My tip this week is for all of you who feel stuck, have not been making progress in the last few weeks, or even feel like you’re going backwards:- it’s time to mix it up.
Apart from a metabolic condition that may be holding you back and requires a specialized intervention, achieving results in the gym, centres around the manipulation of three variables: nutrition, exerc ise and rest. We are all different, so what may work for one person may not work for you. When something is not working we tend to respond by training even harder, and subconsciously, or consciously, eating less. This may be the right response, but it often isn’t, and we end up even more frustrated. You need to experiment with the variables (nutrition, exercise and rest) to find what works for you and here are some questions you need to consider.
1. Is my post exercise nutrition adequate? 
When you exercise, you break your body down. It is important to return your body to an anabolic state (a state of growth and repair) as soon as possible after exercise, to experience the benefits of the session and continue to make progress. To do this, after exercise, the body needs both carbohydrates and protein for glycogen (fuel stored in muscles) re synthesis, muscle repair and to stimulate anabolic hormones.
How much carbohydrate and protein you need post exercise will vary from person to person, based on your metabolism, how much you have eaten throughout the day, genetic factors, body mass, training intensity and volume etc. so experiment with quantities but be sure to include protein and carbohydrates post exercise – it may be all you need to set you back on track!
2. Does my nutrition match my training intensity and volume?
If you have had a bad eating day, in as much as you haven’t eaten enough (which is never ideal, but sometimes life happens), it is in most cases counter-productive to train hard for any extended period of time. I wouldn’t for example advise that you go for a long distance run as this may break down muscle mass and in the long run, slow your resting metabolism. I recommend you rather do a short twenty minute, fast paced weight bearing session (eg a five or six station free weight circuit you repeat for 15 to 20 minutes, at a moderate intensity with sets of 8 to 12 reps.) This way, you’re developing your lean mass (muscles) you’re not completely depleting glycogen stores and you’re promoting fat usage while stimulating your metabolism and the release of anabolic hormones. Be sure to pay careful attention to your post exercise meal to promote recovery and restore energy to muscles. (Note, it is never ideal to under eat or starve yourself. With intense exercise, you need more calories than you think. You may be eating clean, but you may not be eating enough!
3. Do I need more rest?
The harder you train, and the higher the intensity and volume of training, the more recovery time you need. There are genetic freaks that can put in four hours a day, six days a week for weeks on end, but the chances are, unless you’re an elite athlete, you, like me, are not one of them. The harder you train, the more time you need to recover. If you don’t allow yourself this recovery time, your body breaks down, and training becomes counter productive It is therefore important to vary your intensity and volume. If you’ve had a particularly hard training session, or series of sessions, and the next day you’re feeling exhausted, stiff, run down, demotivated, follow it up with a rest or light, active-recovery session. Then maybe throw in a medium intensity session the next day and build up again to a hard session. How you structure your programme will depend on your goals, your level and various other lifestyle related factors. Use your intuition, and structure your training sessions in cycles, eg four weeks. The aim is not to apply an overload every session, but apply a progressive overload slowly and consistently so that every cycle (eg four weeks) is building on the previous cycle. You may also need to throw in a recovery week in between cycles to prepare you for the next cycle and overload. This strategy is what keeps many athletes performing at their peak for extended periods and may be what you need to spark that change.
4. Am I working hard enough?
If you finish your workout and you always feel as though you have too much left in the tank, it may be time to push harder! This applies particularly to weight training. Whilst you shouldn’t always push to failure, your last few reps should always challenge you – if you don’t feel challenged, it’s time to up your weights! You may also find that you’re exercising hard but the rest of the day, you’re sitting at your desk. The result is, you’re actually not expending enough energy in a day. Get up and walk, even if it’s just for 5 minutes around your office, every half hour or so, the extra daily energy expenditure could make all the difference!
5. Am I getting enough sleep?
The magic number seems to be eight hours. Some people need more, some people need less. The bottom line is, if you are sleep deprived, your recovery and repair processes will be impaired and your body will break down. This is something that is not always within your control, but your training and nutrition are within your control During periods of poor sleep, eat really well, plenty of protein, good fats, veg, fruit and enough carbs to support your training. Reduce caffeine intake, and don’t train yourself to death. You need to do everything you can to stay in an anabolic state. Poor eating, combined with extreme exercise regimes, and a lack of sleep is a recipe for becoming catabolic, storing fat, becoming injured and ill.
So if it’s not working for you, change it. These are just a few of many possible ways in which you can manipulate the variables of nutrition, exercise and sleep to break through sticking points. Don’t be afraid to try new things to find your mojo