients are only allowed one "A" primary race every six months. The same should apply to life goals as well. Focusing only on one goal at a time increases the likelihood that you will not only reach but exceed the goal. Multiple goals is a sure way of doing a couple of things badly.
4) Decluttering your thoughts: Every thought that we have has a chemical reaction. Those chemicals determine your feelings of happiness. Practicing gratitude and forgiveness is a great way to amplify happy brain chemicals and reducing stress chemicals.
5) Decluttering your media: Focus your time and energy on media that enriches your life and helps you reach your goals. Watching sensational news stories and negative reporting distracts you from your goals and detracts from you quality of life.
Every moment of the day we have the opportunity to reduce stress and choose happiness. Decluttering life allows you to destress and make space for happiness.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
The Power of Habit
Have you ever had an “ah ha” moment? Lately, I have been focusing on my short and long term goals. I have been reading such self help books like, The Magical Art of Tidying Up, The Importance of Habit, and Essentialism. All the reading I felt would help me with my future plans.
In my goal goal planning, I decided to attend a group five hour guided meditation session to get some clarity on some of my decisions. Yes, you read that right, sitting for five hours straight and thinking. I have attended Gong Meditations, guided meditations, and relaxation yoga to help me focus. I felt this would be a great way to to get clarity on my goals.
Months back, some friends of mine and I were talking about upcoming race. We decided that we would do St. George 70.3. This seemed like a great plan to me. I love training with friends and the 70.3 seemed like a good challenge.
As many of these planning sessions go, I was the only one who ended up signing up for the race. I thought no worries, I can train on my own. Training did not go quite as planned. With every run that I did, my ankle would swell up. It took me a couple of months on continual feedback that running was not going well, I decided to see a podiatrist. After X-Rays and a MRI, the verdict was arthritis and tendonitis. Not good news!
The treatment recommendations were orthotics, that insurance said was “medically unnecessary” and prescription anti-inflammatories.
Sitting there, I realized that I was training for a race that I really don’t want to do, with friends who won’t be there. I have been trying to run even though it causes me constant pain. Maybe, I should stop running, and not do the race? What a novel concepts. Cycling doesn’t seem to hurt my ankle, weight lifting doesn’t bug it either. I love doing both of those things. A simple solution, stop doing the thing that hurting me.
Further into the meditation, I had another ah-ha moment. I have been gradually taking on more online clients. With my online clients and personal training clients, my time has gotten harder and harder to manage. I realized that at some point that I will need to refer my personal training clients to another trainer. I care about them deeply and this is a very hard decision. I asked myself, where do I want to be in one year, five years and beyond. My long term goal is to only have online clients and I have reached the tipping point where I can no longer be an effective coach online and an attentive personal trainer.
Since the meditation lasts five hours, I had more time for contemplation. I had one more ah-ha moment. I have saved up for a new power meter for my new bike. I learned that my favorite researcher is speaking at the TrainingPeaks Endurance Coaching Summit. After the Summit, I plan to attend the TrainingPeaks University to learn more about updates with TrainingPeaks. I felt like my long term goal is to be the best endurance coach possible, my money is better spent attending the conference and TPU. The power meter will have to wait a couple more months.
I am appreciative the the time well spent in mediation. My big take away it wasn’t that I needed to do more things, that I needed to stop doing many things that are not in alignment with my goals. I hope the information will help you think about what your goals are and what you should, or should not, be doing to reach them.