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:
- An acidic diet is one mainly composed of foods and drinks which supposedly increase the acidity of our bodily fluids, by decreasing our bodies natural pH levels. Acidic foods include meats, grains, and dairy.
- An alkaline diet is one mainly composed of foods and drink which supposedly increase the alkalinity of our bodily fluids, by increasing our bodies natural pH levels. Alkaline foods tend to be leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits.
It is the end product produced after digestion that determines whether or not a food or drink is acidic or alkaline. For examples, lemons are highly acidic but create alkaline products after digestion. Not all fruits and vegetables are alkaline, and likewise not all animal products are acidic. (Google alkaline foods and .you’ll surely find a comprehensive list).
It is a common belief that a diet high in alkaline foods will prevent disease and ill health. I don’t believe that is true. Although it is a fact that many alkaline foods are extremely good for you, but so are many acidic foods. So why do many people believe that alkaline diets are literally saving them from disease? In my opinion, it is because they are simply a victim of yet another great marketing ploy. But wait! Alkaline diets are heavily endorsed by celebrities! And celebrities look fantastic! Hmmmm….could it not be that celebrities are endorsing something in which they are getting paid to endorse by those clever brands?
Anyway, I’ll let you form your own opinion on that, but here is my reasoning for having an opinion that an alkaline diet will not prevent disease.
Our bodies are very sensitive to pH (pH being a level of acidity and alkalinity on a measure from 1 to 14, with 1 being very acidic and 14 being highly alkaline). Our bodies are highly effective and efficient at maintaining a pH level between 7.38 and 7.42 (part of a process called homeostasis). Anything above or below this can have serious side effects on our health.
Given that our bodies maintain bodily pH at an optimum of 7.4 through homeostasis, and it being true that food can leave its (albeit very minor) mark on our bodies pH levels, this means there is one thing that health food and supplement marketers have completely overplayed, and no doubt suckered you into believing. That is the belief that you can alter your blood pH through your diet. I am yet to read any compelling evidence that our diets can alter our bodies pH levels, but if you do know of any journals or clinical trials which conclude that eating certain foods regularly can alter our pH then do let me know!
For our bodies pH to dramatically change then we would need to either speed up or slow down the rate of respiration (in other words, the rate at which we remove carbon dioxide from the blood, which is done through breathing). Our Kidneys would also need to be inhibited from producing the buffering agents that also help regulate our pH. If either of these happened then we would become seriously ill.
This leads on to another marketing ploy, in that it is believed that an acidic diet causes bone demineralisation (and some believe an acidic diet can cause osteoporosis), and other diseases. The belief that an acidic diet causes osteoporosis or bone demineralisation comes from the fact that bones store calcium, and the belief that bones will release their calcium (an alkaline metal) to buffer out our blood if it is too acidic. This is highly flawed because it makes the assumption that both our respiration and a major function of the kidneys has been heavily inhibited. If you want to know more about this side of the scientific argument then check out this published journal: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24094472
3. Marketing Ploys and Self Medication
Where the marketers successfully achieve their goal is in the selling of products (alkaline products and supplements) that claim to counteract an increase in acidity due to our poor diets. Just to clarify, I am not referring to any clinical conditions such as acidosis or alkalosis (which does cause serious health problems). I am solely referring to the belief that a diet which contains more alkaline foods than acidic foods will prevent serious health problems.
One problem here is that many people are spending over £20 for a bottle of 90 capsules which apparently alkalise the body, believing that an alkaline diet will prevent disease. To put this straight, neither a diet that is highly acidic or highly alkaline will prevent disease. Why waste your money on this stuff? If you’re that determined to have an alkaline diet then why wouldn’t you spend that money on great alkaline food, which is rich in nutrients and minerals?
Another problem is that this is all yet another marketing ploy to fuel our innate fears of becoming ill by providing us with another way to self medicate. We are naturally afraid of an undesirable self perceived future self, whether that be a fear in becoming ill, poor, lonely, overweight, or in some way unable to live up to societies heavy and outrageous demands for us to be as near perfect and desirable as possible. Not that there is anything wrong in wanting to be the best and strongest version of yourself, but there is a problem when you are spending money on something which you believe is helping when it’s not. There is a problem when you buy into a product which is sold through capitalising on your anxiety, rather than a product which is genuinely good for you.
I’m not saying that all supplementation is bad either. I like raw vegan-friendly supplements (mainly protein) because they have so few chemicals, preservatives or additives.
4. Finally, your Body is not this Fragile!
Finally, the other main problem is really believing an alkaline diet will prevent disease. Could it not be that a diet which is rich in nutrients and minerals is the cause for improved health and increased vitality? Alkaline foods are highly nutritious, they’re great for you! But does that mean that eating a steak will be detrimental to your health? Or that if you eat wholemeal pasta, or even go as far as eating a pizza or a burger, that you then need to quickly supplement it with alkaline rich foods or you will surely suffer the consequences? Is any of this sounding a little too…drastic? Is your body so fragile that it cannot handle the odd croissant here and there? No it’s not!
As always, if you are aiming for a healthy lifestyle or even an athletic level of health, then I always always always recommend a balanced diet and keeping well hydrated. Increase your greens by all means if you want to increase the amount of nutrients and minerals in your diet. But don’t buy into diet fads without really digging deep into where they came from (and as always, go and speak with your local GP!)
Don’t waste your money on something which has not been proven to work and is currently being pushed and promoted as if it were made of unicorn horns. Go for healthy foods and recipes that taste great and make your health routines enjoyable! Who ever enjoyed or looked forward to swallowing supplement pills anyway???
So what about toxins? free radicals? oxidative stress? antioxidants? detox? and all these terms which are thrown around every day? What are these about? Check out next weeks blog for more on these! Are they also fads? or do we genuinely need to detox once in a while?
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
However, my muscles are a bit stiff, I am feeling tired, and a few times I have felt a bit ill (but still done it anyway!). The importance of eating right, sleeping well, and stretching has been crucial to sustaining this. I often struggle when I do not get an early ish night, or if I don’t eat well. Hydration is another key factor. I sweat so much during the burnout that I am having to drink plenty of water to stay cool and hydrated.
To be honest, training this way is giving me a real sense of commitment, achievement, and it’s helping me learn how to stay truly competitive with myself, and it’s also shown me just how hard I really need to work during the time I have dedicated to training. It has already changed my training habits entirely, and I know believe that I have simply not been training hard enough during the time I have set to train. I now have new boundaries and I am able to push myself much further than I thought I could – every single day as well!
I will be taking a rest day on Saturday (yes I know, this will ruin the challenge a bit!), but I won’t have access to my X Trainer whilst away. I will be doing it tomorrow before I go, and when I come back on Sunday night I will also do the challenge, so I will literally only be resting once which is this Saturday. To be honest, I wouldn’t set this challenge to anyone without a rest day or two. Recovery has been an issue but it’s not prevented me from doing the challenge so far.
One of the questions has been answered for sure. Is it possible to burn 500 calories in less than 20 minutes? Yes, absolutely! I have achieved this within 15 days! If I can do it, then anyone can do it! My cardio is certainly been a neglected area of my fitness over the years, as I much prefer resistance training. So I know that anyone else in a similar boat can achieve this. I have had to use strategies such as:
- Starting with Ta Ba Ta for 10 minutes, and then 10 minutes consistent pace
- Starting with consistent pace for 10 minutes, then Ta Ba Ta
- Increasing/changing Ta Ba Ta sprint time (i.e. 40 seconds sprint, 20 seconds rest)
- Warming up before doing the challenge (sometimes I have tried to do it without a warm up – something I have stopped doing and I do not advise. It doesn’t help at all. Always warm up)
I am doing this on top of my usual resistance training too, so I am most likely (most definitely) burning more than 500 calories a day. This challenge was not intended to replace your usual workouts, but to add to it.
500 Day 16 result
Do I believe this is sustainable? Certainly not every single day without a rest. But many athletes or serious competitors out there are training 5-6 times a day and are burning a lot of calories too. This differs in that you are working as hard as you possibly can at a consistent rate for 20+ minutes, which is a huge demand and stress on your body.
With each day I just find it hard to believe I can push myself any harder. But clearly I am getting stronger because from somewhere I am developing the strength to better each time. As long as I can maintain burning 25 calories or more each minute then I know I am on target to make 500 calories in 20 minutes. Here are my times so far:
Day | Time
14 00:21:49 <— felt really ill here!
Day 14 and Day 15 I really had nothing to give! But the main thing here that I am absolutely loving is that I have a daily target which I can set for myself, which I can work hard it, and which I can see is making my training far more effective. Whatever you are currently training for, I highly recommend setting targets, work hard to achieve new PB’s (personal bests), record your results (very important), and especially if you’re looking to lose weight or change your appearance (i.e. going for 6 pack abs) then do record your progress by taking pictures! Keep a daily record of your progress – this has been the one thing that has kept me going more than everything else.
More updates to follow soon!