Training is hard work. Being pushed to your limits, learning new movements, working on your weaknesses isn’t fun. All that work can be for nothing if we are not taking care of the other 23 hours in the day. We can even expand that to those of us who train 3-4 days a week which leaves 164-165 hours. That sounds like a lot of time, but of course the majority of that is working or sleeping. Let’s explore what can be done to ensure we are entering each session at our fullest potential to push hard, learn and improve our weaknesses.
Since a large chunk of our day may be spent at work or school, let’s start there. In this month’s post let’s look at the two most common training session scenarios. The before work group and the after work group. If you’re an “early bird gets the worm” type you may find the morning most productive to get your training session in. However you will be entering your workout in fasted and dehydrated state so grabbing a small snack to fuel your training session will be a great idea. A piece of toast with nut butter, small fruit and tall glass of water is a perfect snack. For those coming to a training session after work you may just need a quick energy boost pre session. A small fruit, granola bar or apple/fruit puree pouch are all great examples. Post session nutrition can also be adjusted based on what your day looks like after your session. If you’re heading to work a protein shake or bar and water in the car will your give your body the nutrients it needs to recover and re-hydrate as well as the fuel to get you to lunch. In the case of the “after work crew” timing is still important. If you have food prepared and live close to the gym then you may not need a post training shake or bar. Each day of your week may be different so as with everything planning ahead will be key to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs.
The second biggest chuck of your day is spent sleeping. Sleep is such a large topic that it will be getting a dedicated post in the coming weeks. With Sleep Science and the benefits of good sleep hygiene gaining mainstream attention through books, professional athletes/teams as well as large companies and Universities setting up nap pods for employees and students.
For the purposes of this post we will look at why the timing of when you go to sleep may be even more important than just getting in your “8 hours” as well as how to create your personal sleep routine and sleep environment. Here is a quick background on the architecture of sleep. Your body has two basic sleep stages – Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Non-REM (specifically the 3rd Stage of NREM) can last from 20-40 minutes and is when tissue growth and repair occurs, Human Growth Hormone is released which is essential for muscle development. On the other hand REM sleep is when your brain processes information from the day and stores it to memory. Your body cycles through NREM to REM every 90 mins or so. In an article on Time.com Dr. Matt Walker, Head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkley said “that 90-minute cycle is fairly stable thought the night, but the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep changes.” He also explains in the article that “non-REM sleep tends to dominate your slumber cycles in the early part of the night.”
We can see that both Non-REM and REM are extremely important and if we stay up late or wake really early we miss the opportunity to gain the full benefits of each. Now that we know why sleep is important to our both our bodies and brain. Let’s look at how to improve our sleep hygiene and create a great sleep environment.
As mentioned above if we can go to sleep earlier then we will get more “time” in higher Non-REM percentage sleep cycles. So that is really a great place to start. Try initially just backing your bed time up by 15-30 mins every couple days with the aim of getting to bed around 10-11 pm.
Another “sleep hack” is to lower your room temperature to 20°C as this will help to lower your body temperature which helps the onset of sleep. Another factor in signalling your body that is time to fall asleep is light. We want our room to be as dark as possible as well as eliminate screen time before bed. This helps keep our “body clocks” aka circadian rhythm synced to the sunrise and sunset.
One last “hack” is to create an individual sleep routine. It may be a hot shower, organizing your next days to do list, short yoga flow, reading (not on screen) or meditation. Something that relaxes your mind and body and creates the association and signal that it is time for bed. Here is an example of my sleep routine: I have a glass of water, plug in my phone on my coffee table in the living room and pull down my “black out” window shades. I then set my alarm (I use an old school alarm clock) I read a book (right now it’s “Showboat: The life of Kobe Bryant” by Roland Lazenby) for anywhere between 20-30 mins. I also try and get to bed around the same time each night to keep my circadian rhythm consistent.
If we can push ourselves to improve in the “other 23 hours” the same way we can push ourselves in training. Not only will we enter each session with a full tank nutritionally and recovery wise but also have stored the movements we are learning to memory for the next time we need them in fitness or life.
Author: Jason Melhado