A fit brain makes a fit body

I have been in the fitness industry for a while and as a coach and PT, I am always asked the same question worded slightly differently… “Yusuf, how do I get bigger, stronger & leaner?” “What foods do you eat?” and “How should I train?”.

These are good questions but let’s face it, everyone is hoping for a quick answer or secret squirrel tip. However, unfortunately it’s not that simple and it takes sacrifice. Quite often the conversation with clients and players ends up about what’s between the ears. Previously, we’ve discussed motivation and the psychology of training but there is also the physiology of the brain and how this affects performance, mood and happiness.

The brain is, by far, the most complex structure in the world and there is still a lot to learn but from what we know so far, if your brain chemistry is out of kilter then so are you (emotionally and physically). It can affect your personality traits, your energy and even your body composition (not cool!).

All this brain chemistry stuff is wildly complex but there are four chemicals (called neurotransmitters) which are really important for normal function, these are; dopamine, serotonin, GABA and acetylcholine. Each of which affects us in different ways;

Dopamine

Dopamine allows us to stay focused, energised and motivated. Too little can see us having low energy poor focus and find it very difficult to stick to a schedule. Individuals with too little will often use food and drinks as stimulants.

Having too much is also a problem as this can cause you to become overly focused to the point of compulsion.

Having unbalanced dopamine usually causes cravings and emotional swings with an increasing need for things like sugar, coffee and chocolate.

Serotonin

This is often called the ‘happy hormone’. This chemical impacts on how we feel about ourselves in the world and people with high serotonin wake up look into the mirror and like what they see.

Low serotonin is on the flip side, shown to contribute to low self-esteem, insomnia and depression, this often manifests itself through cravings of starchy and salty foods i.e. chips, pizza etc. These people often feel unsatisfied if starch is not part of the meal, and struggle more than others if they attempt a low carbohydrate diet.

GABA

This hormone in our central nervous system gives us the ability to shut down and relax.

Those with low GABA suffer have been shown to suffer from anxiety and may frequently seek out starchy foods. However, they are really content eating anything as long as there is a lot to fill them up. These are what often get referred to as ‘emotional eaters’.

Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is mainly involved in the processing speed of the brain and manifests itself in the ability to recall events, numbers and names, quickly solve problems and resist brain fatigue.

Those with low acetylcholine function will frequently forget numbers, be unable to recall a name despite knowing a face, and may often forget where they left their keys or wallet. Individuals will often crave fat since fat is a rich source of choline, one of the building blocks of acetylcholine.

A craving for fried foods, hamburgers and pizza, as well as a love of creamy desserts like cheesecake and ice cream, may be a sign of low acetylcholine.

 

These chemicals go and up down in our system everyday but the important take away is BALANCE! Balance your diet, balance your hormones and try to reduce the peaks and troughs throughout the day and this should go a long way to reducing the imbalances in our NTs we all encounter from time to time.

What ways are there to balance these, improve your general wellbeing and even boost performance..?

Well, remember how we started and I said people want a shortcut to looking good and being fit? We should know by now that there are no shortcuts and there certainly isn’t any shortcuts to improving your brain physiology either. Like anything, it requires effort and consistency.

Three key things to stay on top of for balancing hormones and your brain chemistry are;

Sleep – When it comes to sleep, less isn’t more. More is more. Get yourself in dark room and put the phone away for 8 hours. If you don’t have kids or work a night shift job there is no excuse or no bigger bang for your buck in terms of improving your life. Sleep is where the body resets and has a chance to re-balance the biochemistry you’ve been messing with all day drinking coffee and eating sugar! Also, check out the awesome book called “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker. This is an area I am still working on myself.

Manage stress – Easier said than done, I know. But have a way of consistently deloading your stress, whether it’s swimming, yoga, meditation or a good arm blast in the gym. This will help reduce stress and balance hormone levels. It will also help you sleep better and re-inforce the other areas of your life.

A balanced, nutrient dense diet – Come on, do we really have to talk about this….? Put the energy drink down and grab an apple!

The choices you make in your nutrition and lifestyle will drive your body to respond one way or the other, so if you want to stay in a hormonal state more conducive to greater strength and muscle mass gain then you need to strike a balance.

Learn to manage your brain chemistry early on and you will also enjoy a healthier, happier and longer life overall. What’s not to love about that??

Big love!

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Dieting is tough, there’s no question.

Being hungry, potentially training with less energy, having to forego social outings (including alcohol!) and even avoiding your favourite foods for fear of blowing your diet can be tough to take.

I don’t know a single person that wouldn’t choose to get lean without having to restrict their calories or to be able to do so whilst eating untracked quantities of pizza and pasta, drinking beers and offering a big, resounding YES to any and all social events.

The reality is, EVERY diet is going to involve at least some form of sacrifice.

The reason why its all so hard? You are forcing your body to burn fat, changing the homeostasis and driving a new change. CHANGE. A wise man once said “to get something you’ve never had before, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before”.

If you’re wanting to simply look a little better on the beach & improve your day-to-day fitness levels, chances are you can probably get used to saying no to that third beer, or avoiding dessert every once in a while. But if you’re wanting to see significant changes (like veins popping out of your abs or striations in every muscle) and make the majority of people react with admirable looks any time you train, chances are those sacrifices are going to be a touch more serious.

So with that in mind, ask yourself one simple question –

Is the juice, is worth the squeeze?

Is the effort you’re putting in and the lengths you’re going to, worth the ‘reward’ you’re chasing? Is it ever ‘enough’? Is having a set of abs that more closely resemble a roadmap, really worth not being able to enjoy a meal out with friends, avoiding alcohol. Because chances are, that level of effort is going to require a fairly extreme approach in order to achieve and more importantly, maintain.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s impossible to get lean without incorporating a flexible diet and lifestyle, but typically to get those sorts of extreme results, flexibility ultimately isn’t really an option at that level of body fat/ calorie intake. It takes effort and huge amounts of motivation for a really long time. Most people I know when they achieve extreme results tell me that reaching their goal wasn’t even half of it, its what they learnt about themselves on the way. As a coach and trainer its important I help people understand that change is proportional to effort.

So, is it worth it for you?

Wasted time

How I wasted time/years

5 years ago I got out the shower and couldn’t help but notice that when looking in the mirror what was looking back at me wasn’t what I wanted to see.

Initially, don’t get me wrong, the gains were great but then despite the fact training and fitness had been semi consistent the progress I had made thereafter wasn’t amazing. (Well nothing to write home about).

That moment, for me sparked what has turned into an incredible journey so far.  I did not want to be in that situation again.

I’ve been a PT, a CrossFit coach and training for 10+ years now. I have lost count of the people I’ve seen in the gym that look pretty much exactly the same as what they did when I first started working out. No lie, the exact same! Maybe they have seen a few fluctuations here and there but a lot have done nothing more than go through the motions.

I completely get it there are those that simply just use the gym to justify their lifestyle and for some it’s much more of a part time hobby.

Cool, but for a lot more of us this is greater and you aren’t one of them.

So here is what I want you to do. Be as truthful has you can be, think about how long you’ve been training for. How many hours you’ve spent inside the gym, prepping meals thinking about the progress you want to make.

Have you been moving further away from your start point?

Are closer to where you want to be?

If not you need to consider why?  

What is going to be your spark moment?

Is it reading this?

Training with friends

You good? Good!

We have all been there….rolled over bleary eyed, only half awake, looked at the clock and contemplated going to gym. But that fatal thought creeps into your mind “I’m tired, I’ll go later or maybe tomorrow”. Its summer, the weathers nice, the beer is cold, motivation is low and excuses are plentiful!

A wise man once said “The road to success is paved with good intentions”.

One of the easiest ways to battle this is simple; train with friends. This could be the only motivation you need for you to get up out of bed, put those trainers on and get out the house. Here are my personal top reasons why training with friends or a partner cannot help with motivation but actually be key to developing long term habits, drive your fitness to the next level and help you in reaching all your goals.

1. Accountability

Seems obvious but how easy is it to press the snooze button again or just go home straight after work, I mean you’re tired right? However if your friends/ training partner is going to be there or you agreed to go with them then your also letting them down. It holds you accountable. It would be pretty lame if you cancelled your gym session with your friends because you wanted to go home and sit on the sofa, or because you didn’t feel like it.

Plus we know from research that those who are closest to you and have good exercise habits affect your personal motivation. Be the change you want to see in the world.

2. Motivation!

When you’re close to quitting on the bike or that last sprint, having your friend or other half there might just be the encouragement you need to get it done. When progressively overloading sometimes the weeks before can feel like a monumental effort, however seeing your friends do it might make the task that little less daunting.  Plus even if you can’t train with your friends having a common goal or challenge might help. Who can do 100 burpees in the fastest time? With social media it’s hard to escape it and easy to keep each other accountable. What’s even better is if you didn’t accomplish your goal having friends to pick you back up or simply tap you on the back can simply mean everything and stop you beating yourself up.

3. It is fun (I promise)

It makes training more fun, sometimes with the hectic lifestyle we all lead an hour of training might be the only time you get to see your friends. What an awesome way to get fit and have a laugh? Double Whammy! Plus it could change your workout routine for the better, instead of resting and looking at Instagram your rest could now be your friends working set as soon as their done you’re on, making your session more intense!

4. Fitness brings people together

We all know that after training endorphins get released making us feel pretty amazing. This is enhanced even more when we get to share that feeling surrounded by friends. That experience can help create an even better bond making friendships that bit stronger.

Also around 40% of individuals drop out of fitness shortly after they begin or attend classes on their own. But with a friend, that dropout rate decreases to 6%. You no longer feel alone and form your own group identity.

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5. Train together stay together

Cliché but there is truth to this. Studies show couples who exercise together are happier in their relationship. Working out together strengthens the relationship and enhances sexual attraction. You can’t fight the hormones!

It also means that you both understand the importance and need for a good training and exercise regime and there is no resentment of time spent at the gym. If they need to train you don’t question it because you understand the why, the passion and the commitment that lifestyle dictates.

So grab a friend or even your better half and go get some exercise done with them. If you haven’t got any friends then drop me email, I’ll come and train with you!

Big love,

Yus