Nowadays on social media and in the fitness industry in general it’s cool to talk about getting bigger and working yourself into a coma chasing the gains.

 

Everyone wants to post about how they’re ‘killing it’ in the gym – and that’s fantastic, we need intensity and work ethic to actually move forwards with our physique development.

 

But how many of us actually pay attention to our health markers? It seems in recent years that the ‘health’ part has been dropped from the ‘health and fitness’ industry. This is something that should really disturb us and serve as a wake up call that we need to be more diligent in our efforts at keeping a healthy body and mind.

 

You might dismiss this and say that you’re not bothered about health, that all you’re really bothered about right now and the only reason you read my content is to learn how to build muscle. Fair play. But this article should still be of major interest for you, as it’s pretty irrefutable that a healthy body is a body more primed for packing on tissue than a body run down, fuelled by caffeine and deprived of sleep.

 

Benefits Of Being Healthy

So first thing’s first, let’s take a closer look at what the benefits are of focusing on health as part of an effective muscle building regime.

 

Less Time Out Of The Gym

First of all, we have the obvious benefit of less time out of the gym. When you’re sick, you can’t get to the gym and even if you do force yourself to go, you can’t generate anywhere near the intensity required to do any real damage to the tissue that would merit an adaptive response (growth).

 

Maintaining a healthy body allows us to keep our training frequency and intensity up, the more we can expose our muscle tissue to stimulus the more chances we are giving it to grow.

 

Not only this, but as a beginner or someone in their first couple of years of training, we need to be massively concerned with practicing key movements and improving the neuromuscular ‘connection’ (known as ‘mind to muscle connection). The more we can get key movements right, and the better we can connect with our muscles throughout the entire range of movement, the more muscle activation we’re going to be getting on every single rep and the more progress we’ll be able to make from the same amount of work. Being ill all of the time won’t allow us to do this so please, focus on your health.

 

Increased Recovery

Following on from that, if we do ever get sick our recovery times will be the tell-tale sign of what our lifestyle is like. If we pay no attention to our health markers or recovery mechanisms at all then it’ll take us significantly longer to recover from illness and as mentioned above, that results in more time out of the gym.

 

Recovery is also massively important simply from session to session. Remember the first time you ever trained legs? You couldn’t walk for a week, right?

 

That’s poor recovery. Which is normal, because it was the first time you’d ever done it. But moving forwards you need to be recovering at a much faster pace than that the majority of the time. Keeping your body in a healthy place frees up valuable resources for the body to be able to repair the damage done to it through training much quicker than it otherwise would be able to. Remember, the more frequently we can expose any given muscle to stimulus the more opportunities we have to make it grow. If it’s sore all of the time then we can’t effectively train it frequently.

 

More Time In A Parasympathetic State

I talked about the stress and the body’s nervous systems in my article on stress here, but I feel the need to cover it again because it really is so important.

 

Essentially (in a massive oversimplification), the body has an ‘automatic’ section of it’s nervous system, known as the ‘autonomic nervous system’. This is the section of the nervous system that primarily governs how we deal with stress.

 

This nervous system is split into two sections: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – or for the sake of simplicity, we can think of the sympathetic nervous system as the ‘stress response system’ (responsible for things like the ‘fight or flight’ response) and the parasympathetic nervous system as the ‘rest and digest’ system.

 

Now, during training we absolutely want to be in a sympathetic state – we need to be focused and our stress levels will be high. Training is a controlled stress, but it is a stress nonetheless and in an ideal world this will be the most stressful part of our day.

 

The rest of the time we need to be concerned with putting ourselves in a parasympathetic state – or a ‘rest and digest’ state. This is where paying attention to our health markers comes into play, allowing ourselves to relax and let the body settle into it’s natural rhythms rather than being in a constant state of fight or flight and massively stressed (like most of the western world is today).

 

So, that’s a few of the reasons why we should be paying attention to health markers, now – how do we actually improve our health in relation to building a physique?

 

Optimising Health For Maximum Gainz – To Do List

Here’s a little to-do list to help you optimise your health and get more out of your training and muscle building regime in general.

 

#1 – Get More Sleep

It’s so basic it almost seems trivial, but getting more sleep is the answer to most recovery, training and health issues in relation to physique development.

 

There are multiple studies showing the increased risk of injury in those that sleep less than 6 hours per night, as well as the hormone ghrelin being upregulated when you’re over tired – which is responsible for regulating hunger and appetite levels. If this hormone is over active you feel hungry much more often, meaning if you’re trying to restrict calories at all (or just not get fat) you will have a much harder time doing so.

 

Now without going too deep into the impacts lack of sleep can have on your physique and health (that’s an entire blog post on it’s own), here’s a few practical tips to make sure you’re getting enough sleep:

  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and morning.
  • Eliminate any blue light for an hour before going to bed (that means getting rid of your phone, TV, laptop, iPad and try not to expose yourself to too much light full stop.
  • Stay active during the day so that you actually feel tired when it comes to the evening.
  • Have a night time routine that signals to your brain it’s time to start winding down (mine involves getting rid of all my electrical devices, putting the dog to bed, taking a shower and reading in bed for half an hour, simple as that).
  • I’ve found with most clients some carbohydrates in the final meal around 2 hours before bed allows for better sleep quality – whether that’s because they feel fuller, more serotonin has been released or it acts as ‘brain food’ during sleeping hours I’m not sure, but it does seem to work.
  • Taking a vitamin D supplement (especially if you’re deficient in it) can help to induce deep sleep, but it won’t cure anything if you haven’t already addressed the previous points.

That’s pretty brief, but implementing those into your daily (or nightly) routine should make a big difference to your quality and amount of sleep.

 

#2 – Consume A Nutrient Dense Diet

The fitness industry nowadays seems pretty good at making one thing clear: energy balance is the most important thing when it comes to manipulating your weight (either up or down). However, that’s where mainstream advice seems to end. If you’re lucky, you might get the whole “eat more protein” spiel and occasionally people give you advice on setting up your macronutrient guidelines. This is all fine and necessary for a change in body composition, however, it does nothing for our health (unless we were literally morbidly obese, in which case losing weight is pretty healthy).

 

When it comes to optimising our health markers we need to look a little more closely at the types of foods we’re consuming.

 

It’s worth remembering here that I’m not going to be relating this segment specifically to body composition, so apply this advice within the confines of your existing dietary requirements (i.e. if you’re restricting calories, don’t go over your caloric allowance to fit this advice in, just try to make adjustments).

 

So adding in nutrient dense foods is a key part of keeping yourself in a good, healthy spot to be able to push onwards with your training. Foods high in vitamin C are obviously going to help the immune system, but you also want to be looking at getting a good amount of calcium (e.g. Greek yoghurt & dairy products), zinc, magnesium, potassium (e.g. coconut water), sodium (salt), & vitamin D. These are just a few of the essentials but if you make a conscious effort to include these in your diet where they’ve previously been lacking, you’ll notice a marked difference in your health & wellbeing.

 

#3 – Control External Stressors

So I’ve already given you an overview of the systems that govern how we handle stress, now I’m going to try to give you a few practical take-home tips on how to reduce external stressors.

 

For clarity, by ‘external stressors’ I’m referring to any stress that’s placed upon the body that isn’t directly involved or related to our workout. As I mentioned earlier, the workout should be the most stressful part of our day, we need to be doing everything in our power to reduce any kind of stress that’s external to that period.

 

So the first thing you need to focus on when controlling external stressors is optimising sleep (as when you’re tired, EVERYTHING seems worse than it actually is) – so refer back to the sleep section if you missed or skipped over that bit.

 

But there are a ton of other things we can do to keep our stress levels in check during waking hours. Everything we seem to do in modern life is a million miles an hour, and every minute we’re not busy with work or family or something stressful we’re engulfed in the world of social media and self comparison, adding to our already overwhelming stress levels. How do we get on top?

 

The first suggestion I have to make is Mindfulness. Now, I used to dismiss mindfulness as weirdo, hippie, voodoo bullshit but let me be the first to tell you that this stuff really does work and absolutely has it’s place in modern life. Before you object – if you’re the kind of person that says “I don’t have time to meditate” – You are exactly the kind of person that should be meditating. Just saying.

 

Mindfulness for me usually consists of 10-20 minutes first thing of a morning meditating. That doesn’t mean I’m sitting cross-legged on a hillside staring out into the ocean while singing kumbaya with my thumb up my ass – no, it means a quiet spot away from people and noise and with the aid of the app on my phone “Headspace”. This is quite simply a guided meditation and it helps me to start the day from a place of peace and parasympathetic activity, as opposed to the angry, caffeine fuelled prick I normally am.

 

Now, mindfulness doesn’t have to be meditation. It can be quite simply just being still, or taking some time to appreciate and be grateful for your lot in life. Whatever helps you to slow down, hit pause on the stressful pace of modern life and put you into a state of calm is exactly what you need to control your stress levels.

 

Another massive way to control stressors is to quite simply change your perceptions.

 

I recall an old boss of mine used to tell me a lot that ‘perception is reality’. He was trying to get me to understand that the way I came across to his customers was the way the business was perceived in reality, and even if I wasn’t a miserable bastard – coming across as one on the phone made it that in the customer’s mind, I was.

 

That totally makes sense but only in context. In any other context – perception is NOT reality, and quite often it’s pretty far from it.

 

Whatever your perception of a situation, question it. Whether it’s someone in the street giving you a dead eye – maybe they’re having a rough day? Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re a prick or even worse, start doubting yourself because of it.

 

Perception is very often not reality, so don’t allow things that you only have a surface view of to bring negativity or stress into your life.

 

For the full article on stress where I dive into everything raised here and more in more detail, click here.

 

Wrapping Up

That’s a pretty quick overview of some of my thoughts on how to keep yourself healthy while training for a better physique. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t groundbreaking. It’s basic, but these basics are done consistently by very few people.

 

Nail these basics consistently and you’ll come out the other side with world class results, and a healthy and strong body to go with it.

 

I hope you enjoyed this article, if you have any questions I’d love to hear from you – just drop me an email at info@andyclementsfitness.co.uk.

 

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Cheers

 

Andy