Here is an interesting guest post by a good friend of Project Swole. He wishes to remain mostly nameless (aside from mentioning his name is Andy), but trust in me he is smart and experienced, and I think this piece will really connect with most Swole readers.
“It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
“You ask a glass of water.”
– Douglas Adams, British author, and humorist
Human beings like habits, as a rule. It’s like that old phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, if we do something, and it works out ok, we’ll do it again.
Good or bad, habits allow us to predict the future – if I do this (exactly as I did yesterday), I know what will happen. Habits equal proven outcomes. Get on this train at this time in the morning, and I’ll be at work on time.
And if those habits are linked to a reward of some description, anything from a hit of dopamine in the brain by achieving a specific goal or, heaven forbid, one of a human being’s primary rewards – either food or sex, we’ll be back same time tomorrow, guaranteed, with our plate in our hand, as it were.
Habits provide routine, and for us, routinely provides security.
Unfortunately for us, some habits don’t sit well with others, and the rewards each brings actually off-set against one another, which kind of defeats the object. Take, for example, the diabetic cake-shop owner. You get my point. In fact, like the rest of our existence, it’s all just one big juggling act, seeing what works, what doesn’t, what affects something else, and so on, and hoping for a happy medium somewhere along the line.
When it comes to fitness, the very best health education I ever received came during a 6-month residential stay at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. Yes, some habits really are harder to break than others. On my arrival, over a decade ago now, I was a physical and mental mess of a human being, with multiple addictions (primarily, meth and alcohol). Once I’d been fully and safely detoxified from alcohol, my education truly began.
My name’s Andy, I’m now in my mid-thirties, nearly a decade into a second life of being clean and sober, the absolute fittest I’ve ever been (or could hope to be), with a powerful and admired physique, and with the sustainable muscle mass, I set as my long-term goal. And another thing, I leave guys 10 years younger than me looking like scared rabbits in the path of oncoming headlights on the basketball court. Well, that’s what they look like to me, anyway.
This is where your world and mine collide: You know what you want, and you know how you’re going to get it. However, it may not be happening as you’d planned, progress is slow, even non-existent at times. Presuming you’ve got all your good habits (those that contribute to sustained muscle growth) firmly entrenched in your routine, you may be somewhat bemused as to why “it ain’t happening” for you.
It’s time you need to look at which bad habits you need to be quitting now if sustained muscle growth is your goal. Welcome to rehab:
Yes, poor sleep is a bad habit. Whatever our ages, the average human being needs 8 hours of quality shut-eye – each night, every night. If you’re not getting your 8, you are not ensuring your body has enough time to rest, recuperate and repair itself, especially if you are putting your body through daily, vigorous workouts. Many make the simple mistake of always getting up early, but that’s not doing you any good if you’re not getting to bed in time to allow for that early start. 8 hours – your new rule.
Did you know that having a poor sleep pattern can result in tiredness, stress, a slower metabolism, and, in some cases, depression? Yes, it’s that important. Get your 8 hours. Furthermore, ensure you are making the most of your recovery time.
Or, in other words, not enough whole foods. If you have processed foods or even simple carbs in your current diet, you need to replace them. More whole foods – grains, vegetables, fruits, and protein – will have a direct effect on you, both physically and mentally. You’ll soon see an upturn in your muscle strength, growth, and tone, and your mood will be better, too. Feeling good will always improve your workout performance.
Secondly, never forget your timings – when to eat big, and when to refuel. And lastly, are you actually taking on the calories you need to in order to achieve the muscle growth you desire? You can check what your basal metabolic rate with this BMR calculator.
Yes, my specialist subject, so here goes:
Alcohol has a direct effect on the rate of lean muscle growth. Adding alcohol to your system as your testosterone and estrogen get on with doing their thing – building muscle, and stimulating fat growth – will impair their ability to do so efficiently, resulting in a decrease of as much as 20%. Yes, seriously. And while we’re about the obvious bad habits, do I really need to mention smoking?
Don’t jump too soon – that’s the simple advice here. It is only when you experience a plateau that you need to increase what’s on the bar. If you increase too soon, you’ll be left with very sore muscles, fatigue, and possible injury. And, yes, I’ve done this several times in the past, trying to push when I shouldn’t have done – sustained muscle growth takes time. You also risk a hit to your motivation if you’re always getting niggling injuries or worse.
Too Much Sugar
Alcohol is full of sugar – just plain, old empty calories. However, it’s not alone. Even the foods and drinks that are marketed as that all-important, healthy alternative, in some cases, simply replace fat with sugar.
Achieve & Maintain
These 5 bad habits – poor sleep, nutritional deficiency, alcohol, wrong weight, and too much sugar – are the ones you need to quit now if sustained muscle growth is your goal. Obviously, living my life of abstinence, the alcohol one doesn’t come into play for me whatsoever, but, even now, I am well aware of the others, and their effect on what I’m trying to achieve and maintain.
Do you have any habits that you believe are having a negative effect on your muscle growth? What advice would you give to those who aren’t seeing the muscle growth they want? Please share with a comment below.