By Kevin Kolodziejski
If the group-ride slight in the following story strikes you as far-fetched, that’s a good thing for you. If it doesn’t, that’s not so good — but great for your two best buddies. Either way, it leads to an important point.
During a Sunday morning pre-ride gathering where it’s warm enough so that your buddies are wearing arm warmers and aero jerseys, the garrulous and good-looking girl who joined the Sunday rides a few times before a spate of bad winter weather suspended them greets the pair like long-lost friends. She comments on how racing fit they look, how she hopes they take pity on the rest of the group today. She sees you, utters your name immediately, and then — after a long pause — says, “Hi.” You reach down for your water bottle and see why she said nothing more. Where your aero-cut jersey meets your bibs, there it is, what curbed the conversationalist.
While it’s nowhere close to the beer-belly bulge you associate with a too frequent barstool sitter, you don’t associate what you’re looking at with a mega-miles rider either.
More than embarrassed, you’re angry. All the information you garnered from the high-tech toys you employ on your indoor and outdoor rides indicated you were laying the proper foundation for a fun and fast spring, so why the burgeoning belly? Well, it could have little to do with training efficiency and everything to do with sleep deficiency. Two recent studies suggest that added weight and a bigger belly are a possible result if while you were laying that training foundation, you were also spending less time lying in bed.
An Adjustment That Doesn’t Make Sense
When your body requires more energy than your diet provides, it taps into its fat stores to offset the deficit. Consequently, you lose weight. It’s an adjustment that makes sense. This one doesn’t.
You eat more if you sleep less than you should — even though the calorie requirement is essentially the same. As a result, you gain weight in the form of body fat. That was proven and published years ago, and it’s been proven and published again. Twice in the last two months.
A ‘Real-Life’ Study That Does
The first, found in the February 7 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, explains why a follow-up study was deemed necessary. The prior studies were short-term, extremely sleep restrictive, and “energy intake was ascertained from a single or a few meals.” In short, they “do not represent real life,” so the researchers at the Clinical Research Center at the University of Chicago, led by Esra Tasali, MD, and Kristen Wroblewski, MS, created one that did. They recruited 80 healthy men and women between the ages of 21 and 40 who were overweight but not obese and had ordinarily slept less than 6.5 hours per night for the last six months.
After observing the 80 individuals for two weeks, the researchers divided them into two groups. One group received sleep counseling with the goal of increasing their sleep time to 8.5 hours a night; the other didn’t. Both groups were instructed to go about their lives as they had before. They were not given diets or workouts to follow. Their sleeping and eating patterns were then monitored for two more weeks.
At the end of that time, the sleep counseling was deemed a moderate success. Those who received it were now sleeping 1.2 more hours per night on average (60 percent of the targeted goal) compared to the control group. With that extra sleep, though, came an additional benefit: “a significant decrease in energy intake.” When compared to the control group, the sleep extension group consumed 270 fewer calories per day on average.
Good News If You Need to Watch Your Weight
That change, according to the prediction model used in such research, creates a 26-pound weight loss over three years, which is certainly significant — and extremely important in this day and age.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest figures have the U.S. rate of obesity at 42 percent — a 28-percent increase since 2000. A Gallup poll from 2013 has time the average American sleeps each night at 6.8 hours — a 13-percent decrease from a year when Americans had a real reason to be sleep-deprived, 1942, the first year the U.S. was fully engaged in WWII. Taking both stats into account, it’s easy to see why the researchers at the University of Chicago’s Clinical Research Center feel their findings prove “the importance of improving and maintaining adequate sleep duration as a public health target for obesity prevention.”
And why the aforementioned second study hits that target’s bullseye.
A Lack of Sleep Adds Belly Fat — in 2 Weeks
Performed at the Mayo Clinic and published in the April 5 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, it links a lack of shut-eye not only to an increase in calories consumed and a subsequent increase in body fat, but also to an increase in the unhealthiest type of body fat: The belly fat deeper than the subcutaneous stuff that droops over your belt buckle. In the same way a piece of real estate becomes more valuable based on location, body fat becomes more dangerous. When you carry more than the amount of abdominal visceral fat needed to protect the organs, you increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease significantly.
And in only two weeks, Mayo Clinic researchers created an 11 percent increase of it in healthy individuals who were not obese and between the ages of 19 and 39 simply by restricting their sleep.
After having all 12 participants sleep 9 hours a night for four nights, the researchers had 6 sleep 4 hours a night for two weeks while the others continued sleeping 9. An 11-percent increase in unhealthy belly fat occurred in only two weeks’ time. Something of greater concern, however, was detected after a three-day recovery period where the sleep-deprived 6 again slept 9 hours a night. Even though they started eating less than the 300 extra calories they averaged during the two weeks of 4 hours of sleep and even though their overall amount of body fat began to lessen, all the added bad belly fat remained.
To read more about how a lack of sleep compromises both your health and your cycling, check out “Enhance Your Health, Stoke Your Cycling, Don’t Skimp on Sleep.”
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.