Most people know that exercise is a great way to relieve stress. What rarely gets attention is the fact that reducing stress levels can actually improve exercise performance and recovery. Technically, exercise is a form of positive stress. Your body receives a stimulus, then adapts in a positive manner. The immediate results are better performance, increases in strength and less body fat. This is what is known as an “acute stress response” – a specific stimulus that lasts for a temporary period. Acute stressors can be very healthy, and are necessary for any type of growth.
Chronic stress, which persists over an extended period of time, can be debilitating and extremely unhealthy. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, insomnia, weakened immune health, and imbalanced hormonal systems. Though most chronic stress comes from other lifestyle factors besides exercise, you may be sabotaging your results in the gym by not managing your levels of unhealthy stress. Here are a few ways to ensure you are minimizing “bad” stress in order to perform better in the gym:
Take a break
To ensure full recovery, give each muscle group at least 48 hours of rest after exercise before training it again. This ensures full recovery of the muscular systems trained and reduces the negative impacts of overtraining on the central nervous system.
- On days when you exercise, supplement with whey protein following your training session to ensure your body has enough of this important macronutrient for full recovery. A good rule of thumb is to consume .0.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight immediately following training. Consuming whey protein also increases levels of glutathione, a potent antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress and improves immune function.*
Get better-quality sleep
Most of the repair processes from exercise take place while you are sleeping. Burning the candle at both ends (so to speak) is the shortest route to dangerously high stress levels. Quantity of sleep is important, but you can also take steps to ensure that your quality of sleep is improved.
- ZMA® supplement blend: This blend of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 helps replenish nutrients that may be lacking in resistance-training athletes, whose levels may be lower due to increased sweating or poor diet.* ZMA® may also have the effect of helping to improve the hormone profile of those who engage in intense physical activity.*
- GABA: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a major neurotransmitter widely distributed throughout the central nervous system (CNS). It helps prevent the over-firing of the nerve cells and decreases overall neuron activities in the CNS.* Supplementing with GABA may not only help promote a relaxed state of mind healthy sleep, but it may also support healthy resting growth hormone release after exercise.*
Take it easy
Devote time each day to reducing your overall stress levels. This type of deliberate relaxation can do wonders for recovery, immune function and overall well-being. During periods of chronic stress, your body produces cortisol, a catabolic hormone responsible for breaking tissues down for energy. When cortisol levels are elevated for extending periods of time, you are at risk for burning through muscle tissue AND storing body fat.
- Post-Workout Nutrition: Ensure that your post-workout meal includes quality proteins, such as whey protein, and carbohydrates to replace depleted stores. This will serve to reverse the negative (catabolic) effects from exercising.
- Supplement with 5-HTP: 5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid that converts to serotonin, one of your brain’s feel-good hormones. Supplementing with 5-HTP can help increase a sense of well-being.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Scott Hogan, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach (A.C.E.), blogs about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle factors that contribute to peak performance. As the Category Manager of Sports & Fitness, Scott manages the merchandising and marketing of Sports Nutrition products at Vitacost.com. Follow Scott on Twitter @VitaScott, or connect directly through email at email@example.com.