Firstly, if constant tiredness is a real problem for you then go see your GP. There could be an underlying illness that needs to be checked by a health professional. Many underlying diseases or problems could be causing additional stress on the body, and it may not be a case of an underactive thyroid. Although an underactive thyroid is a cause of fatigue, there are a number of diseases that can also cause fatigue. Don’t take a chance, don’t self medicate by taking additional supplements (which brands and marketing companies WILL play on and will convince you that you need their product), and do see a GP who will be able to assess and decide what is best for you.
So this blog is not for the medical side of things, and if you don’t have a medical reason for your tiredness then what is causing it?
Here are a few things I have looked into, and have noticed that they contribute to my tiredness:
1. Technology, Smart Phones, iPads and TV’s
Remember last week I wrote about the reward centre in our brain releasing dopamine? Dopamine is released into our bodies when we fix our cravings with a reward. Technology companies have caught on very quickly that our bodies respond to technology in the same way we respond to other addictions. That is why Farmville became the number one Facebook game, mainly because it is an achievement fulfilling game. You set your own reward and indirectly the app has programmed you or convinced you that you need to achieve milestones in the game itself before you will feel satisfied (in other words, before you feel you have achieved your reward and got your dopamine hit). The same strategy is applied by Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Emails – just about everything online now has a sense of gaming or achievement about it. Just look at your iPhone and tell me you’re not tempted to check those letter red notification dots with the numbers in them. Notice how you feel when you see a notification. Are you getting a bit excited about checking it? Can you leave it til later? No? If yes, has it become something to look forward to? A bit of self analysis on this and you may soon work out that technology has you hooked. It is playing havoc with your brain, and playing havoc on your sleep. Why? because your body is stimulated by phones, ipads, and TV’s because you literally cannot switch off from it and your body wants that dopamine hit. If you cannot switch off the tech after 9 or 10pm, or if you find yourself reading your phone or kindle or even your laptop in bed and then first thing in the morning, then you need to go on a digital diet. Replace those technology time slots with something else that burns off a bit of energy such as exercise, or something relaxing like stretching or a bath to help wind you down and remove you from the flashing lights, games, and multitudes of information that our devices literally flood us with.
2. Dehydration, Coffee, and other foods and drinks
Dehydration is a key part of fatigue. You only need to be slightly dehydrated to cause a reduction in the delivery of oxygen around your body, and interrupt other body functions such as the uptake of nutrients and minerals. Try and cut down on foods and drinks which dehydrate you such as coffee and high sugar foods. Do you experience sudden sensations of hunger? headaches? dry mouth or dry skin (particularly around the nails?), and fatigue? Then chances are you are dehydrated.
Are you a big coffee drinker? Coffee (caffeine specifically) literally blocks the cellular pathways in your brain that tell you that you are tired. Caffeine is structurally similar to adenosine. Adenosine naturally builds up throughout the day and binds to adenosine receptors in our bodies which cause us to become tired and eventually help us fall asleep. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors and keeps us awake, which is why we turn to coffee so we can keep going. However, the more coffee you drink the more tolerant you become to the caffeine and you end up needing more. Your body will build up the tolerance by increasing the number of adenosine receptors (in other words you have physiologically changed your body). When you go without coffee, as a result of a build up of tolerance, you’ll feel more tired and you’ll start to depend on coffee to start your day. If you’re a big coffee drinker you would have no doubt felt cranky (to say the least) after going without it for a while. This is a result of your body trying to restore itself back to how it was before caffeine came along and started to change everything. Also, caffeine is a diuretic meaning it helps increase the amount you pee. So coffee causes dehydration and if you have built up a tolerance to it, you are now likely to be even more tired without it (don’t worry, a week off the coffee and you’ll start to feel normal again) . Also, are you having a glass of wine or a beer before bed? Alcohol also contributes to dehydration because it is also a diuretic, and if that evening glass has become a regular occurrence then this could be contributing towards your tiredness. Just for the record, I am not saying diuretics are bad, and they are used as part of many medications. But dehydration and diuretics come hand in hand so replace the loss of fluids (or just drink a little less coffee and booze).
These are my two main non medical causes for that feeling of constant tiredness. Technology and dehydration are the main culprits in my opinion. Diet is another, especially if your diet is low in nutrients and high in junk food. Ask yourself if you have eaten anything green today? what about yesterday? I Start my day with a green smoothie which is high in nutrients and tastes great (well I think so anyway). Before that, I actually drink a pint glass of half a juiced lemon mixed with filtered water to hydrate my body after going 7-8 hours sleep without water. Lemon water is also alkalising which I’ll explain the importance of in next weeks blog. Stress is another main cause of constant tiredness. To summarise, tiredness is not usually down to one single reason.
To overcome any problem you often need to overwhelm the challenge, so I highly recommend looking into all the things which are contributing towards your tiredness and self assess yourself and what action you need to take in order to get some energy back into your day!
What is Pharmaceutical Grade? The FDA has three grades which it uses for determining the purity of a product intended for consumption. These are:
Pharmaceutical Grade – the highest in purity (it must be bioavailable and have 99.1% purity)
Food Grade – over 10% purity
Feed Grade – intended for agriculture
A Pharmaceutical Grade supplement must have ZERO % of fillers and binders in it’s ingredients. Which theoretically would make it a good supplement. No binders and no fillers is the first thing I look for (silicon dioxide is a classic example, as is magnesium stearate – both used to help lubricate the machines, improving binding of the pill, and speed up production).
A Pharmaceutical Grade supplement must be bioavailable – in other words it has to be easily absorbed by the body (intravenous administration is an example of 100% bioavailable).
Usually, Pharmaceutical Grade supplements are sold by medical professionals and are rarely found in the supermarket. Unfortunately the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry in the same way it regulates the Pharmaceutical Industry. Supplements can’t have any ingredients that the FDA have banned but they can contain pretty much anything else. Currently there is not anything in place where a supplement company cannot claim that their product is pharmaceutical grade – scary huh?
So, if the number one nutrition company tell you their product is Pharmaceutical Grade, then ask for a list of their ingredients (all of which are found in their marketing material once you take a sample or buy it, but rarely are they published online). If their ingredients contain fillers, lubricants, and binders, then they are just lying.
How are they lying you ask? The term Pharmaceutical Grade only applies to the individual ingredient itself. This means a supplement can contain both pharmaceutical grade, food grade, and a whole bunch of FDA approved fillers and binders. This therefore allows that particular supplement to label itself as Pharmaceutical Grade, as it contains a pharmaceutical grade ingredient. The FDA do not regulate the final products that supplement companies make – they only ensure that these products meet legal requirements and do not use banned ingredients.
This is a deceptive practice that occurs in the supplement industry – using ingredients that meet pharmaceutical standards, but do not deliver the same high quality in the finished dietary supplement.
They’ll probably tell you that they adhere to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), which is great if they do, but this doesn’t stop them from adding fillers, binders, and lubricants to their products.
So what does this mean for us? Well you simply have to choose your supplements wisely. Don’t fall for marketing hype and deceptive terminology. Don’t self medicate (you may not even need that supplement). If you are going to supplement your diet, then go for something that is just what want. If you want protein, then buy protein (I’m a personal fan of Pulsin and Sunwarrior but just to it make clear I do not get paid by them and I am not obliged to mention them – they’re just good value for money, clean and honest products which I personally like).
If you’re in doubt then remember, Pharmaceutical Grade is defined as a standard which is suitable for Medicine. Medicine is defined as the diagnosis, practice, and treatment of disease. Supplements are not allowed to claim that they can cure or prevent ill health or disease – by definition alone, a supplement which calls itself Pharmaceutical Grade is going against it’s own legal definition.
and if you really want to know about what is and is not regulated, then go here:
One of the biggest lessons this challenge taught me was the discipline of doing something every day. One of the many reasons so many people find a training programme doesn’t work is because they cannot commit to the regular exercise required, and they cannot give 100% – particularly if they are “too tired” or just not up for it. I learned that by managing my state and pushing myself to do something that I wouldn’t normally do, I could achieve a far better result than if I had just exercised inconsistently for the past 30 days.
I hope you’ll give me a bit of grace on this one, but during Easter I put on a fair bit of weight. I gave myself the excuse that I was stressed and I needed to work hard, and that this meant I had no time to stick to regular exercise. As you can see in the picture below, I did not look good! That is both the effect of a bad diet and stress which I placed upon myself:
Tired, stressed out, poor diet (I was still eating good nutritional food but I was snacking a lot on top of it), finding any excuse to avoid exercise. Even when I was exercising I was barely giving 50%.
That’s one of the great things about this challenge. It forced me to give 100%. If I were to beat my times each day then I had to give 100%.
My first time was pretty bad. I burned 500 calories in 00:28:29. With each day I gave it my all to beat the previous days time. Check out my times below:
Day | Time
My best time was 00:19:26. I knew that if I were to get a good time I had to burn at least 25 calories a minute, so this is what I aimed for. This is not at all easy, and I can tell you that you are left absolutely gasping for air and water once you reach 500 calories! But 20 minutes is not long and you equally recover quickly. It’s manageable and it’s something you can do every day.
So what did it to my body over the coming weeks? Take a look at the Gallery at the top of this post!
Not bad going for 30 days training for just twenty minutes. I did do this on top of my usual workout, but my usual workout (weights, calisthenics) did suffer. On some days I felt very tired, others I felt my muscles had nothing to give. But I still pushed through!
Do I think this is sustainable every single day? No, only as a 30 day challenge. Is it effective as part of your workout? Yes, this is a great way to burn fat in a short amount of time, and you can add it to the end of a workout. I wouldn’t do this without recovery days (unless I were to do the 30 day challenge, which to be honest I would still recommend 1 rest day a week).
What do you think? Would you like the training programme to build up to burning 500 calories a day? Would you like to take on the challenge? Drop me a message and I’ll send you the details (all for free!)
All in all this has been a great amount of fun, and I am going to continue utilising this particular exercise and add it into my own training.
A weak or painful lower back is often caused by two things:
- Stress from sitting with a poor posture (look at how the muscles are constantly under stress from maintaining a stretched position for long hours)
- Lack of core strength
Most of us know we need to strengthen our core muscles. The problem isn’t that we didn’t know this, it’s actually more the fact that many people aren’t aware of what back exercises you can perform in order to help strengthen your lower back and core. Most of us will know how to work the chest or arms, or how to improve our cardio. But how many Lower Back exercises can you name right now? Be honest, did your list look something like this:
Back Extensions, Deadlifts, Bent Over Rows (or rows in general – these are more focused on the lats and upper back muscles though, but a strong core is needed to perform variations of rows)
…and then you either hesitated and thought about 1 or 2 more, or you’re now kinda stuck with 3 exercises…By the way, there is nothing wrong with these exercises, they’re all good and will help you build a stronger core, so you could start with these. But there are many more exercises available, and this is where Calisthenics can show you creative and effective exercises to help build strength any where, any time and with limited resources (and finances!).
Ok, so as this is only a blog, not a text book, let’s go through this quickly. What do the lower back muscles do? Here is a quick breakdown:
- There are three types of back muscles that help the spine function. These are extensors, flexors and obliques.
- The extensor muscles are attached to the posterior (back) of the spine and enable standing and lifting objects, and extension (bending backwards).
- The flexor muscles are attached to the anterior (front) of the spine (which includes the abs) and enable flexing, bending forward, lifting, and arching the lower back.
- The oblique muscles are attached to the sides of the spine and help rotate the spine and maintain proper posture
So this description gives us a clue into how we can organise our lower back strength training. Extension, Flexion and Rotation – you need to work all 3 in order to strengthen your core (which includes the lower back). On Saturday we performed exercises in the transverse plane (rotation). If you struggled with transverse exercise you already know your core, particularly your obliques, need strengthening.
Here is a break down of both Calisthenic and standard weight training exercises you can do for each of the three muscle types. Try to do a few of these isometrically too:
- Reverse leg raises
- Supermans (looks like a reverse V up)
- 1 arm 1 leg supermans
- Bird dogs
- Inverted hanging reverse leg raises (needs a pull up bar, or perform in a handstand)
- Front and back levers (if you’re good at pull ups)
- Full sit ups (remember hold the imaginary ball)
- Leg raises (hanging and lying)
- Ab twists or Holds
- V ups
- Front and back levers (if you’re good at pull ups)
- Twisting planks
- Sit ups with twists
- Ab twists
- Twisting push up
- Planks with cross body knee tucks and cross body knee raises
- Twisting leg raises
You’ll notice some of these exercises strengthen more than one muscle type. That’s because the core muscles all work together. Just remember, when constructing a core workout, consider these elements:
- Different planes of motion (frontal, sagittal, and transverse)
- Twisting, extension, flexion
- Adding weights or resistance where possible (resistance bands are great for this)
- Performing exercises isometrically for as long as possible
For example, have you ever heard of the chemical Monosodium Glutamate? Better known by its more common name, MSG (look for the E number E621). As well as being a major additive in many foods, it is also used in laboratories to fatten up rats for experimentation. MSG causes high levels excitation and is often referred to as an excitotoxin. It is found in so many foods, and is purposefully added to foods such as soups, seasonings, snacks, fast foods, ready meals, and many more, in order to trigger your sense of craving for other foods which provide excessive stimulation (such as those high in sugar, or caffeine, or salt)
This is scary stuff! I highly recommend you read the book ‘Brandwashed’ which also covers this point.
So how can we fight back against brand and supermarket marketers (who are equally as bad with their own in store own brand products)? We know what we are craving, and why we are craving it (to literally get our fix of such substances), but what else is influencing us to buy these foods in the first place (other than knowing they taste good).
Many of the foods we crave are often described as rewards, treats, celebrations (literally!), or as something we deserve. You will frequently see marketing that describes certain food in such ways as “go on, treat yourself” or “you deserve a reward”. Coincidently, when we reward ourselves, our brains release a powerful neurotransmitter called Dopamine. In our brains, dopamine is translated as pleasure, creating a powerful feeling of satisfaction which we crave and become addicted to. During periods of the day when we have not received a reward for some time, we begin to crave a dopamine hit and start searching for ways to obtain this satisfaction associated with rewards. The more frequently we reward ourselves, the greater the need for a greater reward.
In food terms, something as innocent as yoghurt can (and many do) contain chemicals and sugars, and literally feed your reward system, giving you that release of dopamine you’ve been waiting for. If you have a relatively healthy diet and then start to reward yourself with something as innocent (hint) as yoghurt, you’re going to release dopamine into your system as a result. This in turn is going to influence you to seek out and crave sweeter foods. Perhaps you have the same problem with salt and you seek out crisps as a reward too. The fun, rewarding, celebratory slogan “once you pop you just can’t stop” soon becomes a real problem. If you look back to where your addictions started, for many during times of stress or lack of stimulation, you may be able to identify what foods initially caused the problem, and what foods you began to go after from there on.
For me I recognised this problem in bread and other baked products. I also loved bread based meals such as pizza, burgers, sandwiches (hungry yet?), and sweet baked goods. Unfortunately, these very products were feeding my cravings, and helping me towards a diet which was entirely reactive to the cravings I had to fulfil. Even when I was not hungry I would impulsively buy Burger Kings (I used to live a few yards away from a Burger King at University), cakes, doughnuts, you get the idea. Crisps and chocolate then became the norm (notice how ‘meal deals’ are always a sandwich, packet of crisps, some sort of chocolate, and bottle of fruit juice from concentrate or a fruit smoothie…supermarkets know how to get you hooked!) But it wasn’t the bread itself I was addicted to…it was their unlabelled ingredients. Bakers of ‘fresh’ bread and baked goods in the UK do not have to fully label their products with the ingredients used. The Real Bread Campaign gives us an overview of what bakers and retailers are not required to do for us consumers (www.sustainweb.org/realbread/bread_labelling):
- Bakers and retailers are not required to provide customers with full lists of ingredients and any additives they use in making unwrapped loaves – e.g. those from supermarket in-store bakeries.
- The use of so-called processing aids can go completely undeclared, even on the ingredient and additive lists of wrapped loaves.
- There are no legal definitions for terms commonly used in loaf marketing, including ‘fresh’ (or ‘freshly baked’), ‘sourdough’, ‘wholegrain’, ‘artisan’ and ‘craft.’
Shocked? We literally live in a world where avoiding additives or addictive substances is near impossible! It’s no wonder we crave such bad foods or comfort eat, or even let these foods become a part of our everyday diet! Once these foods are in your everyday diet the supermarkets know you will literally be buying the sweeter, saltier, more appealing foods which are ridiculously high in these addictive substances.The messages throughout online food stores and in the supermarkets themselves are telling us it’s ok to buy and enjoy more, and more, and more.
How do we stop? If you really concerned then your first point of call should be a GP (I always recommend this) as they can help guide you towards resources and even dieticians. Never attempt to dramatically or suddenly change your diet without GP guidance. For me, I took steps to keep bad foods out of sight and out of mind. I avoided the baked goods aisle and I wouldn’t allow any bad foods into my kitchen. I made rules for myself such as eating those foods only at weekends, which I soon reduced to a new rule which is now ‘eating those foods only at birthdays and celebrations, and I’m on my way to reducing this even further’. By reducing my intake of bad foods I naturally reduce the cravings and my addictions slowly break down. They become less frequent and I haven’t caused myself any additional stress from drastically changing my diet. My approach to food is much less reactive.
I also started to explore fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. I realised that my taste buds could only recognise severely strong flavours, and I would find vegetables to be bland, which they shouldn’t be! They have so much flavour but we can barely recognise it as it’s not what we’re used to.
Also, I looked for different ways to reward myself other than food, which is how I got into exercise and why I continued playing sports. I loved playing (and still do) rugby! I found Calisthenics to be challenging and rewarding, especially when I could perform the more complex movements due to my hard work paying off. Re-wiring your dopamine reward system to respond to a healthy stimulus is a key way to avoid comfort eating or treating yourself regularly with bad foods. It’s strange to say it but I now crave fresh raw foods like vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, nut and seeds because my body has got used to wanting the nutrients. I become more irritated when I am a bit dehydrated, as opposed to needing a cup of coffee. It may sound a bit mad or even ridiculous, but I want to encourage you to remove addictive foods and seek out a healthier diet. Find other foods, healthier foods to reward yourself with. Work out which healthy foods are your favourite and work from there (find recipes that use them for example). Reward yourself in a different way and fulfil your bodies cravings for a dopamine hit with a healthy reward, something you enjoy.
It’s not going to be easy but nothing worth having ever is! If you’re looking for a way to reward yourself with exercise then I urge you to try out Calisthenics, which can be done without any equipment and can be performed anywhere, anytime, by yourself or in groups. Yes, I’ll even plug my own classes but they are good fun and they could help you get started on your journey towards a stronger version of you.
If you have any questions then leave comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For next weeks blog article I’ll be writing about one of my biggest problems which is sleep and a feeling of constant tiredness. I really do struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and although I’m not as bad as I used to be, I still often feel constantly tired.