Fixing Stress with More Stress?

Fixing Stress with More Stress?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by stressors in our day to day life. Work, school, family, all of these can bring unwanted and unnoticed stress. There are a few simple steps to help lessen the side effects on our body. If you set your schedule to incorporate enough sleep, the proper foods, and even a moderate amount of exercise you will be amazed at the difference you feel and see.

The Endless Pursuit of “Perfection”

by Jake Foster @jakerfoster

Inspiration for these articles sometimes come from the most unsuspecting sources. I’m currently reading a book on the state of economics in our country (I’m still a political junkie at heart). Tucked in the middle of the book’s topics on labor costs, trade deficits, wage distributions, etc. is a short excerpt from the Journal of Public Economics about how people are caught in a never ending pursuit of trying to change their economic status. According to the author, people “tend to look exclusively at those better off than us...When the lot of others improves, we react negatively, but when our own lot improves, we shift our reference group to those who are still better off.” We achieve what we thought would be “financial freedom” only to realize that there will always be someone more successful than we are. Eventually, we end up caught in a vicious cycle of discontentment as we constantly have to readjust our standards of success to meet those who are always one step above us. 

Fitness goals are a lot like financial ones. There will always be someone fitter than you are. But, that never stops us from trying to keep up with the Jones’. We see someone on TV, in a magazine, or at our local gym with the “perfect” physique or fitness level that we desire. So, we train to look or feel just like them. Some of us achieve our goal, while a lot of us give up before ever coming close. Either way, our pursuit of what we consider perfect is in vain. Because even if we were able to obtain it, just like financial success, we will quickly find an even higher standard to compare ourselves to. It becomes a never ending staircase to find what’s better than perfect.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that we don’t try and seek financial, fitness, or any other sort of perfection. In fact, that should always be the goal. But, the first step in attempting to achieve “perfect” is in realizing that we will never actually achieve it. This seems contradictory because it is. However, living within this contradiction is what frees us from constant discontentment. It encourages us to strive for personal perfection, all the while, finding satisfaction in our current status. It creates a beautiful balance. You can work hard, train hard, and spend your life always seeking ways to improve it, yet simultaneously live with the peace and fulfillment that comes from knowing that perfection is an endless standard.

Post Workout Nutrition Tip: Stop Eating Post Workout

by Jake Foster @jakerfoster

“If you don’t drink a protein shake within 30 minutes of training, you will lose all your gains.” 

Every gym goer has heard this advice preached to them from trainers, muscle magazines, or other workout enthusiasts. That’s why most of us are quick to grab our whey protein shake, a smoothie at the gym bar, or hit up the local Chipotle as soon as we are done exercising. Because if we don't, according to the “bros”, we are not going to rebuild the muscles that we just worked so hard to breakdown. 

So, we quickly scarf down our post workout meal to keep our gains safe. But, eventually, the workout high that we were feeling is quickly replaced by a gurgling in our stomachs. We feel bloated, uncomfortable, and have a sudden urge to either lie down or visit the nearest restroom. And no, that’s not the Chipotle talking. In fact, it probably has nothing to do with the food you ate. It’s “bro science” gone bad. You have been filling your body with calories it is not ready to digest. 

Exercise inhibits digestion

We often forget that training is stress. Our bodies do not biologically differentiate between the stress felt in a car accident or the stress of a tough workout. Both stress responses trigger the body to divert energy away from its’ normal functions in order to provide energy to deal with the recent stressor. One of those normal bodily functions that require a massive amount of energy is digestion.

Digestion occurs within our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is a complex system of organs that use violent muscle contractions break down the food that we eat. These contractions take place within a “pool” of enzymes and stomach acid that help dissolve our food. But, in the midst of a stressful situation, digestion comes to a halt. Your body does not want to waste energy on muscle contractions in your gut when it needs that energy for your arms and legs. It stops producing enzymes, acid, and redirects blood flow from the stomach to your extremities. All of your body's focus is in facing the stressor at hand.

It is actually a beautiful design when you think about it. Our bodies innately know where to prioritize energy. This also makes it obvious why shoving food down your throat after you workout is a horrible idea. No wonder you feel bloated after your post workout meal. Your body has no energy to digest it. 

What about the anabolic window?

Before ending this article, we need to clear up the myth of eating within a certain time frame after you train. We now know that this is a poor choice for digestion, but what about all the people who say it will hurt your gains? This idea is commonly known as the “anabolic window” and thanks to recent research, it has largely been disproven. 

According to a study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, led by bodybuilding nutrition experts Alan Argon and Brad Schoenfield, there has been no clear evidence found that a large protein intake post workout will increase muscle gains. What is more important, according to the authors, is not the exact timing of protein intake, but the overall  amount eaten in a given day. So, you don’t have to skip out on your tasty protein smoothie that you enjoy. Just don’t drink it right after you workout. 

So, when can I eat? 

You can eat when you chill out. Your body needs to transition from what is called sympathetic, aka “fight or flight” stress mode, to parasympathetic, aka “rest and digest” mode. This transition takes longer depending on the style of training you are doing. For example, an easy hour walk or bike ride requires less of a cool down period than an hour of high intensity CrossFit. As a general rule of thumb, for easier, aerobic exercise, wait at least 60 minutes before your next meal. For strength training or higher intensity exercise, wait anywhere between 90 to 120 minutes to eat. Unless you are a professional athlete who needs to train multiple times a day, you should not be concerned with quickly refueling your body with food. You should be more concerned with how you are going to let your body rest and actually digest your food. 

Love the Ordinary. Seek the Extraordinary

By Jake Foster

I will start off with admitting that the catchy title is not my own. I stole it from Matt Chandler, a pastor at a church in Texas, while listening to one of his sermons online. After I heard Chandler use this phrase at the beginning of his message, I honestly had a hard time focusing on anything else he had to say. It was one of those short statements that you hear on a podcast, or a song, or  from a conversation with a friend, that cuts to the heart of an issue and challenges you in an area that you have been wrestling with. Chandler’s message was about finding balance between appreciating your current circumstances while continually searching for opportunities to improve them. It is a balance that is found within the heart and mind of every healthy individual, and it is one that I, like many others, struggle to find every day.

It’s best to think of this balance as a spectrum. On one side are the people that are so content with their lives that they lack the motivation or even the effort to improve it. The ordinary, rhythm of life is their comfort zone. Opportunities for advancement are disregarded as too risky and uncomfortable. On the other side of the spectrum are the people who are usually labeled as “type-As”. People, like me, who are so obsessed with chasing “extraordinary” success that they forget to enjoy the blessings of the ordinary, routine of day to day life.

In America, most of us fall on the same side of the spectrum that I do. Our culture does not understand balance. In fact we admire, even reward, workaholics. We praise those whose lives are consumed with striving for success. “You barely sleep, work countless hours, and never take a vacation? Good job! Keep chasing your dreams!” This exact statement may not even sound all that unfamiliar in our type-A dominated society. But, sooner or later, constantly working to be extraordinary comes at a cost. More often than not, the cost is to our own health.

Only seeking the extraordinary causes you to neglect the health benefits of appreciating the ordinary parts of life. One of the most ordinary routines of in life is our biological necessity to rest. Like it or not, even the most type-A, workaholic, success driven individual has to sleep everyday. Life cannot be sustained with a lack of sleep, constant work, chronic stress, and little to no relaxation. Something has to give: whether that is your mental, physical, or spiritual health. Eventually, not only will it negatively impact your own health, but your relationships and the health of those closest to you.

Like most things in life, work and rest have to be balanced. Do you have the ability to work all day in pursuit of the extraordinary, come home, rest, and find pleasure in the ordinary routine of life? If not, and if you are like myself and most Americans, use the same discipline you have to strive for success to be more disciplined in your rest. Your body, your mind, and your loved ones will be healthier because of it.

Skip the Fads, Stick to the Principles

Eat a low fat diet. No, eat low carb.

Eat several small meals throughout the day. Actually, only eat in a 6 hour window.

Do lots of cardio. Do less cardio, more high intensity intervals.

Light weights and high reps build the most muscle. Heavy weights and low reps build the most muscle.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t feel bad about it! Fitness advice is often puzzling. It’s a $30 billion dollar industry filled with both professionals who are trying to help and pseudo scientists looking to make a quick buck. For the average person, it’s hard to tell when someone’s recommendation is coming from an area of expertise or from someone who is looking to sell the next fad.

So, how do you go about telling the difference? Unless you want to spend years studying, the simple answer is, you don’t. Avoid getting caught up in the endless details the fitness industry tries to sell you. Instead, stick to the principles that all experts agree are important:

  • Get several hours of uninterrupted sleep each night

  • Find ways to effectively manage stress

  • Get daily sunlight

  • Eat a variety of vegetables

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Avoid processed, sugary, junk food

  • Exercise - any form of safe resistance and aerobic training

Fitness doesn’t have to be complicated. Be weary of the gurus who make you think it is. Stick to the fundamentals and you will live with vitality.