Do you find yourself in the predicament of consistently hitting the gym? Are you eating healthy but still not seeing the results you want? The factors that may be hindering your progress are not always clear. Here are 5 small, yet significant, lifestyle factors that could be ruining your fat-loss and muscle-building efforts.
You hit the gym daily and eat as healthy as you can. But for whatever reason you’re still struggling to lose fat and build muscle. Nothing is more frustrating than not seeing results from your efforts.
What may be impeding your progress is not always readily apparent. Perhaps you frequently hit the bar and drink over the weekends. That’s bad, but not for the reasons typically spouted at you. Maybe you’ve been going to bed too late and getting up too early. This is also quite bad for physique purposes. What are the things getting in the way of your goals?
Not Exercising Intensely (Or Enough)
Naturally, exercise plays a large role in the equation to reduce body-fat and build muscle. But not just any type of exercise. High-intensity exercise that pushes you to your anaerobic threshold has been shown to be most effective for fat loss and muscle development.
Muscle growth is fundamentally a two-step process. First, you need to damage the muscle and give your body a reason to put some effort into growing the muscles. This is where weight training and high-intensity exercise shine. Second, you need to provide rest and nutrients to those muscles so that they can recover.
Furthermore, this recovery process can take upwards of 48-72 hours. This depends, of course, on the intensity of the exercise.1 Fat loss ultimately comes from having a greater expenditure of calories than you consume, over a consistent period of time. The beauty of high-intensity exercise is that helps build muscle. This in turn increases your metabolic rate. It also increases post-exercise oxygen uptake, so you burn more calories at rest.2
Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to do hours of low-intensity cardio to lose given that long, endurance-type training does not significantly boost oxygen uptake at rest. In fact, it may actually decrease it in certain cases. Moreover, low-intensity weight training appears to have little benefit aside from increasing blood flow.3 Essentially, if you’re not training to near failure, the muscle has little reason to adapt for future training bouts.
In short, keep your workouts intense and frequent. Length doesn’t necessarily matter so long as you work hard enough and push your limits.
Drinking (Too Much) Alcohol
Let’s face it, if I just told you that alcohol consumption disrupts mood and behavior, damages your liver, and suppresses your immune system, you probably wouldn’t listen. Instead let’s focus on what will grab your attention. Alcohol has a negative effects on your muscles.
I’m willing to bet the majority of you train with weights to get stronger, faster, and look good naked. What do all these goals have in common? Muscle growth. Surprisingly, even acute alcohol intoxication has been shown to decrease muscle protein synthesis by 28%. Plus, these effects appear to be tissue specific; primarily affecting fast-twitch muscles and the heart.4 This is bad news for both body composition and physical performance.
Let’s say you decide you will just train the day after you drink. Aside from the hangover, and difficulty actually getting to the gym, alcohol’s negative ramifications extend well beyond the immediate hours after ingestion. A review of the effects of alcohol on athletic performance conducted by researchers at Deakin University, Australia found that alcohol ingestion led to decreased strength, inhibited muscle protein synthesis, dehydration, and reduced work capacity.5
It has also been shown that alcohol disrupts metabolic processes. This affects skeletal muscle’s ability to produce energy.6 In other words, your workout will suffer. You will likely feel worse than if you just stuck to something as simple as coffee before a workout.
Bottom line; don’t drink too much alcohol; or any at all. Especially if you’re looking to improve athletic performance and/or aesthetics. If you must keep alcohol in your life, then keep intake low. By this I mean a beer or two every week or so. This won’t ruin your muscle-building efforts — but a 12-pack certainly will.
I’m always a little shocked when I see someone finish off a hard workout only to go outside and light up a cigarette. Isn’t that a little contradictory to going to the gym in the first place? Studies have found that cigarette smokers who ditch their tobacco habit lose (and keep off) more body-fat than those who continue to smoke.7
Tobacco has been shown to increase expression of myostatin. This inhibits muscle protein synthesis, thereby reducing the body’s ability to synthesize new muscle tissue after a hard workout.8 Your best bet is to kick the tobacco habit if want to lose body-fat and build muscle.
Erratic Sleep Patterns
Acute or short-term loss of sleep can significantly alter insulin sensitivity and food intake.9 Research has shown that individuals who experience sleep deprivation are at higher risk for obesity. They are also at higher risk for type-II diabetes. These risks increase due to the desire to eat more and impaired hunger signaling in individuals who are sleep deprived.10
Is the solution to sleep as much as possible? No. Oversleeping is not a good thing either and can have similar ramifications on body composition as sleep deprivation. Ideally, you should aim for between 6-8 hours o f sleep per night for optimal health.11 As we age, the need for long nights of sleep decreases slightly. Older individuals might be able to function fine on as few as 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night. Teens and young adults should aim for at least 7 hours per night, but no more than 9.
Sedentary Lifestyle -or- Sitting All Day
Many people find themselves in the position of working an office job. This puts them behind a desk for 8 hours a day. Research suggests that this may be a crucial factor in increasing obesity rates. Sitting has been found to turn off a specific fat-burning enzyme called lipoprotein lipase.12 Thus, the body’s ability to burn fat decreases when you sit for extended periods of time.
While you don’t have to track your every step, it is worth your while to at least get up and move for a few minutes every 45 minutes or so. Better yet, switch to a standing desk.
These tips may seem generalized, but you’d be surprised how effective they are if you remain consistent . Consistency is, after all, what it takes to really get down to low body- fat percentages. There is no “ magic pill ” or secret diet that acts as a shortcut. Hopefully this article has enlightened individuals looking to lose those last bits of stubborn body-fat and remain healthy.
1 Edwards, R. H., Hill, D. K., Jones, D. A., & Merton, P. A. (1977). Fatigue of long duration in human skeletal muscle after exercise. The Journal of physiology , 272 (3), 769. 2 Schuenke, M. D., Mikat, R. P., & McBride, J. M. (2002). Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. European Journal of Applied Physiology , 86 (5), 411-417. 3 Taaffe, D. R., Pruitt, L., Pyka, G., Guido, D., & Marcus, R. (1996). Comparative effects of high ‐ and low ‐ intensity resistance training on thigh muscle strength , fiber area, and tissue composition in elderly women. Clinical Physiology , 16 (4), 381-392. 4 Lang, C. H., Wu, D., Frost, R. A., Jefferson, L. S. , Kimball, S. R., & Vary, T. C. (1999). Inhibition of muscle protein synthesis by alcohol is associated with modulation of eIF2B and eIF4E. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism , 277 (2), E268-E276. 5 Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients , 2 (8), 781-789. 6 Yazaki, K., Haida, M., Kurita, D., & Shinohara, Y. (1996). Effect of chronic alcohol intake on energy metabolism in human muscle. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research , 20 (s9), 360A-362A. 7 Strauss, R. S., & Mir, H. M. (2001). Smoking and weight loss attempts in overweight and normal-weight adolescents. International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders , 25 (9). 8 Petersen, A. M. W., Magkos, F., Atherton, P., Selby, A., Smith, K., Rennie, M. J., … & Mittendorfer, B. (2007). Smoking impairs muscle protein synthesis and increases the expression of myostatin and MAFbx in muscle. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism , 293 (3), E843-E848. 9 Gonzalez-Ortiz, M., Martinez-Abundis, E., Balcazar-Mu noz, B. R., & Pascoe-Gonzalez, S. (2000). Effect of sleep deprivation on insulin sensitivity and cortisol concentration in healthy subjects. Diabetes, nutrition & metabolism , 13 (2), 80-83. 10 Knutson, K. L., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (20 07). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep medicine reviews , 11 (3), 163-178. 11 Tonetti, L., Fabbri, M., & Natale, V. (2008). Sex difference in sleep ‐ time preference and sleep need: A cross ‐ sectional survey among Italian pre ‐ adolescents, adolescents, and adults. Chronobiology international , 25 (5), 745-759. 12 Hamilton, M. T., Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Zderic, T. W., & Owen, N. (2008). Too little exercise and too much sitting: inactivity physiology and the need for new recommendations on sedentary behavior. Current cardiovascular risk reports , 2 (4), 292-298.