There is no question that exercise is a fabulous tool for weight loss, general health and stress management. But what if I told you that too much exercise may actually be standing in the way of your weight loss and fitness goals? What if I told you that it’s not about the calories in vs. calories out scenario after all, and that what you really need is…more rest and recovery!
What we may not realize, is that vigorous exercise not only increases the cortisol levels in your body (the hormone our body produces in response to stress) it can also create oxidative stress and inflammation. When we exercise, the body is rapidly metabolizing oxygen, which in turns creates ‘free radicals’: rogue molecules who are short an electron and are roaming around in the body looking to steal one from another healthy tissue or cell, and leaving that healthy tissue or cell damaged in its wake. Don’t worry! This happens all day, every day, regardless of whether you’re exercising! We are exposed to many toxins in our environment that cause free radicals. And, there are things we can do to help our bodies combat them, and one way is to take care in recovering after our workouts! Of course eating whole foods, avoiding drugs and alcohol, reducing refined sugar and other processed foods, getting plenty of sleep and drinking lots of water are wonderful common suggestions.
What can I do?
Eat antioxidants: Include foods in your diet that are rich in antioxidants. These are your green vegetables and bright coloured foods: oranges, berries, and guess what… dark chocolate! Acai berries are also full of antioxidants and are an easy add to a smoothie (in powder or puree form). See more suggestions under “What can I eat”!
Manage cortisol levels: Did you know…weight loss resistance is most often caused by cortisol imbalance? You’ve probably heard the buzz phrase “adrenal fatigue”. Our adrenals are responsible for producing our stress hormone, cortisol. When we’re under sustained periods of stress (read: every day life!), our adrenal glands cannot keep up with production, and we end up with a cortisol deficit, leaving us in ‘fight or flight’ mode. There are herbs you can take to support balanced cortisol levels, see my favourite recommendations below!
Get sleep: Try to go to bed the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day. Aim for 7-8 hours per night. Avoid having technology in the bedroom and using it two hours before bed.
Take rest days: Many of us fear that taking a day off to rest will interfere with our training goals. Au contraire, my friends! Your body needs time to replenish fluid and energy stores as well as incorporate all of the hard work you've been doing. A rest day is the perfect opportunity to do this. Chances are you’ll come back stronger, with more energy!
Eat consciously: Don’t eat when you’re feeling stressed. Optimal digestion occurs when the body is in a relaxed state. Take five deep breaths to calm the body and the mind before bringing the fork to mouth. Chew your food, taste it. Rest and digest!
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Did I mention hydrate? you will be shocked at how adding more water to your day seriously changes your life!
Mindfulness: Being in nature, journaling, meditation, lighting candles, Epsom salts bath, playing with your kids or your pets. Whatever it is, try to carve out 30 minutes a day to slow down and really be in the present moment.
What can I take?
I’m a big fan of getting all our micronutrients from a diet rich in whole foods; however, herbs and supplements can be super helpful when we are training intensely or just need an extra boost. Please note you should never start taking any supplements or herbs without first consulting with me or your doctor, first! Here are some of my favourite supplement and herbs. Feel free to get in touch if you want my brand and dosing recommendations as well.
Supplements: While Vitamin B12 is great for energy, Vitamin B5 is specifically great for stress and recovery (and note all B vitamins are beneficial for stress reduction); Magnesium (Bisglycinate) for rest, recovery, sleep and bone health (note Epsom salts are full of Mg. another excuse to take a bath!); N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC), a powerful supplement that helps the body produce glutathione, a naturally occurring antioxidant; Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) (fish oil supplement) are also incredibly beneficial for a number of reasons, including for inflammation, and I highly recommend taking these as our bodies actually can’t synthesize them on our own.
Herbs: lavender (tea or essential oils in your bath) for stress reduction; skull cap and chamomile for sleep; and Ashwaganda, Rhodiola and Astraglus for balancing cortisol levels.
What can I eat?
The key with letting the body recover after a workout is to keep inflammation down so that the muscles and tissues can repair themselves. As I mentioned above, it’s best to avoid alcohol, refined sugar and processed foods, and focus on whole foods. For some, wheat and dairy can have an inflammatory effect on the body, so wheat and dairy alternatives following a workout can be really helpful. Grains such as buckwheat and quinoa are great options, as well as nut and coconut milks. If you’re a meat eater, chicken and turkey are less-inflammatory high-quality sources of animal protein. As mentioned, EFA’s are also helpful in reducing inflammation in the body, and you can find these in salmon and avocado. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium, and they are so easy to add on to granola, oatmeal or even a salad. Stick to bright fruits and berries such as apples, acai, blueberries and oranges and try to add a serving of dark leafy green vegetables to each meal, for extra antioxidant power and dietary fiber!
Believe me, your body knows what it wants. So ease up, listen up, and eat your way to a more healthful you! More questions? Don't hesitate to contact me through my "connect" tab.