We’re sure rattling through all these articles! With part 6/9 we’re discussing how you can adjust your nutritional strategy by monitoring your biofeedback!
No it’s not a science fiction movie or anything invasive of your body, this is simply the methods of monitoring how your body is talking to you – telling you to change or continue something. A quick-fire way to see if you’re on the right track for your goal with your current diet…
Photo by Mark Claus on Unsplash
There’s a number of ways you can identify if what you’re doing (or putting into) your body is beneficial or detrimental to health or goals. In an ideal world we would all have access to regular blood tests for frequent analysis of deficiencies in our body, or paying for full-blown nutritional assessments to identify vitamin/mineral/food group gaps in our nutrition. Althoguh as a nutrition coach we can uncover these gaps in nutrition, an accurate snapshot requires extensive testing. Sadly we live an ever increasingly expensive life and regular blood tests can be expensive (some can cost £150 just for a decent analysis of hormone levels and other healthy markers of major bodily functions).
Even then, results can still vary in a blood test from one day to the other. For instance, you may suspect you have a deficiency of Iron and a single blood test can identify this, but one a week or month later can show healthy levels of iron in the body. This can come down to heavy bouts of exercise, especially endurance sports. Hell, you even lose a fair bit of iron as a woman during your menstrual cycle so a blood test would definitely have to accommodate that that.
The point is, even though these are somewhat accurate ways to measure how your body is holding up, there’s still some scope for error but definitely beneficial when done often. I think we’d all agree if it cost £20 for an accurate test we’d all be lining up if we were able to know what we could do to improve our health. Sadly, me and you who aren’t professional athletes don’t have as much access to this, so we depend on more basic feedback markers, and actually still prove very accurate on a short and long term basis of the state your body is in.
When you’re driving your own diet you need to be able to monitor how you’re feeling in order to react to any hurdles in your diet. Ignoring tell-tale signs that a diet isn’t working for you is the most common way relapses with weight occur as well as the huge number of failed ‘diets’. Monitor and question these markers and you set yourself up SO much better to actually improving your nutrition.
What are they you ask?! 🙂
All of these markers I’m listing below are markers I use every single day in assessments of clients and how they’re progressing. Me and a client move through the following points every wekk in our chats, assessing how they feel and reacting with an improved nutritional strategy should the need arise for their goal. So let’s get into it!
By far my favourite marker to analyse is hunger. It’s proper primal really, and a huge sign that your body is wanting or needing more food. Just because you’re hungry doesn’t make you a greedy bastard. If you’re someone who works out 5/6/7 days a week at times and work an intensive job I can near guarantee you’ll be having waves of hunger in ways you can’t predict. And this is a massive tell-tale sign that your body needs food in order to sustain the heavy workout pressure as well as that 9-5 job you batter yourself in.
When you feel hunger it’s your body’s natural hormone response to actually get more calories into your body due to the workload you’ve put your body under. Hormones Ghrelin and Leptin work in tandem to signal the start and end of hunger and are reactive to your calorie expenditure. Burn more than you normally eat and you’ll generally be hungrier, it’s that simple.
With a client who is focussing on weight loss a healthy hunger response is a great sign, it shows your metabolism is still working effectively to signal these messages and is a great indicator we’re in an OK place. Only when you start getting arm-gnashingly starving should we listen to it and maybe give your body a bit more food, maybe 100 extra calories a day to see how the body reacts then, you’ll probably be still in a deficit to lose weight with that little an increase. If you’re full often and seeking weight loss, you probably should decrease your calories, it’s that simple.
Vice versa, if you’re goal is to perform at the best of your ability and you’re often hungry, it’s a great sign you need more calories to aid your chosen sport. When you choose to perform in a sport you can’t choose to lose weight, your body is in it’s most optimum place to expend energy expenditure when in a calorie surplus and we all know we can’t lose weight in a surplus. If you’re hungry you need more calories until you’re simply not that much at all. If you’re not hungry at all then we know your most likely in a surplus, it’s for you to decide if that’s a good amount for your sport…
It’s that simple. Monitor hunger and use it to dictate your goals!
In my opinion the other best marker to monitor if your workout performance.
If you’re fueling yourself enough (and resting enough) you shouldn’t regularly be crashing or flagging at the end of a workout. Maybe if your workout was extra intense then yes, but in you’re turning up to the gym and noticing your numbers decrease significantly in a short while it could be time to look at how much you rest or your nutrition.
It will vary with your individual circumstances. However if you’re eating to lose weight your workouts will see a small sacrifice as a result, however you don’t want that decreasing significantly, if it is you may need some more calories to allow yourself to go harder in the gym. Going harder means you can then burn an upward number of calories as a result. If you’re eating for performance or putting on weight a decrease in performance could be due to natural hormone fluctuations or an indicator of a rest day if you train a lot. Use this as an indicator as to your overall energy levels, align your goal to how your workout performance should be, if there’s flags being raised here a rest day or 100 more calories are generally a good change, however it’ll vary for everyone.
Ah the old favourite. Everyone bangs on about sleep, even me. Fortunately I think I’m a bit more aware of how much sleep I need to feel at least OK.
It’s commonly accepted that if you take longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, chances are there’s some underlying stresses preventing you from doing so. If you’re in a healthy place most times we should be sleeping all the way through till we wake, and then hopping out of bed with a skip and a smile.
If you’re not then sleep could be a new focus for you. The way sleep works is cortisol levels should fall throughout the day (the stress hormone), coming to minimum when we need to fall asleep. If this is high when we try to sleep it’s much more difficult to do so, and even if you do manage it you’ll find a bad nights sleep. When you wake cortisol should be at it’s highest point in the day tailing off throughout the day, it’s one of the functions used by the body to actually wake you up and get out of bed.
If your stress (cortisol) levels are high that would be a great way to make a change in your lifestyle. We’ve seen huge successes with clients when we tackle their sleep issues (5/6 hours a night to now 7/8 hours a night) and seen dramatic changes in body composition and workout performance just from this. Generally it’s the stressors in our everyday life such as work or mental stresses that impact our cortisol levels, and working out is also one of these. If you struggle getting to sleep or with sleep in general a good place to start would be if you’re over training, or even if your diet isn’t very wholesome, both these impact cortisol levels and so your ability to sleep. A great indicator if there’s an underlying change we need to make somewhere else! Don’t ignore it.
This is one of the more obvious markers to monitor and one that probably sits with you best. If you’re eating to perform or add muscle you SHOULD have a high amount of energy naturally as we need a surplus of energy to achieve this. A surplus means more energy for your body to also use on other tasks so high energy is a given…
When you’re losing weight sadly a shortfall of energy is expected, we’re burning more calories than expending so you will feel less optimal. However we never want it so that we’re smashing ourselves into the ground, that’s a sure-fire way to have a relapse of binge eating if you’re on a weight loss trip.
The general tactic here would be to put yourself into a small calorie deficit or surplus dependant on your goal. By making these small we limit the consequences of weight loss and weight gain, not giving too much energy and not giving too little. When paired with a weekly weight measurement and feelings of natural energy it becoems very obvious that if your losing fast weight and have zero energy, you need to make a smaller deficit. Likewise on the reverse. If you have a LOT of energy but find to be putting weight on, if you want to limit unfavourable weight gain lower your surplus.
The 2 pm crash in the afternoon is an indicator too. Generally making a change to a smaller breakfast for me has avoided me this crash now as I was giving my body too much energy to handle right in the morning. Get wise with energy, it’s a more obvious one!
Last but not least is mental state. This is generally a measure of how mentally strong you were that day. Things can come up most days that significantly impact our lives and so is a tough one to control. This is essentially monitoring mental stress. For instance when I get on the phone with a client every week if I see they have a low score for mental state one day and it impacts the next few it raises a good conversation point. Not because I want the latest gossip, screw that, I’ve got my client’s welbeing in mind and am aware that a mentally low day can also impact workout performance and nutritional choices.
By monitoring how you mental stress is accumulating too, just through a score of 1-5 on a tracker, you become a bit more aware of how much space you have available for other things which will be adding to your stress, such as a heavy workout. The thing is the human body can’t differentiate between physical and mental stress so faced with either it categorises it as stress. Ignoring this and ploughing through 5/6 days of un-motivating workouts will probably be detrimental to not only your gym numbers but also your body composition.
I feel like I’ve held your attention for long enough, so thanks.
If you’ve made it this far you’ve definitely found information which most trainers don’t tend to cover and actually become far more important than the choice of diet.
I have clients record these exact bio-feedback markers on a spreadsheet daily, scoring from 1-5 for each. It’s an amazing indicator of how they’re feeling and whether their nutrition i prescribe them is suitable for the circumstances are right then. If the scores are low it raises conversation and so a discussion about what we could do differently to drive their goals whilst also tackling less than favourable topics in their life. It doesn’t need to be a fancy spreadsheet, literally list the dates till next year, make 5 other columns and score each column with the markers above with 1-5. If you want more detail explain why, it doesn’t have to be hard and it really isn’t!
All of these impact our end result whether we like it or not. The body is an incredible system and is very well tuned. If there’s an issue it’s the body’s responsibility to tell you, sadly we just very tuned out of it and tend to brush of hunger or lack of sleep as a way of modern life. It IS your responsibility to listen to it. When you do so you can line up your dream goal and make every effort that you’re doing the right thing to drive your goal. It’s here where we learn that what we’re doing may be no good and that’s the key part.
Is what you’re doing to your body sitting well, or are you ignoring the obvious warning signs and going about like a zombie in every day life?
Get wise and empower yourself, you’re in control! 🙂
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Mention ‘Free Nutrition Program’ and I’ll get back in touch to arrange a chat to figure out our next steps.