Exercise – How it Impacts Your Energy Levels

Continuing on our summer theme of exercise on the blog, this week we’re looking at how exercise impacts your energy level. When you’re working long hours or on the go a lot of the time, it’s easy to feel drained and want to plant yourself on the couch to recover. While down-time (especially quality sleep at night) is important, adding physical activity to your week can help boost your overall energy.

Maintaining regular body movement is important for managing stress and maintaining optimal hormone levels. Exercise helps your body function optimally over all. As you’ll see in this post, even a little bit goes a long way.

When you’re completely exhausted, the last thing you want to do is lace up your shoes for a workout (nor should you- listen to your body!). But if you’re feeling that way often and you’re tired of being tired all the time, you may want to rethink the idea of regularly exercising.

Exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have for increasing our energy levels and you don’t need to do a lot to reap the benefits… plus, it’s completely, 100% free! How’s that for a powerful health tool?

In fact, a University of Georgia study found that performing 20 minutes of low intensity exercise could decrease fatigue by up to 65%!

A physical activity as simple as walking, yoga or a leisurely bike ride (for only 20 minutes!) can do so much more for your energy than a cup of coffee or an energy drink ever could. Not to mention the downsides of a temporary caffeine boost.

So how does exercise actually increase energy?

There’s a lot of amazing things going on in your body during a workout session. When you exercise, your body increases its production of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine -- all of which are powerful mood boosters.

Dopamine, in particular, has been found to make us feel more alert and motivated. This is exactly why it pays to take that 20-minute walk during your lunch break instead of scrolling through your social feeds.

In addition to releasing these helpful neurotransmitters, exercise has been found to help us sleep better.

When your body gets the rest it needs on a regular basis, you’ll have the energy to get through your busy day -- and maybe even some to spare!

But, can exercise actually works against you?

While a regular sweat session is typically a great thing for your body, there are some circumstances where a workout can actually affect your energy in a negative way.

Working out at night can make it very difficult to wind down and get a restful sleep. Experts recommend avoiding vigorous exercise up to 3 hours before bedtime.

For those with especially hectic schedules, this can be a challenge since it may be the only time of day they can fit in a workout.

However, consider moving your workout to the morning to increase your energy for the whole day. But if you simply can’t, try sticking to a lower intensity nighttime exercise routine so you can wind down when it’s time to sleep. A long walk, or a grounding yoga routine can be just the thing to activate your muscles, without increasing your heart rate significantly.

Too much of a good thing

Yes, you can get too much of a good thing. Exercising too much can actually have the opposite effect on your energy levels.

One study looked at the effects of over-exercising. Participants were put through a rigorous physical training regime for 10 days followed by 5 days of active recovery.

Not only did participants notice a decrease in performance, they also complained of extreme fatigue and difficulty sleeping.

So how much exercise is enough?

It is recommended by many healthy lifestyle experts to get approximately 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise each week to maintain good health. You’ll know you’re getting the right amount of exercise if you notice your energy levels are increasing (pay attention!)

If, after up-leveling your exercise efforts you’re (still) feeling lethargic or are having difficulty sleeping, there’s a good chance you may be overtraining.

One last point about Exercise & Energy -- the food you eat also plays a huge role in your energy levels! In addition to getting regular exercise, be sure to fuel your body with whole foods throughout the day to keep your energy levels up and maintained. See my blog post on what to eat before and after exercise.

RECIPE

Energizing Power Balls

This Energizing Power Ball recipe is a great way to fuel your body pre-workout or to give you a mid-afternoon energy boost.

Ingredients

1 cup of rolled oats
½ cup of nut butter (use sunflower, pumpkin seed or hemp butter for a nut-free option)
¼ cup of raw/unpasteurized honey or pure maple syrup
½ cup of hemp hearts or chia seeds

Optional additions: add a handful of chopped dried fruit and/or unsweetened shredded coconut

Preparation

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Roll dough into balls, approximately the size of 1 Tbsp.
  3. Chill and enjoy; place a few in the freezer and enjoy them frozen for a slightly different taste experience!

HIIT workouts: what are they – and are they the best for fat burning and stress management?

Working out has benefits for stress-relief and your waistline. I see many of my clients push their limits at work and then go push themselves some more in the gym. Doubling up like this is not as beneficial as you’d think. So as you read about the benefits of HITT in this post, know that you’ll need to cater your workouts to your stress level and the amount of energy you have on any particular day.

When you’re under a lot of stress, you’re not doing yourself any favours by taking on an intense workout. The truth is, your body doesn’t know the difference between eustress (the good stress you’re under while in a workout) and the chronic stress that can contribute to lifestyle diseases because it’s the same nervous system state. But what HITT training can help you do (over time) is train your body to calm down from intense stress more quickly.

With any exercise program, it’s important to listen to your body and obey your energy level. For women, if you’re in the first 5 days of your cycle, when your energy is directed toward internal processes, it’s not a good idea to do an intense workout. During day 8-24 (assuming you’re on a 28 day cycle) your body naturally has more energy to put into a workout. Listening to your body is the most beneficial way to get the most out of any workout plan.

If you follow the fitness industry, you’ve probably heard of the benefits of HIIT (or High Intensity Interval Training).

The short, yet powerful workouts are touted as the best way to improve your overall conditioning, burn fat, and even balance hormones! (but that’s another article!)

So, what is HIIT anyway?

HIIT workouts involve working at an intense effort level for a short period of time followed by short recovery periods.

Tabata workouts are one great example of a HIIT style workout.

A Tabata session involves 20 seconds of intense all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of recovery. This is repeated 8 times through for a workout total of 4 minutes only and is said to promote fat loss and increase aerobic power - all in a very short period of time.

Seems like it might be too good to be true...

But, is HIIT really all it’s cracked up to be? And does it actually burn fat?

When it comes to the research, the answer is YES!

One study compared MICT (Moderate Intensity Continuous Training) vs. HIIT and the effects that it had on visceral abdominal fat. The study found that both types of training reduced overall body fat; however HIIT did this in half the time. Half the time!!

Another study from the International Journal of Obesity compared 2 groups of exercisers to determine the benefits of HIIT for women.

The women were divided into two groups: the first group did 40 minutes of steady state aerobic exercise for 15 weeks. The second group did 8 second sprints followed by 12 seconds of recovery for 20 minutes.

The results of the HIIT study?

HIIT participants lost up to 7.3lbs and the steady state exercisers gained up to 2.7lbs. HIIT participants also saw significant reduction in overall body fat as well as subcutaneous abdominal fat - the is the fat just beneath your skin.

Other key benefits of HIIT

  • Reduces fasting insulin levels and decreases risk for Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease
  • It significantly improves your cardiovascular fitness. The International Journal of Obesity Study also found that HIIT participants improved their VO2 max (aerobic power) by up to 23%
  • It balances your hormones! Research shows that high intensity exercise boosts Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is a powerful anti-aging hormone that helps us maintain lean muscle mass (think revved up metabolism!) AND bone density, which reduces risk of osteoporosis. This can also help your body manage stress, but only if you’re not in a state of exhaustion when you’re working out.
  • It’s easy to fit into a busy lifestyle since it doesn’t take a lot of time.
  • They’re portable. You can get an effective HIIT workout using minimal or no equipment whatsoever which makes it great for staying in shape while you’re on the road.

How often should you do HIIT workouts to achieve these results?

HIIT workouts do have a lot of benefits, and it has been documented that they only need to be done 2-3 times a week.

But, because they require such a high level of effort, they can put more strain on your joints, thus increasing your risk of injury if done too frequently.

This 15-minute bodyweight HIIT workout “recipe” is a great way to burn fat and stay fit when you’re tight for time and space.

The Workout “Recipe”:

Ingredients

  • Jump Squats (beginners can do a regular bodyweight squat without the jump)
  • Push-ups (beginners can start from their knees)
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Burpees

How to perform

Beginners: Do 30 seconds of each exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest. If needed, modify the jump squat to a basic body weight squat (no jump). Pushups can also be modified by performing from knees rather than toes.

Once you’ve completed all 4 exercises, rest for 1-2 minutes.  Repeat for 2-3 sets total.

Intermediate:  Do 40 seconds of each exercise followed by 20 seconds of rest. Once you’ve completed all 4 exercises, rest for 1 minute to 90 seconds. Then repeat for 3 sets total.

Advanced: Do 50 seconds of each exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest. Once you’ve completed all 4 exercises, rest for 1 minute and repeat for 3 sets total.

Top Protein Powder Picks

Convenience is one of the main motivations driving food choices. I believe that healthy eating can be quick and convenient. In fact, I know this to be true because I don’t like spending hours in the kitchen, but I do love to eat nutritious food.

Protein powder is one of the easiest ways to add on-the-go protein to your diet. The quality of the protein powder will affect how easy it is to digest, and how nutritious the formula is.

When choosing your protein powder, pick based on brand and ingredients. Some tips on choosing a quality product:

  1. Buy from a company who knows health – the protein powders I recommend all come from companies like Sun Warrior, Botanica, and Vega who are leaders in the health space. Nutrition and health is what they research, preach, and manufacture. Health is what they do. When choosing which product to buy, the company will give you an initial indication of quality. Though it’s still up to you to read the label.
  2. Consider your use – one of the main questions I’m asked as a nutritionist is whether it’s better to go with plant-based or a whey based protein powder. For making smoothies as a meal/snack where you’re looking for nutrients, I’d go for plant-based protein. If you’re looking for a post-workout protein boost, that would be a better time for whey. Though, you could use either one.
    Consider what your diet is like on a regular basis. If you eat a lot of dairy already, it would be a good idea to use a plant-based non-dairy protein powder so you get more variety.
  3. Quality ingredients – protein powders often contain flavouring, thickeners, or sweet additives to improve the taste. The best choice for you will depend on how you plan to mix your protein (with water in a shaker cup/ blended in a smoothie). Look for products that don’t contain a lot of additives or sweeteners.

For smoothies, choosing a “natural” flavour will make it more versatile (and usually have fewer ingredients) – you can always add cocoa powder to your blend, but you can’t take it out of the protein.
Most companies sell single serving sizes of their protein powders. Purchase a few of these to start before investing in the tub to see what you like best.

Variety is key in having a healthy and nutritious diet. Just like you vary your food choices, it’s a good idea to rotate your protein powders. Once you find the ones you like, I’d suggest having a few different types on hand. Some have more greens, some are fermented, while others have simple ingredients and are easy to digest.

Each type of protein powder can be used at a different time, or in a different combination to keep variety and boost nutrition on a regular basis.

There are many high-quality products out there. Make sure you do your research to find the right one for you. Here are my top choices:

Vegetarian Protein Powders

Botanica – Perfect Protein – finally, a protein blend without peas or stevia. The brown rice protein it contains is fermented, so it will digest easily. It even contains coconut, and quinoa to round out the nutrient profile. This one is sugar free,
Sugar Free | Gluten- Free | Soy-Free | Dairy-Free |Non-GMO | Vegetarian.

Manitoba Harvest – Hemp Pro—this one is a straight hemp protein. It’s easy to digest and the flavour is good when blended into a smoothie. With 15g of protein and 7g of fiber this is a great choice for making any smoothie into a meal. Great for those with sensitive systems, this protein has only a single ingredient: hemp.
There are a few flavours to choose from. This company also makes the Hemp Hearts (seeds you can add to smoothies, salads, oatmeal, stir fry, etc.)
Non-GMO| Vegan | Kosher

Vega One All in One Shake – this has a lot of greens and other nutrients in it as well as protein including spirulina, maca, and a dried fruit and vegetable blend. Vega One is a great option for morning smoothies or making a meal out of a shake. It’s main protein sources are pea, hemp.
Gluten Free | Non-GMO | Vegan

Sun Warrior Classic Protein– Brown Rice Protein Sun Warrior makes brown rice protein that is both sprouted and fermented (two processes that maximize the nutritional value of the protein). With few ingredients, this is a great choice for allergy sufferers because it’s clean, simple and safe. Sun Warrior products are vegan and contain no animal products.
Vegan | Raw | Soy-Free | Non-GMO | Gluten-Free | Dairy-Free

Genuine Health - Fermented Vegan Proteins + - this protein is fermented (partially broken down) so it’s easy to digest, and beneficial for your gut. It contains a blend of pea protein, brown rice, quinoa all fermented for maximum nutrition and absorption.
Gluten Free | Non-GMO | Vegan | Soy-Free

Whey-Based Protein Powders

Kaizen Naturals –Whey Protein Powder – Kaizen Naturals has a very clean product line, which includes their whey protein powder. They source their whey from New Zeland cows. It provides all the necessary amino acids for muscle and tissue growth, with very little additives.
Gluten Free | Non-GMO | Peanut Free

Garden of Life SPORT – Certified Grass Fed Whey – this whey protein comes from a non-gmo, grass-fed source with no added hormones, sugars or antibiotics. It also includes a few strains of probiotic bacteria to aid in digestion.
Gluten Free | Non-GMO

The True Health Benefits of Exercise

Exercise. It can improve your health on all levels. I’m not just talking about being fit and stronger. Exercise can actually improve your overall health and longevity.

You’ve heard this. You know this. Yet, it might not have totally sunk in…

Regular exercise improves your heart health, brain health, muscle and bone health, diabetes, and arthritis. Beyond those, it also reduces stress, boosts moods, increases your energy, and can improve your sleep. And exercise prevents death from any cause (“all cause mortality”).

Convinced yet?

The benefits of exercise come from improving blood flow, and reducing inflammation and blood sugar levels. They come from moving your muscles (including your heart muscle) and pulling on your bones.

You don’t need to go overboard on exercise to get these amazing health results. As little as 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days/week is enough. That’s simple enough to fit into even the busiest of schedules. You need to plan ahead and set the intention to make it happen.

The best part is you don’t even have to do a particular kind of exercise. All four types of exercise have health benefits. They are:

  1. Endurance (brisk walking, jogging, yard work, dancing, aerobics, cycling, swimming)
  2. Strength (climbing stairs, carrying groceries, lifting weights, using a resistance band or your body weight, Pilates)
  3. Balance (standing on one foot, Tai Chi)
  4. Flexibility (stretching, yoga)

Don't forget, all exercise counts, even if it's not doing a sport or in a gym. Weekend hikes, walking to the store and doing household chores also count towards your weekly exercise goal.

Let me take a minute to highlight how healthy exercise really is. Here are a few key points.

Exercise for heart health

Exercise reduced cardiac mortality by 31% in middle aged men who previously had a heart attack.

Regular exercise reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).

Exercise for brain health

Exercise can improve physical function and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease. It also reduces changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise improved mental functions by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is involved in learning and memory. It also increases the size of the part of the brain for memory and learning (the "hippocampus"); this was shown mostly with aerobic exercise.

Exercise for muscle and bone health

Regular physical activity can help maintain strong muscles and bones; this is particularly true for strength exercises. As we age, we naturally start to lose muscle mass and bone density. So, to prevent osteoporosis, exercise regularly.

Remember: balance exercises and Tai Chi can help prevent falls.

Exercise for diabetes

People with diabetes who exercise have better insulin sensitivity and HbA1C values (the marker of glycemic control).

Exercise does this because by contracting your muscles, you’re fueling them with sugar in your blood. This helps to manage blood sugar levels better than without exercise.

Conclusion

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health benefits of exercise.  By doing just 30 minutes 5 days/week, you can vastly improve your health. Even if you’re running a busy schedule it’s important to take breaks from your “to do’s” to tend to your health through movement.

Since there are different benefits for different types, try mixing up what you do throughout the week. You don’t even need an “official” workout. Walking to the grocery store or doing household chores can count too.

If you’re just starting, then pick something you enjoy, get some accountability (exercise tracker or a buddy), and start.

I want to hear from you… What’s your favorite exercise and how often do you do it?

Recipe (exercise recovery): Coconut Water Refresher

Serves 2

1 cup coconut water
2” piece of cucumber (chopped)
¼ cup raspberries
1 tsp lime juice
1 dash sea salt
1 cup ice
2 Tbsp. chia seeds (optional)

Instructions

Blend the first five ingredients until well mixed. Add ice and pulse until ice is crushed.

Pour into glasses or water bottle and add chia seeds. Shake/stir before drinking.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: The chia seeds add extra fiber, protein, and omega-3s.

References:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFBBjynBpSw&t=3s

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

https://authoritynutrition.com/10-benefits-of-exercise/

https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Fracture/prevent_falls_ff.asp

http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/exercise-is-good-for-diabetes

https://authoritynutrition.com/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/healthy-movement

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-physical-activity

https://groomandstyle.com/eating-at-home-vs-eating-out/?msID=951a527c-545d-40e1-a620-bd5806661683

Water - How Much Do I Really Need to Drink?

Water is essential for life. You can only survive a few days without it. Being hydrated is so essential for health, I could argue that water is the most essential nutrient, period. After all, water is needed for every cell and function in your body.

Water is a huge part of your blood; it cushions your joints and aids digestion. It helps stabilize your blood pressure and heart beat. It helps to regulate your body temperature and helps maintain electrolyte (mineral) balance. And those are just a few of its roles.

Dehydration can impair mood and concentration, and contribute to headaches and dizziness. It can reduce your physical endurance, and increase the risk for kidney stones and create constipation. Extreme dehydration can cause heat stroke, especially in hot weather.

So, water is critical for life and health.

When you’re focused on your work, or zipping between tasks with little down time, you might forget to drink water. It’s true that even though you might not feel thirsty, your body still needs water for proper hydration. In fact, water will help keep your mind sharp so you can focus on your tasks.

But, just as way too little water is life-threatening, so is way too much. As with most things in health and wellness, there is a healthy balance to be reached.

However, there are conflicting opinions as to how much water to drink. Is there a right amount for everyone? What counts toward water intake?

Let’s dive right in.

How much water do I need?

One guideline that no doubt you’ve heard is the "8x8 rule." This is the recommendation to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water every day; that's about 2 liters of water.

Like any nutrition “rule,” a one size fits all approach is not going to work for all cases. The 8x8 works better as a guideline, than a hard and fast rule. If you’re drinking way less than 8 glasses of water per day, it might be a good idea to get as close to the 8 glasses as you can (especially if you’re drinking coffee and alcohol daily as well).

Now, many health professionals recommend drinking according to thirst.

The danger with gauging your hydration based on thirst, is that in order to tell whether you’re thirsty you need to be paying close attention to your body. You also need to have water on hand.

It’s true that humans have complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring how hydrated we are. And for healthy adults, this system is very reliable, and shows up as thirst. But what happens for many of us when we’re immersed in our day-to-day activities, is that we stop listening for our body’s cues. Or sometimes we know we’re thirsty/hungry, but aren’t prepared with water or food on hand so we put our needs on the back burner.

There is another way to tell how hydrated you are…

Pay attention to how dark and concentrated your urine is. The darker your urine, the more effort your body is making to hold on to the water it has. Urine is still getting rid of the waste, but in a smaller volume of water, so it looks darker.

A well-hydrated body produces urine that is very faint yellow, almost completely clear and colourless. Keep in mind that if you’re taking B vitamins, this could alter the colour of your urine.

There are a few other things to consider when evaluating your hydration status. If you’re sweating a lot, or are in a hot/humid climate, you’ll need to drink more.

Breastfeeding moms, elderly people, and people at risk of kidney stones need to drink more water too. So do people who experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, as both can quickly dehydrate our bodies.

So use the one size fits all 8x8 rule as a guideline, and pay more attention to your body’s subtle cues for water.

What counts toward my water intake?

All fluids and foods containing water contribute to your daily needs.

Water is the best choice, but if you're not drinking pure water, consider the effects that the other ingredients have on your body. Drinks containing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine will have effects on the body besides hydration. Sugar can mess with your blood sugar balance. Alcohol can make you feel "buzzed." And caffeine can keep you awake. Let's talk a bit more about caffeine for a second.

Caffeine is the infamous "dehydrator," right? Well, new research is saying otherwise. While caffeine may make you have to go to the bathroom more, that effect isn't strong enough to negate the hydrating effects of its water. So, you don’t need to counteract your daily cup(s) of coffee and/or tea…but you do need to know that water is a better choice for a hydrating beverage that has better overall health effects.

Think of it this way, if you’re hungry are you going to nourish your body by drinking a chocolate bar, or vegetables and lean protein? The coffee vs water debate is similar.

Also, many foods contain significant amounts of water. Especially fruits and vegetables like cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, celery, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, carrots, and pineapple. These foods are over 80% water, so they are good sources of hydration.

So, you don’t need to count your plain water intake as your only source of hydration. All fluids and foods with water count.

Conclusion

There is no magic number of the amount of water you need. Everyone is different. Children, pregnant women, elderly people need more.  Episodes of vomiting or diarrhea will also increase your short-term need for more water.  The most important thing is to pay attention to your thirst. Other signs you need more water are dark urine, sweating, constipation, and kidney stones.

Water is your best source of fluids. But other liquids help too. Just consider the effects the other ingredients have on your health as well. And many fruits and vegetables are over 80% water so don't forget about them.

Let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to hydrate?

Recipe (Hydration): Tasty hydrating teas

You may not love the taste (or lack thereof) of plain water. One thing you can do is add some sliced or frozen fruit to your water. Since we learned that you could hydrate just as well with other water-containing beverages, here are some of my favorite herbal teas you can drink hot or cold.

  • Hibiscus
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Rooibos
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Ginger
  • Lemon Balm
  • Rose Hips
  • Lemon Verbena

Instructions

Hot tea - Place tea bags in a pot (1 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey and slice of lemon, if desired. Serve.

Iced tea - Place tea bags in a pot (2 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey, if desired. Chill. Add ice to a glass and fill with cold tea.

Tip: Freeze berries in your ice cubes to make your iced tea more beautiful and nutritious.

Serve & enjoy!

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/water-water-everywhere-2016110310577

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/why-you-should-raise-your-glass-water