Athletic performance: what’s alcohol got to do with it?

Alcohol: it’s so pervasive in our culture. We drink when we’re happy. We drink when we’re sad. Some sources say we’ve felt the need to get a little tipsy for as long as 10 million years.

In certain amounts it’s good for us. It may reduce the risk of developing and dying from heart disease, ischemic stroke, and diabetes.

In excessive amounts, however, it’s linked to liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, ulcers and gastrointestinal problems, immune system dysfunction, brain damage, malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies, osteoperosis, and heart disease.

Have you ever wondered what it does to performance?

I have.

These are the things I think about when the team and I are sitting on the patio after a soccer game crushing a pitcher of Coors Light on a hot day. They’re reminiscing about their great shot or an amazing save; I’m silently contemplating what the alcohol is doing inside my body at that very moment.

I’ve learned there are direct effects of alcohol on performance and indirect effects.

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Direct effects of alcohol on performance

  1. Alcohol interrupts recovery and adaptation

Muscle gets broken down when you exercise as it strains to keep up with the excessive stress you’ve just placed on it (This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very necessary component of adaptation). To recover, certain things need to happen. Things like protein synthesis.

Protein synthesis occurs in muscle after exercise to increase the size of muscle components. Increasing the size of muscle components makes the muscle stronger and able to function at a higher capacity than it did before.

Protein synthesis is why it’s so important to get nutrients, like protein, into your body within 30 minutes of exercise and again every three to four hours afterwards. Because your body is actively generating new muscle components and it needs the proper building blocks (protein) to do so.

Alcohol interrupts this recovery and adaptation process.

A group of researchers in Australia, led by Evelyn Parr, studied the effect of alcohol on muscle adaptation. The participants in the study completed a bout of resistance exercise followed by some cycling. They found consuming alcohol, even at the same time as protein, after this exercise bout decreased the rate of protein synthesis.

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  1. Alcohol impairs rehydration

If you’re doing any kind of real exercise, you’re going to break a sweat, which means you’re losing water. And water is pretty important in the body – it makes up 60% of the average person’s body weight.

There’s a whole list of things associated with even short-term or mild dehydration. These include headaches, reduced calorie control, muscle cramps, decreased athletic performance, and decreased cognitive performance.

Alcohol impairs rehydration because it is a diuretic. That means it is a substance that increases the production of urine.

Normally, there’s a little hormone circulating in the blood called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). It gets secreted by the pituitary gland and tells the kidneys to keep water in the body and prevent some of it from getting drained away when you pee.

Alcohol tells the pituitary gland to stop secreting ADH. Less ADH means the kidneys aren’t getting the message to keep water in the body and more is getting passed out in the urine.

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Indirect effects of alcohol on performance

  1. Alcohol alters your eating patterns

Diet and performance are intimately linked. You put crap in your body you’re going to get crappy performance.

The alternative is also true. You put high quality stuff in your body and you’re going to get high quality performance.

Alcohol has an interesting effect on eating patterns.

Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island found eating patterns are altered before, during, and following drinking episodes. The participants in the study reported increased appetite, overeating, and making unhealthy food choices.

The findings of the study demonstrate the more long-term eating pattern changes with alcohol. It’s not just what you do while you’re drinking.

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  1. Alcohol affects your sleep

Drinking alcohol reduces the amount and quality of your sleep. Just one night of heavy drinking can reduce your sleep by one to three hours.

Alcohol decreases sleep amount by messing with adenosine – a chemical that makes you sleepy. Drinking alcohol rapidly increases adenosine levels making you tired and able to fall asleep very fast. But, it also causes adenosine to get cleared just as rapidly as it came on. This makes you wake up before you’re completely rested.

Sleep quality also decreases. Alcohol increases the amount of delta and alpha activity and interrupts REM sleep.

Delta activity is slow-wave sleep patterns normally present in sleep. It’s the kind of sleep that allows for memory formation and learning.

Alpha activity is the kind you don’t normally find during sleep. It’s more associated with wakeful rest.

So, with alcohol, you’re asleep, but you’re kind of awake at the same time.

REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, occurs in intervals throughout the night. Not surprisingly, it’s characterized by rapid eye movements, more dreaming and bodily movement, and a faster pulse and breathing.

It’s also considered the most restful type of sleep.

With alcohol, you get less REM sleep, which means you feel groggy and unrested when you wake up.

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Conclusion

Alcohol can be good for you. But timing and amount are everything. Research now tells us that:

  • alcohol right after exercise impairs the recovery process (meaning you’re not going to get as much out of your workouts and your performance during your next gym bout isn’t going to be as good as it could have been),
  • it impedes rehydration and contributes to dehydration (which is directly linked to decreased cognitive and athletic performance)
  • it alters your eating patterns (poorer nutrition, poorer performance)
  • it leads to less restful sleep (less sleep, less recovery, poorer performance)

If you’re going to indulge in a few cold ones, keep it to a moderate amount and make sure you leave enough time after you exercise to let your body recover.

Have a great week and be sure follow the blog and follow Healthy Wheys on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter).

 

 

Quick guide: How to properly combine cardio and strength training

This article is for the cardio junkies. You know who you are: the diehard runners, the marathoners, the cyclers – those among you who think the only way a workout is worthwhile is if you burnt a hole in your runners and you’re dripping with sweat.

I want to convince you to add a wee bit of resistance training to your normal routine.

Doing this will help you get more out of your cardio, I promise.

People who love doing cardio, endurance athletes, and coaches of endurance athletes have long pushed back against the addition of strength training to their own or their athletes training regimes.

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With this article I’ll tell you why you should be doing both. I’ll also tell you exactly how strength training can boost your cardio workouts and how to successfully integrate resistance training with cardio.

Myth: Resistance training is bad if you want to improve cardiovascular fitness

It was long thought that resistance training has no effect on performance in activities that require endurance. Some even thought it was detrimental.

Research tells us this isn’t the case, however – at least when it’s done properly.

Improper integration of resistance and cardiovascular training – when you just add resistance training on top of an already exhausting cardio training workload – will do more harm than good.

If you reduce your cardiovascular training load to accommodate the added stress of resistance training, then you’ll notice a positive effect. I’ve outlined some of them below.

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Why resistance training is good for people who want to get more out of their cardio workouts

We have learned from endurance athletes that those who are stronger perform at a higher level.

Why?

Because resistance training can improve some key factors that contribute to endurance performance: aerobic power and capacity, anaerobic capabilities, and neuromuscular function.

Aerobic power and capacity consists of oxygen transport and oxygen utilization. Basically, how efficiently your body can get blood to working muscles and how well working muscles can make use of it once it gets there.

Anaerobic capabilities include:

  • Glycolytic capacity: how much energy can be created from glycolysis (one of the energy systems in the body).
  • Lactic acid production capacity: how much lactic acid (a byproduct of glycolysis) can be produced.
  • Phosphocreatine stores and utilization: the amount of energy that can be created from the phosphagen system (another one of the energy systems in the body).

Increases in these three factors result in an increase in lactate threshold, movement efficiency, and high intensity exercise endurance, which all contribute to increased endurance exercise performance.

Neuromuscular capacity involves factors related to the brain-muscle connection: motor control, muscle strength, muscle elasticity, and rate of force development.

  • Motor control: relates to how well the brain can regulate body movement.
  • Muscle strength: developing the neuromuscular connection can increase muscle strength.
  • Muscle elasticity: the ability of a muscle to snap back to its original state. Resistance training increases this too.
  • Rate of force development: how quickly a muscle can generate force is a measure of the speed it can contract.

Increases in neuromuscular capacity through strength training can increase movement efficiency and high intensity endurance exercise, which – as we’ve already learned – increase endurance exercise performance.

In addition to performance improvements, strength training can also reduce the likelihood of injury by correcting muscular imbalances and improving joint stability.

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How to integrate the two

The success of the strength training, endurance training combo lies in proper integration. Just adding strength training on top of what you’re already doing endurance-wise is nothing but a fast track to fatigue and burnout.

Taking the care to modulate the workloads of the strength and endurance portions of your overall workout, however, will get you the benefits you’re seeking.

Follow these steps to properly integrate strength training with endurance training.

Step one: Reduce the amount of cardio to accommodate the addition of resistance training.

The intent of cutting back cardio is to avoid introducing too much additional stress on the body, which will leave you vulnerable to fatigue.

How long are your training sessions right now? They shouldn’t increase with the addition of resistance training. If you typically spend an hour exercising, cut back the time you spend during that hour doing cardio to allot for some resistance training (e.g. 40 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of resistance training).

Step two: Maintain the frequency of cardio training.

Many people, including experienced trainers and coaches, compensate for the addition of resistance training by decreasing the frequency (i.e. the number of times per week) of cardio.

The scientific literature suggests better cardio performance outcomes by maintaining the frequency of cardio while decreasing the amount of cardio done in an individual session.

Step three: Mix up which you do first and mix-and-match your intensities.

Changing the sequence of cardio and resistance training is another way to manage fatigue and how fatigue effects your workout (we’re talking about performance here). If you do cardio first, you’re going to have less energy for your resistance training, which you’ll do right after or later on in the day. If you do your resistance training first, you’re going to have less energy for your cardio training.

Switch the order of your workout from time to time – either on a weekly or monthly basis – to maximize adaptations to both types of training while minimizing the changes of overwork and fatigue.

You should also mix-and-match your intensities, always pairing high-intensity with low-intensity. If you have a high intensity cardio session, pair it with a low-intensity resistance training session and vice-a-versa. This technique also ensures you don’t become overworked and fatigued.

Conclusion

If you’re a cardio junkie, I hope I’ve convinced you to add some resistance training to your regular workout routine. If you’re not, I hope you’ve at least learned to appreciate the importance of both in a proper training regime and learned how to seamlessly integrate the two types of exercise to get the most out of your workouts and yourself.

As always, contact me directly via my contact page if you’d like to learn more, follow the blog and follow Healthy Wheys on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Have a great week!

 

 

 

Taking a week off from the gym during the holidays won’t kill you; it could actually make you stronger

The holidays: that special time of year when health and fitness is at the back of everyone’s mind.

“That’s a 2018 problem,” they say.

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2018: The magical land where all the hard work gets done.

But you disagree. You’re committed. I mean, you haven’t made all these sacrifices (the early mornings, eating right, fast days, protein shakes, going for a run instead of binge watching Netflix) for nothing.

The thought of throwing it all down the toilet while you’re away visiting family – or on a beach in Mexico, if you’re lucky – can be anxiety-inducing. You just can’t handle staying out of the gym that long.

I know these people: people that haven’t gone more than two consecutive days without working out.

These are also the people that plateaued ages ago.

They come in every day lifting the same amount of weight and setting the treadmill to the same speed they always have. Nothing changes.

What are they missing? Adequate recovery.

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Get more by doing less? How’s that for a mind-pretzel?

Taking a week off from the gym and letting yourself fully recover mentally and physically won’t negate everything you’ve worked for so far; in fact, it’ll make you stronger.

Maybe you’re so committed to the gym that just reading that sentence gave you a sour, bitter taste in your mouth.

But, please, just hear me out.

Read on and you’ll find out why you need a recovery week (spoiler: it has a lot to do with avoiding the danger of overtraining) and how to do a recovery week properly.

We’re in the middle of December – there’s shopping to do, family to visit, trips to go on, and parties to go to.

Due to all the craziness, this is the perfect time to plan your week off.

Trust me, your body and mind will thank you for it.

Why you need a recovery week

While you may think you’re withering away, getting slower and sloppier the more days you’re away from the gym, nothing could be further from the truth.

First off, inadequate rest can have a severe consequence: overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining syndrome happens when you’ve gone too hard for too long.

With overtraining syndrome, all the things you need to grow, build, and increase fitness – protein synthesis, proper hormone production, cellular energy – slow down. Your body goes into protection and survival mode.

From a progress perspective, this is the worst place you can be.

You need enough rest to prevent overtraining and keep your body in growth mode.

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Lack of rest can prevent you from making solid fitness gains.

Extended breaks from training also provide a mental lift – the brain is arguably the most important organ involved in performance – and trigger powerful physical and biochemical changes aiding improvements in fitness in the long run.

Exercise places stress on the body. It’s this stress that initiates adaptation and increases fitness.

While exercise is the time for stress, recovery is the time for adaptation; one cannot happen without the other.

Its during recovery that important biochemical, neural, and hormonal changes occur: these change your body so you can lift more, or run further, next time.

If you short change your recovery, you don’t allow these changes to have their full effect. It’s kind of like paying for an hour massage and leaving after 30 minutes – you made the investment, why not stay for the full benefit?

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You’ve already made the investment, now capitalize on it.

While an extended break may seem counterintuitive, it can help stave off the harmful effects of overtraining (helping you push passed plateaus), it provides a mental lift, and it allows the body to positively recover from the stresses of exercise.

Enough rest could be what’s missing from your regular routine that will push you to the next level.

How to take a recovery week

When I talk about taking a week off from working out, or other types of intense activity, I don’t mean completely throwing caution to the wind, parking on the couch, and eating Cheetos until you can no longer tell the difference between your natural skin color and the pigment of Cheeto dust.

Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to take a body vacation.

The right way depends on two things: timing and your behavior during the recovery week.

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Get out and take a walk.

Step 1: Schedule your week off

Ideally, it’s in the midst of the holiday season at a time when it’s going to be difficult to get into the gym anyways: when you’re away, family is over, or maybe your gym actually closes down for a stretch during the holidays.

Knowing when you’re going to be on break also allows you to plan your workouts accordingly. You want to be ramping up the intensity until your recovery week.

Step 2: Nutrition

Yes, you still need to eat well.

While your body is trying to recover and repair itself it needs proper fuel and nutrition – antioxidants, protein, BCAAs, etc.

Step 3: Light activity

It’s a good thing to get out and do something light, but you shouldn’t do an activity that you normally do intensely.

For example, a runner shouldn’t go out for a light jog; they’d be better off with a walk or a bike ride.

Doing something too similar may trigger the competitive part of your brain – we are creatures of habit after all. A runner trying to take a light jog may feel the motivation to try best their usual time once they start moving. Or, maybe, they’ll think they aren’t getting anything out of the run if they’re not going as fast, or as far, as they usually go.

Keep it simple, keep it light, and make it different.

Conclusion

Taking time off for rest may seem like blasphemy, but some much needed R and R may be exactly what you need to come back in the new year feeling stronger and better than ever.

Trust the science and trust the process. A well thought out recovery week will do you good.

Pre-workout supplements: What you want and what to avoid

There’s no better feeling than the one you get after a good workout.

Your emotions are running high, stress is low, you’re on top of the world.

But, maybe you find yourself in a bit of a rut right now.

Either you’re up early, out of bed before the sun rises or you’re getting there after a long day of work. Sometimes it feels like there just isn’t enough motivation in the world.

And getting to the gym is only half the battle. Real progress is only made when your workout is intense and long enough.

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To break yourself out of a rut or to make sure you get the best bang for your buck when you are in the gym, a pre-workout supplement could be the answer you’re looking for.

A pre-workout supplement will help you up your intensity and grind out a difficult workout. It could help you get you the gains you want.

Where do you start? What separates the good from the bad? What ingredients do you want in your pre-workout and which ones do you want to avoid at all costs?

I’ve got you covered. Read on and find out everything you need to know.

What are pre-workout supplements?

Pre-workout supplements are supplements taken before you exercise. That’s really all they have in common.

The ingredients in each one can vary quite a bit depending on the brand.

Pre-workout supplements generally claim to increase:

  • Energy
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Lean muscle gains

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But, not all of them can effectively do this.

What you want your pre-workout to have

Ingredients that prime the mind for exercise

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Your mind is your most powerful ally when it comes to a good performance in the gym. It can also be your biggest enemy.

You want a pre-workout supplement that gets you in the right mind space to crush it.

Pre-workout supplements can help you get there by priming your brain for increased mental focus and activity. Supplements that do this have a moderate amount of caffeine in them.

Caffeine before exercise has been shown to increase overall performance, make the workout seem easier, and make it more enjoyable.

I say moderate amounts of caffeine because there are some pre-workout supplements on the market that contain way too much. These ones, which I can tell you from firsthand experience, leave you with the jitters and battling a major energy crash.

Ingredients that prime the body for stress and recovery

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Alongside ingredients that prime the mind for exercise, good pre-workout supplements also prime the body to withstand the stresses of exercise and to recover from it.

I’m talking adaptogens, creatine monohydrate, Nitrosigine, and citrulline.

For more on adaptogens, please check out this article.

Adaptogens are part of the nutritional support your body needs to handle stress.

And exercise is a form of stress.

Not in the negative sense you probably think of when you say you’re “stressed out”. But, in a positive way. Exercise stresses the body and the body adapts by growing and becoming more efficient. The stress from exercise is what makes you stronger.

Adaptogens help reduce and resist the effects of stress and improve the body’s capacity to perform under stressful circumstances.

Other ingredients a good pre-workout supplement has are creatine monohydrate, Nitrosigine, and citrulline.

Creatine helps you work out longer and harder by increasing the amount of energy available to working muscles.

Nitrosigine is a combination of the amino acid arginine and silicon. Together, they increase blood flow and improve delivery of oxygen to muscles.

Citrulline helps support better blood flow too. And it helps protect against muscle soreness.

When you have all three of these ingredients working together in the same supplement, you have a combination that increases your power output, decreases fatigue, improves blood flow, accelerates muscle gains, and improves performance.

A supplement like this can be boosted by with the addition of caffeine and the right combination of adaptogens.

What you don’t want your pre-workout to have

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You don’t need any unnecessary fillers.

A lot of the ingredients you find on some pre-workout supplement’s labels have zero scientific support. These are things like maltodextrin, artificial flavors and colors, and other stuff that won’t help you when you’re exercising.

You also don’t need artificial sweeteners or “proprietary blends”.

To be on the safe side, sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose should be avoided.

“Proprietary blends” are a mixture of ingredients whose specific amounts do not have to be stated on the label. Just the total amount of the “blend” has to be listed. Manufacturers often do this to keep their competitors from knowing exactly what is in their product.

But, that means you also don’t know exactly what you’re putting in your body. Don’t waste your time.

Lastly, check out the reviews.

One of the best ways to nail down a good supplement is to read the comments of people who have actually tried it.

A few negative reviews on a supplement isn’t something to get worked up over. But, if it has a grocery list of complaints from everyone who has tried it, move on to something better.

Conclusion

Pre-workout supplements are designed to prepare your body for better strength and power before exercise. Taking a pre-workout supplement before you work out gives your training a boost.

Pre-workout supplements that contain ingredients such as nitrosigine and citrulline deliver nutrients and oxygen to working muscles. Creatine, which is also an ingredient in many pre-workout supplements, improves your performance and reduces fatigue.

Caffeine can give you the mental boost you need to focus and adaptogens provide your body with the nutritional support it needs to handle the stress of exercise.

If you’d like to know more about pre-workout supplements, please contact me, I’d love to help you out.

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