Don’t Sabotage Your Physique Goals -

You Might Be Overlooking These 2 Critical Factors

Written by Sara Frenza (@sara_frenza)
Photo by Katie Goode

Quality sleep and stress management are critical for altering body composition. Hard stop. You won’t change my mind, because even if you’re spot-on with your nutrition and you’re hitting the gym with ferocity, you’re going to be spinning your wheels uselessly—when I’m betting what you’d prefer are a pair of wheels that’ll get you there, and look toned and sexy while you’re at it.

Lack of quality sleep and ignoring cues of stress overload will halt your progress no matter what else you’re doing well. So, don’t undermine all the effort you’re putting in in the gym and the kitchen, because I know you’re getting after it, but in our modern-day world, stress and sleep are two factors of health and wellness that are typically—unfortunately—pushed down to the bottom of the priority list. Don’t be that girl.

Zzz for Your Wellness—And Your Physique

Achieving adequate sleep—and quality at that—is absolutely fundamental for promoting muscle recovery, hormone regulation, and overall health. On the flipside, a lack of sleep quality and quantity can cause a laundry list of issues: from disrupting hormone levels, to increasing cravings for unhealthy foods, to hindering muscle recovery, and of course impairing cognitive function. The result? Negative changes in body composition, including increased body fat percentage and reduced muscle mass. Plus, just feeling like sh*t. I hear you—we do NOT want that.

The solve? It’s critical to establish a consistent sleep schedule and create a sleep-friendly environment to ensure restorative rest for your body and mind. Additionally, to further support quality sleep, consider incorporating specific supplements into your routine. Magnesium, for one, is renowned for its ability to calm the nervous system, promoting better sleep quality. Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including the production of neurotransmitters that regulate sleep. It helps to relax the muscles and could reduce anxiety, leading to a more peaceful and rejuvenating sleep. So rest well, and often, for the sake of your physique goals—and your sanity.

Too Stressed to Feel Blessed?

Stress, whether we’re talking physical or psychological, has immense implications for your body composition. The way the body responds to stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone we need but that, in excess, can have adverse effects on your goals. In fact, bountiful research has shown that chronic stress—and therefore elevated cortisol levels—is directly associated with increased abdominal fat.

One study published in Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine found that individuals who reported higher levels of perceived stress had greater abdominal fat accumulation over time. Excess abdominal fat, particularly visceral fat, is linked to an increased risk of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Visceral body fat (unlike subcutaneous fat, which is stored directly under the skin and is fat you can see) is fat that you cannot see—meaning, fat that is deep inside the belly and often wrapped around organs, including intestines and the liver. Yikes.

Stress can also impact dietary behaviors—like inconsistent or poor food choices. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to engage in emotional eating, consuming calorie-dense foods that are higher in sugar and fats. Ultimately, this path leads to increased bodyfat/unwanted weight gain.

So, the take-home message here: pay attention to your sleep habits and how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Address sleep issues head-on for your body composition goals, and note your stress levels throughout the day and week. When do they rise? How can you implement strategies to cope and, if you can’t avoid certain stressors, how can you at least manage your reaction to them? Take these things into account, and watch your body composition goals creep closer and closer. They’re yours for the taking, so get after it—on all levels.

Bonus: 4 Simple Sleep- + Stress-Friendly Strategies for Achieving Your Body Goals
  1. Prioritize sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Establish a consistent sleep schedule and routine, and create a comforting and calming sleep environment, free from distractions and electronic devices.
  2. Manage stress: Incorporate stress-reducing/relieving activities into your routine. Try a meditation app, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or engage in hobbies like sports or artistic ventures.
  3. Optimize nutrition: Follow a well-balanced diet that supports your body goals. Consume adequate protein to support muscle building, maintenance, and repair; prioritize nutrient-dense whole foods over processed options.
  4. Exercise regularly: Focus on strength-training to promote muscle growth, fat loss, and overall wellness. Consult a qualified fitness professional to design a level- and lifestyle-appropriate exercise program, so you can squeeze the most out of your training sessions.
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