|cause changes in hormones that can quickly cause the best routine and diet to go awry. Success requires not only sound nutrition and a dedicated routine, but also a good night's rest, anti-oxidants and an inner balance.
Sleep Your Way to Success
A bodybuilder with insomnia is not likely to step into the winner's circle. For muscle growth, irregular sleep patterns can interfere with growth hormone production and muscle rejuvenation. Prescription medications do not work long-term and many are dangerously addictive. Fortunately, there are a number of safe, natural alternatives.
Be sure you make the obvious lifestyle changes first. These include cutting back (or cutting out completely) caffeine and alcohol. It's ironic that some people use alcohol to help them sleep, because it is far more likely to disturb the quality of your sleep, or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning.
Also make sure you don't exercise right before bedtime because exercise initially acts to energize and invigorate you. Give your body several hours after exercise to wind down and prepare for sleep. Of course, avoid eating a big, heavy meal before bedtime. If you still can't manage to get a good, deep sleep, consider a natural supplement.
Sound Sleep to Increase Growth Hormone
Melatonin is a hormone produced by a tiny, pea-sized gland in the brain called the pineal gland. This hormone controls circadian rhythm--our internal body clock that tells us when to go to sleep and when to wake up. Melatonin has also become widely popular as an anti-aging agent. As an age fighter, this hormone has shown promise because of its antioxidant properties. It also appears to boost the immune system. Because it promotes a better night's rest, some believe it may help the body produce additional growth hormone, which is produced primarily during deep sleep cycles.
Melatonin levels peak during childhood, then, when other hormones start to kick in during our teen years, melatonin levels drop and continue to decrease as we age. By the time we reach age 60, our melatonin level is around half of what it was at age 20.
Research reveals that taking melatonin supplements in low doses (approximately 1 to 3 mg) is safe for adults and will help restore restful sleep patterns within a few days to a few weeks.
Vitamin B12 may also help overcome insomnia because it aids in the production of melatonin. Since there is also an age-related decline in this essential vitamin, taking supplements can be beneficial. And although it's usually not a good idea to take vitamins and minerals before bed, calcium is the exception--it's a potent sleep inducer. Try taking it a half hour before bedtime for a calming effect on the body.
Herbal teas such as chamomile tea have been a popular antidote for sleeplessness for centuries. Two other herbs, valerian and kava kava are also very effective.
Valerian root, taken in capsule form, can help ease stress and act as a mental relaxant to help bring all your metabolic processes in balance. Sleep deprivation is certainly not the only form of stress. If life is interfering with your focus you can't expect to get the results you seek. In my experience, which combines Eastern and Western nutritional philosophies, I've suggested valerian to many bodybuilders to lower stress levels and improve their focus.
Achieving Inner Peace
My education in Chinese medicine has been invaluable in helping many bodybuilders overcome plateaus that were seemingly without cause. The Chinese put a high priority on stress reduction and working toward an inner balance and peace. Qigong (or Chi Kung) and Tae Chi are century old exercise methods to relax the mind and harmonize the body. When this is achieved, a person's ability to properly process nutrients and build muscle is enhanced. It also contributes greatly to the mental focus one can apply to their training, and we all know that muscle building is a mental as well as physical task.
An imbalance in vitamins can cause an imbalance in hormones. Therefore, it is important to take a good balanced multivitamin and mineral supplement. It is beneficial to use multidirectional or broad-spectrum herbal tonics, such as echinacea (flower, leaves and roots) to restore a balance. Seek out combinations of pineal and adrenal-produced hormones, such as melatonin, to obtain multidirectional effects. Antioxidant vitamin formulas have also been shown to be effective in keeping the body's hormone balance in harmony.
Recently SAMe (pronounced sammy) has been making headlines. This supplement (which occurs naturally in the body) is widely used in Europe to treat depression. If you suffer from the ups and downs of depression, you're not going to be the best you can be. Most of the people who have used SAMe have found some help in regaining their focus. Another popular herbal anti-depressant is St. John's Wort.
SAMe, however, has other properties that may interest a bodybuilder with injuries. SAMe has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help rebuild eroded cartilage lining the joints. Two of the better brands are manufactured by GNC and Twin Laboratories. If you suffer chronic pain, I would also suggest seeing a licensed accupuncturist.
When You Can't Drop Weight
If your exercise program and diet are on target, if you're sleeping well and not under stress, and you're still not experiencing any weight loss you may have a hormone imbalance. One place to begin is with your physician for a thyroid test. The other is the healthfood store for some diet aids.
While ephedra-based diet products work wonderful for some individuals, others feel uncomfortable and overly anxious when taking them. Ephedra does contribute to stress and may wreak havoc with your hormones. Some contests ban ephedra use and test for it. My suggestion instead is pyruvate.
Pyruvate is a naturally occurring substance in our body that is the end product of sugar and starch metabolism. Pyruvate is also found naturally in our diet. Many fruits and vegetables contain small amounts. Red apples contain the highest amount, about 450 mg per apple.
Scientists studying pyruvate believe it aids weight loss by altering the metabolism and increasing fat utilization. Preliminary research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that subjects given a pyruvate supplement increased their fat loss by up to 48% and minimized their loss of lean muscle mass. This is unusual because normally calorie-restricted diets that promote weight loss also correspond to a loss of muscle; pyruvate may prevent this from happening.
Pyruvate has also been shown to increase energy and endurance levels. A study involving college athletes revealed that pyruvate helped them perform as much as 20% better than those taking placebos. Olympic gold-medal gymnast Shannon Miller reportedly used pyruvate to help energize her before the 1996 games.
Early studies of pyruvate looked at taking 30 grams per day, which would be costly and impractical. More recently, studies show that the optimal dosage may be somewhere between 5 and 10 grams, depending on the individual.
If your bodybuilding efforts have taken an unexplainable turn for the worse, you need to examine all the possible causes and cures. Accupressure, accupunture, herbs and other naturally-occuring supplements can help restore the proper balance of essential hormones in your body and get your training back on track. Keep an open mind--there are many supplements that don't feature a bodybuilder on the bottle that will work effectively at putting your body in perfect balance for maximum gains.
Mike Dayton won the Mr. America title in 1976 and for ten years performed a remarkable Feats of Strength show for audiences around the world. After receiving his education at the University of Hong Kong's School of Naturopathy he began to combine Eastern and Western medical philosophies to help other athletes. He has worked as a training and nutritional advisor to several top bodybuilders. He was also one of the pioneers of natural bodybuilding holding the first natural contest with Chet Yorton in 1979 and publishing Natural Bodybuilding magazine along with his sister, fitness journalist Laura Dayton