- Rest / Recovery
These are three champions which determine if you will reach your goal or not.
There is a reason why this is listed #1. Like a friend and fellow Paleo eater once said: "You cannot outrun a bad diet."
Ok, ok, ok. Most of you know that I consider the standard diet which includes processed foods to be a bad diet. This is not a call for you to change to a Paleo diet (although it would be good for you and show great results). But at this point all you need to know is that you need to get your diet set first before you move on to point two and three.
You might have a good workout program. But that can all be for naught if your food is sabotaging you.
Many people are absolutely motivated and dive into a full workout program without considering their diet. And if they do, it comes down to temporary calorie restriction.
Concerning nutrition consider to change long term. That means to gradually change for the better and not to crash diet. When I changed to Paleo it was a process over several months. I slowly eliminated the bad foods and got rid of the foods I could get. The 90 Day Revamp challenge is my last stage to finally get to 90% Paleo.
For me that means: Avoiding foods which are calorie dense, high in sugar, high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and/ or containing anti-nutrients like gluten, phytic acid or phyto estrogens. All processed foods fall into at least one of these categories.
Food has a huge influence on your metabolism, mood and performance. You know what effects a sugary soda can have on a kid. Or how you feel after you had that bowl of pasta with the heavy sauce. Pick the food that will effectively get you to your goal and helps you to even move beyond that.
2. Rest/ Recovery
In a performance oriented city like Hong Kong there is this dominant mind set that "more is better", This does not only apply for work but also for our leisure time activities.
The more you can cram in, the more workout you can do the better. It's the "work hard, play hard" mentality. We work out because it's good for us. Therefore we aim for more "good" stuff by sacrificing down-time and sleep.
What many don't realize is the fact that this kind of philosophy puts us under constant or chronic stress. Hong Kong is a city of stressors and we add more on top during times when we are supposed to wind down.
We feel bad if we do nothing.
First of all rest and recovery is not nothing. Giving your body and mind the opportunity to wind down will help you to perform better and improve your quality of life. In simple words: You come out stronger and happier.
If you keep pushing full throttle in all aspects of your life you are bound to fall apart at some point be it in the form of being over-trained or burned out. Both share the same symptoms: anxiety, being more irritable and less resilient, insomnia, screwed up appetite, with the result that you end up sucking at what you do.
Second, too much stress in the form of work, bad food, loud noise or sports can make you sick. It's no big surprise that after a long race endurance athletes often suffer from a weaker immune system. I like to follow the blog of a medical practioner called Chris Kresser, and he hit the mark when he wrote:
"We’re not built for chronic stress. [Stress] and calm .. are essential to life. We need the ability to meet challenges and mobilize our physical and mental resources to take action. But we also have the need to digest food, replenish our stores and heal ourselves."
Third, we only improve during our recovery. You do not get faster during your hill sprint. And you do not get stronger during the time you lift weights. The workout is "only" the stimulus for the body to become more efficient.
It's during recovery phases like sleep or relaxation when the body gets the time to improve your neurological pathways to become faster or increases muscle growth so you can lift heavier the next time. But if you keep pushing without the right amount of recovery you do not give your body enough time to adapt to those stimuli. It won't be able to cope. The consequences can range from slow to no progression, becoming weaker or even injured.
So view your recovery/ rest as crucial. Make it pleasurable: A sufficient sleep, massage, a walk, catching up with friends, meditation, reading, power naps, cooking etc. Enjoy it without feeling bad.... because it's truly good for you.
I've got three words for you:
Minimum Effective Dose.
I came across this term the first time when I read Tim Ferriss' "Four Hour Body". While I do not agree with many things said in that book I strongly agree with the concept of Minimum Effective Dose:
"The minimum effective dose (MED) is deﬁned simply: the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome. [...] Anything beyond the MED is wasteful. To boil water, the MED is 212°F (100°C) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it 'more boiled.' Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive."
The same concept can be applied to workouts. Let's say you have set the goal to be able to run 5K in under 25 minutes within 3 months. You are making good progress with a plan that has you running 4 times a week. There would not be a reason to add another 5th running day. You can use that day to browse through Ikea or do other fun stuff. The gist is to do as much as necessary but as less as possible to reach that goal within the set time frame. Try to find your MED volume or work with your trainer so he/she can write you proper program.
With my goal to lose body fat and become stronger, my program roughly looks like this.
Strength- Upper body
Power/ Sprint Workout
Strength- Lower body
Always tweak each factor according to your goals, needs and environment.
Your food, your down-time, your workout, your life.