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Balancing Act: How to Harmonize Anabolic and Catabolic Processes for Optimal Health and Strength

I’m sure we’ve all seen images of lady justice, standing with her eyes blindfolded holding the scale. Our body does its own balancing act all the time, constantly replacing cells and tissues, building new and breaking down old. These actions can generally be considered “catabolic” building up, and “anabolic”, breaking down. It is important to maintain a balance between these two activities as problems arise when we get out of hand in one direction or the other. Overgrowth, or rather “uncontrolled” cell division or growth, is what we see with the development of tumors. Too much breakdown without enough building leads to its own set of problems, and generally results in weakness or vulnerability of tissues. Our body likes to maintain a roughly constant internal environment, called homeostasis and have balance in its various processes of catabolic and anabolic activities. When it comes to training and building up strength, we must remember this balancing act and keep it top of mind in order to see the best results.

There are many training principles out there to maximize muscle growth and strength. Some programs involve lifting heavy weights or have high training frequency. Others use a pyramid or reverse pyramid strategy to build strength. What we often don’t discuss is the key role that rest plays in our ability to gain strength and reap the maximum benefits from our physical activity programs. When we train at a high intensity, there is a fair bit of anabolic activity happening, this breakdown of the old tissue is necessary for us to build up muscle strength and fitness. But this must be balanced with adequate rest to give our body time to repair and grow stronger. Tipping the scales too much one way – even towards the training that we intend to be good for us, can sabotage our goals and limit the desired results.

Exercise, in moderation is a “good stress” on the body and we will see a breakdown and build up of new tissues. When determining how much we should do, we must also look at the other stressors in our life – the not so good ones, like chemical stressors from toxins and less than ideal diets and emotional stressors. Our body can respond positively to stressors when it is given time to rest in between exposures. Elite athletes are obviously very dedicated to their training regimes and often the difference in performance and seeing positive adaptations to their training is the amount of rest they get in between training sessions – and how many other stressors they must balance. Training very hard, day in and day out and then not getting adequate sleep will result in not much benefit and positive adaptation. For example, we may not appreciate strength gains despite doing an extensive training program. In this case, our lack of results are not because we’re not training hard enough, but because we’re not resting enough in between and not getting adequate sleep (which is when our body gets a lot of its repair work done).

If you are exercising regularly and not seeing results, it’s possible the program is not designed to optimize whatever it is your performance or functional goals are. But consider that it’s also possible that you are not giving your body the opportunity and tools to make the repairs that would maximize your efforts. Rather than automatically increasing your training to see more results, examine the pieces needed for the body to build – that is do you have good sleep habits and are getting adequate rest and are you providing your body with the right amount and type of fuel it needs to build new tissues? Physical stress on the system can be great and is an essential piece of living a healthy life, but as with most things in the body, whether or not we see results all hangs in the balance. So take off your blind fold and check the scale – too much or too little on either side may be the issue.



Written by: Dr. Mandy Downie


Dr Mandy

Dr. Mandy Downie is the founder of Navigate Vitality. Her ultimate goal is to help people understand the body in a way that makes sense to them. Dr. Mandy believes that with education comes great power and it’s available to all of us – if only we have the right people teaching and leading us. Making changes is hard stuff, we all stumble and sometimes need a little encouragement and guidance to help us succeed. She hopes that you will find her information helpful on your journey. Please take the lessons that resonate with you, leave the ones that don’t, but always keep moving forward. You do deserve to live the life you desire and it IS within reach – whichever path you choose to take! Navigate Vitality



Our amazing group of bloggers includes Nicole Lachance the Bella Vita Beauty Blogger, Renee Altman a Holistic Nutritionist, and many other guest writers.

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