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7 Reasons why you should complete an obstacle course race this year

7 Reasons why you should complete an obstacle course race this year

Obstacle racing has been picking up steam as a sport lately and it’s undeniably added a certain edge to the world of ultra and running competitions. This could be attributed to the ‘back to the roots’ nature of obstacle racing, which gives office people a chance to ‘be a marine’ for a day. To experience what would be considered crazy or at least highly unconventional in their day-to-day routine.

There are thousands of races worldwide, happening almost every weekend. Some probably very near you. But why should you, or anyone else, consider signing up for such an adventure? How can it benefit and enhance your lifestyle?

The fact of the matter is, obstacle racing involves the kinds of limits you will at some point confront in your other pursuits, such as career development, social interactions, mental and physical integrity. More importantly, obstacle racing helps you develop mental frameworks to deal with these challenges and to prosper. All through heavy involvement of untold perseverance and the crushing of the self-set limits holding you back.

1. Acquire leadership skills

Obstacle racing can make you a better leader. Regardless of whether you prefer racing alone or in a team of like-minded individuals, you will have to employ some challenger personality type traits in order to overcome obstacles. Most importantly, the obstacles aren’t just physical barriers you have to climb over. Often they are mental thresholds, just like the ones you have encountered in other areas of your life.

Just like your team members wouldn’t listen to a bad leader or someone who doesn’t convey good leadership values, likewise your body won’t take you far unless you have mastered self-control and self-discipline, which build a strong foundation for leadership.

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2. Practice grit and perseverance

Although grit is widely used as a synonym for endurance, its definition is entirely up to you. What we do know about grit is that it’s a good way to measure how far you can push your body before it wants to give up. There’s an emphasis here on ‘wants’, because having grit is also how you can ensure your body doesn’t give up until it has to. Taking on the challenge of completing an obstacle race can help you learn not to give up too early, especially when your body is still able to go further.

Thomas Edison famously wrote that many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up – the same applies to obstacle races. During most races you might see yourself reaching the finish line, but chances are you will not know how far you have come and how much you still have left to go. The finish line is rarely in sight until you’ve passed the very last obstacle.

So you’ll have to fuel yourself mentally to persist and keep going – from personal experience, I can tell you that you will need plenty of grit in your pockets. However, once you’re done with the race, this reserve of grit doesn’t deplete and you can rely on this mental strength to help you persevere through life’s other unpleasant experiences: the boring work ‘grind’, frustrating social situations, and other overwhelming and stressful dead-ends.

3. Learn to overcome the mental obstacles

In the gritty and muddy trenches you will encounter the unexpected. Depending on the length of the race and the number of different obstacles, your stress responses will be triggered a number of times. Primarily your response to the monotony of the so-called ‘daily grind’, the main mental obstacle you will encounter in your life.

In the field however, failure is not an option and the only way to finish the race is to embrace the challenges and the chance of failure. Running mile after mile, crushing one obstacle after another, swimming out of the murky waters and jumping into the mud, carrying your tired body – you will want to stop numerous times for numerous reasons, questioning yourself ‘why am I doing this?’.

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This question might be something you ask yourself in your everyday life too. It is the same question. The only difference is that, in the field, you can actually train your response to this question by putting yourself in a different environment. While training for one of these races, and during the actual race, you will push your mental boundaries. Other things in life might become easier as well and you might stop coming up with so many excuses for not doing things or finishing them.

4. Soak up the sense of achievement

Everyone enjoys a confidence boost and the boost that follows a completed race can never measure up to your selfie becoming popular on Instagram.

At the finish line, you will be rewarded with a shiny medal, a shirt or sometimes even a beer (which after a truly demanding course will taste better than any other beer you’ve had). However all of these pale in comparison to the emotional experience. You’ll get the sense of being part of a bigger picture; bigger than your ego. You’ll be part of a newly-formed tribe of achievers.

5. Enjoy the camaraderie & teamwork

You might expect obstacle racing to be extremely competitive, because of the assumption that only lunatics would attempt it. I’m happy to tell you it’s the complete opposite: people who go through extreme hardships (both physical and mental) together will experience a strong sense of bonding and social networking. This sense is not too different from the experience of the primal hunters and explorers, working together like one tribe. And quite often, it’s people outside of just your team helping you with an especially challenging obstacle.

Every obstacle-racing tribe, whether it was assembled for the fun muddy races, challenges like the Tough Mudder, or for competitive mudstacles like Spartan Races – will become a unique and welcoming community you can always rely on.

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6. Get fit more easily

Setting fitness goals that are bigger than just ‘looking good’ or ‘dropping 20 pounds in 3 months’ can help you to supercede them. Committing to a performance-based adventurous activity (for which you also cannot get a refund) will corner you into doing more, exercising more and eating better. You have no other choice but to get stronger and faster with the race day on the horizon.

And, you can rely on your community to inspire and support you, giving you the motivation to do better. Countless people got in the best shape of their lives because of a simple commitment to a single obstacle race, which built up into a sequence of events leading to their improved life.

Forget the scale and mirrors. Obstacle racing will give a completely different perspective on getting fit – it’s hell of a lot more fun than dieting and becomes much easier with practice.

7. Rewire your lifestyle

As shown in the above examples, obstacle racing really has the potential to change how you view challenges in life. The painful office experiences will become less stressful, your social life will improve, your love life might get a face-lift too. Since you will be eating better and training like an adventurer you will also feel better, be healthier and display the vibrancy of a go-getter.

Most importantly, the way you approach goals will change completely – you will get a source of motivation to achieve more and the momentum to act on it.

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And all of this can be achieved simply by signing up for the next race near you – go ahead and take the leap! There is nothing to regret except for not giving this a try. Just one small commitment might start your journey into a new and very interesting lifestyle, where staying fit is no longer an issue you have to think about daily and where you can build your own set of extended family and truly appreciate friends. It’s a life where, even outside the trenches, you can commit and achieve more than you ever imagined.

Are you ready for this? Check for a race here.

Featured photo credit: Justin Connaher / JBER MUDFEST 2012 via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Wouldn’t you like to be able to eat twice as much as you do now without gaining weight? If so, I have good news for you because this is possible when you learn how to increase metabolism.

How Much Do You Know About Metabolism?

Before we get to the meat, let me say that metabolism is a term that describes all the chemical reactions in your body.[1] These chemical reactions keep your body alive and functioning, however, the word metabolism is often used interchangeably with the metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn.

The metabolic rate is a rough estimate of how much energy your body needs to simply stay alive and perform all its biochemical reactions. These reactions require energy, aka burn calories.

Imagine that your brain alone consumes nearly 20% of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure at rest),[2] your digestion and the detoxifying system come second, repairing tissues third and so on.

Staying alive is expensive for your body and its two main currencies are fats and sugars.

When I am talking about improving your metabolic rate (metabolism), I mean improving the amount of energy, your body requires to (pretty much) lay down in bed and do nothing for 24 hours.

Extra physical activity, extra thinking or fighting illness are things that require a lot of energy (burn a lot of calories) but they don’t really increase metabolism… actually they can decrease it.

Can You Naturally Change the Speed of Your Basal Metabolism?

The answer to this question is yes and you can also achieve an increase in metabolism and a drop in body fat by eating more.

Shocked? Well, I was too.

The way I came across this phenomenon is quite funny. Over my 10 years as a coach, I helped many busy professionals to naturally increase their metabolism by getting them leaner, fitter and stronger but, at the beginning of my career, I actually had no idea whether they were losing weight because of an increase in metabolism or because we created a calorie deficit with diet and exercise.

When I was training my clients regularly, they would lose weight. Every time I would take a few weeks of vacation, I would come back to London and find out that most of them gained back a generous amount of weight despite the fact that they were following their diet and they swapped our weight training sessions with cardio.

On the contrary, when they were going on vacation, they would do zero exercises and binge like there was no tomorrow but come back either lighter or weighing the same (but looking more muscular).

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Observing this phenomenon happening over and over again, got me curious about the mechanics of our metabolism and the ways to hack it.

Was it really possible that by relaxing and eating more food, someone could actually maintain his/her current weight or even be losing fat?

Driven by the desire to answer this question, I spent a good amount of years researching and testing different food strategies until I finally cracked the code to an improved metabolism that allows you to eat like a king and look like a Greek God.

Does Eating More Increase Metabolism?

Before I explain why eating more increases your metabolism, let me dig into something that I see people doing much more often: “eating less and moving more.”

It is quite common to see people embarking their yearly weight loss journey (usually after Christmas or Easter) by following very restrictive diets and bombarding their body with several hours of exercise per day.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of this approach, in the long run, if the goal is to increase metabolism and lose a lot of fat over an extended period of time, this simply won’t work.

As I have mentioned before, eating fewer calories and exercising more are energy-consuming activities for your body. In the first case, your body needs to use its own energy reserves to top up the missing energy it needs to fully function; and in the second, it takes your body extra energy to contract your muscles.

In both cases, your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure at rest) doesn’t vary much; therefore your metabolism stays unchanged.[3]

A different scenario happens when you eat less and move more for an extended period of time (weeks or months). In that case, your metabolism will slow down because your body is receiving a “we have little access to food and we need to run away from threats” signal.

Your metabolism is like your bank account.

To understand this concept, let’s imagine that you have $4,000 coming into your bank account each and every month. The money you spend on housing, transport, food and leisure are calibrated according to this monthly income.

Now, imagine that a rich uncle starts to send you $1,000 each day. What would you do? Probably, you would save that money for the first two or three days but, when you notice that $1,000 keep on coming every single day, you would likely start to spend more right?

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What if, instead of a rich uncle sending you money, a poor uncle needed your financial help to pay for the treatments of his illness? You would probably try your best to adjust your spending according to your old $4,000 monthly budget.

That’s exactly how your body reasons:

More Resources Coming in = More Energy Released (Improved Metabolism)

Fewer Resources Coming in = Less Energy Released (Decreased Metabolism)

Note that activities like weight training[4] and high-intensity interval training (HIIT),[5] when combined with an increase in nutrient-rich foods, will also improve your metabolism.

For this reason, today, when I coach a new client, I always start by increasing their daily food intake and their physical activities. Usually, people are quite confused because they come to me to lose weight and I tell them to eat more but, without fail, the next weekly weight-check shows a lower number.

Be aware that not all foods are equal and only certain foods have the power to increase metabolism to a noticeable extent.

Foods That Increase Metabolism

Doubling up on Snickers bars won’t improve your metabolism and you know that. What you may not know is that certain foods that are marked as “healthy” doesn’t help you with increasing your metabolism. They also make you gain weight.

Before giving you a list of foods to eat or avoid, let me explain a simple principle of human biochemistry.

Your body uses energy from three (or four) main sources:

  • Sugars: whether you eat a Snickers bar or a banana, the carbohydrates contained in both get absorbed in the gut and become blood glucose (the basic form of sugar our body utilizes as a source of energy).[6]
    When blood glucose is present in the bloodstream (elevated levels), the body always uses it as its primary source of energy. When blood glucose levels drop (this phenomenon happens when you’re using these sugars to fuel a physical activity or when your pancreas produced a spike of insulin and stores that glucose into fat and muscles), your body starts to release fatty acids into the bloodstream to use as a source of energy.
  • Fatty acids: either from your own fat cells (adipocytes) or from whatever fat-containing foods you ate in the past 2-3 hours. Fatty acids are a slower and more consistent form of energy than sugars that your body can utilise.
  • Amino acids: Amino acids are the broken-down form of proteins. Proteins cannot be used by the body as a source of energy, not even in their broken-down form. Your body can transform amino acids into glucose with a process called gluconeogenesis.[7] This is a very inefficient process where a decent amount of energy gets wasted (and that’s a good thing for us but I’ll get to that later).
  • Ketones: when you don’t feed your body any source of carbs (or proteins in excess), your liver produces an alternative source of energy called Ketones. It can replace the need for glucose (most of it at least).[8]

Now that you know the four energy sources the body can use to fuel its metabolism, let’s get to the meat (quite literally).

To make this simple for you, I am going to divide foods into three categories:

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  1. Red Flags – Avoid the red foods because they slow your metabolism. They are usually extremely low in micronutrients and high in antinutrients (agents that are highly toxic). They are highly processed or spike your insulin levels (therefore stopping your fat burning process).
  2. Orange Foods – Limit your consumption of orange foods. The orange foods on the list are suboptimal choices but they don’t have a negative impact on your metabolism when consumed in moderation. In fact, they contain a decent amount of micronutrients and, if eaten in small amounts, they shouldn’t stop your fat burning process.
  3. Green Foods – These are foods to consume most. Green foods will improve your metabolism and should be the main bulk of your diet.

Next, I’ll get into details exactly what foods to eat and avoid:

Sugars and Carbs

Sugars do not directly improve metabolism because they stop the process of fat utilisation. There is an exception to this rule though. When you eat a diet extremely low in carbohydrates and sugars for an extended period of time (two to six days onwards), introducing carbohydrates and sugars can actually improve metabolism quite a bit.

Unfortunately, for most of us that love eating bread, pasta, fruit and yoghurt, unless we were on a low-carb diet for the past few days, these foods are not an optimal choice.

Sugars like fructose (found in fruit or commercial sugar) actually decrease metabolism and should be limited. Heavily processed sugars and carbohydrates should be also limited. Here is the colour list of sugars and carbs that affect metabolism:

Red Flag Sugary Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Dried fruit
  • Commercial and packaged corn
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • All sorts of candies and lookalike
  • Packaged fruit juices and purees
  • Sugary dairy products like flavoured yoghurt, condensed milk etc
Orange Sugary Foods You Should Limit:
  • Bread and flour-based products
  • Milk and also vegan milk alternatives that are sweetened
  • Most fruit (exceptions are in the green list below)
  • Potatoes and potato starch products
  • Oatmeals and other grains
Green Sugary and Carb-Containing Foods That Improve Metabolism
  • All berries except strawberries
  • Tubers like squash, carrots, parsnips etc
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White rice
  • All green vegetables

Fats

Fatty acids and fats, in general, can improve or decrease metabolism depending on their composition.

Red Flag Fatty Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Margarine and hydrogenated fat
  • Lard
  • Gmo oils
  • Most vegetable oils from seeds and peanut oil
Orange Fatty Foods You Should Limit:
  • Nuts
  • Meat fat
  • Nut oils (macadamia, almond, cashew etc..)
  • Seeds
Green Fatty Foods You Should Eat Daily
  • Extra virgin olive oil (non-heated)
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter (organic)
  • Egg yolks (free-range)
  • Bone marrow

The fatty foods in the green section tend to be very effective in increasing metabolism, especially in the absence of carbohydrates because they stimulate the production of ketones (I’ll talk about this later).

Bear in mind that 1 gram of fat has 2.5 times the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrates; therefore “eating more fats” to increase metabolism should be done very gradually to avoid weight gain.

Proteins

Eating food not only sends regulatory signals to your brain about abundance vs scarcity of resources, but it can also increase your metabolism for a few hours. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).[9] It’s caused by the extra calories required to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in your meal.

Protein causes the largest rise in TEF.[10] It increases your metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats

Eating protein has also been shown to help you feel more full and prevent you from overeating, in fact, a study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet.[11]

Also, proteins help preserve muscle mass.[12] The more muscle mass we have, the higher our basal metabolism is.

For these reasons, the first nutritional advice I usually give to clients is to reduce sugars and increase proteins. This quick swap is often enough to kickstart their metabolism and commence the fat burning process.

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Red Protein Sources That Should Be Avoided
  • Cheap whey proteins
  • Soy proteins
  • GMO meat
  • GMO eggs
  • Packaged meat
Orange Protein Source to Be Limited
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned fish
  • Canned meat
  • Gluten-rich products like Seitan
  • Farmed fish
Green Protein Sources to Have Daily
  • Free-range meat
  • Free-range eggs
  • Wild meat and fish
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Collagen and beef protein hydrolyzed

Note that this is a general categorisation of the foods that, when added to your diet, have the power to increase or decrease metabolism. There are some specific foods and supplements worth mentioning because they have been proven to improve metabolism by increasing thyroid output or resting heart rate, they are as follows.

Other Foods and Supplements

Cold water

Drinking water may temporarily speed up your metabolism. Studies have shown that drinking 17 ounces (0.5 litres) of water increases resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour.[13]

This is not a surprise since our body is made up mainly by water and proper hydration is key to a fast metabolism. This calorie-burning effect may be even greater if you drink cold water, as your body uses energy to heat it up to body temperature.

MCT Oils or Powders

Medium-chain triglycerides or MCT have been shown to improve metabolism by stimulating Ketone production.[14] Coconut oil contains MCT fats and, when used as a replacement for cooking oil can help you improve metabolism.

You can buy the concentrated version of MCT oils and eat it separately to further enhance this effect. Either way, coconut oil or pure MCT oil can be a great addition to your diet if you’re following a ketogenic or intermittent fasting protocol.

Caffeine

Caffeine and coffee have been shown to improve metabolism by improving heart rate and, therefore improving calorie consumption.[15]

Green Tea

Green tea

is thought to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation, and to reduce fat production and absorption.[16]

Bottom Line

In this article, I just covered the basics of food and metabolism but, there are many other non-food related things you can do to improve your metabolism, like improving your sleep quality and following certain exercise routines.

For now, just know that making small and gradual changes to your diet can increase your metabolism and improve your general health. Starting from changing one habit at a time is always the best strategy to accomplish any goal.

Once you improve your diet, your hydration and your supplementation you can think about testing more advanced “bio-hacks” or techniques like ice baths and fasted HIIT training.

And remember, having a higher metabolism doesn’t only help you lose weight and keep it off but it also give you more energy and a feeling of vibrancy. If you give it time, it really is worth the investment.

Featured photo credit: Fitsum Admasu via unsplash.com

Reference

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