[Editor's Note: It's always a pleasure to welcome a new writer to the fold, and this week we'd like to introduce Lauren Jacobsen. A thought leader in the world of fitness and wellness, Lauren is a certified personal trainer with a degree in biochemistry, a former top figure competitor, a sports nutrition consultant, and proprietor of the very popular SexyStrongFit.com. Her motto is "Be Fierce!" She writes extensively on fitness and supplementation issues, and now she's writing here. Take it away, Lauren!]

Rest, recovery, and recuperation -- whatever way you look at it, the bottom line is everyone needs sleep to function. And that's doubly true for athletes. Most of us don't get enough sleep; on average most people get about 1 to 2 hours less sleep than they need to function optimally. 

Lost sleep is not something you can catch up on either. Every hour of lost sleep is lost forever. Lost sleep is usually the result of our schedules; we sacrifice sleep for work, social or family obligations, and although you might not think getting sleep is important, too little starts to catch up on you very quickly. Your productivity slumps; your energy levels plummet; your workouts start to suffer, and eventually your physique and performance decline as well.
 
Yes, that's correct. Sleep can impact many physiological processes in the body and trigger hormonal cascades that can have a direct effect on your ability to burn off fat or build muscle! Maximizing your sleep is the first step to improving your body's ability to be a fat burning, muscle-building machine.

Sleep and Muscle Growth
With lost sleep comes elevated levels of cortisol during the afternoon and the evening, which can impede your muscle building efforts. Elevated cortisol shuts off growth pathways including insulin release and inhibits testosterone release. This leaves insulin unavailable to perform its job. Without its release, nutrients are left unutilized in the blood stream, and are not delivered to the muscle where they can perform their job, fueling recovery or your workout. Meanwhile, low testosterone levels can directly affect your muscle building, shutting off the androgenic pathways that stimulate growth or repair.

Lack of sleep can also impact your exercise performance. Since your body's physiological processes are impaired, you will not respond as well to the nutrients you are consuming in preparation for your workout, your energy levels will falter, and your sets will fall short.

If that weren't enough, let's not forget that during sleep our body's recovery systems are in full effect. Muscle tissue damage experienced during your workout is rebuilt and ready for your next workout. Chronic sleep loss means this process will be greatly impeded. Repeated tissue damage without repair is a first-class ticket to growth plateaus, overtraining or even injury.
 
Sleep and Your Fat Burning
When cortisol levels rise due to lack of sleep, fat burning pathways are shut down, while levels of important regulators of sleep and appetite drop including serotonin and leptin. Your metabolic rate also slows down during sleep deprivation in order to preserve energy, opening the door to excess fat storage.

When the body is out of its normal circadian rhythm (due to lack of sleep or disrupted sleep patterns), this can negatively affect metabolic rate and the fat burning processes. In one study that compared those who slept 8.5 hours per night versus those who slept 5.5 hours per night (for 2 weeks on a 1450 calorie diet) the people who slept more lost more fat than the group who slept less. More than half of the weight loss for the 8.5-hour group was fat, versus only a quarter for the 5.5-hour group. 

Need even more reason to sleep more? The test subjects who slept less lost more muscle mass -- 60% more!  Lesson learned? Sleeping less shifts metabolism out of fat burning into fat preservation and muscle catabolism!

Supplemental Strategies
for Supporting Sleep

Getting good sleep is a start, of course. Shoot for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, which will make you feel more energized, stronger and more focused in the gym, not to mention it will ensure full post-workout recovery. But there are a few other things you can do to maximize your sleep, your fat burning and your muscle building, and that includes taking a few key supplements.

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ZMA
ZMA (a combination of zinc, magnesium aspartate and Vitamin B6) has been shown in clinical studies to support natural increases in free testosterone. (In the body, about 98% of testosterone is bound, so increases in free testosterone are preferred for supporting muscle-building and recovery pathways.) Zinc plays a key role in protein metabolism, tissue repair and is a key enzyme involved in hormone production. Vitamin B6 plays roles in metabolic processes in the body related to energy production, while magnesium has been linked to muscle relaxation, helping reduce stress in the body. [Editor's Note: If you want to be sure you are getting the right clinically researched dose of ZMA, always look for the gold standard in ZMA manufacturing, SNAC Systems ZMA, as found in ProSource brand ZMA. SNAC Systems ZMA is the catalyst used in landmark product-specific university testing that documented significant mass gains in college athletes.] Take it 30 minutes before bedtime and you will not only get a better night sleep, but you will also ensure your muscles have what they need to facilitate recovery!  

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CLA
If you're an athlete trying to shed fat, you know that taking stimulant-based thermogenics anywhere near bedtime is a recipe for a sleepless night. That's where a good non-stimulant fat-loss agent can really come to the rescue.

CLA (also known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid) has been suggested to help improve overall body composition, by improving the ratio of lean mass to fat in the body. Scientists have theorized that a key mechanism by which CLA works involves enhancing insulin sensitivity, allowing both fatty acids and glucose to pass through muscle cell membranes at the same time, where they can be utilized as fuel instead of being stored as fat. Studies on humans have shown that while weight loss is not always achieved while taking CLA, reduction in body fat and support of lean mass are indicated. This, of course, is an ideal end result for bodybuilders. [Editor's Note:  Serious athletes know that the preferred source of CLA for maximum results is Tonalin CLA, as found in ProSource brand CLA. ProSource's premium formula contains a full 1600 mg per serving of this highly potent and pure body-composition-enhancing catalyst, standardized for 80% Tonalin CLA, the highest quality available.]      

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Coleus Forskohlii
Another key agent of stimulant-free fat loss is Forskolin, the active ingredient in Coleus Forskohlii. This catalyst has been shown to raise levels of cyclic AMP or cAMP by activating the enzyme adenylyl cyclase. When cAMP is high, it can help elevate circulating levels of other key hormones in the body, triggering pathways that effect both muscle building and fat burning including PI3K and mTOR/Akt.  These pathways can have an effect on muscle contraction, protein synthesis or muscle building, and fat burning.

In one study, overweight men that received a dose of 250 mg at 10% forskolin for 12-weeks, experienced positive changes in body composition as well as increases in testosterone levels. Testosterone can have an effect on helping increase fat metabolism, preserve muscle tissue and stimulate muscle building!  [Editor's Note: ProSource Forslean Coleus Forskohlii is standardized and patented in a dosage equal to that used in clinical testing. Its purity, potency, and price ensure that it is your best value for your supplement dollar.]     

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Theanine
Theanine is a derivative of green tea leaves, which has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. This amino acid stimulates the brain's production of alpha wave activity, which is associated with feelings of relaxation. Theanine also helps the body produce other calming amino acids, such as dopamine, GABA and tryptophan. Supplement with a dose of 50 to 200 mg. [Editor's Note: Here as well, you can't go wrong with ProSopurce's premium-quality L-Theanine product, which is sourced 100% with industry-leading Suntheanine compound.]

Conclusion
Athletes seeking better sleep might also look into recent research involving melatonin, GABA, and 5-HTP. Regardless, proper rest is an essential (and often overlooked) element in maximized fat-loss, muscle-support, and performance. So get your Z-Z-Z's!

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