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.

Low Carb Diets – What’s the difference between HFLC (High-Fat Low-Carb) vs. the Ketogenic Diet?

I’m addressing this blog post to anyone who is “keto curious” because I know there are a lot of you out there. I’ve been asked many times what I think of the keto diet so I thought I’d offer my thoughts and some background on what the keto diet is exactly.

If you’re considering the keto or HCLF diet, you need to know one thing at the outset—it’s a diet. As in, an eating plan with an end date. Not to be confused with a lifestyle. I know there are many keto practitioners out there who will tell you different, but in my opinion, based on the clients I work with (so you, since you’re reading this blog) I haven’t seen the keto diet to be sustainable long-term.

Many executives and professionals come to me looking for an edge in their energy and focus. Eating less carbohydrates and more protein and healthy fats can certainly get you there. Especially when you eliminate excess sugars and maintain a proper sleep schedule (in bed no later than 10:30 pm every night). Achieving a state of ketosis is not necessary for these benefits, as I explain below.

It may seem like everywhere you turn the ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is being hailed as a miracle diet for weight loss and increased energy levels.

Keto is the “it” diet of the moment, but before you decide to jump on the bandwagon yourself, let’s take a look at what this diet is all about.

Keto is an extremely low-carbohydrate diet that replaces carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and large quantities of healthy fats. The keto diet was originally developed to help manage seizures in children – really!

Anyone can eat fewer carbs and more fat, but doing so doesn’t necessarily mean you’re following a true ketogenic diet. Keto is one example of a low-carb diet, but not all low-carb diets are ketogenic.

The truth is, there’s a lot of confusion around what constitutes an actual ketogenic diet vs. a high-fat low-carb (HFLC) diet.

Both diets begin with reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat intake. So, what’s the difference?

It all boils down to ketosis - a metabolic state where your body uses fat instead of glucose as its main source of energy.

Ketosis is the main goal of a ketogenic diet. Your body prefers glucose as fuel, so the slightest change in daily carbohydrates or protein (yep, the body can make glucose out of protein when there’s enough of it) can shift the body out of ketosis and back to running on glucose.

The exact breakdown of macronutrients needed to keep your body in ketosis varies from person to person because we each have unique metabolisms.

The only way to know whether you’re in ketosis is to monitor your body’s ketone levels (via urine or blood testing strips). If you’re trying keto but not tracking your macronutrient intake and ketone levels, you’re probably following more of a HFLC diet.

A HFLC diet is less strict and focuses more on eliminating unhealthy carbohydrate sources, like refined grains and sugary foods, and including more whole foods, including healthy fats, moderate amounts of protein, some whole grains and fruit, and vegetables.

Here’s a break-down of the main differences between ketogenic and HFLC diets:

  • Ketogenic
    • Main goal - induce ketosis
    • Primary fuel source is fatty acids and ketone bodies from fat
    • Requires strict breakdown of macronutrients to maintain ketosis
    • Very little carbohydrate – usually 5-10% of total calorie needs
    • Moderate amounts of protein – about 20% of total calorie needs and NOT a free for all!
    • Lots of healthy fats (think avocado, nuts, olives, coconut, oils, and grass-fed butter and meats) – about 70% of total calorie needs
  • HFLC - high-fat low-carb
    • Main goal - reduce carbohydrate intake, but not necessarily induce ketosis
    • Primary fuel source is usually glucose from carbs and/or protein
    • No precise breakdown of macronutrients – less strict and many variations
    • Typically includes moderate amounts of carbohydrates and protein
    • Carbohydrate sources shift from refined and starchy, like pasta and sweets, to complex, like sweet potatoes

Whether you choose to follow a HFLC diet or the more rigid ketogenic diet, decreasing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat intake are linked to the following health benefits:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio

Decreasing your carbohydrate intake, especially refined grains, sweets and excess sugar is beneficial for your health. You don’t necessarily need to take on a full HCLF or Keto plan to do this. As with any diet change, it’s important to know what you’re looking to get out of it and develop a plan that’s realistic for your lifestyle.

If you’re looking for more energy, a leaner body composition and healthy guidelines to get you there, I can help. Book a breakthrough call with me so we can talk more about your goals and the best way for you to reach them.

It’s important to note that the LCHF and keto diet plans can be beneficial for people with certain health conditions including diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. Talk with a holistic nutritionist for guidelines specific to your situation.

RECIPE – A twist on a classic

Avocado Egg Salad

Ingredients

4 large eggs, free range
1 medium avocado
2 Tbsp. classic hummus
1 Tbsp. each fresh dill and chives, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash smoked paprika
Romaine lettuce leaves, for serving

Preparation

  1. Hard boil eggs with your preferred cooking method, then cool, peel and chop cooked eggs.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, mash pitted avocado with the hummus, herbs, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
  3. Add chopped eggs to avocado mixture and toss to combine. Serve egg salad immediately wrapped in lettuce leaves or chill and then serve. Best eaten same day.

REFERENCES

Healthline: The Ketogenic Diet: A Detailed Beginner's Guide to Keto

Healthline: The LCHF Diet Plan: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

The Truth About Daily Weight Fluctuations

In my opinion, we’re a little too obsessed with the scale. We all want our weight to trend in the direction that’s congruent with our goals (some people that’s up, by gaining muscle, and for other’s it’s down, with fat loss). But when you weigh yourself on a daily basis, you’re watching the trend too closely for it to be beneficial.

When it come to your weight, and your health in general, there’s a certain level of interference from you that’s going to disrupt your body’s natural process. This is also the case for watching the scale daily because your emotional reaction to (let’s face it, a lot of us allow ourselves to be bolstered or cut down by) the number on the scale can create a stress response that causes you to move in the opposite direction of your goal.

We need to realize that weight fluctuations are normal, and to focus instead on the general trend we’re seeing on the scale. Better yet – remove the scale from the equation altogether and focus on your healthy habits and the way your clothes feel on your body.

For those who want to know why your weight fluctuates daily, see more in this post.

We all know the frustration of working hard to maintain a healthy body weight, only to step on the bathroom scale and see the numbers going in the wrong direction - or not quickly enough in the right direction!

Here are 7 truths about those normal daily weight fluctuations:

1| Scale weight is not a true measurement of your health. It is simply one of many variables you should be taking into account to determine if you are approaching or maintaining your optimal body weight.

2| When you wake up after fasting - usually for around 12 hours, you're completely dehydrated and at your lowest weight of the day. This is why it’s recommended to weigh yourself first thing in the morning after you’ve voided, and before you eat or drink anything.

3| Speaking of voiding… you can experience daily weight fluctuations of 1-3+ lbs due to waste that could be lingering in your large colon. Who knew poop could be so heavy?

Be sure to keep the bowels moving with plenty of fluids, plant-based fibre and targeted supplementation, if necessary.

4| Your scale doesn't just weigh fat. It weighs muscle, bone, organs, water, and as you just learned - poop!

When you lose weight, it doesn't necessarily mean that you've lost body fat as the average bathroom scale has no way of telling you what bodily tissues you've lost. Weighing “skinny” on the scale does not always translate into healthy off the scale.

FACT: The more muscle you have the more energy your body burns, even when you're just sitting around - due to the fact that it’s a metabolically active tissue. That's one reason why a fit, active person is generally able to eat more than say the chronic dieter who is unknowingly breaking down and losing muscle.

5| Likewise, the scale can't tell if you've gained muscle.

Building muscle makes it possible to drop clothing sizes (and lose inches) without a significant change, if any, in scale weight.

THINK OF IT LIKE THIS: a pound of muscle is like a small, compact brick, whereas a pound of fat is like a bulky, lumpy pillow. So that's why when you gain muscle and lose fat, your figure appears slimmer and more firm - but your scale weight may not change much.

6| For all the ladies out there...it's not you, it's your HORMONES!

Some women can gain up to 10 lbs right before or during their period. No joke. This is because of the natural drop in Progesterone just before your period often causes digestive issues like water retention and constipation. And, let’s not forget how heavy poop can be!

Our bodies also tend to lose Magnesium in the days before menstruation, which drives our Insulin levels up leading to an increase in food cravings - especially for sugar.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that keeps blood sugar levels in check but is also considered a fat storage hormone.

7| Speaking of hormones… whether you're a female or not, we’re all influenced by stress hormones. Your cortisol level will influence the way your body handles blood sugar which in turn affects your insulin level.

When you’re under stress, your body is primed and ready for weight gain. Aside from gaining weight, you’re likely to notice bloating as well which might lead you to step on the scale and check things out.

This type of fluctuation is something to watch because staying in your stress response over time will have negative effects on your health and your weight.

If you live a busy life with a lot of responsibility, you’re likely under stress on a regular basis. Learn more about how to manage stress and avoid weight gain, by joining the Simple Stress Reduction Facebook Group.

The Bottom Line

These yo-yoing numbers have nothing to do with your long-term progress and they are just part of the overall health optimization journey.

Simply do your best to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle and understand that daily weight fluctuations are completely normal!

“The scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. That’s it.

It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, life force, possibility, strength or love.”

— Steve Maraboli

RECIPE

Here’s a fresh, high-fibre, plant-powered recipe to keep that digestive system happy and moving along as it should (no heavy poop or bloated bellies weighing you down here!)

Papaya Avocado Berry Salad - serves 2

Combine the following in a medium bowl:

- 1 medium papaya, diced
- 1 medium avocado, diced
- ¾ cup cucumber, diced
- ⅓ cup fresh berries, sliced or whole
- 1 handful frisée (or greens of your choice)
- 2 Tbsp. or 4 halves walnuts, chopped & toasted

Then make the dressing:

Berry Balsamic Salad Dressing

- 2 cups mixed fresh berries, frozen thawed ok (like blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries)
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tb fresh citrus juice (like lemon, lime or orange juice)
- 2 tsp honey, unpasteurized
- 1 tsp Dijon or spicy mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon Himalayan Pink or Grey/Celtic Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste

Optional additions: to kick your dressing up a notch, add 1 small clove garlic, chopped &/or 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves.

In a blender or mini food processor, puree berries. Place a small strainer over a bowl. Pour pureed berries into strainer, pressing with the back of a spoon to remove the seeds. Return pureed berries to blender or food processor.

Add all remaining ingredients except oil; process until smooth. Add the oil slowly (by teaspoons), again until smooth. Taste, then add more honey, salt and pepper if desired.

Gently toss the salad with 2-3 Tbsp. of the dressing. Enjoy!

REFERENCES: New Health Guide: Weight Gain During Period

What to Eat Before, During & After Your Workout

I see this all too often… You’re starting to fit workouts into your routine and you feel good for the first week or two, but then you notice your energy dropping. You’re feeling tired, depleted and lacking motivation. What could be the problem?

Often times when people add workouts to their routine, they forget to add proper fuel in the form of pre and post-workout meals. If you’re making time for the gym (or exercise of your choice), take an extra 15 minutes to prep something to eat before and after. When you fuel your body properly around your workouts, you’ll feel better, see results quicker and stay motivated to keep going.

This post will help you figure out what’s best to eat pre- and post-workout depending on the type of activity you’re doing.

You’ve just finished your workout and you know you need to eat something. But what?

Workout nutrition may seem rather complicated but it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s the latest on how to fuel your body before, during and after your workout so you can improve your performance, maximize recovery - and feel better!

Fuel before for your workout

You’d never head out on a long road trip without filling your tank with gas, right?!

Skipping your pre- workout fuel is the equivalent of hitting the road with an empty gas tank. You may get off to a good start, but you’ll likely be running on fumes in no time.

When you feed your body with the right nutrients before your workout, you’ll be able to lift more, run longer & faster, and speed up your gains. Plus you’ll feel so much better while doing it!

So, what should you eat before your workout?

Since our body’s preferred energy source is carbohydrates, your pre-workout fuel should be higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat.

Protein and fat are harder for our body to digest, and this uses up extra energy that you could put toward your workout.

Aim to eat about one to two hours before your workout (depending on the size of your meal) to give your body time to digest and absorb the nutrients.

Here are a few Pre-Workout options that work well for pre-strength or pre-cardio workouts:

  • Wholegrain rice cake with 1 Tbsp. of natural nut butter
  • Small apple and a handful of raw nuts (or nut butter)
  • ½ cup of plain oatmeal (whole oats) topped with hemp hearts and berries

Sports Drinks or Water?

Plain water will do the trick during your workout. Experts recommend drinking between 3-8 oz of water every 15 minutes during your sweat session.

Also, you can hold off on the sports drinks unless you’re exercising for 90 minutes or longer, or are exercising in extreme heat.

Sports drinks help to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes but are not necessary for the average gym goer.

Why not skip the sugary, neon-blue commercial sports drink all together and just whip up your own for longer, sweatier workouts?

Here’s how: Take ½ cup pure orange juice, top with filtered water and add a pinch of sea salt or pink salt. You’ve got a DIY electrolyte replacement drink for a fraction of the cost and infinitely healthier ;-).

What to Eat after a Cardio Session

It is still recommended that you eat your post-cardio snack 30-60 minutes after finishing up.

However, you’ll be using more carbohydrate stores during a sweaty cardio workout (think running or spinning) than you would during your lifting session.

This is why you’ll need to eat a snack or meal that is 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio - similar to your pre-workout ratio.

Try one of these snacks after your next cardio workout to replenish your carbohydrate stores (glycogen) used and to help you recover faster:

  • Sprouted grain toast and natural nut butter
  • 5-10 whole grain crackers & 2 Tbsp. hummus or bean dip
  • Small banana and a small handful of raw nuts or seeds

What to Eat After Strength Training or Lifting Weights

Once you finish that last rep, pat yourself on the back and then fuel up on the protein!

Aim to eat within 30-60 minutes post workout to help your body recovery and to build those muscles you’ve been working so hard for. This meal should be approximately a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates.

Here are a few examples of a balanced “post-lifting” meal:

  • Grilled chicken breast with roasted vegetables
  • 2 hard boiled eggs and whole grain crackers

You’ll also love this smoothie - packed with protein, fibre and the anti-inflammatory benefits of tart cherries!

RECIPE

Very Cherry Recovery Smoothie

1 cup of non-dairy milk of choice (I like coconut milk)
1 scoop vanilla protein powder of choice (unsweetened, less processed)
1 handful of fresh or frozen tart cherries (frozen will have a thicker consistency)
1-2 Tbsp. of chia seeds or hemp hearts
1 handful of greens (spinach or baby kale work well here)
2-3 ice cubes (more if you’ve used fresh cherries)

Blend, enjoy and watch those muscles grow!

REFERENCES

LiveStrong: Post Workout Carb-Protein Ratio

The Washington Post: The Best Way To Eat Before & After Exercise

CBC.ca: Sports Drinks Unnecessary, Counterproductive For Most People