Neurotransmitters, Recovery, And Your Training
Do you ever have days when you feel like all you could do is sleep no matter how much coffee you drink?
Or maybe you’ve been on a new strength program for the past 8 weeks and feel weaker than when you started?
Maybe you find yourself walking around the gym in a daze not wanting to get started?
If you said “Yes” to any of these you may have experienced a deficiency or imbalance of your neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitter are chemical messengers that get released in our body. They allow our cells to communicate and work together. There are 4 primary neurotransmitters: Dopamine, Acetylcholine, Serotonin, and GABA. They are both excitatory (speed our cells up) and inhibitory (slow are cells down).
All the neurotransmitters are constantly in fluxuation and balance with one another. This can have a huge effect on our mood, energy, and ability to focus. Some activities like lifting a heavy weight or taking a challenging test use up the neurotransmitters we have on hand.
Strength coach Charles Poliquin is a huge proponent of specific program design built around the athlete. Knowing which of the neurotransmitter types you are dominant in can help you adjust loading parameters, frequency and intensity of training, and plan rest days. Even having a basic understanding of which neurotransmitter type you are dominant in will give you a framework for decision making around your training goals.
Now lets learn a little about each neurotransmitter type.
Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter making it a huge factor behind your motivation towards training and activity levels. Individuals who are dopamine dominant tend to be the ones who are always fired up to exercise. They handle high volume and intensity well but tend to adapt quickly to a stimulus which can cause them to overtrain quickly if their workouts are not constantly varied.
Dopamine synthesis can be promoted by eating foods such as almonds, peanuts, soybeans, avocados, bananas, watermelon, yogurt, beef, tuna, chicken, chocolate, eggs, coffee, and green tea.
Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter responsible for intercellular communication between the muscles in the nervous system. Acetylcholine levels can make a huge difference in our ability to recruit the maximal number of muscle fibers. On days where you might not “feel strong” could be because your cells are having a hard time communicating to coordinate on a lift.
Meats, dairy, poultry and fish contain high levels of choline, with the highest levels coming from liver. One 3-ounce serving of meat contains approximately 70 milligrams of choline. Chocolate, peanut butter, brussels sprouts and broccoli also contain significant levels of choline.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and is responsible for shutting the body down for rest and recovery. You may be experiencing low GABA levels if you find your mind racing or have trouble sleeping at night.
GABA levels can be promoted through probiotic rich foods like yogurt that improve gut health. Foods that increase GABA levels include berries, bananas, and Pu-erh tea.
Serotonin is another inhibitory neurotransmitter and really a jack of all trades. It helps regulate mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to fatigue and depression.
Foods like chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, nut butter, eggs, and green peas all contain high levels of Tryptophan a precursor to serotonin production. One other way to boost serotonin production? You guessed it…exercise!
Want to talk more about training and recovery? Get in touch with a coach today!
5 “Hero” Workouts Everyone Should Try
The hero WODs were created to commemorate fallen heroes who served in the line of duty. Soldiers, law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders were some of the original inspiration for CrossFit workouts. CrossFit workouts grew out of the extreme physical demands of these heroes jobs. They also require grit, guts, and heart and we honor the memory of these brave men and women every time we participate. If you haven’t yet, here are 5 hero workouts that you absolutely must try!
- 100 Thrusters (135/95 lb)
- 5 Burpees at the top of every minute (Start with 5 burpees. Then complete as many thrusters as possible until the minute is up. Repeat until 100 total thrusters are completed. If athlete does not finish score is number of rounds and reps completed.
This WOD is a huge mental grind. Go out too fast and you’ll pay for it but trying to pace out the rounds means more reps cleaning the bar. Try to find the sweet spot of 5 reps of thrusters per round and keep a steady pace as you work.
Kalsu was an NFL player with an extremely promising career ahead of him. After starting the entire 1968 season with the Buffalo Bills as a guard, he was named Team Rookie of the Year. Despite the promise of a legendary career, Kalsu put that aside to enlist in the Army in 1969 and was soon shipped out to Vietnam, where he lost his life less than a year later. Kalsu left behind a wife and two young children.
7 Rounds For Time:
- 7 Deadlifts (315/205 lb)
- 200 meter Sprint
- 15 Pull-Ups
- 45 seconds Rest
This workout is designed to be fast and heavy and truly embodies the spirit of Pat Tillman. Try to go unbroken on the deadlifts and remember to relax your grip during the run. Break up the pullups as needed to ensure that you don’t hit a failure point too early in the workout, 45 seconds of rest won’t be enough time to fully recover between these brutal rounds.
Patrick Daniel Tillman (11/6/76–4/22/04) was a professional football player who left the National Football League and enlisted in the United States Army in May 2002. He joined the Army Rangers and served multiple tours in combat before he was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan. He was a recipient of the Silver Star, the third highest honor in the military, and a Purple Heart. Pat is survived by his wife Marie. He is also remembered through the foundation named in his honor.
- 50 Pull-Ups
- 400 meter Run
- 21 Thrusters (95/65 lb)
- 800 meter Run
- 21 Thrusters (95/65 lb)
- 400 meter Run
- 50 Pull-Ups
Daniel has one of those dangerous rep schemes that keeps you right at the threshold of being able to continue working without realizing the cumulative effect of the workload. Ease into the first 50 pull ups, push yourself on the run, and go for broke on the sets of thrusters!
Dedicated to Army Sgt 1st Class Daniel Crabtree who was killed in Al Kut, Iraq on Thursday, June 8th, 2006. Crabtree is survived by his wife, Kathy, and his daughter, Mallory.. He is also survived by his father, Ronald Crabtree and his mother, Judy Ann Crabtree.
5 rounds for time:
- 7 Muscle-ups
- 21 Burpees (Each burpee terminates with a jump one foot above max standing reach.)
Ryan is a classic CrossFit couplet that will rely heavily on your proficiency with the muscle-up. Take advantage of a kip to lock out at the top of the rings, the cumulative effect of 35 muscle-ups and 105 burpees do a number to your triceps.
Maplewood, Missouri Firefighter, Ryan Hummert, 22, was killed by sniper fire July 21st 2008 when he stepped off his fire truck responding to a call. He is survived by his parents Andrew and Jackie Hummert.
5 rounds for time:
- 3 rope climbs (15ft)
- 10 toes to bars
- 21 overhead walking lunges (45/35 lb plate)
- 400 meter run
This workout is a true total body burner that will heavily tax your grip strength and shoulders. Focus on using your legs to drive you up the rope, break up the toes to bar early, and moving with purpose through the lunges. Take advantage of the 400m run as “active recovery” and make sure to shake out your arms while you go.
U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ashley White, 24, of Alliance, OH, assigned to the 230th Brigade Support Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina National Guard, based in Goldsboro, NC. She died on October 22, 2011, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked her unit with an improvised explosive device.She is survived by her husband Captain Jason Stumpf, her parents Robert and Deborah, brother Josh, and sister Brittney.