For those of you finally waking up from your New Years festivities, I want to say Happy New Year. 2018 was such an awesome year full of changes and improvements made. But, it’s time to call 2018 an Uber like it’s lingering in your kitchen the day after.
As 2019 rang in and we said goodbye to the last 12 months of our lives, a new blank calendar appeared showing all the possibilities the year has in store for you. You can do so much with 2019 and it literally is right here and now. There are resolutions that come and go because they were just what we “hoped” we would end up doing. I want you to get it done this year. Want to travel more? Lose weight? Read 20 books? Learn an instrument? The things that follow are 4 vital pieces to any of the previously mentioned goals. That’s the trick. They will apply to any goal.
1. Get your circadian rhythm on track
I could easily interchange this with “get better sleep”, but I specifically wanted to target the concept of circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm is basically your 24 hour physiological cycle that the body and it’s processes follow. How do you know it’s “time” to eat and sleep? How does the body do what it does in a seemingly automatic fashion?
Well, a part of this is due to the internal clock your body runs on. There is an optimal time for you to do certain things and your body tries to tell you that by releasing hormones asking for food, water, or sleep. It’s all about timing. This clock is so important that some even go to lengths to say that it can help prevent chronic diseases. Your metabolism, immune system, organ functioning, and mental awareness can all be affected when this clock doesn’t work right. By using the idea that we need this running right in order to live like we want, we know we need to get a routine mapped out for important things like food and sleep.
Why we start with sleep
If I started this article off with “you need to sleep more”, chances are you would just roll your eyes and say”you don’t understand how hard that is”. That is true. I don’t know all the of complications and things standing in the way of you and quality sleep. However, I know that if we circle back to your initial goal for 2019 you will not have much success without getting your sleep on track. So, you can list all the reasons why you can’t or you can help yourself out this year and start to get your circadian rhythm on point.
Breakdown of what goes on during sleep
Listed above is a simple graphic I found on google displaying growth hormone release (super important for muscle and recovery) and how it is sporadically released throughout your resting. If you only get a couple hours of sleep, have alcohol before bed, or watch lots of television (myself included) you have a tougher time getting to optimal GH release during your sleep. So, even though you slept for 7 hours in duration, the quality of your sleep might be so poor from other factors that you never get past the light sleeping stage. If you’re recharging your batteries, you want to get the most out of that recharge.
After establishing the importance of quality sleep and getting your circadian rhythm in order, I wanted to throw in a few ways you can immediately improve your sleep cycles. Check a few of these out and see how feasible they might be.
Limit sunlight in the bedroom
Buying blackout curtains have not only improved my sleep personally, but several other athletes I’ve worked with in the past. This is so important because early morning light shining through the window can cause your body to start the wakeup process a little earlier than you want. By keeping light to a minimum, your body will still be in recharge mode for longer.
Keep the room cold
This is simple physiology in play. The best way of explaining this is the body’s processes during hot temperatures are not ideal for recovery mode. A nice, cool temperature allows your body to stay comfortable and has been shown to be a more efficient sleeping environment. Research has suggested between 68-72 deg F.
No blue light before bedtime
This is huge! Technology consumes our lives and it’s so hard to disconnect. This is my biggest struggle and probably always will be. I have no issue with the first two, but I have always possessed a dab of insomnia that doesn’t allow me to go to bed at times I want to. So, I fill up that bonus wake time with either work or television. For a really great article on the topic of blue LED lights in more detail, check out https://www.theraspecs.com/blog/how-blue-light-impacts-eyes-brain/.
Here is a graphic I found from that site that can give you a quick breakdown:
2. Crash diet less, eat better foods
One thing that is synonymous with January is the flood of fad diet information being blasted everywhere you look. Cut this food, eat this magic berry, buy this herbal supplement to get skinny quick. You are being swindled by great marketing and ad folks who don’t really care if it works and probably want you to fail so they can sell you more stuff in a couple months. You are only reason that revolving door keeps turning unless you decide it’s time to take a long-term approach. Crash diets will not get you where you want to go and most likely put you in a worse spot later on. The key to avoiding the urge to pursue the fast result is approaching nutrition by principles rather than methods.
Improving the way you grocery shop
First thing to get your nutrition on the right track this month is to change your mindset when you step into the grocery store. We want to buy good quality food that is going to give us the most bang for our buck because it’s our money. Making sure you grab high quality proteins in the meat section, healthy veggies and some specific carb sources, and fresh herbs and spices will allow you to make anything you want at home. These things are set up on the outer perimeter of almost every grocery store. By sticking to the outside border of the store layout you will avoid temptation to throw a bag of Cocoa Puffs into your cart and make fresh spinach more likely.
Cooking for yourself is important for two reasons. One, you save money. I could stop there. But another reason is that you know exactly what goes into your food. You have to remember that your favorite restaurant’s job is to make sure you come back and spend more money. So, the chicken they make is not going to be just plain old chicken. If your wondering why Chipotle’s wraps are so good, it’s probably because they thrown a little extra stuff in there. By learning how to cook some different dishes, you are empowering yourself and learning how to be self-sufficient. If you’re in a pinch, you can make something healthy and affordable without sacrificing your goals.
Here is a link to a quick recipe that is my go-to move when I have little time and need some high quality protein.
3. Work smarter, not harder
I have said this multiple times throughout this blog. It’s a thing I’ve learned to live by after a hip surgery made me rethink my own training strategies. (Link here)
You need to realize that rep after rep of mindless exercise will not be the answer this year just as it wasn’t last year. It’s time to be precise and have a plan according to what YOU need. Your friend’s workout routine is their workout routine, not YOURS. The sooner you realize this, the closer you get to what you want. One of the first things you learn while pursuing an education in physiology is the exercise, reps, and sets you perform should be tailored for what type of goals you have. Choosing the wrong schemes could have you training less optimally and inefficiently.
3 sets of 12 works for some things and will not for others. 3 sets of 6? 4 sets of 15? What set and rep scheme do you need to be doing? It can be confusing.
Here is a chart to go off of to make things easier based on what your goal is:
It’s important to find out what exercises and rep schemes fit best with YOUR OWN goals and body. For how to assess and correctly program for your needs, check out a previous article I wrote here.
4. Prioritize this month
Last but not least, I want to drive home the point that January is your make or break month. How you start off the year is a pretty good indicator if you are going to be able to follow through with your intentions for 12 months. Since fitness is “in” during the month of January, you can take advantage of this and really build up steam to carry you through to December. Some fitness goals can be daunting tasks that require a lot of time and effort in an uphill battle. But, if you start to push that boulder up the hill now with consistent effort and focus you are one step closer to watching as it rolls without effort downhill on the other side. January is the initial uphill push necessary for change. Step by step, consistently focused, knowing you are one inch closer to that awesome feeling watching the boulder roll down with no effort.
I know when I start going into the “routine” and “habit forming” stuff I lose people. I can literally feel your eyes droop and your mood change when you hear things like “cut down on your desserts” or “eat more vegetables”.
But, it needs to be said. So, remember that this month is an important one to establish how you are going to hit your goals and build up momentum. The sooner you get going, the easier the boulder is to push once you reach that peak.
Take Home Message:
- Get your circadian rhythm on track, improve sleep quality
- Skip the fad dieting, stick to good foods and learn to cook
- Train smarter, learn more about what fits best for your goals
- Start this month and watch the momentum carry you through 2019