Most people have heard of the circadian rhythm, but if you’re like I used to be, you only know it in relation to sleeping. But it actually encompasses your entire sleep and wake cycle of a 24 hour period.
Artificial light has only been around for a very small fraction of the amount of time humans have been around. For most of our history we relied on the sun to tell us when to be up and moving and when to shut it down. Our bodies haven’t changed nearly as much as our technology and lifestyles have changed. In my first two blogs the subjects were revolving around our nervous system and how that drives everything else. The circadian rhythm dictates what state your nervous system is in.
Just as a quick refresher, we have a Sympathetic and a Parasympathetic nervous system that influences our state. Most people only think of Sympathetic as “fight or flight” but it’s easier to think of it as “action”. It can be fight or flight, but it is also involved when you are just up and moving around and doing things during the day. Parasympathetic can be referred to as “rest and digest”. As you can imagine, when going based on circadian rhythm, we would use the daylight as a signal that we should be up and moving around, getting stuff done. Then we would use the darkness as a signal that it’s time to chill, eat, and rest. Your nervous system intuitively knows this. The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems are part of a larger branch called the Autonomic nervous system which handles all the stuff going on in your body involuntarily. So to me, this suggests that, whether you like it or not, the way your body operates is tied to the daylight.
So using our circadian rhythm as a guide, this means during the day we should be dedicating our energy output towards doing stuff and getting into the occasional fight (historically this could be a battle or a hunt, these days it probably looks like a really intense workout). Digesting food and fully utilizing it also requires energy. So now we have to consider a couple questions: 1. Are all types of food the same when it comes to digestion? 2. Does the state of our nervous system affect how we digest food?
Short answer? No and yes.
Generally speaking, carbs and fats are easier to digest and utilize so you want those to be the “fuel” that you use during the day. Higher carb foods are a quicker source of energy so they should be reserved only when you are going into that “fight”. If you need a more long-lasting, less drastic source of energy you want mostly fats. So if you are sitting around at night before bed slamming ice cream or anything high in sugar/carbs, just know that you are forcing your body to go against what it naturally wants to do.
You might be thinking, Jacob, I have drinks (alcohol is a sympathetic stimulant) and sugary food with my friends all the time! I go out to dinner when it’s dark and I come and go to bed, no problem! I’m very relaxed and I don’t feel like I’m getting in a fight.
This is where the month of “No-fix” comes in. If you regularly consume caffeine, sugar, and alcohol or you take prescription medication that acts like a stimulant or a depressant, you are masking your own ability to read your body’s signals. I view it as being similar to how people go about testing for a food sensitivity. If you’re not sure whether dairy doesn’t work well for you, take it out of your diet for a month or two, then add it back in. Same thing for all these fixes. If you think these substances aren’t affecting you, just try taking them out for a month or more, then add them back in. I can tell you for certain that since I began my own experiment, I noticed sugar and carbs make my heart rate go up and stay up even while I’m trying to fall asleep. Think that’s not affecting your quality of sleep? Think again.
Now we move to protein. Protein is harder to digest than carbs or fat. It is not a good source of energy. But it IS good at repairing damaged tissue, along with being important for many other functions. Much energy is required to utilize it properly, so when does it make the most sense to consume protein? You guessed it. At night! The “post-workout window”, or the “window of GAINZ” has been preached about for years by many people. The thought being that you have a certain amount of time right after training where your body is most sensitive to absorbing carbs and protein. But let’s use common sense. Think about how you feel after a hard workout. Anybody feel like eating meat after that? Hell no. I know what you’re thinking. Jacob, I don’t eat meat right after a workout but I love my protein powder! Then I have a question for you. Have you ever tried drinking plain protein and water with no sweeteners or delicious flavors? If you do, let me know how appetizing that is. You love your protein powder because it’s been designed to be sweet and appetizing!
We know that sweet-tasting things (even zero-calorie sweeteners) trigger a sympathetic response. Your brain sets this process in motion even before it tastes something sweet just based on sight and smell! Do we digest and incorporate protein better in a sympathetic state or parasympathetic? Parasympathetic. The combination of these two facts leads me to believe that all you are doing is sending your body a bunch of protein that it can’t really use.
So here if you want to experiment with this, first off, just view it as that. An experiment. You have already taken all these steps towards personal growth so why stop now? Are you so sure that you have figured out the exact routine that is OPTIMAL for your body that you won’t spend a couple months seeing if you can do better? I don’t care what your online macros coach says. I don’t care what Bodybuilding.com says. I don’t care what they teach in the dietetics curriculum at the university.
Do. What. Works. For. You.
How will you know what that is unless you try it out?
Here’s your plan of action to get started. You can (and should) try this with no fixes. So for at least one month, cut out caffeine, alcohol, sugar, high-carb foods, and any other stimulants. Eat as many non-starchy veggies as you can and as much fat as feels good during the day. Some foods like dairy and eggs are high in fat with some protein. Dairy, eggs, and generally anything that isn’t meat is easier to digest so these should be fine. Save the high protein meals for night time when you are shutting it down and relaxing. Try it for a month. What do you have to lose?