(Short on time? Scroll to the bottom of this post for a sweet discount on Inside Tracker plans and gift cards.)
As an athlete, I’m presented with plenty of opportunities to ponder questions of physiology, going down the rabbit hole of endocrine pathways and chemical feedback loops that might explain why, say, one fueling strategy might make me feel better than another. On one hand, it’s a fun thought exercise. On the other, the body has evolved so many systems and feedback loops that no matter how much we think we know about human physiology, we still don’t really know how it works, or how to manipulate our physiology to do what we want it to do.
I can comprehend how training adaptations like enhanced capillarization or mitochondrial activity would build my aerobic capacity, but I can’t press a button and make it so. I can’t even necessarily force those adaptations through training, and even if if I could, I probably wouldn’t get it right. My body must account for an entire and incomprehensibly complex system, optimizing adaptations within context of such innumerable inputs and constraints that it would be impossible for me to conceptualize even a fraction of the information my body processes instantly in real time all of the time. Even if I were to understand some of the small, simple pieces of the puzzle, I could never integrate it completely and accurately. Yet my body does — every moment of every day.
When I train, I don’t view it as trying to force physiological changes to improve my fitness. Instead, I view it as making a request of my body: this is what I would like to be able to do; please find the best way to help me become better able to do it.
My body knows best, because only my body can process all of the information necessary to optimize adaptations for my own physiology that will help me become a better athlete.
Therefore, I’ve come to believe the best way to improve my health and fitness is to fuel my body well (e.g. give it the nutrition and recovery it needs), make polite and regular requests (e.g. training is my way of requesting to improve my ability to ride a bicycle fast) and then get out of the way (i.e. let my body decide the best way to use that fuel and grant my requests). I might not end up with, say, the exact body shape I want, but I can optimize my strengths and health according to what is optimal for my body. No magazine, internet, or even peer-reviewed article can tell you what is optimal for your body; only your body knows what is best for you and your specific, individual physiology.
Two keys to optimizing fitness: 1) make polite requests of your body, and 2) listen to your body well to understand what it really needs. If you want to improve fitness, a “polite” request is one that doesn’t overtax your body. Consistent, polite requests (e.g. appropriately progressive training stress) will get you further than overbearing demands (inappropriately hard workouts that could lead to overtraining).
The other trick is to listen to your body well, to ascertain its true needs. Sure, that donut might look pretty good, and you might feel great for a few minutes as you enjoy the flavor, but if you’re honestly tuned in with your body, you’ll know that donut isn’t really going to make you feel great or give your body what it needs. Listening to your body is a tough challenge. It takes a great deal of practice, and even then, it can be difficult to ascertain whether you’re really giving your body what it needs.
Why is this so hard? For one thing, our bodies are exceptionally good at adapting to sub-par conditions. We can get used to just about anything, thanks to a constantly shifting frame of reference, or shifting baselines. Many people unknowingly live with celiac disease or a thyroid disorder for years before discovering the problem; they get so used to living with the symptoms that it feels normal to them.
So even when we try to tune in to our bodies, we might not always “hear” what our body is saying, because we are so used to feeling the way we normally feel. Our baselines may have shifted.
My first Inside Tracker test shocked me. I’m a professional athlete and feel quite healthy, but my blood tests showed that I have high cholesterol (and not the good kind).
A few years ago, I suffered a major overtraining. I felt terrible, so it was obvious to me that something was really wrong. But when I took my Inside Tracker blood test in October of this year, I felt pretty good. If it weren’t for the blood test, I would never have known my cholesterol levels were putting my health at risk.
Now that I know, I can improve how I fuel my body, which will remove some unhealthy constraints and allow my body to better optimize my health and fitness. Inside Tracker also helps with this by offering easy tips for fueling your body better according to what it needs, and by sending daily reminders. I now eat oatmeal for breakfast and have added a fish oil supplement to my daily regime. Pretty easy.
The best part? I can continue to monitor how well I’m meeting my body’s needs. The better I fuel my body, the better it can help me achieve my goals.
I’d like to help you achieve your health and fitness goals, too. Go to InsideTracker.com, use my code BFRAMBER for the deepest discount of the year on any of their plans (or gift cards!) between now and December 21st.
Find out how well you’re meeting your body’s needs, and discover how you can make simple changes to optimize not only how you feel, but how much you get out of your nutrition and training. Blood don’t lie.