I’m not a subscriber to the No Pain No Gain philosophy.
I do not believe you need to wreck yourself in the gym, nor starve yourself. Neither is actually going to get you the body you desire and actually do you more harm than good.
You need to find a balance. And balance doesn’t mean doing less or not putting in the effort.
It all comes down to being your own ‘Metabolism Detective’ and what I like to call the ‘Goldilocks Solution’.
You need to find your own ‘sweet spot‘
This starts with knowing your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (yes you can actually calculate this) and using this scientific tool to look after your metabolism.
Despite there being more information on health and fitness today than ever before, I’ve found myself getting confused and frustrated by all the mixed messages so I wanted to clarify and pour in my own wisdom from 15 years in nutrition and women’s health.
After what feels like 100’s of hours of research (I’m a such a health and nutrition geek), I’ve found a few principles that seem to be the “keys” to effective and sustainable weight loss. One of them is the importance of building healthy habits into your life. Another one is having the belief you can actually do it.
And there is the actual Science. And Science doesn’t lie.
In this brief post we’ll talk about what I feel is the most important scientific principle of them all.
The most common reasons for continued lack of energy, chronic fatigue and/or prolonged muscle soreness are:
1. Depletion and Malnutrition
2. Systemic Inflammation
3. Hormone Imbalance by lack of efficient rest
#1 Depletion and Malnutrition
This is gonna sound crazy to you but most women I meet in their 40s and 50s who complain of prolonged tiredness are actually deficient in key nutrients or dealing with the aftermath of slowly starving themselves.
Sounds dramatic, but it is true.
Let me ask you, does this sound familiar…
You wake up, you often skip breakfast, then get hungry around midmorning and you have only enough time to drink copious amounts of tea or coffee.
You might have some lunch, but as you are so worried about eating too much, you grab a salad or quick sandwich or maybe a few pieces of fruit. And you feel quite good about yourself for eating healthy.
Then you get home and you are starving and exhausted.
You don’t have time or energy to cook so you order a take away or just throw your dinner in the microwave or oven.
This has little or no nutritional content. Full of processed carbs, no live food.
You are still hungry before bed so you choose to eat toast, cereal or binge on wine or crisps.
Does it sound like I live in your house?
So, why does this do so much damage?
You are not eating ENOUGH QUALITY FOOD. You are definately not eating enough protein and you are not getting any live food.
You body is not allowed the building blocks to build muscle, the phytonutrients to fight inflammation and fuelling your metabolism.
TDEE – The Science Behind Weight Loss
Everyday your body burns a specific number of calories just by existing. This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate. The BMR is based on your weight, height and age.
When you exercise or simply expend energy through physical activity, you burn additional calories. When you combine your BMR with the calories you burn through physical activity, you get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure.
This is what is known as your maintenance calories.
If you eat this amount of calories you will maintain your weight and you are giving your body enough fuel to maintain all its essential functions.
This is your baseline.
When you determine your TDEE you also need to take account of the calories you burn through exercise.
You lose weight by having a calorie deficit.
A calorie deficit is eating less than your body needs to maintain itself and thus creating a deficit. Ever had more bills than you had money? You had a financial deficit. A calorie deficit is having less energy than you need to stay the same weight.
Let’s say that based on your age, weight, and height your BMR is 1700 calories and through some physical activity you end up with a TDEE of 2300 calories. To maintain weight you simply eat 2300 calories every day.
To gain weight (and build muscle) you eat more than your TDEE and to lose weight you eat less.
Of course, you can also achieve a deficit through burning more calories through exercise however there is a downside in this theory as there is only so far you can go until the calorie deficit becomes dangerous for your body and its functions, especially your metabolism.
Every effective diet I’ve come across, whether it’s high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb and carb cycling uses a calorie deficit to achieve weight loss.
This is why we use a 7 Day Cycle that includes Low Cal days and Fasting Days which means that you will have a NET DEFICIT throughout your week. So you will be getting all the benefits of a calorie deficit without any of the negatives i.e. you can still build lean muscle (you cannot build muscle in a long term calorie deficit, only maintain) and you will be boosting your metabolism, not harming it, get it?
How Many Calories Are We Talking?
Technically you can eat nothing all day and achieve weight loss through having a calorie deficit.
Many “miracle diets” claim incredible results through eating specific magical foods or using unique protocols. Unfortunately many diets out there are nothing more than glorified Crash Diets. These diets put you into severe caloric deficit resulting in, yes weight loss (usually short term), but they can also cause health complications and damage to your metabolism.
Also your body cannot build lean muscle when it is in calories deficit and our programme is not about making you skinny but helping you to achieve a lean, strong and curvy body which has strength and is healthy in the long run.
To avoid doing damage and so that you can also build lean muscle and increase strength , the general recommendation is to follow a 7 Day Carb Cycle with certain days of reduced calories or reduction of the types of calories based on your activity.
Note that your body can become conditioned to the same repeated exercise. This can affect your TDEE and hence why we shake up your workouts from Tabata, AMRAP and heavy lifting to avoid plateaus and boredom!
You are lacking key nutrients for recovery and fatloss such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin D and Amino Acids.
I handle my trace minerals – phytonutrients directly from fruits, vegetables and berries- intake through consuming Juice Plus capsules plus a Vitamin D & K supplement.
When you talk about the “must-haves” of supplements, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are at the top of the list. Leucine, isoleucine and valine are best known for their support of muscle growth, but the benefits go much further. With continued used, BCAAs can improve strength, accelerate recovery and even boost fat loss.
Keep reading to learn the four main benefits of BCAAs.
Lean Muscle Building
You’re probably well aware that muscle tissue is made of protein, and protein is made up of amino acids. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that muscle protein synthesis is essentially just the process of combining amino acids. However, BCAAs take their role in muscle building one step further.
Research has shown that BCAAs, and particularly leucine, increase muscle growth by directly stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Leucine acts almost like a key that signals the body to begin stringing amino acids together to create muscle protein.
A study presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that experienced strength trainers taking a BCAA supplement for eight weeks gained about twice as much muscle and strength as those not taking BCAAs.
As the building blocks of muscle, BCAAs are critical for the maintenance and repair of muscle tissue. They can also help you maintain the muscle you already have by blocking the stress hormone cortisol, and acting as an energy source for your muscles. Unlike most aminos that are metabolized in the liver, BCAAs are metabolized in skeletal muscle, which means your body is able to break them down quickly for fuel. When glucose is low due to rigorous exercise, amino acids provide the energy your muscles need, effectively preventing catabolism. Studies show that BCAAs also decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Aside from their muscle-building and recovery benefits, research shows BCAAs can also improve performance. Taking them before your workout allows your body to utilize the supplement for fuel and repair during the exercise, which helps increase strength and endurance. And basically you will not feel so out of shape or pooped!
For example, one study in 2005 found that leucine-enriched protein increased strength gains by 30% over eight weeks. Another study by the Air Force demonstrated that participants taking a BCAA supplement experienced increased strength and lean muscle in comparison to those taking a placebo. Finally, results from a Japanese study showed that BCAA supplementation before strenuous exercise increased endurance.
This research makes it clear that BCAAs play a significant role in improving performance. Mix them in with your pre-workout or sip on them up to 30 minutes into your workout for the best results.
Finally, research has shown that BCAAs aid in fat loss. In a 2009 study, those strength training taking BCAAs lost about twice as much body fat as those taking protein without added BCAAs. Another study out of Brazil found that 6-week leucine supplementation caused a large drop in body fat. To explain this dramatic result, the researchers proposed that the increase in protein synthesis stimulated by leucine increased energy expenditure so much that it helped to burn off body fat.
It’s all about the timing and amount…
To reap all of these benefits, supplement with BCAAs throughout the day. We recommend the following schedule:
AM – Take your BCAA blend in your morning shake (or just Leucine & Glutamine on its own)
Pre Workout – Take Amino NRG to provide energy for your muscles and improve performance if you are feeling fatigued.
Post Workout – Take BCAAs in your post workout shake during or after your workout to prevent muscle breakdown, support lean muscle growth and optimize recovery.
#2 Systemic Inflammation
Systemic inflammation can make us fat, just not feel right , and be a “silent” killer lurking within us. One of the more well-known silent killer’s is high blood pressure which can be caused by systemic inflammation. Forty-year-old marathoners drop dead during a regular everyday run and middle aged moms stroke out because of systemic inflammation.
To detect this inflammation within us we have to eliminate certain food groups from our diets and closely observe how our body responds. It is a bothersome process but the rewards are high if you really do clear up systemic inflammation. Not only does the risk of a heart attack or stroke decrease but you may reduce weight, brain fog, fatigue and other things that have been bringing you “down.”
Let’s talk about the basics of inflammation and what you can do to determine whether or not the foods you’re putting into your body are causing systemic inflammation.
So, why does inflammation occur?
Inflammation is part of the immune process that fights invaders like bacteria and viruses. Though systemic inflammation sounds scary, inflammation itself is not always a bad thing. It aids in the speedy delivery of repair materials in the blood to damaged tissues. The term comes from the Greek word “inflamo” which means “I ignite” because inflamed areas feel warm.
Acute inflammation versus systemic inflammation
Acute inflammation has a sudden onset and lasts a short time. Pimples, splinters, sprained ankles, and sore throats are good examples of acute inflammation. Inflamed areas are generally swollen, warm, and red.
When you step on a nail or get scratched deeply your body starts the inflammation process. Bacteria driven into the moist, warm, and nutrient rich tissues quickly multiply. Patrolling white blood cells recognize the bacterial protein as foreign and raise the alarm by releasing chemicals that cause inflammation.
These powerful chemicals, called cytokines, are the key to understanding inflammation. “Cyto” means cell and “kines” means movement. Cytokines are the chemical messengers sent out by white blood cells. There are dozens of different types of cytokines and they profoundly change cells. For example, cytokines can make the cells lining the arteries put out receptors to grab molecules (sugar) that end up clogging the arteries.
The cytokines cause capillaries (very small blood vessels) to become permeable and leak out plasma—the watery part of the blood. Swelling, redness, pain, and warmth are the results of white blood cells and nutrients flowing into the tissues. Cytokines keep the area inflamed and tender until healing is well under way.
Systemic inflammation is also called chronic systemic inflammation or chronic inflammation. “Chronic” means long-term, as in months or years. “Systemic” means the cytokines are in the blood affecting the various body systems (circulatory, digestive, etc.). All the systems of the body are subjected to the cytokines of the immune response.
An extreme example of systemic inflammation is sepsis. This is an inflammatory reaction to bacteria in the circulatory system (say from a foot infection) the immune system could not contain. Sepsis, formerly called blood poisoning, kills thousands of people each year. The cytokines released into the bloodstream shock the system with inflammation severe enough to cause organ failure. Antibiotics help tremendously but people regularly lose their lives and limbs to sepsis.
Infection by a virus or bacteria is not necessary to cause systemic inflammation—an allergen can do it. An allergen is a molecule that triggers an immune response like an allergic reaction. White blood cells respond to a harmless protein like they do to a dangerous bacterial or viral protein and release cytokines into the bloodstream.
Because each of our immune systems is unique and unpredictable, who gets which disease as the result of an allergic reactions seems random and mysterious. The unpredictability results from previous protein exposure (for example pollen, bacteria etc.) and the person’s genetics.
Asthma is a familiar example of inflammation of the respiratory system. In asthma, the lungs react to an allergen like pollen or mold with inflammation. This inflammation causes the linings of the airways to swell and restrict airflow.
Food or other proteins (like from poison ivy) can trigger allergic reactions and systemic inflammation of different strengths. The trick is to identify food groups that barely trigger an immune response.
Other problems caused by systemic inflammation:
- Acid reflux
- Skin conditions like psoriasis and acne
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Candidiasis (yeast/fungal)
- Urinary tract infections
In trying to fix your body, inflammation can cause great damage—especially in our blood vessels. Recall the cytokines are inflaming the cells lining the arteries! The inflammation causes fatty deposits called plaques to develop on the walls of the arteries. These deposits can eventually break loose and cause heart attacks and strokes.
An extreme example of a food allergen disease is celiac disease—caused by the wheat protein called gluten. Gluten can cause violent diarrhea as the lining of the intestine undergoes inflammation after attack by the white cells. The walls of the intestine become permeable, fluid is drawn from the blood into the intestine, and expelled as the body tries to quickly expel the allergen.
Many more people have a less serious reaction than celiac disease called wheat sensitivity. Bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain and other symptoms disappear upon removal of gluten from their diet. The symptoms can flare up or disappear randomly.
Often people do not associate wheat with their symptoms. That’s the problem. We don’t react hard enough to associate a food group with some symptoms. We just don’t feel right, randomly gain weight, and can’t associate it with any one thing.
Inflammation in our gut affects weight loss and health
A large part of the food allergen story affecting inflammation involves the gut’s bacterial population. These bacteria are known as the microbiome. The microbiomes’ “good” bacteria produce substances that keep the gut’s lining healthy and strong. The intestinal cells produce a protective mucosal layer that selectively feed the good bacteria.
Eating an inflammatory food like sugar or gluten or any food you are sensitive to, changes the microbiome. These inflammatory foods allow the bad bacteria to flourish and cause excess gas, diarrhea, constipation, aches, etc. These bacteria also affect how we store fat, burn glucose, and play a role in obesity.
When bad gut bacteria flourish, the lining of the intestine becomes inflamed and “leaky”. Leaked food proteins enter the blood and cause inflammation through the circulatory, respiratory, and other systems. The bad bacteria also cause weight gain by changing how we burn glucose and store fat.
Good bacteria digest fiber, produce vitamins and many other substances that keep us healthy. Scientists are just starting to identify these substances and what they do. It is a good idea to have some fiber every meal from a vegetable or fruit. (Note that fruit, with its sugars, can alter some people’s weight loss success.)
Most of our immune system is alertly standing guard in our intestines. Big guns in the form of white blood cells are needed to handle the bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc. coming in with our food and especially water. If the bad guys get a foothold it can be fatal—over half of the world’s childhood deaths (0-4) are caused by diarrheal diseases.
The inflammation problems start when our immune systems have trouble distinguishing harmless food proteins from the harmful proteins from bacteria, viruses, etc. To a white blood cell, an allergen is an allergen is an allergen—no matter its origin.
The white blood cells don’t take chances when an antigen appears and a vigorous immune response generates inflammatory cytokines. The cytokines inflame the gut lining and it “leaks,” meaning the joints between the cells lining the gut expand. The bigger openings allow larger molecules from the food into the bloodstream triggering systemic inflammation.
Systemic inflammation and hormones affecting weight
Systemic inflammation has been associated with leptin and insulin resistance. Leptin is the hormone that causes us to feel satisfied and stop eating. Insulin allows our cells to take in nutrients like glucose. Becoming resistant to leptin causes cravings and weight gain. Having 12 hours between your last and first meals may help prevent leptin resistance.
How to find an allergen—it’s not rocket science, but it is hard
The first stage in finding an allergen is elimination of exposure to possible irritants. We do this naturally. If you suspect a new laundry detergent or perfume makes you itchy, you stop using it and see if the itchiness also stops. To test it you use it and see what happens.
Food usually takes about two to four weeks to test for adverse effects.
The first step is called elimination and it is followed by reintroduction.
These are seven of the most common inflammatory food groups:
- Sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Wheat (and other gluten based products)
- Dairy products
- Legumes (soy, peanuts, some beans)
- Transfats (from margarine, processed and fried foods) and omega 6 fats (vegetable oil)
- Food additives like MSG and sulfites found in processed meats
Any food or food component can be added for you personally, for example caffeine, eggs or strawberries.
Eliminating all of these out of the diet at once for 2 to 4 weeks is the quickest way of knowing their effect on you. If you don’t stop them all at once and one does have an effect you won’t know how really good you could feel.
Yes, it is hard. Yes, it probably will be worth it. Yes, it may take several attempts to pull it off.
After a month or so of detoxing you should feel great. If not, you may have an allergy to an uncommon food group, food additive, or other allergen. You may also be stressed enough that the stress hormones are causing leaky gut. You may have a pathogen or a genetic disease. You may even have had an emotional or mental upset that brought you down. The possibilities go on and on. Odds are though, you’ll feel better.
The next step may be risky for weight gain but you observe what happens when you reintroduce the food groups one by one. Leave the sugar and grains for last because they affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestine. They also have little or no nutrient value to speak of, are addictive, and cause a “toxic” not “true” hunger.
By the end of this experiment you should know which food groups inflame your system causing diarrhea, body aches, headaches, brain fog, etc. You will have a lot of hard earned knowledge about yourself and your body to use going forward. The idea is try something, learn, try something, learn, over and over until you have a workable policy for you.
There are loads of foods left to eat after eliminating those above. The internet provides plenty of recipes to keep the diet interesting. Vegetables and meats should be organic if possible since any additive may cause inflammation.
Most important is that one way or another, you develop your own method to experiment and detect the effect of any food group on you.
Stress makes all this even more complicated
To complicate this investigation further, stress alone can cause leaky gut and the same symptoms as a food allergy. You should try to avoid and counter stress (for example with exercise) while doing the food group restriction experiment. If you experience higher than normal stress and have symptoms while re-introducing a food back in you have to redo the experiment. This is why careful observation and notes are needed.
For more information see my articles about stress, hormones and eating in general.
#3 Hormone Imbalance & lack of good rest
Trying to be healthy without understanding hormones makes a hard job harder.
Let’s focus on Cortisol—the stress hormone
Cortisol is a stress hormone from the adrenal glands. What stresses did we have as we evolved? It was stressful to have to bully fellow clan members and have them bully us to establish a hierarchy for food and sex. It was stressful to have the clan next door trying to kill us or steal us or drive us from our territory. The daily hunger was stressful, the walking miles every day was stressful, as was being hunted for food.
We released a lot of cortisol as we evolved these bodies in a dog eat dog world. Nowadays traffic, coworkers, employers, work, politicians, etc. stress us out. When stressed we seek greasy, salty, and/or sugary food in response to cortisol. I discuss this in more detail in my post on how stress affects your metabolism.
[Related Article: how to boost your metabolism to overcome hormonal imbalance,throid and adrnal fatigure]
High cortisol levels raise blood sugar, causes insulin resistance and increases belly fat.
The handling of stress has to be addressed for weight control—we need to have a strategy to prevent a cortisol-induced binge.
Getting plenty of sleep is important to handle stress and prevent overeating.
By far the simplest stress handler is exercise.
Running like a bear is after you will kick the “thin” genetic program in and you will not feel like eating. So running as fast as possible for say a minute at a time several times a day is the idea. This is why my Body Change programmes all include Sprint Bursts and Tabata style training.
The same goes for weights—pumping iron quickly to fatigue the muscles will mimic climbing away from predators in trees. And this is why we encorporate kettlebell workouts to Tabata style training with maximum reps.
An exercise regime should include stressing and flexing the joint ligaments and tendons to stimulate blood flow. This is what kettlebell training does to your joints to help them to handle or tolerate stress and prevent joint problems.
Eating to manipulate your hormones
It makes sense there would be more hormones to get us to eat than to stop eating.
Eating and survival go together. Mother Nature says, “When in doubt, eat.” The main hormones that get us to eat are ghrelin, dopamine, and cortisol. These hormones push the gas pedal to eat.
Leptin puts the brakes on eating.
Triglycerides and glucose might as well be gas pedals as they stop leptin from stopping us from eating. Remember, we get those two from eating processed food.
We get dopamine from processed food- so be sure to avoid that. Exercise can also cause dopamine to rise so it can be a trigger to eat more, which is good but you need to choose to eat the right thing at the right time.
Simply keep your eye on the protein and eat your fruits and vegetables
To start with, in order to release leptin our meals should have a good dose of protein—about 30g at each meal. When in doubt, craving or stressed, eat more protein. By covering the rest of the plate with vegetables (some cooked in good oil) and eating some fruit, all nutrients will be covered.
After eating this protein and plant material the body will sense it has a good dose of amino acids, fiber, minerals, etc., be satiated, and release leptin. The leptin will put the brakes on your appetite and you will automatically stop eating because you are satisfied. If you are leptin resistant this may take a while (we’ll talk about this later)
After 5 or 6 hours, ghrelin will be released and will enhance your senses of taste and smell. The added sensory impact will make the next meal more fulfilling, making leptin release easier. Repeat this protein, fat, vegetable and fruit dosing sooner if you are craving.
Staying off the gas and knowing where the brakes are
The most important thing is to avoid processed food. Just keep packing in the nutrients, especially protein, until your body says enough is enough. Eating fruits and vegetables feeds the gut a steady, reliable stock of fiber that nourishes the good bacteria (they maintain the gut lining) and gives the gut muscles something to grip (no constipation).
Sleeping and exercising as much as possible will help keep the cortisol levels down. If you do get stressed or hungry simply eat your meal early or a have a dose of protein—hopefully with a veg or fruit. In a while, the benefits of eating with your hormones in mind should encourage you to do more research that will let you tweak it to your liking.
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