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Welcome to the thirteenth issue of WTF! This week, we are featuring content from motivational guest authors Daniel Feeney and Andrew Pardue. You can find more information about them by following the social links under the titles of their content.

Sleep Better for Body
Composition and Training

Daniel Feeney
I have spoken before on sleep, and I will speak again because I am such an advocate of getting enough sleep for your body’s needs.  Partially because I can speak from spending period of time in sleep debt throughout my life, both past and current.  I will also note, there could be a 10-volume book on sleep.  So in keeping things manageable, I’ll share my school-of-thought on sleep that I have acquired, while coaching for body composition and performance training over the years.

A century ago, our human average for time a night spent sleeping was 9 hours.  Today this number is very close to 7.  So, what gives… have we become more efficient, as in getting recovered faster while our eyes are shut than our earlier generations?  A concept maybe.  I don’t believe this to be the case however, as we see many negative changes to recordable health markers in both mental and physical health over this time also.  Sure, there are other things like food quality, healthcare, etc. but I am in the belief sleep is higher than we think as a contributing factor to these.  If you wake up and do not feel rested, you need to make a hard consideration to ration more time for sleep.  I think in general we all could benefit from getting a bit more shut eye.

As I begin courting any new client, I always ask about lifestyle and sleep.  If need be, I will ask about contributing factors that affect sleep; stimulants, work, anxiety, pain management, PM training, amounting responsibilities, to name a few.  We don’t sleep to only recover from our previous training bout, so it would be a show of ignorance to not take a holistic approach to one’s sleep evaluation.  In doing so, I like looking at both quality (multiple full sleep cycles), quantity (hours or number of sleep cycles), as well as intensity (how quickly can you fall asleep from the time you close your eyes).  We know a sleep cycle for the average adult is around 90 minutes, and thus I use this standard against someone’s time spent in bed.

Training and Performance

Whereas acute sleep loss within a shorter window should not hinder your maximum strength output, mood and psychological factors will be affected (Blumert, P. et al., 2007).  Good news as there is a survival rate for that one day of poor sleep, which can be countered with a motivational coffee, however as we sink deeper in to debt, things get uglier.

The first things that begin to lag, are our physical and mental reaction time.  With this comes our ability to make quick decisions.  This may affect more than just our lifting, perhaps our jobs, our safety driving ourselves and others, and more.  After a 24-hour period, evidence shows our strength and power now drop, cortisol raises, testosterone can lower if our debt is extended, a lowering of cognitive function, an increase in impulsiveness, and even cravings for lower quality food items.

The number one attempt for any athlete entering a high stakes contest after months or years of hard training and prep, is to enter the contest in a more sympathetic state, being fully or over-recovered.  After multiple nights of poor sleep, top end strength and power will be less.  As for endurance athletes, the greatest chink to their armor hits them in their head.  With lack of sleep their pain tolerance and mental strength to keep a pushing an arduous pace is greatly diminished.  Their power loss comes from a weaker metal strength in pressing on in their given sport.

Another interesting concept with training, comes from looking at when you train.  One for a great training session, and two for a great night’s sleep.  Here we can talk about owls or larks, and thinking of your sleep chronotype.  Owls would be the night dwellers, and larks are the ones that are up before the sun, even on a sleep-in day.  Research is showing this preference of you being a morning or night person has a lot more to do with your health than we once thought.  This can shed input into your metabolism and the best training time for your body’s circadian hormonal rhythms.  Ultimately, you are looking to align your training so that you are not fighting your body’s normal hormonal rhythm, giving you the best chance for top strength, power and endurance.

Another training consideration is if you are taking stimulants or even just simply performing where adrenaline may be high in the later hours of the day.  Don’t be afraid to think of some relaxation methods in order to bring yourself back down.  We spend so much time getting up for game day, but little to no time post-contest to bring ourselves back down.  For those who might compete again in under a week, if you are up half the night from the adrenaline or stimulants of the contest, this can actually hurt our best performance from a subsequent contest in the coming week.
Dietary Considerations
Here we are talking about metabolism and the body’s ability to use the energy you give it.  What is interesting is one of the holy grails for body composition can be affected in a negative manner, nutrient partitioning, in a byproduct means of having impaired glucose uptake.  Among other hormonal changes that will make dieting, or maintaining a diet protocol, harder to accomplish. 

Out of the many studies, some of favorites for illustrating the metabolic adaptions for the dieting athlete for me have been done by Karine Spiegel. One 2004 study found that after six days of only 4 hours of sleep, showed that your leptin levels could be lowered (hormone inversely regulating energy output) levels ~-19% (Speigel, et al. 2004).  What is amazing is another study, which looked at leptin levels following a 900 calorie cut from one’s total calories, showed that leptin was not affected as much as with six days of 4 hours of bed time.
A follow up in 2008 showed raising ghrelin levels above ~28% (hormone that says when you're hungry), which is an outrageous amount (Speigel, Cauter, Tasali, and Leproult, 2008).  Less sleep makes you want to move and do less (big surprise here), but raises your hunger levels.  The 2004 study also showed losing out on slow wave sleep (deep sleep stage before REM sleep) where your body produces growth hormone and suppresses cortisol (Speigel, et al. 2004).  This leaves you with having less energy, wanting to eat more, having higher cortisol levels which can lead to increased fluid retention and fat storage, and not repair your body from previous workouts by lowering your growth hormone production.
Sleep also hurts the body’s ability to metabolize glucose.  In testing post meal glucose and insulin values after placing subjects in sleep debt, their glucose valves and insulin response to a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, meal were all higher than days before, when sleep was in check (Knutson, Speigel, Penuv, Cauter, 2007).

The goal with most people is to be able to eat intuitively and still maintain their body composition or fitness. Those who track their own diets, still would like to experience continuity between the signals they are feeling and their current diet.  Listen to their body's needs and maintain their weight that way. However, doing so successful requires your body to be giving you the proper signals. One can see the issues this could cause with maintaining bodyweight, if your sleep is causing your metabolism and hunger to act aggressively in the other direction.  This could be a contributing factor to the obesity rate is increasing as well.
The most widely used and accepted drug on the planet, and this just so happens to be an anti-sleep elixir.  With caffeine being such a great metabolic booster and performance enhancer, is tends to go hand in hand with body composition and training, hence its inclusion here.  Again, a whole book could be added on caffeine alone, but for simplicities sake, a good rule of thumb is not to consumer caffeine within 6 hours of your bedtime, whereas this might not fit your training schedule, it’s what tends to be best for sleep.  Another note to make, is caffeine doesn’t peak as a stimulant until 90-100 minutes, and the half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours depending on other metabolic factors during its ingestion.  These considerations should be taken into account if you are looking to time your caffeine appropriately.
Positivity and Discipline
Another foundational element in keeping your diet and training goals is remaining positive.  Sleep has much more to do with overall mood than others think.  Heck, look at children who don’t care to hide their moods; how cranky are they when they don’t get enough sleep?  Downright nasty.  And do you think you will be overjoyed to drag yourself to a lackluster training session or weigh out a plain meal when running on only a few hours of sleep?  No.  

In studying the effects of sleep deprivation, even a single night of poor sleep can severely limit our behavioral coping, reduce our positive thinking, reduce our ability to handle stress and our impulse control, reduce our capacity for empathy, and reduce our ability to delay gratification (Killgore, et. al., 2008).  Dr. Killgore, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, has many sleep deprivation studies showing the effects of poor sleep, which appear has a lot to do with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (PFC) shutting down, and not being able to recall cognitive functions when in sleep dept.  The PFC is where all our happy thoughts and positive thinking generates from (Aubele, & Reynolds, 2011).  Therefore, if our sleep patterns put us in debt, we are likely disabling our brains ability to think properly.  We will be at a reduced capacity for generating motivation, handle stress and think positively in order to stay disciplined. 

What We Can Do?

Think about how much time we really give to sleep.  This is paramount.  I would rather have a client tell me they have set 7 hours aside to help them sleep, instead of saying they will add a supplement into their crummy sleep schedule.  We set time aside to stretch, have a cool down period, get massages, track macros down to the gram daily, etc. yet one of the most beneficial recovery aid, we could care less about giving it attention, let alone track it, supplement it, or gosh forbid schedule it.  So what can we do?  Schedule your sleep just as you would schedule what time you hit up the gym.  Treat it as high a priority as it is to your healthy and your fitness. 

I bet everyone reading this would much rather down a stimulant, an energy drink, or a coffee to get through their day, as opposed to thinking of moving their bedtime earlier.  An even smaller percentage would consider setting a higher priority to sleep supplements than to stimulant supplements, and in a fat loss program, I do exactly this if a client’s sleep seems to be waning.  What is available beyond nutrient timing with their food, would be melatonin, magnesium, zinc, chamomile teas, and then there are blended supplements.  I would start by seeing if one’s poor sleep was hormonal based, or more of their mind running, to appropriately select a sleep supplement.

Sleep Intensity

I feel sleep intensity is a unique concept many don’t really consider all aspects of.  Some have trouble falling asleep, and it can take them 15 or 20 minutes of tossing and turning.  If this sounds like something you deal with, look at ways to help you fall into sleep quicker.  These can be sleep aids, turning the blue light out the mobile phone you use (settings -> displays and brightness -> nightshift, or even purchasing some blue wave light glasses to wear at night to cover TVs and computer screens too), eating carbs at night, teas, having a pre-bed ritual, reading, etc.  Ideally, looking at anything to help tell your mind and your body it is time to shut down and sleep.


A small touch on napping that I will mentioned as far as keeping schedule and using napping for your benefit, and not a routine killer.  Here we look at sleep cycles to shed light on what would be optimal.  One could think if a normal sleep cycle is around 90 mins, a great nap could be a 90-minute nap.  This is very true, and we would obtain the restorative attributes of deep sleep, or stages 3 (slow wave) and 4 (delta), although in my practice I have seen this less than optimal.  I have found 30-minute or shorter naps to be enough to carry you through the rest of the day, and just as importantly not disrupt their body’s need, and therefore ability to fall asleep come their regular bed time again.  Therefore, my recommendations here are to keep your day time slumbers to shorter time periods of napping, and not hitting a full sleep cycle.  This way you get the energy benefit of rest, but not a disruption that would put you unable to fall asleep at night as this can be a slippery slope when trying to manage a routine bed time.

The Gold Standard for Recovery and Diet

With the curtailment of the bedtime period in modern society, and the macho impressionism of being one of those who “grind,” our sleep is taking hits from multiple angles.  There are lasting effects of poor sleep and sleep debt, which hitting your performance and nutrition are only the beginning dominos.  We need to balance our parasympathetic and sympathetic systems for overall hormonal regulation and optimal mental and physical health.  I know this doesn’t remain as one of the sexier topics to enhance overall health, but I do believe it to be one of the more important ones.  What I find socially ironic, is this is a free resource, you just have to invest your time, and hold yourself accountable.  I think it would behoove you to periodically reassess your sleep habits and see if there are areas that can be improved.  Giving your sleep the attention that it needs, could stand to be the biggest step in improving your overall health. 


Aubele, T. & Reynolds, S. (2011, August 2). Happy Brain, Happy Life. Psychology Today. 
Blumert, P. et al. (2007, November). The Acute Effects of Twenty-four hours of Sleep Loss on the Performance of National-Caliber Male Collegiate Weightlifters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Champaign
Killgore, W., Kahn-Greene E., Lipizzi, E., Newman, E., Kamimori, G., Balkin, T. (2008, July). Sleep deprivation reduces perceived emotional intelligence and constructive thinking skills. Sleep Medicine.
Knutson, K., Speigel, K., Penuv, P., Cauter, E. (2007, June). The Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Sleep Medical Review. Retrieved from <>
Speigel, K., Cauter, E., Tasali, E., Leproult, R. (2008, September). Metabolic Consequences of Sleep and Sleep Loss. Sleep Medicine. Retrieved from <>
Speigel, K., et al. (2004). Leptin levels are dependent on Sleep duration: Relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Retrieved from <>
Daniel Feeney was a competitive track runner in the 200, 400, and 800 meter distances at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Post-graduation, Daniel began assistant coaching track and field and running road races on the side. After becoming tired of being a lightweight, skinny runner, he turned his attention to lifting heavier weights for size. Gained size, got into fitness nutrition to trim up his newly acquired size, and has never looked back. Daniel has competed in natural bodybuilding and powerlifting for the past 4 years. He started consulting other athletes on their nutrition in 2014 and has worked in all facades with everyone from marathon runners to bodybuilders. His specialty lies with learning his client’s metabolism to enhance contest performance or achieve low levels of bodyfat for physique competitors. Daniel handles clients online. 

Tips for Better Body Composition

Andrew Pardue, BS, CSCS, CISSN
Simply keeping track of weekly bodyweight changes in relation to total weekly activity, consistently and progressively weight training, and being mindful of total calorie intake can go a long way in achieving an ideal, healthy body composition. After getting those areas down pat though, many of you reading this are likely ready to take further steps to achieve even more development. Although entire textbooks can be written purely based around achieving better body composition, there are three very beneficial yet relatively easy considerations that can be implemented to help you continue improving your long-term body composition through increased muscle tissue and decreased (but still healthy) levels of body fat.
Macro Distributions 
If you’ve already been tracking total calorie intake and making gradual adjustments from week to week based on your current fat loss or muscle growth goals- you’re heading in a great direction! Once you’re comfortable doing that, it can be a really helpful strategy to then begin paying attention to the specific macronutrient intake that comprises those total daily calories.
Not only does each major macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate and fat) play very unique roles in the body, but they are also digested and absorbed uniquely as well. The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) that varies between macronutrients is one reason that tracking macros, and not just total calories, can help to improve long-term body composition. Protein has a very high TEF, which makes it less likely to convert to body fat. In addition, it of course is vital to muscle recovery and growth as well.
Thermic Effect of Macronutrients:
Macros                                 Calories/Gram                  TEF                           
1 Gram Fat                         9kcals                                   0-2%                        
1 Gram Carb                      4kcals                                   6-8%                        
1 Gram Protein                  4kcals                                   30-40%                   
Carbohydrate and dietary fat have nearly countless different roles in the body, including energy production, providing vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients, to even proper hormone health and other benefits. Needless to say, all three are very important, but keeping a sufficient, consistent ratio of all three can be really helpful in long term success in achieving and maintaining a healthy, comfortable body composition.  
If you aren’t quite ready to hire a physique coach to help you with your nutrition, but would like help getting started properly tracking and adjusting your dietary intake- Making Sense of Macros is a very thorough, low cost e-book that can help you do everything from understand the importance of each macro, to finding your starting macronutrient intake to making weekly adjustments for best results!
            Making Sense of Macros:
Omega 3 & PUFAS intake
As the popularity of flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) has grown, it’s been great to see more and more people realize they don’t have to be a slave to overly strict meal plans in order to reach their fitness and physique goals. Unfortunately though, this growing popularity also seems to have under emphasized the importance of food selection.
Too often, athletes are content to solely hit their macros goals, regardless of the food sources used to meet them. Of course, enjoying occasional treats is certainly not going to cause any issues. However, it can’t be emphasized enough that still making the majority of food choices based around nutrient-dense, whole food is really important for maximizing long-term body composition and health.
A perfect example of this is the continuing research supporting just how effective polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and especially omega-3 fatty acids can be on a multitude od health factors, but also long-term body composition. (1,2,3) In some research, even if total energy intake is equal, simply consuming sufficient fish oil as part of daily fat intake can significantly improve long-term body composition.
Along with the plethora of general health benefits that PUFAs and Omega-3 intake can provide (everything from better muscle growth to mental health), the fact multiple research studies support their efficacy in body composition makes it a relatively simple, no-brainer for those of us looking to optimize our diets to look and feel better throughout life.
Good Sources of PUFAs and/or Omega-3s
            Nuts & Seeds
            Sunflower Butter
            Fatty Fish (i.e. Salmon, Mackerel, Trout)
            Fish Oil Supplements (Triglyceride form)
Mini Cuts vs. Major Diets
The last major tip I provide athletes that reach out to me about improving body composition is to consider periodically mini cutting, rather than dieting for months on end each time you decide you need to lower body fat levels. Research is continuing to reflect how much extended periods of dieting can acutely suppress metabolic rate, muscle retention and even hormone health. Although a proper dieting strategy can help mitigate these effects and avoid any serious issues, dieting too long or too often can hinder the amount of progress in strength, size and subsequently improved shape athletes are able to achieve with their physiques.
Instead, consider performing periodic, shorter dieting periods with the goal of maybe 4-8lbs of fat loss each mini cut. Doing this, spaced apart by periods of reverse dieting, can  help you remain in a healthier, more productive environment for physique development while still reducing body fat to improve your long-term body composition.
  1. Couet, C., Delarue, J., Ritz, P., Antoine, J., & Lamisse, F. (1997). Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. International Journal of Obesity, 21(8), 637-643. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0800451 
  2. Buckley, J. D., & Howe, P. R. (2010). Long-Chain Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids May Be Beneficial for Reducing Obesity—A Review. Nutrients, 2(12), 1212-1230. doi:10.3390/nu2121212
  3. Noreen, E. E., Sass, M. J., Crowe, M. L., Pabon, V. A., Brandauer, J., & Averill, L. K. (2010). Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 31. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-31
  4. Pardue, A., Trexler, E. T., & Sprod, L. K. (2017). Case Study: Unfavorable But Transient Physiological Changes During Contest Preparation in a Drug-Free Male Bodybuilder. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 1-24. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0064

Andrew Pardue is the owner of APFitness, a science-based, online contest preparation and personal training business. Find out more about him at or through his contact links below the title of this piece.

Thank you for reading WTF vol. 13.

Health is a balance, not an extreme.

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No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves. - Amelia Earhart
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