“Diet Starts Monday”

 
How many times have you uttered the following phrase, “diet starts Monday!”, or “[insert new workout routine/lifestyle change] starts tomorrow!”? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably uttered some variation of those phrases countless times, typically after a day / weekend / month(s) of less than ideal lifestyle choices. One of the hardest things people struggle with is getting back on the wagon after they’ve strayed from the clean, healthy living path for an extended period of time. The thought of heading back into the gym after taking a few weeks or months off can be daunting. The same can be said for getting back onto a structured nutrition plan after indulging in cheap calories and junk food over an extended weekend getaway.
 
Our lifestyle habits, for better or worse, tend to be largely influenced by momentum. When you are in a positive feedback loop of working out regularly, eating healthy, and going to bed at a reasonable time, it seems to require very little effort to keep the good times rolling. This concept also applies to when we are in a negative feedback loop of eating crappy food, staying up late watching Netflix, and skipping the gym due to lack of energy and motivation. Breaking out of our well established pattern requires a massive shift in momentum akin to stopping a freight train barreling down the tracks. So, the question remains: how do we get back into the positive feedback loop after say a weekend bender of junk food, sleep deprivation, and ample amounts of “12 oz. curls”?
 
Getting back on track is as simple as returning to your normal routine as quickly as possible. Presuming you were on a quality routine prior to your most recent departure from the norm, simply pick back up with the things that made you feel great in the first place. When Monday morning rolls around, force yourself to get up at your usual time, eat your normal meals, go to the gym at your normal time / frequency, and try to get in bed at your usual time at night. Regardless of whether or not you are still feeling the ill effects of the weekend, restore normalcy as soon as possible. By all means, feel free to back off the intensity in the gym, drink more water, and attempt to get a little extra sleep if possible. However, in order to get back on the wagon, you don’t need to do a “cleanse” or a “detox”, a crazy diet, 2 a day workouts, or any other ill-conceived ideas to somehow mitigate your choices the past few days. Don’t beat yourself up about eating pizza or having that extra glass off wine; shake it off and focus on doing your best in the present, as this is the only thing you can actually control. As an aside, depending on how you deviated from the norm the most (lack of sleep, too much sugar, etc.), you can make a targeted effort to get back to baseline quicker by prioritizing that area. So, if you were on team no sleep all weekend, get to bed 30 minutes early for the rest of the week and see how you feel. Personally, I like to kick off the week with a day or two of low carb eating if I was a bit too indulgent the previous weekend, focusing on high protein, high fat, some leafy veggies, minimal starch (if any) and no sugar. This, coupled with getting back into the gym, seems to bring me back to baseline the fastest.
 
What’s the strategy if we are hoping to get back onto a healthy routine but haven’t had one in months or longer? We want to follow a similar approach to the tips outlined above, with a few differences. For this individual, I would start with re-integrating exercise first as the initial catalyst for other lifestyle changes. Start walking daily, and try to make it to the gym or a group exercise class 2x per week. Start here, and keep this up for a month or more before tweaking volume or intensity at all. Once exercise becomes routine, start making dietary tweaks, eliminating the low hanging fruit – sugar, processed foods, grains, alcohol, etc. and see how your body responds. Around this time, I’d also be looking at sleep, and making every effort to optimize quality and keep 7 hours as the daily minimum. In time, exercise frequency can increase, dietary parameters can tighten, and sleep needs can be tinkered with as well. Don’t try to do this all at once, as this can be too much for most people to sustain. Take a very reasonable approach, and focus on consistency and slowly building positive habit change. As is the case with everyone, progress isn’t linear – there will always be setbacks, vacations, injuries, illnesses, etc. When these things invariably happen, don’t stress. Why? Because your diet starts Monday!
 

80/20

 
When it comes to lifestyle and diet adherence, the 80/20 principle seems to be the sweet spot when it comes to hassle free maintenance. I typically tackle this in terms of the workweek and the weekend. Monday through Friday or Saturday morning I try to stay very regimented as far as sleep routines, training, and diet are concerned. On the weekend, I give myself much more leeway when it comes to these same variables, i.e. living an enjoyable lifestyle, however you personally define it.
 
By doing so, you can ensure that you are at your best during the week, when you are likely busiest and need to be firing on all cylinders. On the weekend, feel free to kick your heels up a bit. Drink, eat dessert, and indulge if the opportunity arises. Try not to go out of your way to eat 3 pints of ice cream because it’s Sunday, but go ahead and deviate a bit from the norm.
 
If you are in a good place as far as body composition is concerned, and you stick to this 80/20 concept, you’ve probably got a bit of a buffer to consume some questionable chow, skip a workout on occasion, and generally not feel restricted by your diet. Remember, no nonsense during the week; stick to the game plan (Paleo) and earn your single malt’s and cannoli’s!
 

Pre-Bed Sleep Routines

 
Try as we may, we humans are still not smart enough to outfox or hack our physiology. It doesn’t matter who you are or the quality of the genetic hand you were dealt, if you sleep 5 hours a night, your lifestyle will eventually catch up to you and show you the error of your ways.
 
I fully understand the hectic schedule demands you are currently are saddled with – crazy job, grad school, kids, sports, and the list goes on. For some of you, 6 hours is simply the current reality and it’s not changing anytime soon. Even if that’s the case, lets look at some practical strategies to optimize the quality of sleep are getting to maximize the benefits.
 
1) Have a routine! This means giving yourself an approximate bedtime (at least during the week), and trying your best to stick to it. Train your body to know when its time to start powering down
 
2) Dim the lights! Light exposure is one of the signals that tell your body it should be awake. Reduce the lighting in your home as it gets closer to bedtime so you don’t affect production of the sleep hormone melatonin
 
3) Turn of the TV! This goes for all electronics really, especially within an hour of bed. The pulsating blue light emitted from your TV, etc. is very neurologically stimulating; turn it off if you want to be able to fall asleep
• If you must do email or work late at night, install f.luxon your computer. This is a fantastic program that automatically dims your monitor and filters the blue light from displaying
 
4) Do some soft-tissue work! I picked this one up from a recent interview featuring the supple one, Kelly Starrett. Think about it- how do you feel after a massage? Like you want to go hit a deadlift PR, or like you want to nap for a few hours? Hop on a ball or a foam roller for 10-15 minutes, gently doing some self-massage to improve your tissue quality before you sleep, then wake up feeling like a champ
 
5) (optional) Take some sleep supplements! Personally, I opt for Natural Calm, and on occasion, Melatonin. Notice, I did not say Ambien or a bottle of Cabernet. Natural Calm is a powdered magnesium citrate product that you add to warm water. It aids in the natural sleep cascade and is a co-factor in calcium absorption (ladies, listen up!). Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycles, and is great for folks who do shift work, travel frequently, or generally have trouble sleeping
 
Remember, natural sleep is probably the most restorative medicine known to man, and cannot be duplicated by artificial means. However, you are more than capable of taking control of your sleep habits and quality. Give these tips a try and see if your sleep quality doesn’t improve noticeably as a result!
 

Biking to Work

 
Allow me to preface this blog post with the following – to anyone who already walks / bikes / skateboards / commutes to work sans car or mass transit, what I am about to say is obvious and yes, I am clearly late to the party. With that being said, let me fill you in on my new goal for the Spring: biking to work.
 
The concept of biking to work isn’t exactly a novel one, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area like downtown DC. Between the scarcity of spaces and cost of parking, and the massive daily influx of people into the city and resultant gridlock, riding a bike is often a no-brainer when it comes to saving time and money getting to and from work. Now, I’ll admit riding your bike to work can be impractical to impossible depending on where you work, the nature of your job, access to showers, etc. Personally, I have made the conscious decision to live as close as possible to my job to minimize time wasted commuting, to the tune of roughly .9 miles door to door.
 
As anyone who lives inside the beltway knows, driving in the DMV can be incredibly stressful. The traffic is seemingly never ending, people are constantly distracted, and overly aggressive at the same time. If you are like me, and lack the gene that regulates temper while driving, consider that this is a very real environmental stressor that you can potentially mitigate. If feasible, consider riding your bike to work, the store, to the gym, etc. on a semi-regular basis.
 
Why?
 
The potential upsides are significant: decreased stress, increased volume of aerobic exercise, fresh air and exposure to vitamin-D from the sun, and the recovery benefits of low-impact activity. Like many of the recommendations we make, the solution is often simple, but not easy. We don’t need to start juicing 20 fruits and veggies a day, or go to another spin class (don’t understand this one at all); instead, just try getting outside and riding your bike and see how you feel afterwards (hint: better than you did before). Personally, I’m setting a simple goal of riding daily to work, around Rock Creek Park, and when running quick, nearby errands. I know myself well enough to know that I refuse to run, swimming is great but impractical, and rowing is ungodly boring. I also recognize that there is measurable health/performance/recovery benefits from regular bouts of low intensity aerobic training. So in an effort to become a better weightlifter who still has a decent engine (so that I can do Murph and not die), I am consciously aiming to be more active in a reasonable manner.
 
If you want to similarly reduce stress, and get fitter and healthier, all with minimal wear and tear on your body, I suggest you dust off the old 10 speed and do the same!
 

10 Tips, pt. 1

 
1) Eat a quality breakfast. All intermittent fasting arguments aside, breakfast is the meal I see people drop the ball on most consistently. Skip breakfast and I doubt you are going to make up the calories over your next 2 meals and snacks, and you are more likely to make a poor choice at lunch because you are probably starving
 
2) Learn to listen to your body and train instinctively. This one is absolutely a learned skill, but also essential to high-level performance. Be honest about your physical and mental state when you come in to train. Just because you are supposed to hit a new 5 rep deadlift number for your lift today, doesn’t mean you should. Learn to appropriately modulate your effort and intensity based on how you feel on a given day.
 
3) Caffeine is a game changer. This is so obvious to me that I feel kind of stupid writing it. If you train in the morning or afternoon, I highly recommend drinking espresso/coffee/tea prior to working out. Your focus, intensity, endurance, and overall performance will be elevated. If you train in the evening, figure out how caffeine affects your sleep patterns, and consume accordingly. Personally, I try to stop drinking coffee by 2pm.
 
4) Don’t take my word for it. Take some initiative for your own fitness, physical development, and health. I am not in the business of feeding you misinformation, but recognize that our knowledge on many of these topics is constantly evolving with new research and empirical evidence. Start educating yourself on nutrition, stress management, training, etc., so you can apply a critical eye to the glut of information available to the public
 
5) Alcohol is a slippery slope. This isn’t a morality issue folks. We tend to drink booze late in the evening, and the resultant effects on sleep tend to be disastrous, whether we realize it or not. If you drink late and your sleep sucks, kiss goodbye all the restorative processes and benefits of restful sleep- proper immune function, growth hormone release, appetite regulation, motor learning, muscle repair, and the list goes on. The best kind of drinking is day drinking; you’re welcome.