Optimizing Your Active Lifestyle - Part 1
March 15, 2021
March 15, 2021
If you live an active lifestyle—i.e. you consistently and intentionally stay active—you’re likely focused on certain goals that measure progression.
Maybe it’s a new weightlifting PR, increasing your rucking weight/distance, a better “Fran” time or running “x” miles. Or maybe you simply want to complete a hike you once thought unachievable. Whatever it is, these are the goals that keep you motivated and working hard—day in and day out.
Having desired outcomes is an important part of measuring progress. But, prioritizing performance above all has a common pitfall: to continually perform better, many focus on performing more. This often means more training and more time spent in the gym.
In many ways, there is a lot of sense to this—“if I do ‘x’ more, I will become more proficient at it”—and while it may work for a while, it may not be the most advantageous.
Our bodies are complex bioenergetic machines that require a dynamic set of environmental inputs to achieve optimal output. Focusing only on the output ignores this entirely.
Instead, we propose a different solution: if your goal is performance, you should build a lifestyle that optimizes function first—performance will follow as a natural byproduct.
Performance vs. Function:
Let’s start by further exploring performance vs. function.
Fitness goals that are focused on performance can take many forms, but are most often measured in reps, weight or time. These are a reflection of your proficiency in performing a specific task.
Goals built around function, on the other hand, are designed to go deeper. They are built around factors that optimize overall health, not just a specialized area. This is a reflection of your environment and the way you approach your full day.
The Pitfalls of a Performance Focus:
Performance based goals have several key downsides:
1.) Although progress may be rapid at first, after some time, plateaus are inevitable and moving the needle takes more energy. This can become frustrating and inhibit consistency.
2.) Achieving a performance based goal on any given day is dependent on a myriad of factors including, sleep, nutrition, etc.
3.) A performance focus is counter to human design. We were not meant to be in a constant state of stress. Continued stress inhibits optimal function and recovery which accelerates dysfunction.
4.) Here’s the big one: the approach to achieving a performance based goal is often linear—more volume/intensity = more proficiency = goal achieved—this approach can have a negative impact if the additional demands are not considered.
Performance based goals have an important place as a measurement tool—but, they shouldn’t be the sole focus. Rather, they should be a byproduct of a lifestyle that fuels inner function.
The Advantage of a Function Focus:
Aligning lifestyle with optimal function is the most effective way to feel great and perform your best—day in and day out.
Think about a function focus as reverse engineering performance—i.e. if your goal is to perform a given task well, the emphasis should be placed on creating a lifestyle that optimizes biological function. With a lifestyle of optimal inputs, optimal output is inevitable.
This requires a deeper look at your full day, incorporating factors like sunlight, sleep, nutrition, cold exposure etc. and while it may sound overwhelming, it’s really quite simple—just reconnect with nature as much as possible.
Check out "Part 2" for a full breakdown on cultivating your optimal health ecosystem.
The Additional Demands of An Active Lifestyle Require A Different Approach:
Living an active lifestyle isn’t easy and requires careful consideration of your body’s fundamental needs—unfortunately, this often goes without thought.
The ideal approach to an active lifestyle that fuels your full day balances the two sides of optimal function—mitochondrial production of energy and metabolic water (i.e. mitochondrial function) and effective recovery (i.e. structural recovery).
Let’s explore each in greater depth.
Mitochondrial Function—Energy and Metabolic Water
Think of energy as the currency of life. Every movement, thought or action requires an energetic payment. With the countless number of biological functions taking place every single second, this can add up quickly.
To keep up with the demand, you need a constant stream of income. This is where your mitochondria come into play. They are responsible for converting organic material (food) and light into currency (ATP or energy) to cover the expense incurred by any biological function.
However, it’s not as simple as “food and light in, energy out.” Mitochondria require the correct inputs to do their job effectively. This includes real food and natural light, but also encompasses quality water, cold exposure, etc. Without the correct environmental inputs, they begin to function poorly and their ability to produce energy/water is decreased. Over time, this places wear and tear on the entire system resulting in energetic bankruptcy—a.k.a. cellular dysfunction.
Now, let’s introduce two more factors to the equation—an active lifestyle and the modern world.
Being active increases our energetic requirement. Not only as a result of actually working out, but throughout the recovery process as well. With the correct inputs, the balance between energy production, expenditure and recovery can be met. But, with the focus on performance and intensity, cultivating the correct inputs for optimal output can be left behind. The result is cellular dysfunction.
To make matters worse, the modern world emphasizes an indoor lifestyle, creating a complete disconnection from nature and the inputs that equal optimal. This includes natural light, heat/cold exposure, etc. (i.e. nature in general). Our cultural, chronic disconnection further challenges mitochondrial energy production, creating an energetic deficit and long-term dysfunction. Throwing volume and intensity into the mix can further compound these challenges.
Mitochondria are not only responsible for producing energy. They also have the incredibly important task of producing metabolic water.
What makes this water so important is it is deuterium depleted and ideal for conducting metabolic processes.
Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, but carries an extra neutron in the nucleus. The additional neutron makes deuterium twice as large and twice as heavy—for this reason, it is referred to as “Heavy Hydrogen.” This small distinction has massive implications as hydrogen is critical for mitochondrial function.
To produce energy (ATP) and H2O, our mitochondria break down organic material from foods and liquids into electrons and protons. The electrons go through a series of proteins called complexes—this is called the electron transport chain (ETC). The energy released along the way is dissipated as heat or used to “pump hydrogen ions (H+) from the mitochondrial matrix to the intermembrane space and create a proton gradient…ATP synthase, also called complex V, uses the ETC generated proton gradient across the inner mitochondrial membrane to form ATP” (1).
This final step is where deuterium can come into play. The ATP synthase is a highly protected, fragile nanomotor, spinning at 6-9,000 RPMs. When deuterium replaces standard hydrogen, it breaks the ATP synthase, rendering it useless and decreasing production of energy and water. Deuterium is introduced via poor quality food, water and certain lifestyle choices.
Mitochondrial production of metabolic water gets very little attention. But, active individuals rely on mitochondria to function optimally and metabolic water is a critical piece of that equation. Not only does metabolic water get recycled for cellular function, it acts as a tool for cell signaling and regulation. This means that when deuterium load is elevated, cellular breakdown is inevitable, which can hinder performance and recovery.
As a result, creating an ecosystem for deuterium depletion is critical. All lifestyle recommendations offered in Part 2 are given with this perspective in mind.
There’s no way around it—exercise is a physical stressor. Both physically and mentally. And that’s okay—in fact, that’s the point.
But, when the focus becomes performance, intensity and volume often become the byproduct and recovery takes a back seat.
Eventually this hinders performance, training and overall wellbeing.
As previously mentioned, our bodies are bioenergetic machines (you could even go as far as to say we are composed of trillions of bioenergetic machines working in unison.)
Like any machine, continued use creates wear-and-tear and consistent maintenance is critical for long-term function. Living an active lifestyle inherently places a greater demand on our bioenergetic machines and wear-and-tear can accumulate even quicker.
Fortunately, our bodies have built in maintenance processes designed to combat the stress of our active day. The only catch: we have to give them the optimal conditions in which to do it, otherwise total breakdown is inevitable.
Recovery processes predominantly occur during the night time hours when we are sleep. The lack of light (darkness) is an important signal that stimulates the secretion of melatonin, a powerful hormone responsible for clean up and repair.
While night is when the action takes place, effective recovery is a full day commitment starting from the moment you wake up.
The most effective strategy for enhanced performance is to build a lifestyle that facilitates optimal recovery. Not only will this approach boost performance as a byproduct, but it will allow you to do what you love, stay active for longer and feel great.
Check out "Part 2" for the lifestyle factors you can implement that will create optimal recovery—day in and day out.
Why Now? Why Is This Relevant?
For many reasons, the model of exercise has changed significantly in a very short period time.
Instead of exercising for long-term health, it became exercising for short-term results. And the best way to get short term results? Up the intensity and volume.
This quickly created a broader mindset that “more” was always better and time spent training was the most valuable tool for progress/results.
But, the intensity mindset can quickly become a challenging pattern to break—i.e. as you see results, you want to increase volume and intensity. If results diminish, you revert to what has already worked—increase volume and intensity.
Though humans are extremely resilient, this isn’t sustainable and can have negative impacts down the road.
Here’s the key: Don’t get fit at the expense of your health.
It all comes down to this: Don’t get fit at the expense of your health.
Living an active lifestyle is a proactive way to take charge of your health, get stronger, improve fitness and feel great. But, like anything, what is intended to be positive can be negative in a certain context.
The fact of the matter is you can’t fight your biology. As much as we try, it has a tendency to come out on top every time. While a focus on performance and intensity can be a short term solution, in the long-run our bodies will always fight back. And that’s never a place we want to be.
Take a functional approach to your active lifestyle and the rest will follow.
See you in the field.