Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a three-parter. First up, I explain how alcohol consumption can affect muscle protein synthesis in a competitive weightlifter. Even what seems like a moderate dose can still affect how we recover from our workouts. Second, what should a person do if they really can’t stand standing at work? If the chair is looking really attractive after a morning workout, should we give in to our desire to sit or try to tough it out? The answer may surprise you. And finally, a friend of the blog writes in with a perfect example of a meaningful workout session that I just had to share with you guys.
I’m a long time PB’er (almost 5 years) and do Olympic Weightlifting. I’ve read your various posts on alcohol and where it fits in for the average person.
Would an active athlete (who trains for competition) need to worry about consuming 2-3 drinks a week on rest days and could it affect protein synthesis?
Alcohol can negatively impact protein synthesis in a few ways. First, by disrupting your sleep. Alcohol increases deep sleep and decreases REM; REM sleep is where testosterone peaks, so it’s pretty darn important for optimal muscle protein synthesis. A lot of people self-medicate with alcohol to go to sleep because it makes falling asleep easier. And that’s the thing with alcohol and sleep: even if it feels like you’re sleeping okay after a few, because, hey, you fell asleep in like five minutes, you’re probably still not sleeping as well as you could. It’s sneaky.
Second, alcohol is potentially really bad for the gut. Ethanol directly increases permeability in epithelial cells, for one. And you know how our livers metabolize alcohol into the far more toxic acetaldehyde before breaking down and excreting it completely? Gut bacteria themselves metabolize alcohol into acetaldehyde, which can also cause tight junctions to grow more leaky. If your gut’s leaky, you’re not absorbing all the nutrients you eat – nutrients you need to turn into muscle and support your training and recovery.
Third, alcohol is incredibly dehydrating. Some researchers even attribute the lion’s share of the hangover to extreme dehydration. The worst part of alcohol-induced dehydration is that you’re not just robbing yourself of water. You’re also peeing out tons of electrolytes and other minerals like magnesium, sodium, and potassium that play huge roles in maintaining the hormonal environment necessary for muscle protein synthesis.
Fourth, alcohol taken post workout can directly impair muscle protein synthesis, reducing the rate by almost 40%. That was binge drinking, or a stiff drink taken every thirty minutes. Drinking on a rest day could be less inhibitory than drinking immediately after a workout, but the recovery period continues on throughout the rest day and the potential for impairment exists.
All that said, two to three total drinks spread out through the week on rest days is probably fine. Two to three drinks every rest day might not be a good idea.
Still, you’re a competitive athlete. You might try a month of no alcohol whatsoever – not even on rest days – to see if your performance improves. I suspect it might offer a leg up on the competition. It’s certainly worth a shot. Consider it a personal challenge from me to you, Rocky. Let me know how it goes if you decide to do it.
I managed to convince my work to give me a stand up desk – one of the desks that you can raise and lower throughout the day. I was enjoying working up to spending at least half of the day standing up and enjoying all of the benefits of standing. Then I joined a CrossFit style gym and started doing some heavy training including leg weights, often in the early morning before work. Now after about half an hour of standing at work I start to eye my chair enviously and once I give myself an opportunity to sink down, I find that there is no more getting up – my legs just want to rest! Even on the days that I don’t specifically work my legs I find it harder to stand for long periods after a gym session.
So my question is – do you think that I am doing myself a disservice by thrashing myself at gym and then sitting the rest of the day? Or would I be better off with a lighter workout and then standing for at least half the day?
Really appreciate it
I used to come down really hard on sitting. It was hard not to with all the evidence coming out against it, especially the research showing that not even exercise can counteract all of the negative effects. But as of late, Vicki, my thinking has evolved on the issue. It’s not that we should avoid sitting altogether. It’s not that we should stand all the time. We should avoid sitting or standing for extended, unbroken lengths of time. Stasis is the problem. Our bodies are not designed to remain immobile through space-time. We need to move.
And I’m not necessarily talking about walking and jumping and lifting things, although that’s important, too. It can be little movements that add up to make the biggest difference.
Fidget. Shift stances. Move. Shuffle your feet. Stand up and stretch, reaching to the sky (or the overhead fluorescent lighting, as the case may be). Squat down to pick up a dropped pen, even if it’s imaginary. Walk to the cooler. Walk to a colleague’s office. Swivel in your chair. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those spinning office chairs, take advantage of it and spin; try both directions.
Here’s a day that’s better than just standing in one place: Stand for twenty, sit for thirty, go walk to get a sip of water, sit some more, stand for awhile, walk to a nearby park to eat lunch, take the stairs on the way back (and a few times more; run a few, too), come back and sit, fidget, stand up a few times, take the stairs to the 7th floor bathroom that no one ever seems to use, and sit/stand/sit for the last few hours. Then you’re done, you’re home, and you don’t feel like a slob because you sat all day or tried to stand before collapsing into a puddle of regret and shame.
And yeah, on a heavy leg day, you might end up sitting more than standing. You might spend way more time sitting than standing or walking. That’s just your body telling you it’s tired and needs to take a load off, and you should probably listen. But you can still do the little stuff I mentioned above.
Whatever you do, just don’t stand still for too long, too often. Don’t stop moving. When we stop moving, we start dying.
This question comes at the perfect time because we’ve got a great new ebook and digital program on the way from Katy Bowman called Don’t Just Sit There that’s going to revolutionize the way you move, sit, stand, and work all day long. It’s changed the way our office works, for the better – and we were already way ahead of the curve with our standing/mobile workstations. I can’t wait to release it. You’re going to love it.
Okay, last one is a quick one.
The other day, my good friend Grant Petersen at Rivendell Bicycle Works emailed me with a great account from a day at the beach:
Yesterday I was at the beach, the most beautiful beach I know (McClure’s, in Point Reyes) and as my friend and I were about to hike up the hill out of it (dirt path, loose, narrow, what you get from footpaths to beaches in these parts), he saw a wheel with a truck tire on it. Rim and all, rusty and heavy, and he said, “I wonder how that got here.” It weighed about — well, I have no idea, but it was a grunt to get it vertical and I couldn’t have benched it or pressed it.
We pushed it up the hill for half an hour to a parking lot. I’m pretty sure it would have been there forever if we hadn’t.
Good post, good ideas.
That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You didn’t go to the gym. You saw an eyesore marring your favorite beach – an insanely heavy wheel inside a huge tire – and decided to roll it up a steep hill to remove it. You didn’t go to the gym. You did something useful, something utilitarian, and got a great workout in the process. The task was the workout. It had purpose. Quite literally, it was meaningful.
That’s what we’re all searching for, isn’t it?
Okay, everyone. I’m totally exhausted after a great weekend at PrimalCon Oxnard (which you’ll hear more about tomorrow). It’s time to crash.