Thursday, January 18, 2018

Do “Dominant” Neurotransmitters Impact Training? (and a Giveaway)

Inline_Dominant NeurotransmittersLast year I was talking with Brad Kearns and Dave Dolle when Dave said something really interesting: he was using neurotransmitter analysis to build personalized training programs for his athletes. By giving a short written T/F test called the Braverman test, he could determine whether a client was dominant in dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, or serotonin—and then use the results to determine their ideal training regimen. It was one of those instances where you hear something you know you’ll be chewing on for the next few months.

These neurotransmitters exist. They each have different effects on our personality and our physiology, which can alter our response to different types of training. Though we’re most familiar with the effects of neurotransmitters on brain function, they also have peripheral effects throughout the rest of the body.

Dopamine is the motivating chemical, promoting drive and ambition and a winning attitude. It’s also the moving chemical, interacting with the areas of the brain responsible for conscious movement. Parkinson’s disease, whose sufferers have great difficulty making basic movements, is characterized by low dopamine levels and activity.

Acetylcholine promotes focus, memory, and cognitive prowess. It’s also necessary for motor neurons to fire and make muscles move.

GABA relaxes us, calms us, and counters excitibility in the brain. Without it, we’re tense. Our muscles tense up with low GABA levels, too, as the neurotransmitter is responsible for muscle relaxation.

Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical, and deficits play a big role in depression. In the gut, it’s the “good bowel movement” chemical, regulating gut motility.

Even if it’s not measuring body levels of neurotransmitters directly, the results of the Braverman test do indicate general trends in personality and neurotransmitter levels which can affect how you should train. As someone who’s been marinating in the fitness world in a professional capacity for most of my life, I’ve seen how personality affects and even determines optimal training. The Braverman test lines up pretty well.

I’m also well-aware of just how important neurotransmitters are to the physical side of training. Take dopamine, for example, the best-studied:

First, take the Braverman test. It takes 15-20 minutes. Don’t fret too much over getting every answer perfect. Choose what feels more true or more false before your brain starts trying to justify this or that answer.

The point of all this isn’t to get a specific reading of your neurotransmitter balance. It may well serve as a rough or even precise barometer of whether you’re dopamine-, acetylcholine-, GABA-, or serotonin-dominant, but it’s unverifiable. What you can use it for is to get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, then apply them to your training.

If You Have Dopamine Dominance…

You’re always on. Motivation isn’t an issue. Mental energy isn’t a limitation. “Psyching yourself up” before a heavy set is often unnecessary.

You thrive on high intensity. Without sufficient intensity, you’re likely to get bored.

You don’t do high volume. Higher reps doesn’t allow for sufficient intensity, so you prefer lower reps.

You like variety. You get bored doing the same program.

You like explosive movements and heavy weights. You live to conquer them.

You can go too hard. Your brain can handle it, your nervous system can handle it, but your body has its limitations. Joints and muscles can still fail without adequate rest.

If you’re an endurance junkie, your ability to push through discomfort and ignore the body’s signals can win the race but land you in chronic cardio hell.

If you’re a strength junkie, you’ll feel like you can handle yet another heavy day of squats and deadlifts, but your physical tissues may suffer.

If You’re Acetylcholine-Dominant…

You can handle intensity and volume, but you need rest. You need your sleep.

You can stick to the same program for longer. You’re good at focusing, at honing in on and really sinking your teeth into a routine.

If You’re Serotonin-Dominant or GABA-Dominant…

You may have difficulties pushing yourself to train.

A major benefit of exercise is that it prioritizes the delivery of tryptophan into the brain for conversion into serotonin. If you’re already swimming in serotonin, that’s one less reason to exercise. You don’t need the increased brain tryptophan uptake it provides, and I suspect that this partially explains some people’s aversion to exercise.

Another benefit is stress reduction. If you’re so relaxed from an abundance of GABA, you don’t need that effect.

Play is probably more your style. The benefits of exercise still apply to you, so you may have better luck training through play.

As you can tell, this isn’t an exact science. I’d call it an intriguing concept and a worthwhile tool, but it’s not something you’re going to submit to a peer-reviewed journal for acceptance and publication. That doesn’t matter for our purposes, of course. For us, it offers some useful feedback that can shed light on our training preferences and strengths.

The big lesson here is to do what feels right. I’ve spoken in the past about the importance of heeding your intuition and how failing to do so rarely goes well. Every time I ignore the little voice inside my head or down in my gut telling me to hold back, to cut the workout short, to try something different—things go wrong.

When I pushed past that voice to attempt a PR on the bench, I tweaked my shoulder and was out of commission for weeks.

When I lived a lie for decades, logging insane amounts of miles on the track, road, bike, and pool because it was “what I was good at” and “the harder I worked, the healthier I was” despite having no time for family or friends and my actual health suffering, I was a mess. In the end, it turned out well because it led me to the Primal Blueprint, to doing what I love and leading a life full of meaning. But, man, if it didn’t have some major downsides….

“Feels right” doesn’t mean easy. It just means “don’t fight your nature.”

The exercises we do should be difficult, challenging, and engaging. But they shouldn’t cause existential dread that we just can’t shake.

Training shouldn’t tank our sleep, ruin our quality of life, and make us crave junk food. Impending workouts should give us butterflies in our stomachs when we think of them, but not enough to prevent us from doing them. Our training should improve our quality of life, help us sleep better, and make eating healthy easier. Knowing ourselves—strengths and preferences—is part of that picture.

Now For the Giveaway…

Today I’m giving away a $50 gift certificate to PrimalBlueprint.com. Use it for Primal Kitchen products, supplements, books, a course—whatever floats your boat.

Just share your comments about today’s post topic and/or what future book  or publication offerings you’d like to see from Primal Publishing. Something on a certain area of health? More cookbooks? Calendars? What would you be interested in reading and recommending?

*Be sure to comment before midnight tonight (1/18/18 PST) to be eligible.

That’s it for today, folks.

So, let me know…how’d you score? What are your thoughts? How will the feedback inform your training?

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Primal Reflection Point: Be “Selfish”

Inline_Live-Awesome-645x445-03Habit #2 of Highly Successful Hunter-Gatherers: Be Selfish

In our ancestors’ day, there was certainly a sense of obligation to the group, an expectation of contribution to the joint welfare. That said, in an economy of ample free time, a social network of extended kin, a culture nearly devoid of material ambition, no one was likely required or motivated to drive themselves to exhaustion.

I believe the “pack mule” mentality is a thoroughly modern neurosis. Why would any single person in a band ever accept grossly inordinate proportions of responsibility in our Primal ancestors’ time? With all members free to leave at any time in the natural ebb and flow of band to band interchange, why would any of them lived a wretched life of literal or approximated servitude? If you ran yourself into the ground healthwise in evolutionary times, you put yourself at risk. You were a liability to the group. What was the possible benefit?

Be Selfish Yet, here we are in modern times making excuses for neglecting our health, giving away the chance (and true responsibility) for reasonable self-care and personal fulfillment. Part of the logic is the modern focus on the future. We’re planners, sacrificers for the sake of a presumed future security. It’s amazing what we’ll give up in the interest of a vision twenty years out. The result? We live in a kind of chronic self-debt. Yes, we’re seeking to serve our long-term good, but we’ve distorted that intention with the extremity of its terms.

This flies in the face of our ancestors’ culture of immediacy. There’s something to that living in the here and now rather than for the sometime-down-the-road. I think it’s possible to balance the two for the benefit of both, but it’s a deal with the devil to think we can continually neglect ourselves for the people and projected future of our lives. Our sense of balance must demand current and continual well-being for ourselves. When we are nourished and sustained today, we have more to offer to those around us and to our futures.

To read more, check out “10 Habits of Highly Successful Hunter-Gatherers” and Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness.

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Simplifying Work Life Balance

^^Dream workspace!

Back in the fall I attended Rebelle Con, a conference for women entrepreneurs. As I sat there sipping coffee and munching on the most delicious locally made granola, business strategist Rachael Cook took the stage. She gave a talk on self-care strategy, burn out, and work-life balance that had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

Rachael walked us through her own workday and the ways she had maximized focus to minimize burn out. From my memory it went something like this:

6:00 – 6:30 am – Get up, journal, and get ready before the kids wake up.

7:00 – 9:00 am – Mom Time. Get the kids to school on time!

9:00 – 10:00 am – Power walk with Oprah’s SuperSoul podcast.

10:00 am – 3:00 pm – Work, with focus varying by day. (For example: Monday create, Tuesday meetings, Wednesday write, Thursday admin.)

3:00 pm – Work is over until the next day. “Office hours” are clearly defined.

3:00 – 5:00 pm – Mom time. Connecting 100% with the kids.

Listening to Rachael speak about her routine left me with the same feeling I get when I look at an extremely organized pantry. Boundaries were clearly defined. Focus was on point. Mom was mom and girl boss was girl boss. I think what I found most appealing about Rachael’s week was the predictability down to the same simple inspiring power walk every morning.

I found myself creating my own weekly schedule that had recipe days and writing days, admin time first thing in the morning, a block for dinner prep and chores, a pre-lunch workout, and office hours ending at 3:00 p.m. some days and 5:00 p.m. others (depending on Mazen’s schedule.) And, I could always add an evening or weekend day if I had a post deadline to meet.

Currently, I lead an incredibly messy work-home life with no defined boundaries. And within my workday, I tend to go with the flow. Sometimes I go to the gym at 10:00 am, and other days I feel like going for a run late afternoon. Sometimes I work into the evening after Mazen’s bedtime, and then the next day I might have personal stuff come up that leads to no work at all. Sometimes I am incredibly efficient and knock out several posts in a very groovy afternoon and then other days I waste the workday away on something that really isn’t productive at all. As an example of blurred boundaries: I am writing this post from a hair salon chair! #multitasking

I work the way I work because I am a fan of Jess Lively’s concept of getting into alignment before action. She believes that for us to be most efficient we have to be in the right mindset aka “aligned to action.” If you force yourself to hustle when your head is elsewhere, you will spin wheels and procrastinate and end up wasting more time than if you had just done what you felt like doing when you felt like it. Call it the intuitive eating of working. This totally rings true for me and explains why some days I sit down and get nothing done and on a random Sunday night I will knock out half my to-do list. You could sum up my current work style in one word: unpredictable.

So all this to say, I can’t decide which direction I want to go!

Do I want to create a more structured schedule for my weeks so that work is work and home is home? Perhaps I would gain efficiency in concentrating my time?

Or do I want to go with the flow and leave well enough alone?

You know the right answer is probably a combination of both! I think what I am chasing more than anything is predictability and a little more structure. Perhaps I can create a more predictable schedule and then go with the flow within that schedule.

Rachael has a book out called Fired Up & Focused: End Overwhelm. Turn Your Dreams Into Inspired ActionI’ve added it to my Kindle and am hoping it might provide some direction!

Please share your own routines with me. Whether you structure your day at an office, working from home, on the road, or are simply balancing full-time motherhood, what do you find works best?

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