At times, our workouts become as routine as brushing our teeth and making oatmeal for breakfast. We go through the motions and could practically do it in our sleep. And, speaking of sleep, can you recall when you last had at least 7 to 8 hours? Without sufficient sleep, who has the time or energy to even think about preparing meals? Trips to the grocery store have become as stale as the saltine crackers in the back of your pantry.
In order to make gains in the gym, we must challenge ourselves with intense workouts, a nutrient-rich diet and plenty of rest. But when you still haven’t nailed your pull-up goal, and your determination is lost (along with your earbuds at the bottom of your gym bag) workouts can become less appealing and even burdensome. Perhaps the last time you added weight to the squat rack, you were barely able come back up after the third rep.
If you’re struggling to excel in the gym and you’re brushing off sleep as something to “do later,” it’s time to reprioritize. Our fitness goals and progress are greatly impacted by our activity level, diet and the body’s ability to recover. Often overlooked, our hormones go haywire when we fail to find balance in our lives and seek quick fixes such as caffeine and excessive cardio sessions to relieve the stress and frustration.
Here are three healthy habits that will help you overcome the impact of unhappy hormones.
Healthy Habit #1: Monitor the intensity and frequency of your workouts
Result: Improved cortisol levels
When your body experiences stress, cortisol is released. This hormone, produced in the adrenal glands, helps your body respond under pressure and can help control blood sugar levels, supports energy metabolism and helps reduce inflammation. However, excess exercise can elevate levels of cortisol, breaking down muscle protein for fuel. It is recommended that you exercise aerobically 30 to 40 minutes per workout, three or four times per week. Aim for an intensity level that’s 55 to 85 percent of your maximal heart rate.
Healthy Habit #2: Improve the quality of your sleep
Result: Improved HGH levels
If you’re missing out on your 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, you’re also missing out on the production of human growth hormone (hGH). The body produces hGH during the REM cycles of sleep. It’s secreted by the anterior pituitary gland, and is responsible for muscle growth, immune health and fat metabolism. It’s also produced by heavy strength training. Try sleeping with an eye mask and ear plugs to improve the quality of your sleep.
Healthy Habit #3: Reassess your diet
Result: Improved insulin levels
When our diets lack healthy fats and protein, the digestion of refined carbs results in blood sugar spikes that can lead to headaches and fatigue. This is because the pancreas overcompensates with release of the hormone insulin. Over time, your body becomes resistant to insulin. When cells are insulin resistant, they can’t process sugar so it’s converted to fat. Avoid highly processed foods that are high in carbohydrates and trans fats.
It takes time and patience to find the sweet spot of activity, nutrition and rest. Too much HIIT, too little sleep or too many cups of coffee can hamper your progress and leave you feeling defeated rather than determined. Putting these tips into practice will help keep your hormones stable so you can focus on improving your strength.