The biggest factor in progressing with your training is managing your fatigue. I don’t necessarily mean booking loads of massages and sleeping enough (which are both great ideas to improve recovery), but rather making sure that the training stimulus you provide to your body does not accumulate too much fatigue over time.
When we train, we fatigue various systems in the body and damage various structures. This stimulus provides the opportunity for our body to change and adapt, and thus we get better over time. However, if every session is an all-out effort, fatigue can accumulate too quickly and this adaptive response won’t occur.
Think about the hardest session you’ve ever done – burning muscles, nausea, fiery airways, that washed out feeling of being completely spent at the end -that’s a 10/10. When I train, I try and make most of my sessions around a 7 or 8 out of 10 in terms of difficulty, with the occasional 9/10 and the rare 10/10.
This means the session is definitely challenging and requires mental preparation and some grit to get through, but it doesn’t leave me ruined. The goal is not to wreck yourself – the goal is to progress. By doing mostly 8/10 training sessions, you can guarantee a powerful training stimulus, but we can also expect to recover and improve – and in the long term, this is what gets you the results you need without injury and without having to drastically cut your training volume to manage fatigue.
By doing 7-8/10 sessions, I’m able to get in the gym and train 5-6 days a week consistently. If I did mostly 9’s and 10’s, I reckon I could manage maybe 4 on average, with a greater risk of injury or burnout.
I also walk to work most days (35mins each way) and while I train clients I’m almost always standing. This is obviously really low impact stuff that doesn’t add to my overall training fatigue. The idea of smashing the hell out of yourself in 40 minutes and being unable (or unwilling) to move the rest of the day is not conducive to health, mobility or good body composition!
So here’s the take home message – train hard, but be smart about managing your training fatigue.
Stimulate – don’t annihilate!
Does it pay to spend more on organic produce? Nitpicking classifications of food as organic or non-organic aside, let’s look at the state of the science as it stands.
First, let’s address the main putative arguments for consuming organic food:
It contains more micronutrients
This is something that has been looked at in the research, and we have a couple of reviews available to us on this claim. Williams et. al. conducted a review comparing the nutritional value of organic vs conventionally-grown foods and found that there was insufficient evidence to make a strong argument either way.
Previous research has noted that there are probably very few compositional differences between the two. Additionally, to address the question of the impact of eating organic foods on health – there is barely any evidence available that looks at the potential effects of organic foods vs non-organic in animal and human models.
Attempting to compile and compare the data that is available is a difficult task given the intricacies of nutrient interactions and the lack of longer term controlled studies.
This brings us to the next claim.
It has less pesticides and unhealthy chemicals that might damage your health
The main argument against this claim is that – again – there is simply not sufficient data.
Secondly, it is a well-known adage that the dose maketh the poison. The actual levels of contamination in conventionally-grown produce has been consistently shown to be very low, and so in the same way that eating apple seeds (which contain cyanide) has no insidious effect, the low doses of pesticide residues are not dangerous.
Some studies from Japan show that washing vegetables will significantly reduce pesticide residue. Simply washing your vegetables thoroughly may significantly mitigate any potential risk associated with pesticide ingestion.
It should also be noted that plant foods in particular may have compositional differences associated with less pesticide use. The idea is that the use of less pesticides may result in the production of defensive compounds by the plant, some of which may be either beneficial or toxic to humans depending on the dose (smaller doses of these compounds can cause a health promoting response in the body, the same way exercise induces damage and inflammation that allows healthy adaptation to take place). Depending on the context this may be beneficial or detrimental.
In my opinion, the first thing anyone looking to lose weight or pack on muscle should be doing is sorting out a minimum amount of protein intake daily. Yeah that’s right – if you want to get leaner, you NEED to pay attention to getting in enough protein before worrying about anything else.
Think about this for a second – muscle is the most energetically expensive tissue (aside from the brain – so keep reading) in the body to maintain. So more muscle = more energy used = the more food you can eat without getting fat. Adequate protein intake allows retention of muscle mass, especially when in a caloric deficit (ie you’re eating less to lose weight).
Not to blow my own horn, but my level of muscle mass in the past allows me to eat around 3500 calories a day and keep a 6 pack. Let me tell you, it’s way easier to manage portion sizes when you don’t have to worry about every little thing that goes into your pie hole pushing you over your measly 1800 calorie a day allowance.
In my experience, women are particularly prone to eating too little protein. If this is you, pay attention to the following research: at the University of Illinois, Layman et al compared the current RDA 0.8g/kgbw to 1.6g/kgbw. Compared to the RDA group, higher protein group lost more fat and retained more lean body mass. In addition, their blood lipids and blood markers for glucose improved to a greater extent. The same researchers later repeated this research, adding exercise conditions to account for the potential confounder. The outcome was similar.
A calorie deficit requires greater protein intake to retain lean body mass. One study supporting this comes from Mettler et al, who found that 2.3g/kg prevented LBM loss in athletes far better than 1.0g/kg. Even the higher protein group still lost a significant amount of lean mass in this study, however, which indicates that depending on your degree of training and the size of your calorie deficit, even higher protein intakes might be ideal. This is certainly anecdotally pursued by bodybuilders dieting for contests.
So it seems the old broscience recommendation of 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight is pretty much spot on for most people - and this is actually really close to my blanket recommendation of 2g/kg of bodyweight for people without any specific context.
Higher protein intakes can even improve sleep (hint: sleep is #1 -> blog post on this coming next week) and enhance immune function... in other words your recovery goes through the roof in many different ways if you eat enough protein!
If you want to work out how much protein you should be eating and what types – start with focusing on animal protein sources like lean meats, and eat them in at least a couple of meals a day.
Of course, there are many contextual factors that need to be taken into account when designing a solid nutrition plan, so protein needs are variable within and between individuals.