Scott Markey | Fitness
For the past few months I have been doing everything right-training hard, eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, even recuperating well, which I was not doing well until I read one of your columns. Even so, I have the right attitude, looking forward to every workout. It seems that lately my results have not been good. What could my problem be?
J.M. San Diego, Ca.
This is not unusual. In fact, it happens too often. Let me identify a few contributing factors, as well as offer some solutions to get you back on track.
There are some things you deal with on a daily basis that could cause a catabolic disaster! In basic terms, catabolism acts as the sole energy provider for the proper preservation of nearly all cells.
Mental stress. Can the stress of your job, relationships, or even your financial worries affect your training gains? You bet they can! They can play havoc with your results.
Remember your worst enemy, cortisol, is secreted in response to any stressor —mental or physical. Also, understand that the human body works on a priority system. The No. 1 priority is survival, and the body interprets stress as a threat to survival itself. It doesn’t know if you are stressed-out from your job or even something relatively trivial.
Believe me, during periods of high stress, not only is growth and body fat loss the last thing your body will take on, but you will have a pretty hard time keeping your muscles from being stripped of proteins through the actions of cortisol. In essence, you are likely to lose muscle and gain body-fat.
What to do? Of course, awareness of the stressor and the amount of stress in your life is an important step in the understanding of your potential anabolic (growth or building up) state. You might not be able to eliminate all the stress from your life, but you can learn to manage it.
Nutrition. First, caloric intake makes a difference. This should make a lot of sense right off the bat. You know how you feel when you are very hungry? You become irritable, can’t concentrate, have a headache; these are all symptoms of your body handling a stressor. Being on low calories is also a type of stress on your system.
It’s no wonder that when you reduce calories — either deliberately when you diet, or when you just haven’t been able to eat as much as normal for a few days — cortisol increases, causing loss of muscle tissue, and body-fat loss slows down as well.
Take an in-depth look at how much you are eating (the good food, of course). If you have been training right, but not making gains in the muscle or fat-loss department, it’s a sure bet you are not eating enough, or your calories are coming from the wrong source. Not only does this mean your body lacks nutrients to support muscular growth and or fat-loss, but it is thrown into a stress response situation that makes it extremely difficult to maintain an anabolic state.
Rest. How many of you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night? Not enough of you, I’m sure. I myself struggle to get half that sometimes. When you are not rested, you put your body into one of its most catabolic states. Just a small change in the amount of sleep you get a night can put you right back on track, as well as putting you back in that coveted anabolic state.
Remember, the key to muscular growth, or fat-loss is not whether or not you’re doing a few things right, but whether you have created an environment in your body in which all the things you do right will help add up to you seeing gains again in your training and diet. Anti-catabolism and anabolism lead to the exact same result. More muscle mass and less body-fat.
Stress. Finally, I know working around the stress response can be difficult, but we can start by understanding a few things. First, we can’t escape stress, no one can lead a completely stress free life. We have just got to learn to be physically aware of stress, and then learn how to recognize it and manage it. Now I’m not suggesting quitting your job or getting a divorce. I’m just saying, eliminate those little stresses that add up to big stresses!
While it is nearly impossible to control every stressful situation that comes along, it is possible to control many of our reactions to stress.
With a conscious effort, we can learn to manage stress and reduce its impact on our health. Which, after all, is the most important thing in life we can do for ourselves. Good luck to all of you out there and keep the questions coming. I am glad to help with all of your fitness and health needs and goals.
— Scott Markey has over 25 years in the fitness and health industry. He has graced dozens of magazine covers and specializes in physique management, training and nutritional consultation. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at email@example.com.