Sleep and why most of us need more of it!


Today’s blog post is about sleep – one of the most underrated things we can adjust to hinder or help our fitness goals and fat loss.

SLEEP 101 – the Bad. 

Let’s be realistic – how we eat and how we exercise are probably the two biggest contributors to how we look and how we measure, physically. I won’t argue that. There are also many factors outside of these two things that also contribute. I’d like to discuss one of the biggest ones: sleep! (Hint: It’s probably the most overlooked reason).

It’s not always how much we sleep, but it’s a combination of both quality and quantity that can equate to proper hormonal responses, fat loss, and all of the other great benefits of proper sleep that we can achieve.

Let’s touch base on Cortisol first. It’s such an evil word, I feel bad even typing it! Cortisol is a hormone in our body that breaks down tissues. In stressful times (including dieting), the body’s cortisol levels can be higher as the body is preparing for fight or flight status. This can cause the body to store fat as a response!

There’s a cool study in the Laboratory of Physiology in Belgium that showed daytime cortisol levels were higher in those that short themselves of sleep.

Another negative to lack of sleep is glucose control.  Let’s face it, when we can’t sleep, we get hungry and no one ever says “I can’t sleep, let’s go chow on some broccoli.” It just doesn’t happen! Usually CARBS are the culprit of these cravings. There’s a great study done in Chicago (my home!) that showed sleep deprivation can lead to increased hunger and appetite!

In all likelihood, our sneaky little bodies sense fatigue and think it’s a low energy supply, queuing internal drives to chow down on some carbs.

And my last rant here – if we don’t sleep enough, our workouts SUCK. I can quote research on this all day, but I think most of us can confirm that knowingly already.

An interesting tidbit. 

Here’s a quick fact I learned on sleep and car accidents:

A study was done on car accidents the week following daylight savings time in the Spring and Fall.

In the Spring when we lost an hour, car accidents were up 10% approximately for up to two days after the time change. 

In the Fall, when we gained an hour of sleep, car accident rates were reduced by 8-10% in the 2 days following. Personally, I think more accidents occur in the fall anyways, so this research is VERY telling.

Pretty interesting, huh?

2 Strategies for better quality of sleep. 

I am going to share a few strategies I’ve learned from books, lectures, etc. i’ve researched over the years that have made a huge impact on quality of sleep for my clients.

1. Make it a priority!

Make sure you get 7.5 hours per day. Carve it out in your calendar if you must. Here’s a cool idea: Find 10 minutes per day and add it into your sleep time. This could mean:

  • Sleeping later in the morning
  • not finishing that netflix rerun at night
  • taking a powernap

Why? Remember that tidbit about the car accidents? Now you’ve just added an extra hour per week to your sleep. That can really have a positive effect on how you sleep.

2. Protect your fort of sleeping. 

Design your own fort of sleeping. Get rid of your i-this and i-that. Research says you’ll fall asleep faster. 

Let’s start here. Try these two strategies and over a 4-6 week period jot some notes down on energy levels, weight, and overall mood. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel much better if you look these things over.

-Darin Hulslander, CSCS, Precision Nutrition Level 1/2 – first week of online training free.

For all your performance, mobility, and nutrition needs.


  1. Copinschi, G. (2005). Metabolic and endocrine effects of sleep deprivation. Essent Psychopharmacol. 6(6):341-7.
  2. Murphy, HM., & Wideman, CH. (2009). Constant light induced alterations in melatonin levels, food intake, feed efficiency, visceral adiposity, and circadian rhythms in rats. Oct;12(5):233-40.
  3. Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2010). Role of Sleep and Sleep Loss In Hormonal Release and Metabolism. Endocrine Development. 17:11-21.
  4. Coren, Stanley. Sleep Thieves: An Eye-opening Exploration into the Science and Mysteries of Sleep. New York, NY: Free, 1996. Print.



Sorry guys and gals – I’m going to make you have to read to get the answer 😉

The Beginning. 

Let’s face it. There are more diets out there than we can even count. So which one is truly the best? Most recently a group of authors and researchers (plus a little of my own research) have looked at many studies to help determine which diet is truly the most effective and best in regards to weight loss. 

This study looked at “name brand” diet interventions (i.e. Atkins, South Beach, etc.).

The Critical Elements. 

A few key things to note from this:

  • The studies DID include exercise and behavioral interventions but not all of them. Remember this is a cumulative analysis.
  • They had to have lasted 6 months, some lasted longer, and the longest lasted a  year.

Diets Assessed:

  • Atkins – Low Carb
  • Biggest Loser – Moderate carb, moderate fat
  • Jenny Craig – Moderate carb, moderate fat (customized meals)
  • LEARN – low fat to moderate
  • Nutrisystem – moderate
  • Ornish  – Low Fat
  • South Beach – Low Carb
  • Volumetrics – Moderate
  • Weight Watchers – Moderate
  • Zone – Low Carb (in phases)

The researchers that assessed these took into consideration all interventions, including exercise, and ranked them based on strength of the modifications done.

What did the results say???

So this doesn’t answer the original question, but here were the findings (after 1 year):

  1. Any diet > no diet (DUH!)
  2. Low Carb diets were only slightly superior to low fat diets (8.73 vs. 7.99kg lost)
  3. Low Carb and Low Fat Diets had nearly equal effects on weight loss in comparison to the moderate based diets.
  4. Of the individual diets, the Atkins and Ornish (10.1 and 9kg, respectively) were the most effective at both the 6 and 12 month markers.
  5. (This is my favorite one) – Behavioral Support resulted in greater weight loss (3.23kg more than using diets with no support) over the 12 month period.

Let me say, however, that it’s very difficult to make conclusive statements, hence the use of my lingo up there. There are way too many factors involved to definitively say and Scientifically say one works over the other.

What does all of this dribble mean????

It means just that. There is no “universally optimal” diet. That’s just life. The best diet is a diet that one can adhere to.

Sorry that’s not the answer many of us are looking for, but I’m going to give some better strategies below that will help with that.

So what truly is the best diet?

The best diet is one you can adhere to. Low Carb and Low fat lead to greatest long term results, but not by much, and only with named diets in this particular research. There are many other factors that make it impossible to say one is truly the best.

So how do I follow this diet?

Simple. Create habits. Let’s use ‘Sally’ as an example below. Read this scenario.

Awesome Darin: “Sally, we are going to create a habit for you in order to fix your diet long term. The first habit is to eat one serving of colorful vegetables per day for two weeks and we will build on that. Can you do that?”

Sally: “That’s it?! That’s way too easy. I can eat 5 servings per day for two weeks, can I just do that??”

Awesome Darin: “Sure, but I only want you FOCUSING on 1 serving per day”

Here are two scenarios to ponder:

Trainer gives sally a goal of 5 servings per day, she does it for two days, then by day 5, she’s down to 1 serving per day. Sally’s progress starts high, the habit is never built, and she regresses instead of progresses.

Awesome Darin only reinforces the one serving per day, Sally complies for two weeks, and she has successfully built a habit that she can now add on to.

Which do you truly think would have the most success over a year?

So the point is this. Create simple habits. FOLLOW them. Then add new ones. Make them attainable every single day. That’s the best diet out there. 

-Darin Hulslander, CSCS, Precision Nutrition Level 1 (Level 2 in progress)

Source: Patel, Karmal, ed. “ERD Research Digest.” ERD Digest 1st ser. 1.2 (2014): 21-27. Web. 21 May 2015.

Why Punishments Never Work!


After some serious discussion with multiple people this week, I wanted to create a post  on the whole “punishment scenario” in fitness. I saw a trainer yesterday making his client row 100m for every gram of sugar his client ate. It just didn’t make sense so I immediately gathered some reading and consulted some people and wanted to share my findings.

My goal as a trainer is to get people to their goals and to allow them to move faster, better, and as efficiently as possible versus on their own, if on their own at all.

If you remember anything from your elementary science days, it’s that we use rats, dogs, etc. both for rewards and punishments. They ‘avoid’ the punishment by doing the assigned task. Except there’s one thing wrong with that in regards to us:


What does the research say?

Research says this about rewards and punishments:

  • Only works for short periods of time
  • Is primarily effective for children and animals
  • it’s best used for basic motor skills (fall of riding a bike, get hurt)

But I’m referencing this post into more daily adult tasks, beyond exercise. Exercise and nutrition are simply my specialties.

I read a research study about a crossfit box motivating clients to eat better by punishing them with burpees for every bad calorie they ate at the end of the month. Guess what? A lot of people were doing burpees.

Let’s think about why this is?

No one cared. The end justified the means. They simply shrugged their shoulders and did some burpees at the end of the month. 

This accomplishes 3 major negative things:

  • Exercise is a form of punishment
  • You can buy your way out of a bad diet or habit
  • Eating healthy has more strict rules than 3rd grade math.

Is that what you want a client to think? NO WAY!

Here’s a fact: Rewards illicit the same part of our brain as chemical drugs used for highs. 

Also, pain avoidance activates the brain’s fear center. 

That’s why so often we freeze up when we are scared or frightened.

So how do we avoid this?

For one, you must build a solid relationship. I always pride on knowing my clients like my best friends. There’s no need to punish someone in that regard. They trust and depend on you, and do not want to let you down. No need for a punishment when you have this superpower of relationship control.

Recognize growth rather than reward: Celebrate a great accomplishment. This allows for reinforcement versus a reward or punishment. Clients will benefit more long term from this.

Here’s an example:

“Congrats on finishing your first 5k in under 30 minutes! I will pay your entry fee into your next 5k so we can zoom even faster into it!”

-This gets the client pumped for the next one, versus:

“if you finish this 5k in under 30 minutes, I will pay your next fee”

-This allows the client to simply say ‘meh, if I don’t, oh well’. This is NOT the type of reaction we seek.

First week of online training is free.

Interval Training at its finest.


hiit kid

Interval training is a fantastic way of conditioning and it has many benefits, not limited to:

  • Takes a shorter amount of time than most other modalities
  • Is the most tried and true fat loss strategy for exercise out there
  • Can keep calories burning in a way that most traditional cardio cannot
  • Can increase both strength and cardio stamina

Tell me more about this research.

Check this out: A recent study suggested that 3 minutes (yes, 3 minutes) of High Intensity Interval Training  (HIIT) has the same cellular adaptations as 45 minutes of spinning! 

One of the earliest studies, done by researchers at Laval University (Ste-Foy, Quebec, Canada), kept it basic, using two groups in a months-long experiment. One group followed a 15-week program using HIIT while the other performed only steady-state cardio for 20 weeks. Proponents of steady-state training were pleased to hear that those subjects burned 15,000 calories more than their HIIT counterparts. Those who followed the HIIT program, however, lost significantly more bodyfat. A 2001 study from East Tennessee State University (Johnson City) demonstrated similar findings with subjects who followed an eight-week HIIT program. Again, HIIT proved to be the better fat-burner–subjects dropped 2% bodyfat over the course of the experiment. Meanwhile, those who plodded through the eight weeks on a steady-state program lost no bodyfat.

The most recent study, out of Australia, reported that a group of females who followed a 20-minute HIIT program consisting of eight-second sprints followed by 12 seconds of rest lost an amazing six times more bodyfat than a group that followed a 40-minute cardio program performed at a constant intensity of 60% MHR (maximum heart rate).

Why does this happen?

Since HIIT training is harder on the body, it requires more energy (*cough calories cough*) to repair itself afterwards.

Ok, one more cool study.

A Laval University study discovered that the HIIT subjects’ muscle fibers had significantly higher markers for fat oxidation (fat-burning) than those in the steady-state exercise group. And a study published in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology reported that young females who performed seven HIIT workouts over a two-week period experienced a 30% increase in both fat oxidation and levels of muscle enzymes that enhance fat oxidation. Moreover, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim) reported that subjects with metabolic syndrome–a combination of medical disorders that increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes–who followed a 16-week HIIT program had a 100% greater decrease in the fat-producing enzyme fatty acid synthase compared to subjects who followed a program of continuous moderate-intensity exercise.

So, if you are a busy person and don’t have 1-2 hours per day to commit to exercise. Here’s the good news. You don’t need it!

I’ve shared a sample HIIT video below as a followup to my presentation at SAP a few weeks back. Try it and comment below!