Reduce pre-workout supplement sleep problems

How do you get to sleep normally while taking pre-workout supplements? Some people do not experience any problems, but for a lot of people preworkout supplements messes with their sleep. The easy way to avoid this of course is to just skip the pre-workout altogether, but I know from my own experience how tough this can be. Because pre-workout supplements actually works, you CAN feel a difference. I learned to go without them, but this post will focus more on what you can do if you cannot live without your pre-workout.

If you are having trouble sleeping while taking pre-workout supplements, then first of all realize that you are compromising your sleep and as far as sleep concerns you are starting from a dug out hole. But know that you take your pre-workout, what can you do to optimize your sleep and perhaps counteract some of the negatives from the pre-workout.

You can of course start by trying different types of pre-workout to see if any of them has less negative effect on your sleep. I have detailed my experiences with different types here(which may be where you came from) Trouble sleeping because of pre-workout supplements?. Further more experience with the minimum dose you need in order to feel the effect of the supplement, this may be less than what is actually recommended on the supplement itself.

Studies has shown that coffee after just 1 pm can affect your sleep. As most pre-workout supplements are way stronger than a cup of coffee, this may be something to have in mind. Can you train earlier or perhaps ingest your pre-workout earlier to avoid problems?

Then work on your sleep hygiene. As you are compromised on some areas, work to improve on others. Good sleep hygiene includes the following:

  • Pitch black room
  • Absolute silence
  • Cold or at least not too hot
  • Go to sleep and wake up same time everyday
  • Avoid light from pc’s, mobile devices, tv’s etc. before bedtime
  • Shower before bed
  • Trigger point massage
  • Read fiction before falling asleep

One of the problems during summer is you need to have your windows open to keep the temperature down, which potentially gives problems with light and noise. First pitch black room – is literally pitch black. If you can’t get pitch black with curtains, consider using a night mask – that helped me. To cancel out most of the noise from having open windows, I sleep with earplugs as well.

Your body likes regularities. You probably get hungry just about the same times everyday(of course determined by what you eat), and the same goes for sleep. If you get into a good pattern of going to sleep and waking up the same time everyday, then both falling asleep and getting up will be a lot easier.

If you have to work in front of your computer at night, then install f.lux. But really consider skipping all devices an hour before going to sleep and have as little light as possible as this automatically provokes tiredness.

The shower before bed can really help, but should you go with hot or cold? My experience is that if you shower at least an hour before going to bed, the cold shower can work. But if you shower just before going to bed I would go for the hot shower, since the cooling of the body afterwards again provokes tiredness.

As Kelly Starrett said somewhere; “How do you feel like after getting a massage; like hitting somebody?” And of course not, you are relaxed and tired. You can replicate some of this yourself. Get a tennis ball or anything similar, lay on the floor and roll around on it; on your back, thighs, standing on it and massage the underside of your feet etc. You are not aiming to do any specific changes, just roll around for 5-10 minutes, this may help you relax.

Lastly, if you read in bed before falling asleep, which I would strongly encourage, then keep your reading to something that won’t give you to much to think about. Which means this is not the time to read your business books, Feymans lectures on physics or any of the sort. Read fiction or anything you can consume without having to think too much about the content afterwards. You are aiming to calm your mind, not fuel it with ideas.

These were some tips on how you might reduce your sleep problems when taking pre-workout supplements. They really helped me, so I hope they can do the same for you. Feel free to add any of your own tips in the comments.

Minimum effective dose in training

If you are a professional athlete that lives of your training, this article is not for you. If you on the other hand have a lot of things going in your life but still prioritize your training, then this sure is for you.

Minimum effective dose is an expression primarily used in medicine. It’s kind of self-explanatory, but as I am gonna use it in regards to training, a few notes on what it actually means might be helpful.

To explain what it is, we might look at what it is not. Minimum effective dose does not imply; if X is minimum effective dose, then 2 times X must be 2 times more effective or more effective at all, for that matter. It refers to the minimum required dose, that produces the wanted result.

Now why is this relevant? The popular way of training now-a-days seems to carry the message: “You can always do more”, “Push harder”. Motivational posters are flooding social media with messages that imply something in the line of: “If you’re not killing yourself in the gym, then you are not working hard enough.”

This message is absolutely fine for those athletes that have training as their main goal or train as a means to reach a certain goal. They should by all means try to outwork their competition. But if your main priorities lays outside the gym, then start thinking of minimum effective dose.

I have been guilty of this. First I had a very hard time switching from training splits 6 days a week to 2-3 times a week of fullbody. I realized that my priorities had switched, they no longer resided inside the gym. I still loved to train, but I was not going to let my training keep me from having fun with my, at the time, girlfriend, friends, my motorcycle, wakeboarding etc. etc. They all had to co-exist, which meant cutting back on training. I think I was around 21 at this point and had been training for 7 years.

What I of course found out, was that this shift in frequency not only allowed me more time to do the things that I loved but it did not affect my body composition all that much after all. A well planned fullbody program can be just as effective, at least for non-competition athletes.

Fast forward to today. I have been training fullbody for now 7-8 years. I have started my own company which by all means are my top priority. But what I found was that, as I am very much guilty of the “kill it in the gym”-mentality, my fullbody routines has grown, and grown, and grown cramming as many exhausting heavy basic exercises in there as I could. Sure this do produce results – but they started leaving traces on my energy-levels the day after, thereby negatively affecting my ability to give 100% towards my main priority; my company. This was unacceptable.

The whole point of my fullbody routines was that; 2-3 times a week I go to the gym, hit it hard and go home. Doing some HIIT after the routine if needed – but the whole point was that I didn’t need to go run some alternating days etc. I of course could if I wanted, but the basic methodology was that I did not NEED to.

So when my routine had come to the point where it drained my energy the day after, it had come to far. I started cutting back on exercises only leaving the ones that gave the most “bang-for-the buck”, then cutting back on sets – generally just approaching my entire routine with “what is minimum effective dose to keep the physical appearance that I want”. Not: “where can I do more”, but; “where can I do less and produce close to the same results”.

This made a giant shift in my energy-levels – exactly the result I wanted. And sure enough I can still maintain the appearance that I want. This of course also has a lot to do with me having paid my dues in the gym for 14-15 years – both in the aspect of muscle mass, but also in me knowing my body.

But it is my belief that, pushed by the endless slogans of the fitness industry, a lot of people has taking their training too far, giving it too much control over their lives, even though it deep down is not their main goal or priority. You can always do more, you can always push harder – but if you do not reserve your energy for your main priorities, then you are just pushing yourself towards exhaustion, overtraining and injuries.

Try to take a step back and look at what 20% of your efforts produce the 80% of results.

Setting and reaching goals

mountain

In may of this year, after returning from Myanmar, I had lost a lot of weight – and not in the good way. I had been training, maybe 1 or two times a week, during the month I was gone – which normally is adequate, to keep me somewhat in shape during holidays. But the lack of protein in their diet just made it impossible for me to keep a decent shape. Of course seeing the country, was of way higher priority, so arriving home in a bad shape was just part of the experience.

But back home I decided to get back in shape fast. I had lost some muscle mass – which needed to be put back on. Especially my back and arms had been robbed some of their fullness and volume.

I am a big proponent of using bodyweight and gymnastics, and strongly believe that being used correct, they can add a lot of muscle as well as strength. But when it comes to tracking changes over time, and using progression to put on muscle and strength, the easy way is just a good ‘ol barbell routine. Keep it simple.

I wanted it to revolve primarily around deadlift and strict standing overhead press. To challenge myself, I needed to set goals exceeding prior accomplishments. I had deadlifted somewhere around 220-230 and I had strict overhead pressed 100kg.

Therefore my new goal was to reach 250kg deadlift and 110kg strict overhead press. And this should be done this year.

My initial thought was to do it before new years, but as my training partner pointed out, for which I also made some goals, on his behalf; perhaps is was better to have the strength-challenge done before the month of December where every weekend is packed with christmas parties. Therefore the finishing line was set to be late November/ start December, which is right where we are at now.

I used Jim Wendler’s awesome simple 5/3/1 template for deadlift and strict overhead press, whereas the rest of the program consisted of exercises and rep-ranges designed by me. The 5/3/1 template is just such a nice tool to track progression and challenge yourself from workout to workout – I highly recommend it. As a note; start quite low on the weight. The calculations are based on 90% of your 1 rep max. But don’t be afraid to low-ball a bit on that one, then you can keep moving forward for way longer. A good rule of thumb will be, to make sure you can do around 12 reps, in the first week of the first cycle on the rep-out(yeah it gets kind of technical, but people who are interested and research the 5/3/1 will know).

Now in a few days, my partner and I, will try to reach our goals. We had the final heavy cycle, last week and are deloading this week. The big day will probably be monday next week. I am pretty confident that both me and him will reach our goals or – “our” – be it “my goals”, since I set his as well, to keep him in the fire. But no matter what, the journey has been awesome. 6-7 months of progression, working towards this goal, having it in sight every week. It has made me stronger than ever, given me back the lost muscle mass and just made it fun to train.

Of course I will do a follow-up on whether I accomplished what I set out to do – which I am certain I will. But the takeaway here is actually not whether I do it or not, it is the goal-setting itself. It has given me a mountain in the horizon to walk towards. A destination that always made itself present on the horizon, giving guidance whether I walked straight towards it, strolled of to either left or right or perhaps had to go a bit backwards, in order to get there.

Goals are important. It is important to have something to measure your decisions against. A guidance that will allow you to decide whether what you are about to do will help you get closer to your mountain.

These strength-goals are just one part of my goal-setting. They fit together with other parts in my larger picture of where I want to be in 5-10 years. I have goals for my business, my personal life etc. Not radical in any way, but they help me remember where I am going. It also enabled me to reach goals on different domains, thereby transforming what could have felt like failure on one domain into victory in another. I could have had a bad day with my business, but during training I break a personal record – then at the end of the day I can focus on the success of my training rather than the bad day for my business.

Perhaps I will share some goals at the end of the years as well, but if you are on your way to reach some goals, tell me about them or if you think goal-setting is all stupid, I would like to hear your arguments as well.

Correct use of pre workout supplements, habits and sleep

There is an increasing focus on supplements, not just in the fitness industry but across all genres and levels of working out. You have got to give credit to the marketers of these supplement manufactures. They have made it mainstream for even girls to use supplements as part of their daily workout scheme. They are successfully pushing the mantra, that in order to be fit you have to add all these supplements to your workout regimen. But in the midst of all this supplementation, are we missing some important points, only to make the companies happier by buying more of their stuff, totally missing the key word “supplements”  – I was.

There are lots of products to focus on, but for this piece I will concentrate on pre workout supplements. I will by no means say that they lack effect – if only they did, then the problem would not be as profound. Lots and lots of these really offer a potent effect and make a real impact on your focus and energy-levels. They CAN have their rightful place.

But it starts to be a problem, when you cannot train without having one of these pre workout drinks. If all your workouts are fueled by these. You will probably, like I did, tell yourself, “why risks not having a great workout”; and thereby justify your repeated use.

Pre workout supplements are great for when you feel tired, are in need of that extra energy and really needs to perform. But it should NOT be your default.

I had this habit of 45 minutes prior to my workout, I would stop working and mix a pre workout shake. Then I would read t-nation or any other training/fitness site for 20-30 minutes with some high energy music in the background – all in order to get myself into the right mood and mindset for working out. This was, and is highly effective – but I would even do this on days where I was not tired at all. Mix pre workout, music, read – go. It had become part of a habit and ritual.

Apart from increasing the amount I spent on pre workout supplements, it also kept giving me problems with sleep. As I have written in a prior article, pre workout supplements can very well mess with your sleep patterns. And judging by the amount of people who read that one, it seems to be a quite widespread problem. One very, very obvious solution to this problem – that I for a very long time totally missed – is to not take the pre workout supplements in the first place. Use them when needed, but avoid having them as the default.

Take a step back, look at your use of supplements and reconsider your use, with total awareness. You can be in a period of high workload and therefore in need of the extra energy, but then remember to back of once the load is gone. We humans are very habitual, be aware of it and make conscious choices instead.

What is beta alanine? The new creatine?

Beta alanine
Beta alanine

Having just written a “What is ..” on creatine, it was quite natural for me to transition into writing about the other supplement, I use regularly; beta alanine. This is also one of those, where if people asked what it does, I would end up giving them an explanation, that was complicated enough for them to say OK – but really just reflected my own lack of knowledge, about what it does.

I have always read that beta alanine should work well together with creatine, but my understanding of this fact, was that this was because it did something similar, as creatine – which in fact it does not. They work in quite different ways actually.

To understand what beta alanine does, we need to get familiar with carnosine. Not getting into too much detail, carnosine comes into play with anaerobic metabolism. During intense exercise, your body will use all the oxygen locally in your muscles to run the aerobic metabolism and then switch predominantly to anaerobic once the oxygen supply is used. The anaerobic turnover of carbohydrates, results in the release of lactate and hydrogen ions. Buildup of hydrogen ions, then leads to drop in muscle ph. All this quickly becomes a little scientific, but what you need to get from this is; drop in muscle ph = muscle fatigue.

Quite cleverly, our bodies have “buffers” in place, to help in high demand situations. In this case, it is carnosine that comes to the rescue. Carnosine binds the free hydrogen ions, thereby keeping them from building up inside the muscles and causing drop in ph. The higher the concentration of carnosine inside the muscles, the bigger this “buffer” is.

This could sound like the effect is somewhat similar to creatine. And you could perhaps say that creatine acts as a “buffer” as well, but where they really differ is in the energy systems they act upon. Creatine aids in short, max effort work; maximum deadlift, very short max effort sprints etc. Beta alanines effect does not kick in, before hydrogen ions starts to be released and it can act as a buffer. Therefore it is said that the “working window” of beta alanine is somewhere from 60-240 seconds.[1]

Now you would probably have noticed, that in the section about how it worked, all I wrote about was carnosine. This is because carnosine is what does the magic, but carnosine is made up by two amino acids – L-histidine and beta alanine. L-histidine is rather abundant in the muscles, so in order to bump up concentration of carnosine we need to add – you’ve guessed it – beta alanine.

But why not just take carnosine directly? It has been shown, that taking in carnosine directly causes very little of it to reach the actual muscles. It is broken down, or used elsewhere in the body before it actually reaches the muscles. Beta alanine on the other hand, have shown to go almost directly to the muscles, where we need it to produce the extra carnosine.[2]

We have now covered the performance aspect of beta alanine, but a few studies has shown rather interesting effects on muscle mass as well. One of them performed on wrestlers and football players, which are especially interesting, since we are people who already work out and not untrained individuals. They performed some HIIT and resistance training over a period of 8 weeks. The wrestlers all lost body weight, both placebo and beta alanine group, but the beta alanine group gained 1,1 lb lean muscle mass and the placebo group lost 1 lb  lean muscle mass – that’s a 2 lb net difference! The footballers all gained lean mass, the beta alanine group 2,1 lb and the placebo group 1,1 lb. Again quite significant net gain for the beta alanine group.[3]

These studies were however on a rather small group of individuals, 37 all together, so it cannot be considered as any real evidence of beta alanines effect. But still very interesting!

As with creatine, one of the great things about beta alanine is the rather low price. It is more expensive than creatine, but still very affordable. I tend to stick to powder, which enables me to mix it into morning coffee, shakes etc.

This is one of the cheapest offers I have been able to find on beta alanine: NOW Foods Beta Alanine Powder 500Gbut feel free to search around and find your own. Just stick to traditional beta alanine – to the best of my knowledge, there are not anything you can mix it with to increase absorption, so no need to buy any fancy products, just for the sake of beta alanine.

So to end of this post with answering my question from the title; Is beta alanine the new creatine? In some ways you could say it is. It is one of those rare supplements, that seems to back up its claims in studies. And perhaps even better, you can use it together with creatine and get the best of both of them.

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479615
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17690198
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21659893

What is creatine?

The best way to learn, often is to teach. If you want to figure out just how thoroughly you know a subject – try explaining it to someone else. I was actually going to write a post about creatine and coffee, but after reading through a lot of studies I took a step back and thought about how I would explain what creatine was and what it does in a simple way. Unable to give any good explanation, I read into it, and will now try to give you a short, un-scientific, enables-you-to-explain-it-to-others description of what creatine is and does.

From Wiki:

Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver. It is transported in the blood for use by muscles. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine is located in skeletal muscle.

To get this one out of the way; never confuse creatine with creatinine as the latter is a waste product.

Creatine helps turn ADP back into ATP. If you have read some marketing material of creatine, you may have bumped into this statement. It is very true, but unless you have a medical degree you probably are pretty lost on what it actually means.

All of this is part of the krebs cycle, that is our body’s way of extracting energy from the food we ingest. If you want a really good and easily understandable explanation of this, then take a few minutes to see this presentation by Doug McGuff in the middle of his very long speech – it is the most easily understandable explanation I have ever come across. However if you are only interested in the short explanation, then skip the video.

I will try to be true to the name of my blog and keep it simple. Your muscles needs energy to function. This energy comes from the food you consume. When you are rested and start max effort work, your muscles will be provided with energy through ATP. ATP is short for Adenosine triphosphate, which is only interesting because; upon delivering energy to the muscle, it gives away one phosphate(the energy), and thereby ends up as Adenosine diphosphate(ADP).

Locally in the muscles working, there is a very clever, limited recycling system, that can turn ADP back into ATP. This extends the time your muscles can deliver max effort briefly, if the system is working overtime, as in max effort lifts or sprints. What enables this is phosphocreatine, that reacts together with the enzyme creatine kinase – forget the names but this is, as you may have guessed from the names – where creatine comes into play. Creatine kinase is relatively abundant in the muscles, or at least not the limiting factor. But phosphocreatine is where supplementation with creatine works it magic.

Your stores of phosphocreatine are limited, so given our max effort lift or sprint – when your supplies of phosphocreatine runs out, you are no longer able to produce the same amount of effort by recycling ADP into ATP. Your body will then switch to another energy system, which can run for longer, but not produce the same peak effect.

Therefore, what you do with creatine supplementation is make your phosphocreatine stores larger, which enables you to run your max-effort energy system, a little longer. Think of it as a bicycle with an electric motor, that recharges from your pedalling, and has it energy stored in a battery. When you activate it, you can cycle faster because of the joint effort of your legs and the electric motor, but only for as long as the battery holds power, then you are back to rely on only your legs, until the battery is recharged. Then what creatine does it giving you a larger battery along with a larger generator, so you can recharge as fast as before but run max effort longer.

This was the performance part of the equation, but creatine has even more positive effects up its sleeve. When it comes to building muscle, a lot of people, myself included, think of creatine as only pushing water into the muscles and not actually giving any real size gains. That the gains would only come from the increased ability to train harder. But a lot of studies actually point in another direction. Without going into too much detail, creatine should help decrease the breakdown of muscle and increase the growth of “fast twitch” muscle fibers – this was something that I did not know, before researching for this post.

Furthermore creatine helps your muscles absorb more glucose(carbohydrates) and carbohydrates actually helps your body store more creatine – so that should have you ingesting the two of them together, if you are not already.

What further surprised me, was that studies even have shown positive effects on both intelligence and longevity. Creatine is surely one of the most well known and well documented performance enhancers of all time.

I will not go into any details about how and when to ingest, since I during this research also found some rather interesting information about a slightly different approach, than the one preached for decades. My plan is to try it out and then get back with an evaluation.

One thing I however will do is answer a question that seems to be present in the comments of every article about creatine – what sort should we ingest? Stick to creatine monohydrate – that is the most researched form of creatine, that has been around as supplementation since the early nineties. The other fancy forms of creatine, has to the best of my knowledge not been able to prove any of their claims in studies, yet.

The great thing about creatine monohydrate, is that it is possible to find really cheap. Like this for instance; a great amount from a renowned brand: NOW Foods Creatine Powder, 2.2 Pounds

Intensity Build Up Running (IBUR)

When it comes to fat loss, it is no secret that I am a big fan of HIIT. I want the biggest effect, crammed into the least amount of time. Doing an hour worth of cardio on a treadmill, crosstrainer, or anything similar is way too boring for me. It may yield some good results – but yeah I am just not a big fan.

I have shared some of my preferred HIIT protocols before, like the frontsquat tabata the awesome Litvinov workout and my way to use the crosstrainer. But this time I will share one of my go-to, running protocols.

I can’t in any way take the credit for this protocol, and I am not sure whether this guy came up with the idea, or got it from someone else. But I got it from a guy named Christian Thibaudeau, that wrote an article for T-Nation, called running man. In this article he gives a number of different ways to implement HIIT runs; one of them being IBUR.

I think the reason why I fell for it in the first place was its ease of implementation. You do not need a 400 meter track, or measuring x amount of meters for your sprints. With a interval app for your smartphone, you can enter the intervals and then you are good to go. I personally use one for my iphone, called Gymboss – to my knowledge it is free. Furthermore they are not short 60-100 meter, all out sprints. Which indeed are extremely good, but along with them comes a greater risk of injury. Sure you can still get injured from these longer intervals of IBUR, but you are not doing all out accelerations from a standstill. If you keep yourself from being an idiot and listen to your body, you should be good.

The intervals are as follows:

Jog

30 sec

Sprint

20 sec

Jog

60 sec

Sprint

30 sec

Jog

90 sec

Sprint

40 sec

Jog

120 sec

Sprint

50 sec

Jog

150 sec

Sprint

60 sec

Jog

180 sec

Sprint

70 sec

As you can see the sprints increase with 10 sec in length for each interval and the jog increases by 30 sec. This gives a total of about 15 min running, and trust me; you will know how to take deep breaths once you’re done.

I have entered a 1 minute countdown before these intervals, in my Gymboss app, so I have a total of 90 sec jog, before the first sprint. Then going for the first sprint, I won’t go all out, but perhaps 70%. This is all done in order to get my body into the right temperature, since I do not do warm-up before. When I do this, I can go all out by the second or third sprint, but everytime I listen to my body and start of conservatively. Violent accelerations can pull a hamstring, and I am no olympic sprinter, I do this for fat loss and conditioning. But a conservative start does not mean that you should not go all out! HIIT is meant to be all out and you should push yourself as hard as possible.

Conquer the battle with your mind. If it tells you to stop – just keep going a bit longer – this is how you build character and willpower.

Have fun!