When muscle gains slow and fat loss starts dribbling down to nothing, our first reactions are normally to change protocols, increase exercise duration/intensity and/or trim more calories from the diet. However, very often it’s other factors that are slowing or stalling progress and causing that plateau, namely bad habits.
Here are five very common bad habits. One or more of them may be your problem and kicking them will get you back on track toward your fat loss or muscle-building goals.
1. Not getting enough sleep.
Yes, our work lives and other commitments are making our schedules tight and sleep is one of the things we think we can be flexible on when we need more time to get everything done. However, research overwhelmingly shows that getting enough sleep isn’t as optional as you might think.
Muscle recovery and repair occurs during REM sleep, which we reach about six hours after falling asleep. If you’re sleeping an average of six hours per night (very common) and wondering why that tough workout regimen isn’t producing results, this may be your answer.
Also, inadequate sleep raises your body’s level of the fat storage hormone cortisol and decreases the amount of leptin (the satiety hormone) released. This means you’ll likely eat more and store more of what you eat as fat than you will burn as fuel. Even if you manage to stick to a calorie deficit, your body is going to be less likely to make up for it by using stored fat. Instead, it will begin to catabolize that muscle you’ve worked so hard to build.
Try for a minimum of seven hours sleep (eight is better) each night, even if that means skipping something else on your to-do list.
2. Not getting enough water.
Water is a problem for many people. Some people simply don’t like the taste and have to force themselves to drink even a few servings per day. Unfortunately, dehydration wreaks havoc with both fat loss and muscle building.
Dehydration not only hurts your performance (lessening the effectiveness of your workouts), it also makes it difficult for your muscle cells to utilize the protein you’re eating. This hurts you in two ways: you’ll get less muscle-building protein to the muscle cells and you’ll store more of it as fat because it’s not being used as fuel.
Also, dehydration, even minor dehydration, can lead to overeating. Thirst is often perceived as hunger and we’re likely to try three different snacks before we realize that what we actually need is fluids. Another fat loss issue: if you’re not drinking water, you’re probably drinking something else and that something else is probably not calorie-free. Alarmingly, some people drink as many as 1,000 extra calories per day.
If drinking water is something you have trouble with, force yourself to have one cup upon waking, one before each meal, one after each workout and one right before bed. You can also try adding lemon or lime juice or slicing some fruits and letting it sit in a pitcher of water overnight or throughout the day to add a little flavor.
3. Relying on processed and prepared foods.
Sometimes this is another side effect of a too-busy schedule and that’s understandable. Whether it’s because you arrive home starving or because you only have 20 minutes to throw something together before you son’s baseball game, it’s easy to become dependent on prepared foods.
Unfortunately, prepared foods are usually loaded with refined sugars and flours, too much sodium, low-quality ingredients and excess unhealthy fats.
It’s just as fast and easy to prepare your own meals from fresh, whole foods if you do some preparation ahead of time. Cook double portions of chicken breasts on Monday and you have chicken for salads and stir-fry later in the week. Make twice the amount of soup you need on Sunday and freeze the extra for a quick microwavable dinner on Friday.
You’ll save money, calories and time by making it easier to eat more whole foods and fewer prepared meals.
4. Skipping meals.
Numerous studies have shown that skipping meals has an adverse effect on fat loss. Going without meals raises blood cortisol levels, causes craving-inducing hunger and fatigue and usually leads to consuming more calories over the course of a week than you would have if you’d eaten at least three meals a day.
Meals don’t have to be complicated, full-course events. A sliced apple spread with almond butter qualifies as a meal. So does a high-quality protein shake, a smoothie or a handful of nuts and berries.
5. Not eating breakfast.
Again this is often a schedule issue. We’re all so busy scrambling to get ourselves out the door on time that breakfast seems like too much trouble. However, skipping breakfast can have a serious impact on your muscle-building and fat loss goals.
Aside from all of the results of skipping meals that we just covered, your protein and carb stores are likely at rock bottom first thing in the morning. You simply don’t have enough on board after an 8-hour fast, especially since muscle recovery and protein synthesis are happening while you sleep.
Skipping breakfast may be the reason you’re drinking coffee all the way up to lunchtime, experiencing carb and sugar cravings md-morning or grabbing that energy drink to clear the mental fog. If you work out in the mornings, you’re shooting yourself in the foot twice.
Breakfast doesn’t have to take much time and you don’t even need to sit down to have a healthy morning meal. Whip up a quick True Whey 80™ protein shake or make it a smoothie by adding almond or coconut milk, some fresh fruit and a little almond butter and take it with you to drink on your way to work or the gym.
Make sure that your breakfast contains protein, carbs and healthy fats. Grabbing a bagel is just as self-defeating as having nothing at all.
Take a look at your daily habits and see if one or more of these might be your problem. Try changing one bad habit per week to keep it simple and stress-free and make it easy to track the results. You just might find that you don’t need to cut calories or spend an extra thirty minutes in the gym to get back on track.