When we are losing weight and/or when we are gaining muscle what other things can we measure in order to see progress?
What else can we measure to see whether we’re staying in the line of being healthy? To confirm we are getting ‘jacked’ and achieving sustainable results?
It’s a great question. Things that I look at with clients are subjective markers of health, for example hunger. We may need to initially benchmark ‘normal’ hunger, what true hunger feels like. Then you can notice changes in hunger over time.
If, for example you are gaining muscle, you’re probably going to be less hungry because you’re forcing yourself to maintain or even gain a little bit of mass. If you’re losing weight, it’s likely that your hunger will increase over time.
In this case it’s about using a manageable amount of hunger that you can stick to, knowing that it is normal to be hungry when in a deficit, but also knowing the difference between actual hunger and the cravings that you might feel for certain foods or at certain times.
Hunger is a useful thing to track because you don’t want the hunger to get too aggressive. That’s where adherence might drop and you might find yourself sneaking in more food or having your willpower tested quite harshly.
You can also use your hunger to determine when is the right time to eat. You can use a hunger scale to determine when you know for sure that now is the time to eat because you are ‘XML’ hungry.
You should then eat until you are satisfied, maybe around 3/4 full or so, then wait until you have that same level of hunger again.
This is a great way to bring back your ‘normal’, original eating habits, habits that we tend to override and lose as we become accustomed to overeating.
Another thing we would track is sleep, knowing that people who train more regularly, like athletes and just regular enthusiasts who love to train will need more sleep than regular people.
It’s knowing that, with less sleep, you will be more likely to eat more food as a compensator mechanism. Your sleep can be affected the longer that you are in a deficit as well.
Therefore being at maintenance and not overtraining is the perfect place for the body to be in. If you are in a deficit over time, your sleep will start to be impaired. This is just because your body isn’t getting the amount of energy it needs to maintain its body weight.
This then is another reason why having a break from dieting can benefit a lot of people in terms of improving their sleep.
It’s been concluded that for adults somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep per night is the peak that we should be aiming for.
If you are currently getting less than that and feel okay, it is still arguable that you could be compensating to some extent with caffeine and/or have just got used to running on half empty.
I would always advocate trying to improve your sleep as much as you can.
Another thing to think about and to measure is your sex drive, your libido. Having low energy intake for a period of time can affect it.
For women if you have too low energy for too long, then it’s something called Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome and can affect your menstrual cycle, particularly combined with overtraining and this is a real bad position to be in.
For men, you can just feel drained and find you are not getting as many erections. This is from overtraining from eating too little food.
If you are happy, you’ve got a good mood and you’ve got a good libido, that is a good place to be. If these things start to drop, It’s a matter of noting what might have caused the issue.
Whether it’s a lack of sleep, whether it’s overtraining, whether it’s lack of food or a combination of all of those things.
Energy levels is something else that we would measure. What is normal energy? When do we have our peaks and when do we have our troughs? When do we feel tired? When do we feel great?
Knowing that we might be deficient in some things when our energy drops, or it could be a lack of sleep, or just a lack of drinking water.
At least then if you measure these things, you can manage them, you can ask these questions and you can make these assumptions. You can know what to change, what to improve.
If you are worried about deficiencies, you can always get a blood test. Blood tests are really good to check iron levels, vitamin D levels, calcium levels, to check your thyroid is working, to check your blood sugar and all of those things.
Getting blood tests periodically can give you a ‘look under the hood’ or bonnet as we would say in the UK. It can also help you make better decisions about your diet as well.
The last two things that we measure with clients are HRV and non exercise activity.
HRV is heart rate variability and we only tend to measure this for performance clients. You measure so that you know the variability between your heartbeats taken first thing in the morning.
If you’re overtraining this can shoot through the floor and your readiness to train can be lower. Basic phone apps can measure it quite well with bands and/or rings and they’re worth looking into if you are interested.
Non exercise activity will unfortunately go down as you are dieting, it decreases because your body is trying to be more efficient.
It is worth noting what it is at the start and maintaining a baseline level of non exercise activity, not just steps but being aware of how much you’re moving around inside the house, inside the flat, how much you fidget!
It is a very useful addition, rather than just measuring your exercise, it is also useful to look at your exercise intensity because arguably, when you are in a deficit, your exercise intensity should be a little bit lower.
Do avoid overtraining and know that you don’t want to ‘using’ exercise to burn calories, do it as a health measure, creating that calorie deficit through food.