People today are absolutely obsessed wit protein. You probably work with at least one person who insists that they need to eat an enormous amount of chicken at lunch to feed their muscles. People who regularly work out collectively spend billions every year on protein supplements – powders, bars, even protein-enriched food.
The billions spent on protein supplements is matched by the amount people spend on things like amino acids, creatine, weight gainers, and so on. There are dozens of different types of supplements designed to enhance recovery, support muscle growth, and fuel your next workouts.
Then, of course, is the incredible sum spent on anabolic steroids every year. It is very difficult to put a figure on this amount, but it is enormous.
So what if I told you that there was a completely natural way to dramatically improve your athletic performance, enhance recovery, and significantly increase muscle growth?
Well there is, and it is completely overlooked by 99% of gym junkies and amateur athletes.
I’m talking about sleep.
The Importance Of Sleep
It is actually during sleep that your body repairs itself. You do not build muscle in the gym. Quite the opposite; you break it down, causing small tears in the muscle. Then, when you’re asleep, your body starts to repair the small tears you created in the gym. It is during sleep that your body carries out all of its repairs and maintenance – while you’re awake, your body is just experiencing small amounts of damage!
But things aren’t that simple.
Your body carries out the vast majority of its repair processes during the deepest stages of sleep.
It is during the deepest stages of sleep – which normally happens between 1am and 3am – that your body releases the largest amounts of Human Growth Hormone. This hormone triggers the repair of your tissues, along with fat loss and cellular repair.
It is also during a particular stage of sleep – REM sleep – that your body encodes the memories you’ve created that day. This applies to new information learned, and to physical processes.
Researchers have actually observed people learning physical patterns as they sleep. They gave participants a keyboard pattern to learn. They then gave them brain scans at night. Interestingly, the areas that were lighting up while they played the keyboard were lighting up as they slept; their brains were “practicing” while they slept (reference).
You wont be surprised to learn that the participants performed a lot better after a night of sleep compared to the previous day (when they’d just been practicing). In a way, in sleeping they had an extra couple of hours of practice!
So, regardless of your specific needs, sleep can make a massive different to your progress as an athlete.
If you’re an athlete whose performance relies on technique – whether it’s weightlifting, throwing, or martial arts – then getting enough REM sleep is vital to learning those techniques.
If your goal is just to pack on as much muscle mass as possible, then you really want to be maximizing the amount of high quality, restful, deep sleep you get each night.
Maximizing Sleep Quality
Thankfully, there are ways to enhance your sleep, thereby enhancing your progress as an athlete.
According to Brian Johnson, Editor of VAGA, you can easily start ‘hacking’ your sleep tonight. Amazingly, he says that you can conceivably see major improvements right away:
“If you want to make sure that you’re getting enough REM sleep every night – and you absolutely should be – then the best way is to just avoid drugs like alcohol or cannabis. These substances prevent you from ever entering REM sleep. We know that REM sleep is absolutely vital for mental and physical health.”
Brian continued: “The long-term consequences of not getting enough REM sleep are disastrous. So even if you aren’t trying to maximize muscle memory or technique learning, you should have a few nights off the alcohol per week.”
But what about people who are more concerned about promoting deep, truly restful sleep?
I asked Brian for his take. Here is what he said:
“You really need to try to stick to your natural circadian rhythm to get the maximum amount of deep sleep. You can try to go to sleep at 2am and get up at 10am, but you just aren’t going to get the same kind of melatonin peaks that you get if you’re asleep by midnight. Melatonin largely governs your sleeping cycle, and you need to hit these big melatonin spikes to get the deepest, most restful sleep possible. These spikes occur at 1am and 3am for practically everybody.”
If you’re looking to make gains in the gym or to become a more effective, advanced athlete technique-wise, then your first concern should be your sleep.
Forget protein, forget creatine, forget performance-enhancing drugs.
Sleep is a free, natural performance enhancer that too few people pay proper attention to.
Start taking more time off from alcohol and cannabis, and start going to bed at the right time. You will see the difference over the long-term!