Once upon a time the nutrition blogosphere I enjoyed participating in was lit with a debate on whether or not fasting was hurtful to your metabolism. The age old adage that eating six meals a day was better for your metabolism was spit on by the intermittent fasting (IF) enthusiasts. They argued that short term fasting had no effect on your metabolism, because in the long run you would be receiving the same amount of nutrition.

Theories are wonderful, but if they don’t hold up in practice, they are useless. Theories like these are rampant in the nutrition science world but real life practice will tell you what works best.

Maybe the theory is true. But what if there are other factors that lower metabolism that are affecting the intermittent fasting enthusiast? It is still useless to hope that the theory will work because those other confounding factors need to be sorted out.

Here’s a little bit of a backstory:

I swallowed the intermittent fasting bug whole. I started fasting for 18-22 hours (sometimes 24) five days a week. The successful IF trainers however seemed to advocate 16 hour fasts. By the 16 hour period, I decided that I could go longer. I had a lot of energy. This was because my body, young and fresh, had a lot of reserves, or yin. Whether or not you like the concept of yin and yang, it’s a nice model for what’s about to happen.

With time, I had less and less energy from fasting; my yin was being depleted. I talk about this in an old youtube video of mine (enjoy the ponytail look I am sporting).

I remember the FIRST DAY I tried intermittent fasting. I was apprehensive and honestly a little bit nervous (I know pretty innocent and cute back then). I was scared of not eating for so long.

After a few hours, working at the grocery store, I exclaimed in my head: “this is like crack!!!” (I was probably 18…me and my friends thought jokes like that were funny but I guess my sense of humor is much more refined now…I sound like a snob don’t I).

I felt so energized. Stimulated. Intense. Excited. Scattered but I felt focused. I never felt anything like it.

That feeling was my fresh young body, relatively unstressed, living a simple life under a steady roof, activating a healthy stress response to the stressor of fasting. This stress response serves to tap into existing energy stores (adipose tissue and glycogen) to raise blood sugar levels.

From an energetic perspective this makes a whole lot of sense. If you don’t have food at the moment, you need to find some or you will die of starvation eventually. Being able to have MORE energy from fasting is a pretty cool way to deal with not having food.

I regularly started fasting for 18-22 hours. The more the better I figured. But I didn’t want to fast for too long because I was afraid of losing muscle mass and strength. Unlike other IF’ers, I didn’t take any amino acid supplements to prevent muscle breakdown. I wanted to be all natural. My stubbornness taught me some important lessons about health and about myself.

Working Out While Fasting

My goal with IF was body recomposition, or getting shredded. I wanted abs and muscle. I also was intensely focused on improving my vertical jump and 100m dash times. My training involved low-rep strength training and explosive lifting emphasizing my lower body. Deadlifts, squats, lunges, and various plyometrics were my mainstay. For my upper body I just lifted everything heavy, including bicep curls which didn’t make my arms any bigger (my arms really don’t grow easy…my ideal physique is a well-built athletic look…basically Andy Whitfield in Spartacus).

After 16-20 hours I would work out TRAIN. I released a lot of aggression in the gym in my college days. I looked forward to working out intensely and posting on this forum about my progress.

Eventually, the high from fasting faded. My workouts became less aggressive.

Energetically it felt like I was getting beat down from these workouts and the fasting whereas previously I felt like I was on TOP.

This little distinction may not make much sense scientifically, but that’s exactly what I felt. I would perform my deadlifts calmly and try to survive the weights more instead of destroying the workout metaphorically.

Fast-forward to the present day and heavy weight lifting sometimes makes me lightheaded. I am intolerant to the training regimen I had before that kept me at 10-11% body fat with decent abs and some impressive lifts.

The Stress Equation

image

The rigors of school, a part-time job with a commute, and some financial stress meant that I had a lot more stress than a full-time athlete. In addition I didn’t have regular massages or sports medicine doctors taking care of me. I did everything myself which takes more energy. I trained however very often and very intensely, and I would have trained even harder if I had more time. I had the drive of a champion, and this led to me burning out completely to the point where I literally became intolerant to intense exercise.

Even playing some tennis would make me lightheaded after a while. The mechanisms are beyond the scope of this post, but I can share some theories. When you lift heavy, your blood pressure rises a LOT. The systolic value gets to the 400s (reference definitely needed; I read it a while ago). Something in the nervous system is responsible for raising that blood pressure adequately. Without adequate recovery, that thing in the nervous system got tired. I was not able to raise blood pressure as much and started feeling light headed. I never came close to passing out but I had to sit down and sometimes I saw stars.

I would also experience some lightheadedness from simply standing up. I knew I had a problem so I eventually lowered the intensity and frequency of my lifting and solved those problems. I haven’t attempted any heavy deadlifts in a while and don’t plan to still. I remember my resting blood pressure declined to 100/55 mmHg back in those days of adrenal fatigue. Now I’m back at around 120/80 and have more energy.

The point here is that the stresses of intense exercise training compounded the acute stresses of fasting. The amount of cortisol my body had to secrete to deal with that type of training while FASTED was probably very very high.

Not only did that high not feel as good, I felt worse from fasting. I would feel strangely calm, tired, and not as focused. If fasting is good for you why should you feel like shit?? I realized I needed to end my fasts when I started feeling these symptoms. I INSTANTLY felt better. The changes in my mood and energy levels were night and day when I ended those unhealthy fasts in a stressed state and ate some food, no matter what it was.

Incomplete Theories

Fasting and strength training was supposed to be an acute stress. The blogosphere enjoyed this idea of acute stress. It was better than endurance training long term which in theory could evoke a chronic stress response. I swallowed the pill and realized this was a short-sighted view. Clearly for me dieting and very intense strength training became a chronic stress. I knew this wasn’t healthy but I kid you not, I did not know how to fucking stop. I use strong language because this was a very interesting period of my life.

Back to the Main Question: Do Regular Meals Improve Your Metabolism?

This post was supposed to be about regular meals and your metabolism. Unfortunately I am not the type of person that can keep things succinct but I’m working on it.

So, in the short term, not eating any food for a long time can lower your metabolism. At first your metabolism is increased, but after that high goes away, your body will slowly shut down. Then, you will die from starvation.

Similarly, going on a low calorie diet to lose weight also lowers your metabolism. This is manifested by cold hands and feet and a general decline in vitality. It’s a smart thing for your body to do in order to compensate for the reduction in calorie intake. Your libido also slows down because your body doesn’t want to raise a child if there isn’t much energy to do so.

Skipping one meal however probably won’t do much to slow down your metabolism. You will simply want to eat more later.

But if you do it all the time, maybe eating more later won’t be enough. Maybe that chronic stress (assuming that it does in fact become chronic) is NOT adequately balanced by simply eating the same amount of calories later. If you ate regularly, you’d receive the same amount of calories but would you have the same level of stress? I am not sure but I suspect that there would be more stress. I should look into the literature to find more answers to this.

I can tell you this though. I crave sugar after my first meal of the day when I fast. This won’t happen if I eat regularly. Who knows, maybe I eat the same amount of sugar overall in one day, but I crave an Izze or another kind of fruit soda usually after I fast. I’ll eat a meal but my stomach won’t be able to fit too much food so I become hungry quickly after. Then sometimes I need to take a nap.

Clearly something is going on that involves my body trying to undo the damage from the stress associated with fasting. Everyone is different, but my body is a bit stressed out too so maybe it’s more intense.

The Microcosm Within the Macrocosm

I believe that things that happen on a very small scale (the microcosm) resemble things that happen on a very large scale (macrocosm). Something a cell is experiencing may be analogous to something you are experiencing in your body.

Me skipping breakfast today in this example is the microcosm. Me starving to death is the macrocosm. The action of skipping one meal, versus every meal till death, is very different. But it resembles starvation quite a bit as well.

Thus, doesn’t it make sense that on a microcosm there are cellular changes occurring that directly resemble the changes occurring in starvation?

I think it does. It’s debatable for sure but it makes sense to me based on my experiences, which I trust more than the rabbit hole you can go down from trying to understand the literature.

Conclusion

My goal is to STOP skipping breakfast. I don’t want the microcosmic changes of skipping one meal anymore. I feel full but want sugar. I feel like there’s something missing. I am in graduate school and am recovering from years of intense lifting which caused adrenal stress. I need to make a concerted effort in healing my metabolism.

image

I don’t skip breakfast anymore to lose fat. I do it due to time constraints and because I know I can handle it and I’ll have a little high off of it. My body just needs more rest than stimulation, so for my metabolism’s sake, regular meals, including even a tasty cinnamon roll I snacked on for breakfast, is better than just the coffee I’d normally drink.

In addition, the regular meals will prevent the fatigue, distractibility, and stress I experience when the hunger from not eating does NOT lead to a seemingly healthy stress response. How can that be good for me? It’ll take a while to have the full answer on that, but for now I trust my instincts on that one.

Newsletter

I’ll be starting up a newsletter again. In it I’ll share my brief opinions on trending health topics. The goal is to avoid confusion and help arrive at true health. I am also working on a free guide on how to stop being confused about health. It’ll be the first ever written book from me and I can’t wait to share it with you. I will let everyone on the email list know about it. If you’re interested sign up below and you’ll hear from me soon.

For some of of us, it’s more difficult to stop going to the gym than it is to maintain a consistent habit. For these people, taking more than a couple days off is difficult.

Some people may have emotional reasons to exercise compulsively; they may be motivated to go to the gym if they feel guilty, or if they want to reach a certain goal very badly. Others may have a mix of psychological reasons and physical reasons; they may enjoy the feeling they get from exercising so much that even if they feel tired, they crave that feeling.

I’m not sure exactly how I can define that in more detail, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that exercise is a stress to the body and is only healthy when we are able to adapt to it.

We may be able to exercise seven days a week and still be healthy for some period of time, but with other stresses in our lives, such as a calorie deficit or sleep deprivation, we will fail to handle the stress load.

Fail to handle the stress load and you will reduce your quality of life. You will feel tired all the time, will have more mood swings, and certainly won’t be able to exercise like you used to.

In this last post on overtraining syndrome and adrenal fatigue caused by exercising, I will share some of the research findings so you can understand when it’s time to rest. Overtraining can occur from excessive endurance training or from excessive resistance/anaerobic training, but I will treat them similarly as they both involve too much stress.

This information needs to become common knowledge one day so that people stop pushing themselves to the point where they are potentially shortening their lifespan and health.  I would estimate that 100% of all #fitspiration tells people to fight their instincts and never give up; this piece of advice can be very unhealthy. If you did not read the first three parts on adrenal fatigue and exercising, see part 1part 2, and part 3.

Signs that you are overtraining according to the research

Less adrenaline release
Did you ever notice that before you adapted to strenuous training (whether it be marathon training or powerlifting), you initially had more adrenaline during your workouts? Did you notice that when you were training too hard, you felt less of an adrenaline rush? That’s for a good reason. According to research published in The Journal of Applied Physiology, the adrenal glands produce less adrenaline during strenuous exercise in overtrained athletes.

This finding corroborates my personal experiences in the weight room over the past six years; initially exercise stimulated a lot of adrenaline and I felt like Godzilla, but with chronic stress and overtraining, I did not feel the same rush. You can think of that as a survival response: in order to protect itself from the chronic high dose of catecholamines such as adrenaline, the body finds a way to reduce its exposure.

Less energy for daily tasks
A common finding in many studies is a reduced cortisol secretion by the adrenal glands in response adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). It seems that the research isn’t certain if this is due to some type of resistance or negative feedback, but it makes some intuitive sense: if you’re training very intensely and secreting lots of cortisol without adequate recovery eventually your adrenals may not be able to produce as much.

Cortisol abnormalities are complex, but if you’re at the point where your adrenals aren’t producing enough cortisol, you will feel very fatigued and will not have much energy for regular activities. Severe cases of overtraining resemble Addison’s disease, where the body is unable to produce adrenal hormones like cortisol.

At this stage, you may barely be able to walk down the street. You may have thought that overtraining involves high cortisol; that is true but there are different stages. Initially cortisol may be high to cope with the stresses but in the exhaustion phase of stress it will be low.

Reduced exercise performance
Underperformance syndrome (UPS) is a condition where despite two weeks of rest an athlete’s performance fails to improve. Usually a combination of exercise stress and stress from other sources causes this problem. In one small study, overtrained males experienced reduced catecholamine sensitivity from daily maximal weight training; this means the participants had less adrenaline during exercise after overtraining.

Another explanation for UPS is the cytokine hypothesis; prolonged bouts of exercise can produce interleukin-6 (IL-6) concentrations as high as those seen with an infectious challenge. High IL-6 leads to elevated heart rate, cortisol, and sleep disturbances: common symptoms in athletes with UPS.

During my senior year of high school, I wanted to break the long jump record for my school. My program consisted of strength training a few times a week, plyometric training a few times a week, and sprinting a few times a week. My performance hit a stalemate rapidly and I failed to improve upon my previous best form last year. That was my first experience with this. I learned to train smarter but I trained too intensely afterwards and began to experience sleep disturbances: waking up unrefreshed was the first thing I noticed.

A long list of symptoms: 
Symptoms of low cortisol include (taken from this paper):

  • Fatigue
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Ill-defined malaise
  • Loss of ambition
  • Increased fear and apprehension
  • Scattered thinking
  • Decreased concentration and memory
  • Short fuse
  • Hypoglycemia symptoms
  • Sugar cravings
  • Slow recovery from illness
  • Allergies or autoimmune disease
  • Increased achiness or arthritis
  • Nausea/no appetite in a.m.
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine or other stimulants
  • Tendency to feel best towards evening
  • Decreased sex drive

From my experience, most of these symptoms are very tolerable: they won’t send you to the ER. Thus, people may continue to exercise or engage in stressful activities because they don’t sense a real danger.

If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, feel free to share them below.

Although overtraining from endurance training and resistance training are supposed to be different, both involve low cortisol eventually and will share similarities with chronic fatigue syndrome and Addison’s disease. Exercise can improve our ability to handle stress, unless it becomes too much of a stress.

I believe we have enough information to be able to detect when the first symptoms occur; in many cases it’s obvious and very noticeable (hair falling out, or waking unrefreshed), but to know how much exercise it takes and what can prevent this I hope we can learn from future studies. If we had a way to keep track of our HPA axis while in the gym, so that we could detect when we’re at a dangerous level of activation, perhaps we could design sustainable healthy programs. There certainly is a lot of research I haven’t touched on, so in the future I may discuss this again in a new light.

Just use common sense and realize that exercise is a stress that will add to whatever stresses you are already experiencing; if it’s too much, you will feel quite subpar.

A few years ago I got interested in powerlifting. I remember at the school gym I was one of the few that did below parallel squats. Fast-forward a couple years and it was a norm, along with heavy deadlifts. Don’t neglect “leg day” they say.

The pursuit of strength and functionality started to rise in popularity. As I’ve been learning lately, society tends to take trends too far, before forming a new one. Lifting heavy is a trend, and no more than that, because people formed beliefs around it, backed up their beliefs with science, and came to conclusions that were overly reductionist and incorrect. Below is a quick run through of the good and bad.

The merits of training these lifts:

  • Increased muscle mass and strength
  • Greater recruitment of type iib fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Increased testosterone
  • Hits muscles harder than isolating them on machines sometimes
  • Requires activation of stabilizers such as trapezius muscles, rhomboids, and core musculature
  • Improves heart wall thickness (any weight training tends to do that)
  • “Functionality” (meh)
  • Whole body effect
  • Hypertrophied adrenal glands: improved response to a stressor
  • Improved athleticism (sometimes, meh)

Downsides:

  • Requires high physiological preparedness (you need to be amped, recovered, warmed up)
  • Can become an addiction in trying to set PRs
  • Extremely high blood pressure, intra-ocular pressure, and intracranial pressure during a lift (reference)
  • Abnormal diurnal cortisol rhythms
  • Elevated cortisol
  • Blunted response to stress
  • Lower testosterone levels
  • All the symptoms of overtraining syndrome
  • Shorter telomeres (Dr. Jack Kruse noted in a podcast how when he measured telomeres of many crossfitters he found that people’s telomere’s reflected an age 15 years older than they actually were)

Confounders to this theory:

  • A properlydesignedpowerlifting program that does not cause chronic stress
    • unlike Crossfit where many exercises are performed in succession
  • A negative energy balance (not eating enough)
  • Stress from other sources (e.g., improper sleep schedule, and other exercise training)

A program that involves only doing bench press and front squats probably won’t cause problems. A well-designed program will also avoid maxing out too often (except in olympic lifting). For some the threshold is different, but there will be a point where a certain training load will cause problems. The mechanism is pretty simple and it involves elevated glucocorticoids among other things, but let me share my experiences.

When I was squatting really heavy regularly (probably 85% upwards of 1RM) I certainly was not following any program besides my own instinct’s desire to inform me when I’m recovered and ready for the next workout. This method is imprecise, but it’s an attempt at exercising voluntarily, which is less stressful usually than involuntary exercise, such as in a planned program where you have a set schedule. I was more fatigued after my workouts whereas years ago before my obsession began, I was usually more excited afterwards.

A blunted response to the stressor (heavy weights) may be the cause of that, as the body will produce less cortisol to the same stimulus despite elevated ACTH levels. I did doubles and triples for several sets, sometimes only a few sets, but usually I was very close to failure. If I did sets of two reps, I did it with a weight I could do a maximum of three reps with. This low volume approach wasn’t supposed to be stressful, but I was fatigued for sure. My eyes were burning and were very red after each set: that’s probably the high intra-ocular pressure. I did end up squatting two times my body weight but I wasn’t running much faster so I decided to stop.

So despite whatever health benefits exist to squatting, deadlifting, and bench pressing, they disappear if you are stressed out. The testosterone increase males seek for example will be reversed if stress is too high, just like in endurance training. The fitness community has given endurance training a bad wrap, and it’s true that too much is bad, but too much of the opposite, HIIT and anaerobic training is just as bad because it involves the same thing: stress.

Health aside, the “strength” gains you make in the gym are a bit dubious as well. Being able to squat a lot of weight makes you strong by the definition of strength, being able to produce more force, but that strength in the squat may not transfer to other activities. This is where the term “functional” comes in. If you can squat say 2 times your body weight, but are too slow to run away from a predator and climb a tree for instance, your two times body weight strength in the squat didn’t transfer to running. Strength involves more than just the muscle’s ability to produce force against a load; it involves the rate at which that force is produced, the relative strength (a 100 pound guy who can squat 200lbs versus a 200lbs guy who can only squat 350lbs), and the pattern muscles fire together in. If you train a certain movement, your muscles will become better at firing together in that movement: that’s why when you start strength training you may see quick improvements in “strength” but not muscle size; those gains are neurological. So the guy who runs a lot may be able to produce more forces while running per pound of body weight than the guy who squats two times his body weight.

Conclusion:

You can squat, deadlift, and bench press all you want, but you can get bigger, stronger, leaner, faster, and healthier without it. You don’t need to lift weights in a gym to be healthy. This is a realization that took me a while to accept. I was so biased in favor of heavy weight training I thought it was the best form of exercise for everyone. What I’ve realized is that for some, intense physical activity provides a release. For others, intense physical activity is a chore and they can live long and healthy without it.

As far as athleticism goes, being strong can help depending on the sport. Bobsledders for instance tend to train very heavy, all for the initial push of the sled where extra strength and power allows them to accelerate the sled faster. But even for sprinting, there have been many world-class sprinters who didn’t emphasize heavy weight lifting that much such as Carl Lewis. It’s clear that it can help though, along with steroid use.

As far as muscle mass, packing on mass will definitely come easier with squats and deadlifts, so go ahead. But just squatting or deadlifting heavy will fatigue your CNS and take away energy from other exercises that provide volume to the muscles for added hypertrophy.

As far as health goes: there is absolutely no need. I’d recommend against squats and deadlifts with a barbell in an environment where you are pushing for a personal best and thus require a high degree of physiological preparedness each session. It’s hard to just squat light too if you’re like me, because you’re going to be tempted to really push yourself. I find it harder to back off so I had to stop completely. Some squats are good for flexibility but if you’re going to do it with a barbell make sure to have a sound plan or don’t do it at all.

Even though squats and deadlifts and bench press can make us stronger, build a booty (I’ll make a separate post on that), and make us bigger, it’s a trend that can be taken too far.

So go outside and get some moderate exercise in, but don’t be fooled by trends. Maintain your ground as the whims of society ebb and flow.

What amount and intensity of exercise is optimal?

The answer I’ve come to over the past six years of training like a maniac involves one thing: a healthy response and adaptation to the stress. In other words, an amount that keeps you healthy. That sounds unsatisfying but what I mean is that you can exercise and improve your physical fitness while destroying your health. You can be anorexic and have extremely low bone mass and still be very “fit” physically. Overtraining sometimes implies that plateaus are reached and further improvements aren’t being made but there is much more to it.

Once you are unable to respond to stress, the rest of your body starts shutting down as I discussed in the previous post. Adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism start to take place and you’ll experience weird symptoms: poorer sleep, hair falling out, ice-cold hands and feet, lethargy, brain fog, low libido, low body temperature, waking up in middle of night to urinate, etc.

So how do you know if it’s too much? You will. You won’t feel good.

This is what imho a healthy response to exercise may feel like post-workout:

  • better mood
  • lower anxiety: something that was bothering you before may not seem as bad anymore
  • relaxation
  • excitement and more energy
  • improved cognitive function
  • increased attention span
  • peaceful slumber

These are some of my symptoms when my body responds properly. This is what an unhealthy response to the demands of an exercise session may feel like

  • desire to sleep: during and after the workout
  • fatigue (yawning during workout or after)
  • irritability
  • poorer cognitive function, brain fog
  • less motivation
  • stiffness
  • morning grogginess day after
  • abnormally low heart rate day after
  • decreased heart rate variability

You’ll know: it might be the day after when you experience negative symptoms, but I’m confident that if you pay attention to how you feel, you will be able to differentiate between a poor response and a good response. Do you remember the feeling of endorphins rushing through you after a long workout? Do you remember that feeling declining as you overtrained? I do.

The desire to push through all obstacles and make “no excuses” or take “no days off” sounds like it takes dedication but it’s not as hard as it seems. I don’t understand how people call intense training “hard work.” Once it becomes “hard” you’re probably quite stressed and need to chill out. It’s not “hard” to run or train when you don’t feel like it, because it’s not hard to want to be thin or fit, the root cause of exercise addiction.

I think it’s much more difficult to get out of an exercise addiction, because your muscles “feel” like moving and contracting even if you are not mentally recovered. When I was squatting and lunging heavy, my quadriceps would ache to just contract intensely under a heavy load. Similarly my back muscles would ache for my next session of weighted pull-ups. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening so I can only speculate. Once the muscles are recovered, they’re ready to fire. They’ll fire in the movement patterns you train them with. If you run a lot you won’t “feel” like doing heavy squats. if you train like a powerlifter and do heavy squats often you’re not going to “feel” like running; you’ll feel like squatting. If you are a boxer, you won’t feel like doing bicep curls very often unless you’re doing that regularly already.

If your muscles feel like training but mentally you don’t have the same drive and motivation as you do when you are fully recovered, you may be tempted to train anyway. I’ve experienced this for a looong time. Doing this repeatedly will most likely fatigue the nervous system even more and result in the symptoms we talked about. Once you take days off, the addiction starts to subside. Before you started exercise training your muscles weren’t addicted to exercise so you can be confident that with rest the addiction will subside. I honestly haven’t even mastered this yet: recently I’ve still gone to the gym when my feet were cold and my body temperature was lower than normal. I’ve made an effort to eliminate that habit and have seen improvement.

When you observe communities who are devoted to exercise (young squatting and deadlifting males, cardio-females, crossfitters, marathoners/triathletes), you’ll see generally that people don’t like rest days. Once you form a rewarding habit it’s kind of tough to break it. Training intensely to change your body or lift more weight can be a rewarding experience that can be hard to let go of. I could write a whole book on how to stop exercising because it can be really tough. For those with eating disorders or a general desire to be thin, they may switch around to different types of exercise but still the underlying reason for their behaviors hasn’t changed. The other day I viewed a post on reddit by an anorexic female who was looking for workouts to build more muscle because she realized that starving herself to lose weight doesn’t lower body fat percentage effectively. Her underlying symptom, an overevaluation of shape and weight (that’s the exact term used in psychology to describe it), hasn’t changed.

Have you had similar experiences? When I’m recovered completely, exercise is more fun, more intense, and I am in a better mood afterwards. When I’m not recovered but I push myself anyway, my productivity declines and I don’t feel good. That’s the definition of addition: you do something anyway even when the high declines. If you want the high to last, take some time off.

I have for example just quit going to the gym recently because I was maxing out frequently in all my lifts: lunges, single legged deadlifts, pullups, dips, rows, DB bench, bicep curls, overhead press, etc. I wasn’t born with the ability to max out in these lifts; over time my work capacity increased to the point where I could complete most of those in one session in a circuit format without feeling too winded. Maybe it becomes even tougher to stop the more fit you are and the greater your work capacity is?

Now I’m just sticking to light sprinting and some heavy sandbag workouts once or twice a week. What about you?

In the next post I will look at the physiology of overtraining to explore in more detail what a healthy level of exercise training is so stay tuned.

Hey everyone, in this post I will share with you the EXACT workouts you need to develop adrenal fatigue. You can watch some of my lifts here in this old youtube video. Skip ahead to 3:03 because I babble in the beginning. Looks hard eh? Well yeah, it is and that’s why it got tiring. I’ve learned that it’s important to not max myself out, even though I’m always tempted to. That may seem obvious to some of you, but it’s easier said than done when you have a lot of energy.

So on today’s menu we have HIIT, tabata sprints, heavy squats, deadlifts, and compound movements. Ok in all seriousness, the point of this series of posts is that lifting weights or doing HIIT requires us to release a lot of adrenaline and cortisol, two stress hormones involved in the fight or flight response and in helping us get out of bed early in the morning. Exercise is a stressor in other words, and like all stressors, we can only adapt to them if they come in the right dose. If we’re feeling tired, fatigued, and losing our hair, it’s a sign that we are not adapting to the stress and need to take time off. So unfortunately, the most aggressive program for getting lean may be the worst one for your health (but that’s obvious isn’t it?).

The next point is that despite however many health benefits you can come up with for strength training, most of those benefits vanish once you overtrain. It’s very difficult to get OUT of the habit of exercising intensely however, because the desire to get strong, lean, bigger, or faster never ends. It’s terrible to give up. But it’s not giving up, it’s just going in another direction. I still want to be strong, fast, lean (lean enough), and athletic, but I don’t plan on killing myself as I used to in the gym because it’s not sustainable, for anyone.

Here are some sample workouts I have done over the past two years which I believe contributed to increased fatigue, malaise, low thyroid, and lowered body temperature. Caution: my workouts are a little different than usual. I go heavy with everything but use unconventional lifts like lunges and single legged deadlifts. In the last two workouts I added squats though. I did some yoga and/or chi gung with stretching to properly cool down most of the time but didn’t include it here. For the weights I almost always used three sets, so I often don’t list how many sets I did in some of the workouts.

Workout 1:

1a. Lunges 100bs 3×3

b. DB Bench 80lbs 3×5

c. Single legged box jumps 24”

Three sets. Note: the a, b, c, format means I performed these exercises in a circuit. The weights refer to half the total amount lifted: I’m using 100lbs dumbbells in each hand for example with the lunges. I did lunges first, before moving onto dumbbell bench. After two sets I am sweating and my heart is pounding and I need to rest. On days when I’m not recovered I feel the need to close my eyes from this brutality.

2a. Weighted pullups 3×5,4,3 90lbs

b. Single legged hyperextensions 3×5 90lbs

c. backwards single legged box jumps 12”

Note: I don’t list the reps for box jumps because I go until my performance declines or I feel too tired cardiovascularly. For more intense box jumps off of one leg, I’ll do only three reps with maximal effort. For the backwards single legged box jumps (still very challenging), I would do 5-8 reps. In 2a you can see that I wrote 5,4,3: this means I did five reps the first set, four the second, and three for the last set.

3a. Bicep curls 35lbs, 30s, till near failure 3 sets

b. hanging leg raises 3x near faliure

c. DB flyes 55lbs, 50lbs 3 sets near failure

Workout 2:

1a. Single legged DB deadlifts – 95lbs 3×3

b. Weighted dips 90lbs 7,6,5

c. Weighted pullups/chinups 90lbs 3x near failure

2a. Single legged hyperextensions 90lbs 3×5

b. DB rows 85lbs 3×6

c. Landmine presses 65lbs 3x 7ish

3a. KB swing 28kg x 10 reps

b. Tricep presses (a variation of single armed DB bench that hits the triceps more)

c. single legged jump rope x 30 reps each leg

Workout 3: Sprinting and plyometrics

1a. 30m flyes at 90% intensity

b. 30m bounding alternate leg

5 sets total

Note: this workout is pretty easy.

Workout 4: Sprinting

150m repeat sprints at 90%

rest = walking back 150m. Not too tiring but my eyes would often look glossy and fatigued afterwards. Tempo sprints made me feel better because it was easier on the nervous system.

Workout 5: Tempo sprints

100m repeats:

3x 100m at 17ish seconds (20 for female), with only 30s in between. Rest 2 minutes and repeat at least one more time. This felt good cardiovascularly for me at time (meaning tiring), but didn’t hammer my nervous system.

Workout 6: Low intensity sprints

300, 300, 150, 150, 100, 100.

This workout is meant to just get an athlete back into shape, but the longer duration really fatigued my nervous system because I wan’t recovered from everything else I was doing. Each interval was separated by about a minute rest. Not too difficult because I practically jogged the 300s but it felt good cardiovascularly.

Workout 7: 

1a. Squats

90% 3s and 4s (three or four reps). 295lbs. (at 160lbs this was KILLER). I was able to do two sets and then did a drop set.

b. Overhead press, barbell or dumbbell. 3x 5 (failure)

2a. Weighted pullups 3x near failure

b. Single legged box jumps

3a. DB rows

b. Hanging leg raises

Workout 8: The ultimate killer

1a. Squats 80% 1RM 6×4

b. 100m sprint 80% intensity (6 sets)

c. DB Bench press 80% 1RM 6×4

2a. Double legged bound x 30m (5 sets)

b. Weighted pullups 80% 1RM 5×5

c. Single legged deadlifts 85% 1RM 5x 3

3a. Handstand pushups 3 x failure

b. Roundkicks to heavy bag 10 on each leg

c. Hanging leg raises 3x failure

4. One mile run

Conclusion

If you don’t regularly train heavy this might not seem like a lot, but it is a lot when you do all of your lifts above 85% 1RM. That was my mistake. But even at lighter loads with higher volume the stress adds up. Take endurance training for instance, which I didn’t cover here: excessive endurance training is also stressful, and many fitness communities acknowledge that while encouraging shorter more intense workouts. What I’ve realized is that those short but intense workouts can still be very stressful. Crossfitters according to Dr. Jack Kruse presented during his consultations not only with aberrant cortisol rhythms (high at night low in morning, the typical sign of overtraining), but also shorter telomeres (he mentioned this in a podcast I can’t find atm). This means that excessive exercise can make us less fit by causing us to age more rapidly.

So now the challenge involves finding the right amount of exercise without burning out. I’ve been trying to figure this out for a very long time but the answer is pretty clear to me and I’ll go over it in the next post which I’ll write up very soon. The answer may be obvious to a lot of people: just follow your instincts and don’t lift too much, but it’s weird that it’s actually very easy to overtrain imo. It’s easy to become very dedicated to fitness and aim to set new personal records. It’s not easy to back off because once you start training your muscles start to really enjoy the feeling and they secrete some chemical which makes it hard to stop even when your nervous system is tired. I’ll talk about that next.

Oh yea: should you do these workouts? No, you shouldn’t. I’m sure many people will like these workouts but training with such high loads in a circuit format will burn you out rapidly. The exercises themselves are good, but I would avoid maxing out frequently. I will recommend a more appropriate training load in the next post. Stay tuned.

 

 

Adrenal fatigue isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis and involves much more than the adrenal glands, including the thyroid, but I am using the term because it’s common and well, a lot of people have it. Adrenal fatigue involves impaired cortisol rhythms (higher at night lower in morning), lethargy, brain fog, falling out of hair, low libido, low blood pressure, vitiligo , and poorer sleep. Extreme exercise especially with dieting can cause these symptoms like clockwork. As more and more gym junkies are starting to emphasize compound movements such as squats and deadlifts, or circuiting them as in crossfit, or challenging themselves to train for tough mudder competitions, more people are getting adrenal fatigue. I don’t know what the exact numbers are but it happened to my girlfriend recently and I thought it was time for a post on the subject.

I have been trying to improve my vertical leap and explosiveness for six years. The training I do has involved heavy and explosive training that is tiring to the central nervous system. When I was on a raw vegan diet I could feel more acutely the depression in my nervous system days after my most intense training sessions in the gym. My mood, energy, and motivation was just a step lower than usual. I thought this was normal until I started eating more meat and dairy and I didn’t notice any adrenal fatigue after intense workouts any longer. Over the years however I noticed very subtle changes in my mood and energy levels that caused me to rethink my addictive training regimen. I was performing heavy weighted dips and pullups, squats, deadlifts, bench, and rows every week without any deload or rest week. Typically strength trainees take a week off every now and then to deload and allow their nervous system to recover. I didn’t feel the need to so I tried to progress linearly, maxing myself out every week. I also sprinted two times a week on the track: I would usually do short sprints but I would go up to 150m sprints and rarely 300s, rain or shine.

Although I got a lot stronger (and leaner), around senior year of college (just over a year ago), my eyes were burning throughout the day and felt much groggier than usual in the mornings. This eye fatigue started a couple years before that at least, but it was getting to the point where it affected me almost all day long. After my squat doubles or triples (two or three reps) my eyes were visibly red. My hairs were turning gray prematurely and this scared the sh*t out of me. The outer third of my eyebrows were nonexistent (a sign of hypothyroidism). My feet were colder. My sensitivity to light was greater and I was squinting outside. I wasn’t as aggressive as usual because I felt tired. My motivation was lower and I felt burned out.

This took place when I was maxing out during my squat sessions in my effort to get to a 2x bw squat. I did get there (squatted 335lbs at 160lbs with a narrow stance in vibrams), but I didn’t get the athletic results I wanted. I decided to stop squatting but my next obsession became heavy lunges and heavy single legged deadlifts. With a 100lb dumbell in each hand I would go for sets of three or four on lunges. The next day I clearly felt the eye fatigue in the morning with greater light sensitivity as well.

My girlfriend similarly without changing her diet noticed her hair falling out and grogginess in the morning which was unusual for her as a morning person. She also noticed a decrease in libido. She started to think she had excess fat and did the workouts I recommended a while back: circuited compound lifts. It took her a month or so of intense training to achieve these remarkable changes in health.

Recently I took over a week off from training (including lunges and other heavy stuff I have still been struggling to tone down) and my light sensitivity improved dramatically: I could practically stare at the sun if I wanted to whereas before I would need to squint all the time in bright light. My brain felt more wired and I felt chirpier. This always happened when I took rest but only recently have I decided that I need to maintain that state of health regularly instead of smashing it with iron in the gym.

So how is this possible? Critics of my adrenal fatigue workout will say that I didn’t eat enough: but I have been eating more than enough for the past year while maintaining my training. Previously I may not have eaten enough, but that’s what allowed me to stay fairly lean while increasing my strength and thinning my eyebrows . Over the past year I have been eating more processed foods, white rice, restaurant food, sugar, salts, and anything I wanted to in the effort to restore thyroid function. It hasn’t helped as much as taking time off from the gym, although the outer third of the eyebrows did improve considerably.

The reason taking off has helped me feel more visible improvements in energy, light sensitivity, and other symptoms of low thyroid or adrenal insufficiency is because strength training requires the body to release a lot of cortisol and can make it worse every single session imo. Cortisol is released in response to ACTH form the pituitary gland, which is released in response to CRH from the hypothalamus. The adrenal glands become less responsive to ACTH and produce less cortisol resulting in fatigue (Brooks and carter, 2013). This progression is common in endurance athletes. I have been hard-pressed to find the mechanism of adrenal fatigue in anaerobic/power athletes but it’s probably the same. Heavy lifting requires the body to secrete a lot of cortisol. It’s clear to me that as I became overtrained, my desire to clench my teeth together aggressively became dampened. I suspect this is due to two things: a lower cortisol release but also perhaps a tolerance of some sort to the heavy training.

Anyway: most people don’t lift maximally all the time but when you become obsessed with achieving a certain goal, you might, in order to reach your goal faster. Smart strength training never involves maximal lifting or lifting to failure regularly (except in the case of olympic lifters who use very low volume). Weight training isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but too much is. I used to think the workouts the average person does in the gym are wastes of time, but now, I see it as people preventing themselves from burning themselves out. Doing an overhead press with 15lb dumbbells seems a lot more difficult to the untrained woman of average fitness than doing light curls or skullcrushers with 5lbs, her natural predisposition in a gym. Going to the elliptical on a low intensity for twenty minutes then going to the stairmaster for another twenty and then jogging slowly for another 20 on a treadmill according to fitness professionals including myself previously is much less effective than HIIT. HIIT however takes a toll on the nervous system and common sense tells us that too much makes us feel tired. Becoming “dedicated” in the gym can thus become very dangerous.

In the next post I will share the actual adrenal fatigue workouts.

It’s funny to me that the fitness industry doesn’t sell fitness. Fitness means fertility, and thus health, from a biological standpoint.

I’m on instagram a lot . . . I see IG accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers by ripped fitness junkies who may not fit the bill of true fitness. This is a huge problem because what people are being sold on (something I was sold on as well) is something that potentially reduces their health and vitality, or biological fitness.

Of course it depends on the person as some people can exercise and diet and improve their health and fertility; however, the role models of the fitness industry don’t deserve to be the icons of true fitness because they never are pictures of optimal health. Optimal health doesn’t look extremely lean with augmented breasts; yet, that’s what the “fitness” industry sells.

Yea I know . . . not everyone on a magazine cover showing off their body and breasts is super-lean; I’ve seen plenty of people who are lean but still have a healthy level of body fat like me. Also some people are leaner genetically. However, if you have to diet to get there, and have trouble maintaining it, it’s questionable if your body actually loves you back from the torture you put it through.

So today, I’d like to turn people’s attention to something we all think about: attraction, fertility, and sex. The fitness industry sells sex first, then health; although, like I said, they f***ed up the part about health. If you look around though you will find circles discussing health in the fitness industry: they’re just more underground. But anyway, it’s not attractive to be infertile.

It CAN’T be because infertility opposes sex. However, due to some simple classical conditioning (fapping to leaner and leaner bodies on the internet) and habituation (leaner and more ripped bodies are needed to make us say “wow”), we can make less-fertile but leaner physiques achieved through dieting and stupid cardio look more attractive in our minds.

So if you didn’t get that, habituation occurs when a stimulus produces a weaker response with time and a stronger stimulus is needed to create the same response as before. As an example, consider Marylin Monroe with her curvy, feminine physique. If she were here today she would likely feel shameful for flaunting that body. She would look around and start to think she was fat because her body-shape is not up to the standards of the fitness or fashion industries anymore. The conditioning just occurs when we associate the leaner and “better” body with some sort of reward; in the crude example I provided it was an orgasm.

Marylin Monroe

The point is that our sex appeal and attractiveness involves a lot more than a body fat percentage; that number may have nothing to do with it even. In this post I won’t specifically cover the details of body-fat percentages and fertility (I’ll look into that for another post), but here I would like to draw our attention to other factors that signal attraction just to help us again realize that worrying about getting leaner for “aesthetic” reasons is less important than being healthy, but it’s also completely misguided. Here are just a few of those other factors.

Hunger: Hungry men find heavier women to be more attractive, possibly because it signals that she is better at obtaining food. There is that one saying about how the path to a man’s heart is through his tummy, so this makes sense. The heavier women though weren’t that heavy, it’s just that the satiated men preferred women with a surprisingly low BMI, of 20, whereas the hungry men rated women between 20-30 BMI as being highly attractive. This phenomenon seems to be common across different cultures as well.

Limbal Ring The limbal ring is a dark ring surrounding the iris. It decreases with age and is supposed to be beautiful. In one study, participants were presented with two faces of the same person, one with a more pronounced limbal ring than the other one. Partiicpants clearly preferred the face with the limbal ring, even when the face was presented upside-down. However, there is tremendous variation in limbal ring width among all ages so it’s hard to say if there is an ideal width. Here is a picture of Sharbat Gula though, the famous “Afghan girl” whose picture you may have seen. On the left she is 12 and on the right she is between 28 and 30 after she had had four childbirths. Her eyes definitely look less youthful in the right image.

And these are pictures from the study.

Images from limbal ring study

Images from limbal ring study

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any science explaining how a limbal ring contributes to fertility. When I do I’ll update this or make another post.

Waist to hip ratio and Waist to shoulder ratio: A low waist to hip ratio in females is not only more attractive, it is associated with greater health.  This number correlates strongly with lower risk for diabetes, heart disease, and all-cause mortality. Men with low WHRs, or wider hips, have poorer health. A lower waist to shoulder ratio however, contributing to the V-shaped body, is more attractive for females.

Christina Hendricks, from television series Mad Men, has a low WHR.

Digit ratio: Men with a lower 2D:4D ratio (shorter index finger, or second digit, than ring finger the fourth digit) may be more fertile with higher testosterone levels, have greater musical ability, greater spatial ability, and better heart health. The 2D:4D ratio indicates prenatal testosterone exposure and it’s unclear if it’s related to adult male levels of testosterone. Females with high 2D:4D ratios, and thus less testosterone exposure and more estrogen exposure in utero, may have higher fidelity, whereas females with more testosterone exposure may be more promiscuous. The low ratio in men and higher ratio in women is also associated with having more children, which means more fertility.

Golden ratio: Beauty may not be completely in the eyes of the beholder. It takes a fraction of a second for us to decide what we like and what we don’t like. Faces that fit Marquardt’s mask, and the golden ratio, are considered more beautiful. Faces that deviate from the golden ratio tend to be related to more health problems. Not everyone is convinced though that the golden ratio is more attractive as most people don’t have a golden ratio in their face.

Stubble: A full beard indicates paternal instincts more so than light stubble, which females find the most attractive in males.

The color red: Red is somehow more attractive to both females and males, influencing reproductive-relevant behavior. Oooo sounds sexy.

Body symmetry: Symmetrical faces and bodies are also more attractive. Manning and Scutt showed in 1996 that body symmetry is the highest when females ovulate, when they’re the most fertile and attractive. Females tend to orgasm more frequently with symmetrical male partners.

Smiling: This seemingly positive trait was ranked the least attractive in males and most attractive in women whereas pride was ranked most attractive in males and least attractive in women.

Well there you have it. Human attraction is complex and involves many other cues such as odor, but as you can see, there are many other qualities we may or may not possess that influence our attractiveness other than body-fat percentage. Dieting to lose weight and eventually lower our fertility isn’t more attractive. Unfortunately overly-lean male and female physiques have been accepted as new standards of beauty that confuse people and cause them to do weird and possibly health-deteriorating things with their life.

I guess the point is that although our digit ratios or body symmetry may make us more or less attractive than others, we can’t change those things. We can change our body fat percentages though, and maybe that’s why it’s more popular than Dr. Catherine Shanahan’s approach in Deep Nutrition. Dr. Shanahan says that beauty is influenced by maternal nutrition. Healthier moms produce more beautiful, and thus healthy, babies. In order to do this we must eat more ancestrally, keeping refined and processed junk to a minimum. She provides several examples of the second sibling effect, where the second sibling is less attractive than the first due to poorer maternal nutrition caused by the first childbirth. This approach to beauty takes generations, but may be worth it in the end.

So we’re not all perfect beautiful people, but that doesn’t matter because we don’t have to be. Part of this anti-diet crusade is to help people develop better images about themselves, and if we associate too much of our self-worth in our body shape or how much weight we can lift we will be miserable and may develop unhealthy habits. However, many of us have beauty that we don’t recognize. I provided Marylin Monroe as an example earlier: although at her time she was one of the most beautiful women known, if she were alive today she may not have been considered as beautiful because she wasn’t skinny. There are potentially millions of young women now who have normal healthy fertile attractive bodies who think they’re fat and are on diets to lose weight and like eating salads for lunch and want to see their ribs eventually. Males aren’t immune either.

Not ALL dieting is bad; dieting to lose some weight when needed can be good, but people are going way past that. Fitness models have to be strict about their diet and exercise plans in order to look a certain way. People then are sold emotionally by the flashy images and decide to do the same thing. It’s not about health. But fitness is supposed to be about health. So here, the discussion will be about improving fertility, or health, and thus, attractiveness. Whether or not we need to make bone broth and drink collagen to eat a more ancestral diet to achieve that is up for debate, but I’m much happier to recommend that than recommend an intense workout program with a structured diet that may cause you to fight against your body.

The solution for now is simply to listen to what your body is telling you and aim to achieve optimal health. Being in a good mood, feeling great, feeling warm, having a healthy appetite . . . these are good. Slaving away at the gym and feeling tired while dieting is not a path to better health obviously. So, what will you do to improve and embrace your health and fertility today? I will exercise less, because I really need to; and so far, it’s working quite well. Whenever I take days off I have much more energy, my brain works better, my motivation is higher, and I’m more focused. That means I needed it, but I must continue this positive trend.

Work smarter. Relax.