Saturday, July 21, 2007

Food and Sleep

If there was one moment when I could say that I felt like I was finally beginning to settle back into my USA life, it would have to be the day I got my gym membership. That was back in March. At that time I had been working for a month, I was basically finished setting up my apartment, and I really needed to settle into some kind routine that was completely unrelated to work. Exercise was a good bet for me because I have always been interested in physical fitness, and I know how to set up an intro routine having been in and out of shape about a dozen times over the last 15 years.

With my longish commute in mind, there was really no way for me to combine a strength and an endurance program. I only have 45 minutes of time to spend every morning, so it had to be one or the other. The lack of runable parks around here made my decision easy. I joined a gym and began a strength routine.

Now, three months later my results have been frustratingly modest at best. Sure, I went through the initial two-month surge. Most exercisers see significant gains throughout the first few months of exercise because lazy muscles respond to just about any stimulus. But, three months in I have already plateaued and I don’t see myself breaking through it. Why the pessimism? Because I know that my intensity is not the problem. Even though I hate it, I have been able to drag myself out of bed every morning at 6 am to go throw the plates around for an hour. The real culprits in my overmodest gains are my uneven diet and sleep patterns.

Sleep is a panacea for many ills and it can really hurt you when you can’t get enough of it. If you are trying to exercise (or sit through boring lectures), then don’t expect to improve unless you can get enough sleep. This was a serious problem in high school when I suffered from insomnia. I remember then hitting a certain exercise wall that I couldn’t go past. The problem I’m facing now is that I can’t go to bed early enough. 10 pm should be my absolute ceiling for bed time, but I’m lucky if I can be in bed by 11pm. Not only does this make getting up at 6 am bloody murder, but it just sucks the life out of a workout and it kills recovery. While recovering from a strength workout, every hour of sleep is precious. If you can’t get enough sleep, then your body cannot keep up repairing the damage that you are doing to it. This is when you plateau and you notice your strength gains start to dip.

My dietary habits have not been so hot either. I tend to make three good healthy meals for myself every day Monday through Friday. Sound good? It isn’t. There should be at least five meals a day to keep my insulin levels fairly even and my metabolism up. But frankly, I can’t keep up. One solution would be to split my lunch in two, eating part of it around 10 am and the other part around 2 pm, but my work schedule does not really allow for this. What happens is I end up tanking three large meals a day, and this has not been beneficial to my waistline at all. Also, weekends have proven to be killers with frequent trips home and meals out. As tasty as it is, Mexican food is a fat bomb and Chinese restaurants use too much oil (I am not singling out Chinese restaurants. Most restaurants up the oil/fat content of their food to make it taste better. I just happen to eat Chinese a lot.) Even at home, I tend to snack around on sweet things on the weekends. We still have a full cake in the freezer that I haven’t touched. That’ll have to go somewhere soon. We also have honey-covered almonds, candy, chocolate, and other stuff just sitting around. When I go home, my mom unloads this junk on us and temptation is too much to refuse.

So that’s the way it is. Strength gains are hugely reliant on consistent diet and sleep. Does this mean that you need to measure your food out with a measuring cup? It sure does. Otherwise you end up eating too little, not recovering, and wasting an hour in the gym.

Well, what else is there to say other than life improves with better time management. Something I definitely need to learn.


Chengora said...

Will you be looking for an endurance option, then?

Yeah, my workout regime has not been going nearly so well. There're a couple public pools around here, but they all close by 8, so I haven't had the opportunity to swim regularly.

hcduvall said...

You certainly know better than I what the trouble spots are, but maybe cutting the issues into discreet pieces might help? Maybe all of it doesn't have to fall in together. Like switching snacks to fruits or vegetables and the like.

That said, I was in flushing this weekend and was kinda surprised that the groceries were so much cheaper and fresher there than your neighborhood. The lychees specifically. I would've figured there'd be a better showing in your area.

Jonny America said...

Chengora: I am currently want to add an endurance option, but I probably won't. The only option I have is running at around 7:30-8:00 pm after I get home. To say that I'm not in the mood to run then is a huge understatement.

duvall: Yeah, I need to add health snacks, though I currently have 2 apple breaks a day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. During the week, I'm pretty good at avoiding crap. On the weekends when I'm hanging around the house, the chocolate bars are just sitting right there.

Regarding shopping in our area, we haven't been so impressed with the freshness of the produce in our little chinatown. Not suprised to hear that Flushing has better stuff, though I am a little suprised to hear that its cheaper. Too bad flushing is 2 hours away by subway. I guess I could drive... yuck

Mike said...

Jonny - it's too bad you're not further down the line, there's a great running path along the shore here in Bay Ridge. You can go straight down to the bridge (and beyond). I wish I made more use of it myself.