If you spend any amount of time on the internet looking for help with losing weight or gaining muscle, you’ll find that there’s A TON of it online.
After a while, you’ll also find that most of it is complete bunk. The advice you’ll find ranges anywhere from cutting out entire nutrient sources (either carbs or fat, depending on who you ask) to the downright weird (smell your food to trick your brain into thinking you ate it).
While these types of articles are great at getting you to click their links, driving up advertising revenue and sometimes tricking you into purchasing some ineffective products (looking at you, juicing industry), they do little in actually doing what they claim to do: help you lose weight and get fit.
If you’re here, you too have clicked on a headline designed to draw the click. Except, unlike other sites, we’re going to actually deliver on our promise.
Below, we submit to you 5 non-spammy, actually trustworthy fitness “hacks” that science actually supports so you can try them out for yourself. You may actually be surprised by how much common sense these “hacks” actually make. You should treat that as a good sign.
These things usually start out with #1, so without further ado…
Most people are busy and view sleep as a luxury. Whether you’re a college student pulling an all-nighter to finish up a paper or a working professional juggling the responsibilities of career, family, and personal improvement, every extra minute you can stay up seems like a better use of your time. And so, cheating on sleep becomes normal.
However, cheating on your sleep can easily turn into cheating on your diet, not because you’re becoming lazy, but because your body is actually turning against you at the hormonal level.
When you’re sleep deprived, your body’s two major hunger regulators – ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the “fullness” hormone) – get thrown out of balance in favor of ghrelin.
Translation: your body’s hormones are telling you that you’re “hungrier” than you would normally be. This is just one of the many ways sleep and body composition are linked.
Some people like to work out in the mornings because that’s when they can fit it in. Some people like to work out in the afternoon because that’s when they feel the best. But if we’re looking at an “optimal time,” when your body is at its most receptive to increasing muscle, when should you work out?
Recent research appears to come down pretty strongly on the side of the afternoon camp, for some biologically-sound reasons.
Muscle building is encouraged by the presence of testosterone, one of the hormones that trigger anabolic growth. Although testosterone does peak in the morning, seeming to favor morning workout proponents, optimal testosterone levels actually occur in the afternoon, when the ratio of cortisol (the muscle-depleting hormone) to testosterone is at its lowest. You want high testosterone levels and low cortisol levels to promote muscle gain.
Secondly, your body temperature tends to peak in the afternoon, which has been linked with increased strength in a number of studies, including this one published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
In fact, the results of this study were so conclusively in support of the relationship between strength/body temperature/afternoon that the researchers suggested that coaches find strategies to raise body temperature to offset the lower temperatures typically experienced in the morning.
It’s pretty tempting to go extreme when you’re trying to lose weight. For example, it’s known that fat contains a lot of calories (9 per gram) so when it comes time to diet you think, “I gotta lose 10 pounds before going on vacation – I’m going to cut out ALL fat until it’s done.” Others feel that in order to achieve any results, they have to commit their lives to the gym.
Confounding all this are people on the internet, some who promise you can lose weight without exercising, and some who promise you can lose weight without dieting. What are you supposed to do?
Well, if you want to lose weight/body fat, you need to make lifestyle changes. Fortunately, you can find a balance of caloric restriction and exercise that’s right for you. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter whether you just diet or diet and exercise together-- what’s important is that you have an energy deficit (use more energy than you take in).
There’s a perception that as you get older, you automatically get fatter. No matter what you do, no matter how good you are, once you reach a certain age you are fated to gain fat.
That’s only true if you let it happen. What actually happens is that as you age, you tend to become less active and more sedentary. Your activity rate declines, along with the amount of calories burned in a day. If your diet remains the same and your activity rate declines, you’ll gain body fat. If you were previously in good shape (a former athlete, etc.) and you no longer exercise regularly, your muscle mass will reduce, further decreasing the amount of calories your body burns each day.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 23 or 84-- your body will respond to resistance training (weight lifting, etc.) by increasing muscle mass. You don’t lose the ability to gain muscle with age.
This is significant for you because increased muscle will cause your body to need more calories just to maintain this additional muscle, meaning, if your diet remains consistent, you will have an easier time maintaining and even potentially losing body fat, thanks to your muscles.
Not only does sleep have a positive impact on weight loss, like mentioned in point 1, sleep also is critical for growing and developing the muscle that you’re working hard to develop. However – in terms of muscle, not all sleep is created equal.
Many people are familiar with REM sleep – that’s the sleep stage in which dreams occur. Because it’s probably the only sleep stage that people know about, they often incorrectly associate REM sleep as the “important” or “restful” stage of sleep. What they’re actually thinking of, especially as it relates to muscle growth and recovery, is Stage 3 sleep, also known a short wave sleep (SWS).
In addition to testosterone, another very critical hormone related to muscle growth is growth hormone (GH). It’s needed to help repair and develop muscles after they’ve been exhausted from exercise. 70% of growth hormone is released during Stage 3 sleep, so if you’re not getting enough sleep, or your sleep is continually being interrupted, you may not be getting your full nightly dose of growth hormone, which can sabotage your efforts in the gym.
Your time is arguably the most important resource you have, and how you spend your time is one of the most important decisions you make each day. An hour spent at the gym could easily be spent doing an infinite number of other, just-as-important tasks.
Similarly, when you change your diet dramatically in highly uncomfortable, unsustainable way, you’ve just reduced your overall quality of life each day – another way people waste their time.Make sure that any health advice you read is backed up by research and that the advice is given freely, without any direct gain. Check the sources and check the facts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.