Going way down the rabbit hole with your nutrition such as trying to figure out the optimal % of carbs, fats and proteins to consume or spending a heap of money on the next big supplement is a complete waste of time unless you are doing the basics. It is the equivalent of arguing with a used car salesman over a few scratches without addressing the fact that the car is sans engine, and up on bricks.
This 3-part series of articles will look at the bare bones basics of eating for fat loss. Part one will look at sleep which is the foundation of our nutritional approach at ACLAÍ Health and Performance.
If I told you that you could lose fat and gain muscle by doing something as simple as lying down, closing your eyes, and literally doing as little work as a human can do without being under anaesthesia or dead, you would think I were crazy. I am not, however, and you can.
Sleep should be at a minimum of 7.5 hours a night. Now that is sleeping 7.5 hours, not getting into bed 7.5 hours before you need to get up. There is a difference. 7.5 hours of actual deep sleep is a minimum but those who are under higher amounts of stress (work, financial, relationship, and training) may need even more. This is because stress, regardless of the source, manifests itself in your body the same way in that it takes a higher toll on it. This toll must be paid or you could end up in a deeper hole than you can get out of.
Why is sleep so important for fat loss?
Insufficient sleep hampers weight loss through a number of mechanisms. One such mechanism is increased insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is a decreased ability to deal with carbs in a favourable way. A knock on effect of this is an increased likelihood of fat storage. In the short term, Donga et al. (2010) has shown that just one night of restricted sleep increased insulin resistance significantly the following day. In the long term, Yaggi et al. (2006) has shown that if you were to sleep on average 6 hours or less per night you have twice the risk for developing diabetes which is essentially a disease of the aforementioned insulin resistance.
Another such mechanism is hormone dysregulation. Sleep deprivation has been shown to alter the release of hormones that are key for fat loss.
– Cortisol, which is a hormone that, when high, promotes insulin resistance, has been shown to be higher in sleep-deprived subjects
– Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is a key metabolism regulating hormone has been shown to be lower in sleep deprived subjects
– Growth Hormone, which is a key hormone in regulating the burning of body fat (among other important jobs) has been shown to be lower in sleep deprived subjects
– Leptin, which is a key hormone in regulating appetite as it tells you when you are full is decreased in sleep deprived subjects
– Ghrelin, which is a key hormone in telling you when you are hungry (especially for carbohydrate dense foods) is increased in sleep deprived subjects
(Van Cauter et el, 2007).
So what does all this mean for fat loss?
Well in summary what you end up with when sleep deprived is a hormonal environment that is the perfect storm for fat gain.
You end up with an increased appetite (especially for carbohydrate rich foods) as well as a decreased ability to deal with the incoming food in a favourable way that will shuttle the nutrients towards favourable tissue such as muscle and away from unfavourable tissue such as your fat tissue due to the increased insulin resistance and slowed metabolism.
Basically if you are not sleeping sufficiently you will always be fighting an uphill battle against your body fat.
So what do I do?
Well it’s simple. Sleep more and sleep deeper.
Not all sleep is created equal.
The aforementioned “toll” you put on your body through stress (training, work etc.) and just everyday life in general needs to be paid not just in sleep quantity (if you are under the minimum 7.5 hours) but also in quality. By quality I am referring to depth. Instead of your sleep being as deep as an ocean it can be as shallow as a shot of espresso.
To maximise the quantity and quality of your sleep there are a number of steps you can take to improve what is known as your “sleep hygiene”. Check out this article on sleep hygiene by ACLAÍ owner and Cork Senior Football Strength and Conditioning Coach Ainle Ó Cairealláin to learn how to get deeper, longer sleep thereby aiding your fat loss goals.
After all, who wants a beer belly and diabetes?
- Donga, E. et al. (2010). A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects.. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 95 (6), 2963-2968.
- Van Cauter, E., et al. (2005). The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism. Available: http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825. Last accessed 4th Jun 2014.
- Yaggi, H.K., et al. (2006). Sleep duration as a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 29 (3), 657-661.
This Article is By Ciarán O Regan, BSc | Head Coach at ACLAÍ Health and Performance
Ciarán is Head Coach at ACLAÍ Health and Performance. Ciaran has served as Strength and Conditioning Coach for Limerick Minor Football for the 2012 and 2013 seasons as well as the Limerick U21 Footballers for the 2013 season. He also has experience with Rugby having coached with Young Munster RFC during the 2011/12 season and having interned with Munster Rugby for the 2010/11 season. He has also coached on an individual basis with people as varied as those simply wanting to get healthier and lose weight all the way to high level runners returning to the track after injury.
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