When More Is Just Too Much

Welcome to the BNF Blogs first ever post! How exciting is this?? I told you 2018 was going to be a great year to be a member at BNF!

Here we hope to, collaboratively as a team, bring you guys some context for why we do what we do, informative content on nutrition and training, and hopefully some inspiration to keep you going when the going gets tough. There’s a lot of weird information out there, and because we are total fitness nerds and are obsessed with what we do, we’re taking the time to wade through it all and deliver to you the best possible information to help you be your best possible you!

So lets go ———> to extremes!

The question I want to pose today is this – how does dieting and extreme exercise affect our metabolism? And what are some of the factors that help to optimize, or diminish its ability to do its thing. I’ll be covering this in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, but lets begin with a primer on what the heck your metabolism even is….

So here’s the deal – the word metabolism is loaded for a lot of us because we equate it entirely to ‘the thing that determines whether we are over weight or not’.  You can use the word metabolism in a sentence about your self to determine and define your whole narrative about your body, and why it is or is not where you want it to be.

“My metabolism is the worst! Ugh I can’t lose weight!”

“My metabolism is so revved right now from eating low carb! I’m dropping pounds like crazy! SUPER METABOLISM!”

“Well, I have my Moms metabolism, and its non existent. Thanks Mom for your dumb metabolism!”

and so on…

Your metabolism isn’t just the thing that decides whether or not you burn fat.  Consider it a highly adaptable system in your body that you can grease with high quality fuel to perform optimally, or a system that can run on low bottom of the barrel crude just to get by. The problem is, most of us don’t know enough about it to make the best decision for when and why to apply the good grease when the cheap grease comes so much easier. In my experience, as with most things in nutrition and fitness, the more you know about something, the easier it is to comply with the best course of action (and to work smarter, not harder). So let’s empower ourselves by getting to know the basics of your body’s governing system…

Now, a disclaimer. I don’t know if I am savvy enough to explain to you the various chemicals processes of how your body turns your fats, carbs and proteins into energy in a simple way (nor do I think you care about reading that, its complicated – but in the event that you are, follow this link for a video….), but I’ll do my best to cover the basics. The whole of your metabolism is the sum of all of the anabolic and catabolic reactions that happen within your body, at every moment of every day. Reactions that build are anabolic – think building of lean tissue, storage of energy, creation of hormones. Reactions that break down are catabolic – breaking down fats and carbs for energy, breaking down of tissues, etc. All of these processes and reactions happen either with the fuel we put in (proteins, carbs, fats from daily meals) or by breaking down what we already have (adipose tissue stores, glycogen stores, amino acid stores, etc).  This is a very simple way to put it, but hopefully you get the idea.

What’s so neat about this very elaborate system is that it is highly adaptive. Consider your metabolism a stress barometer. Everything that you experience throughout the day – the energy you take in (food or food-like stuff), the energy you expend (non exercise related movement, intentional exercise, digestion, etc), stressful situations, whether you are rested or not, environmental factors – all of these things, your body has to interpret and decide whether they are good or bad for “survival”, and then make an adjustment to your metabolic rate accordingly. Your metabolism is constantly seeking balance.  It determines your energy expenditure for every-day function (non exercise related). Consider this the ‘minimum amount of calories burned in a day to keep you alive’ also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). The more external stresses you put your body under (think extreme exercise, too few calories, the things that you think you should do in order to achieve a fat loss scenario) will actually slow down your BMR.  This is an example of metabolic compensation.  It’s not a very cool place to hang out, and not optimal for fat loss or lean tissue generation.

Tired sportsman in the gym

The point I’m trying to get across is this: prolonged periods of extreme exercise conditions are harmful on the body and will not produce positive body composition outcomes.  Consistency and sustainability should always be the goal.  I like to recommend habits that lead to successful outcomes for the long haul. Severely cutting calories to less than half of your daily base needs is not sustainable or effective for long-term success. Nor are ass kicking, overboard caloric burn workouts on too often of a basis. If you like to do them for fun, that’s great, but please understand it’s not going to equate the ultimate body composition goal that you are looking for. You will lose initial weight, without question. You will also probably plateau before you’ve hit your goal, leaving you with no options for variables to increase or decrease. There are only so many calories you can take away, and there is only so much exercise you can fit into a day. You will likely rebound hard, and do some serious damage to your metabolism in the process.

When it comes to your making sure your metabolism, your inner barometer, is on the right track, here are a few key variables to keep an eye on:

  • Hunger – Are you hungry all the time? Are you never hungry? Can you feel the sensation of hunger in your gut? Hunger is different from craving.
  • Energy – Are you losing steam early on in the day? Are you waking up still tired? Do you go to bed tired but can’t fall asleep? Are you having a hard time staying focused?
  • Cravings – Are you craving highly palatable fatty and sugary foods all of the time? This is a normal response to calorie restriction. Our body is going to signal to us that we need to eat foods that are going to help us keep our fat stores up if it feels it is at risk of losing them.
  • Sleep – Are you sleeping well? Are you sleeping long enough? (7 to 8 hours is optimal). During particular phases of sleep, your body signals the release of certain hormones that are helpful to overall stress reduction, repair and recovery. If you’re having a hard time getting into these sleep phases, exercise and nutrition factors could be a culprit.
  • Mood – Does your mood swing erratically? Are you easily irritated? Do you feel down? Anxious? Depressed?
  • Body Composition – Not eating a whole lot and exercising a ton, but still seeing a lot of extra body fat?
  • Exercise Intensity – Are you having great workouts? Are they not so great? Are you losing strength all of the sudden? Is your progress going backwards?
  • Excretion – Urination frequency and color, frequency and appearance of bowel movements: all of these variables tell you something.  Whether you are drinking enough water throughout the day, if you are not eating enough dietary fiber, etc.
  • Libido – loss of sex drive is a big indicator of something being awry.
  • Loss of Period or Erratic Cycles – Amenorrhea (loss of period) is a common indicator that you are over stressing your body and not giving it what it needs. When you heavily restrict, or put serious strain or stress on your system, your body will seek to protect you by starting to shut down systems that it doesn’t need to keep you alive. The reproductive system is going to be one of the first to go.

I could go on with a very long list here. Chances are high that you may experience some of these symptoms. Few of us have the time and the energy to get all of this right. And because our bodies will adapt so easily to these crummy qualities becoming ‘normal’ to us in our day-to-day life, it becomes easy to ignore and to push off addressing some of these issues, even if they are glaring.

Stress, in its many forms, plays a larger role on body composition outcomes than most of us realize. Eating too few calories is a stress on your metabolism in the same way that eating too many calories is a stress. Not sleeping enough is a stress, wreaking havoc on your ability to achieve a proper hormonal balance(lack of sleep impacts primarily your hunger hormones Grehlin and Leptin, and your stress hormone Cortisol – any of these out of whack and your looking at increased hunger and possible fluid retention among other unsavory side effects). Reliving over and over again stressful situations in your daily life all affect hormone production, recovery, and ultimately your metabolism.  Take even just a moderate amount of stress, add in too much exercise + not enough nutrients and you’re going to end up with crummy results.

And this is where we ultimately circle back to the idea that more does not always equal better.  Providing your body with all of the right things – rest, movement, quality food, positive experiences(like play time and activities that make you happy) will likely elicit a good response. It just comes down to properly taking care of yourself and to know how to listen to your body when its giving you cues to pump the breaks, or when its telling you it needs something that its severely lacking.

Stay tuned – this is a large topic that I feel strongly about covering.  I not only see these mistakes made by members on a regular basis, but I’ve struggled with these things myself, and have had to learn from my mistakes. I’ve effectively tried all the stupid things out already, and I’m more than willing to share my stories. Coming up next, we’ll talk more about what happens when you lift weights, why post workout nutrition is so important, and we’ll go over strategies for how to strike more balance so that we can feel better, eat better, and have way more fun in the gym!

Thanks for reading!

Coach Hayley