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5 Takeaways from Dr. Rob Rakowski’s Nutrition Seminar

Dr. Bob Rakowski's nutrition seminar at the 2016 SWIS symposium covered a variety of dietary and lifestyle interventions, from gut healing protocols and sleep support to nutritional cleanses used with elite athletes. Although there were a lot of specifics discussed in regards to the details of nutritional protocols, supplements, and dosages, I feel that the five concepts below are things that anyone can benefit from, regardless of their stage in life.

1. You need to make strong and fast changes with nutrition so that your clients can feel a change.

This point really resonated with me, and from personal experience, I’ve found it to be the best approach for people who have been stagnant for a while in their efforts to improve their health, performance, or physique. When I think back to the periods of time when I, or my clients, made the quickest progress in terms of body composition changes or performance gains, it always involved making a fairly drastic and sudden change to the daily nutrition habits. Although it may seem counter to the popular belief that one should make gradual, small, sustainable changes, this more aggressive approach can work very well for some people, especially those all-or-nothing personality types. Seeing results sooner will greatly increase your motivation to stick with the plan long term. If you start off by making small changes that won’t really yield noticeable results in the short term, something like cutting back on the number of sugary drinks during the day or cooking a healthy dinner a few times per week, you may question if the effort is even worthwhile, and you may decide to scrap your diet plan all-together, especially if patience is not one of your virtues. On the other hand, if you make a relatively big change, like implementing an elimination diet, using a strict low-carb phase for 2-3 weeks, or doing an all-out nutritional cleanse, it is much more likely that you'll notice significant improvements in how you feel within 1-2 weeks, and in how you look (body composition-wise) in as little as 3-4 weeks, which will provide validation for your efforts, and will increase your enthusiasm for sticking with the program.

2. After six days with 6 hours or less of sleep, you are functioning drunk

According to the Army Surgeon General, performance scores after a moderate amount of sleep deprivation were the equivalent of being drunk. As a personal trainer in NYC, where everyone is busy, stressed, and working long hours in the struggle to get ahead, it is rare to see someone who consistently gets 7-9 hours of sleep. That being said, it is also rare for me to see anyone make good progress if they are averaging less than 7 hours of sleep per night. Although you may still be able to be function throughout the day and train hard during your session, your results will definitely come much more slowly than if you were resting fully each night. While physical qualities like strength, flexibility, and endurance, can see some improvements with less than ideal sleep, positive changes in body composition (losing body fat, building muscle mass) will be much harder to come by. Not to mention your mood and enthusiasm for training will be crap if you are coming in to the sessions sleep deprived. I would much rather see someone maintain good, consistent sleep habits and sacrifice a few hours of training per week, than to drag themselves through workouts on five hours of sleep. You may be able to do more work (either training or career wise) by sleeping less, but is it still productive work?

3. If you’re not running on rest and recovery, you’re running stress hormones

Going along with the second point, if you are not getting enough restorative sleep, you will be running on stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. From a health perspective, this is not optimal long term because chronically stressed, sleep deprived people will be more prone to developing adrenal fatigue, intestinal permeability, low testosterone, insulin resistance, a weakened immune system, depression, and just overall sub-optimal operating of the body’s systems. From a performance and aesthetics point of view, you won’t be able to recover from injuries, lose body fat, or build muscle mass as effectively if you aren’t able to take advantage of the growth hormone pulses that are produced during a restful night’s sleep. I’m not expecting anyone to maintain perfect sleep every night of the week, but if you are consistently getting less than 7 hours, it is likely one of the biggest obstacles to your progress.

4. “Forest bathing” strengthens the immune system

Dr. Rakowski referenced a study that showed that “Forest bathing”, which is simply a clever term for spending time out in nature, away from urban environments, has been shown to increase the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells, which play an important role in the immune system. Studies have also shown significantly reduced cortisol levels after time spent forest bathing. How is this relevant to you? If you are someone who lives in a big urban center like New York City, take advantage of opportunities to spend time out in nature away from the stress and pollution of the city. If you’ve been getting sick frequently or have been feeling overly stressed, changing your environment could be just the thing you need. In the referenced study performed in Japan, a three day, two night stay in the forest resulted in elevated NK cell activity for more than a week after returning to Tokyo. So even if you can’t be in the cleanest environment all the time, the benefits will still stay with you for a period of time when you return home. It is actually fairly common for me to see people make their best progress when they return home from a relaxing vacation where they spent a lot of time outdoors, enjoying nature. Sometimes they even come back leaner, regardless of how much they trained or how they ate during the trip. If you live in a polluted area, make it a priority to get out and spend time in fresh, clean environments, and you will return feeling mentally and physically refreshed.

5. People’s top 4 priorities when it comes to food: Taste>Convenience>Cost>Health

This point is especially important to consider for personal trainers and nutritionists if they expect their clients to adhere to a particular diet. If you want someone to make a major change in their diet, they have to enjoy how their food tastes, or there is no way they will stick with it in the long run and make it a part of their lifestyle, which is the point to begin with. If you were raised on a diet of processed food and sugary beverages for most of your life, shifting to a whole-food based diet is going to be a huge change, and it will take time to calm your cravings for those overly sweet and high sodium foods that are engineered to be addictive. Along with advising your clients on general dietary principles, make sure that you learn about their tastes and give them tips on how to make food taste good for them. It’s always frustrating when I hear people say that healthy food doesn’t taste good. That mindset is either due to misinformation about what is actually healthy, or having been raised on a very limited diet that didn’t expose them to a variety of foods and flavors. Either way, when people take the time and effort to branch out with their dietary choices, they inevitably find healthy options that they also love to eat, which will make the diet easy to stick to.

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