“You want to stimulate growth and then get out of the gym as soon as possible to let the recovery process begin. You don’t grow in the gym – you grow out of the gym.” –Lee Labrada
When you consider the statement above by one of the health and fitness industry’s most respected and accomplished individuals, retired bodybuilder Lee Labrada, it implies that to reach your full growth potential, you need to also be doing something that is just as important – if not more important – than working out. In fact, according to Lee Labrada, “Recuperation is the factor with the biggest, most significant potential to help one reach the next level of muscular size and strength.”
Conversely, what the scientific literature tells us now is that if you don’t get adequate rest coupled with enough sleep, your body doesn’t fully recover from daily workouts. This aspect of non-adaptation, due to the micro-muscle damage and resulting inflammation followed by inadequate healing time, leads to what researchers refer to as being in a “perpetual under-recuperative state.”
To stimulate, build and repair muscle, you need to take a much more proactive approach toward recuperation. For example, after a workout, the body’s ability to bounce back from the inflammatory stress response can take up to 72 hours. That’s three days. In response to the time it takes to heal and readjust, this could take up to six weeks, depending on the extent of an injury.
It is the state of constant under-recovering from your workouts and/or injury that will limit your ability to build muscle and invariably lead to the development of other catabolic (muscle-wasting) factors. Additionally, without a well-planned recovery program, you will not only compromise your growth potential, you could also be compromising your overall health by overtaxing your system and perpetuating uncontrolled oxidative stress.
So instead of your driving force being no pain, no gain – let it be no rest, no gain!
Sleep Growth and Repair
There are two different stages of sleep, each having unique characteristics. The first stage of sleep is known as non-REM sleep, also referred to as “deep” and/or “slow-wave” sleep. During this sleep cycle, the entire body is relaxed; cerebral cortex activity is diminished as well as the heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. During this sleep period, the body’s use of energy also decreases by about 20 percent.
The second phase of sleep is call REM or “rapid eye-movement” sleep, due to the fact that the eyelids tend to quiver. In this stage of sleep, breathing may become rapid and irregular. The heart rate and blood pressure sometimes rise during this stage of sleep. Studies indicate that the brain is very active during this time and that at this stage of sleep, dreaming occurs. More stimulation and generally interruptions (noise, etc.) are needed to awake someone from REM sleep.
Nature At Work: Do Not Disturb
As you are undoubtedly aware, it is the REM stage of sleep that your body relies on heavily to do most of its internal repair work. This is why it is very important to get your full eight hours of sleep consistently. As you sleep, your body goes through a defined period of growth and repair (anabolism) during the early stages of sleep. Afterward, the body shifts into a period of muscle protein breakdown (catabolism). This part of the equation you want to disrupt, while enhancing the anabolic stage. As you can see, biologically, poor sleep management can sidetrack and/or derail much of your hard physical work.
Sleep Deprivation and Catabolism
According to scientists at the Sleep and Circulation Research Center in Sydney, Australia, sleep is associated with a number of endocrine changes, including changes in insulin’s actions. Chronic sleep restriction can alter daytime glucose control and increase appetite. This can lead to decreased metabolism of fat, resulting in increased fat storage. Short sleep duration is also associated with reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin activity.
As a point of reference, leptin is a protein made up of 167 different amino acids. Produced in fat cells, leptin’s activity within fat cells is directly proportional to the amount of fat developed by the body. This is due to the fact that leptin acts on key receptors in the hypothalamus in the brain. By regulating the actions of these receptors, leptin:
1. Inhibits the effects of a substance known as neuropeptide Y, an amino acid that encourages storage of ingested food as fat.
2. Diminishes the activity of anandamide, a compound made from phospholipids (fat derivates). Anandamides are known to bind to the same brain receptors as THC (delta-9-tetahydrocannabinol), the active compound found in marijuana. When leptin activity is reduced and anandamide activity becomes erratic, this can cause binge eating.
3. Enhances the metabolism of a-MSH, a receptor in the brain that is responsible for appetite suppression. Dysfunction of this receptor can also lead to uncontrolled food intake, obesity and less fat burning.
Note: The appetite-suppressant leptin, made from fat cells, has in many circles turned out to be a bust, mainly because the majority of obese patients are resistant to its thermogenic effects. By getting enough sleep and staying lean and mean, you have the ability to naturally make all the leptin you need to burn unwanted body fat.
The Ghrelin Connection
Ghrelin is a pre-prohormone that is manufactured by cells called P/D1 that line the stomach. Ghrelin turns on the hunger switch and dramatically alters energy metabolism, causing weight gain and increased fat storage.
Note: In one study looking at triggers that elevate ghrelin activity, researchers reported that protein intake could promote a rapid decline of up to 70 percent of ghrelin circulating in the blood.
Other Catabolic Aspects of Sleep Deprivation
The following list represents some other catabolic responses as a direct result of not getting adequate amounts of rest and sleep.
• Decreased growth hormone output
• Increased muscle fatigue
• Loss of stamina
• Depression; loss of mental focus
• Increased susceptibility to injury
• Increased fat storage
• Elevated cortisol levels and muscle wasting
• Decreased immune function
• Reduced thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) output
• Increased insulin sensitivity
Getting Ready For Midnight Mass
As nightfall approaches, a small gland located between the eyes (the pineal gland) begins to produce the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that induces sleep as nightfall approaches. As morning approaches and light hits the retina, neural impulses signal the pineal gland to reduce melatonin production. This hormone plays a key role in growth hormone stabilization and regulation of corticosteroids (stress hormones) that interfere with proper insulin function, thus promoting fat storage. In fact, researchers in Germany reported that supplementation of 3 milligrams of melatonin for four weeks significantly increased percentages of REM sleep.
Sleep: Manipulating This Anabolic Frontier
As an astute weight trainer and fitness-conscious person, you are undoubtedly eating five to eight small meals daily. You also probably have a post-nutritional program in place and are planning to rest up for your next workout session. However, many active men aren’t prepared to go head-to-head with the impending catabolism that occurs during sleep.
There is an overwhelming body of evidence that confirms that several natural supplements can help stimulate growth, repair muscle tissue as well as modulate fat-burning activities during sleep. The key muscle-building hormone – growth hormone (GH) – is secreted during sleep, and with the assistance of the following supplements you can help stimulate GH production. This will help your body maintain what could be referred to as a state of internal anabolic equilibrium.
In other words, these supplements can help counteract or minimize much of the catabolic destruction that goes on when you finally hit the sack, as those feeding times of two to four hours come to a streaking halt. So utilize these GH releasers judiciously and in some cases synergistically (two or more together in combination), to help keep those growth and repair mechanisms running at full throttle, even at rest. The following list represents some of the most well-known products that have the ability to help counteract catabolic processes that occur during sleep.
Saving Muscle At Bedtime
Arginine. Best known today for its ability to boost nitric oxide production that enhances muscle pumps and increases blood flow to muscles. Arginine works by suppressing the activity of somatostatin, a hormone in the brain that halts GH secretion. Suggested dose: 3 to 5 grams at bedtime.
CLA. Conjugated linoleic acid is widely known for its ability to shrink the size of fat cells, enhance lean muscle development and utilize stored fat as a fuel source. Studies indicate that CLA elevates metabolism and increases the amount of fat burned while sleeping, by stimulating GH release. Suggested dose: 1 to 3 grams.
GABA. The amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid is considered to be a powerful neurotransmitter, which transmits nerve impulses. Gaba is highly concentrated in the hypothalamus and helps regulate sleep cycles and the pituitary gland, which is the gland that releases GH. Researchers at the First Medical Clinic at the University of Milan reported that GABA increased blood levels of GH by 5½ percent after 90 minutes of intake. Suggested dose: 500 milligrams to 1 gram.
Glutamine. The most abundant amino acid found on skeletal muscle, and a powerful recovery agent that boosts immunity. Current data indicates that 2 grams of glutamine is effective in raising growth hormone levels more than four times that of base levels, versus a placebo. Glutamine also preserves muscle mass and prevents muscle acidosis to boot, which increases muscle wasting and fatigue.
Melatonin. As mentioned earlier, melatonin induces sleep and has anti-aging properties. Its ability to stimulate GH production at sleep has been well documented. Reporting in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers looking at melatonin and heavy resistance training found that 5.0 milligrams in both males and females increased serum GH levels, while lowering SST (somatostatin) levels, the compound that blocks the release of GH. Additionally, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin reported that melatonin given to men with low levels of GH reduced fat levels by 14 percent, with a 9 percent increase in lean tissue development.
Ornithine. This amino acid is considered to be arginine’s twin brother and converts to arginine, thus stimulating growth hormone release when taken before bedtime and during exercise. Orthinine also increases glutamine synthesis. Suggested dose: 3 to 5 grams at bedtime.
Tryptophan. Tryptophan is best known as an agent that promotes sleep and relaxation. It also has powerful GH-releasing capabilities. This nutrient is converted to serotonin, the brain chemical that causes GH release. Studies indicate that 5 to 7 grams causes elevation of serum GH between 30-90 minutes after supplementation, before going to sleep.
ZMA. The combination of zinc magnesium and B-6 has been shown to increase muscle strength and enhance recovery. Studies suggest that this synergistic combination can improve sleep quality and promote GH release. Researchers at Western Washington University reported that after eight weeks of ZMA supplementation, total testosterone levels increased by 32.4 percent while IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) increased by 3.6 percent, corresponding with increased preservation of lean muscle tissue during sleep.
Stimulating The Natural Growth Hormone Within
While the above supplements can be great aids at bedtime, the following protocols can also help along the way:
• Consume low-glycemic foods like pasta or oatmeal before workouts
• Reduce carb intake before bedtime
• Maintain a balance of carbs, protein and fats during feeding times
• Consume five to seven small meals daily
• Utilize power lifts like squats and deadlifts
• Train in short, intense bursts two to three times daily versus long, two-hour workouts.
• Aerobic exercise encourages GH release and can keep plasma GH levels elevated for two hours after stopping.
Some Anti-Catabolic Facts to Ponder
• Each part of your body that you exercise needs a minimum of 24-48 hours of rest. And in some cases, five to seven days to re-adapt from exercise-induced micro-trauma to muscle tissue
• Each muscle group should be worked vigorously only once each week, to ensure that full recovery occurs.
• Don’t train a muscle group if it’s still sore from the last session.
• Limit workouts per week to three to four, and shoot for one-hour sessions.
• Being awake for a 24-hour period has the same effect as a blood alcohol content of 0.096, a level above the legal driving limit in many states. Get your rest.
• Make sure you sleep comfortably through the night, at least eight full hours.
• Neither the mind nor the body shuts down during sleep.
• Don’t exercise before going to bed.
• Reduce stressful episodes before bedtime.
• Establish a bedtime routine (glass of warm milk, meditation, biofeedback exercises, meditation).
NOTE: Sleep specialists suggest a one-hour window that supports the time you need to wind down. Studies indicate that individuals who are relaxed before bedtime with the methods listed above demonstrate brain wave activity that is comparable to early phases of sleep.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other fluids before bedtime to limit bathroom trips, and consider ingesting some casein protein before bedtime to minimize muscle protein breakdown.
Based on an overwhelming body of evidence, sleep management should not be an afterthought in reference to your exercise routine. It’s more than a final frontier you need to conquer when the time arises; it is the first one and paradoxically, the most important one – in which you are doing nothing but lying down on the job!
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