I don’t know about you but I hate the dark. No, not the dark that comes at midnight on a clear frosty night, nor the dark of a quiet bedroom in the small hours when everyone is sleeping. The dark that I hate is the dark that I had to wake up to this November morning: the dark that reminds me of being a schoolboy up in Yorkshire, where as you probably know everything is always grimmer and dimmer, and getting the bus to school before day has even broken. It’s also the dark that comes on so early that often I may never see a single solitary glimpse of daylight if I spend a full day in our basement gym here in London. This is the dark that drains my soul and saps my will to bounce out of bed with the joy and fierceness I try to bring to everything that I do.
Many people suffer from depression during the winter months because of the absence of sunlight. Now I am certainly not in that category, nor I hope are you, but perhaps you share my loathing of the malaise that affects productivity and general get up and go (especially in the morning, or at least that is the case with me) and want to know the best ways to address the problem.
Cold, dark mornings can be a killer for even the best of us…
The classic explanation for the winter blues, and the clinical condition known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), is a recognized form of depression directly linked to suboptimal vitamin D3 levels.
D3 is produced in the skin by sunlight absorption, so here in London we are deficient from at least October to March unless we supplement. Adequate levels of D3 are crucial for keeping SAD and other cognitive disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia at bay, but it is also a key factor in limiting our risk to a host of problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, MS, diabetes, and a weakened immune system. In fact, I bet you didn’t know that certain auto immune conditions (such as MS) are virtually unheard of in countries where sunlight exposure is high.
There is a very simple way to deal with a lack of D3 – take a good quality D3 supplement. My preferred D3 supplement (Poliquin D3 softgel caps) contains a high dose of 5000 ius and if you start taking this a month before winter time you should be well set. As an aside, my actual advice on D3 is to take it as a supplement year round. D3 is now widely regarded as the single most important supplement we can take for our health.
Get up and go in the morning
Whereas a potential lack of D3 is the single most important limiting factor to be eliminated when dealing with forms of SAD, the biggest winter time gripe I hear is the difficulty in getting oneself motivated to jump out of bed and attack the day with the same relish and gusto as on a sunny summer morning. Now up to a point we just have to deal with this and suck it up. I have a pet theory that as human beings we were designed to sleep less during the summer and effectively hibernate more during the winter, going to bed when it is dark and waking up at dawn. As we know the modern world, and the lightbulb, has put an irreversible stop to that practice so whatever we do it is never going to “feel good” waking up before sunrise. Hormonally we are still on sleep time (our pineal gland continues to produce melatonin until it is exposed to certain lightwaves) and it is going to take a jolt to get us shifting. The problem is that too many people opt for the double whammy jolt of caffeine and sugar (how many of us feel the need for that morning coffee and muffin more than ever as the winter draws in!) but this is a short term fix that will ultimately make you fatter, clog your arteries, and give you a crash once the insulin spike sends your blood sugar plummeting faster than Katie Price’s knickers.
There is of course a much better strategy. We want to raise cortisol levels early in the day (cortisol is not purest evil as some would have you believe, it can often be regarded as an “energetic hormone”), boost the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine, and stabilize blood sugars. And in my opinion we want to do all that as quickly as possible on a cold, dark winter morning to make the day kick off with a bang and not a whimper. The following works extremely well for me and a number of our clients:
First thing in the morning upon an empty stomach:
Take 2 Poliquin Alpha-GPC capsules; 3-5 Yang R-ALA capsules; and if budget allows 1 Resveratrol Px capsule; then eat the famous meat / eggs and nuts breakfast and don’t sweat it too much if you want a nice cup of coffee, it certainly won’t kill you and it might even do you some good!
The Alpha-GPC boosts Growth Hormone levels, has outperformed nootropic drugs such as piracetam and aniracetam for improving cognitive function, supports dopamine function and acts as a precursor to acetylcholine. Just taken as stand alone supplement it can dramatically boost your ability to focus, but when taken in conjunction with Acetyl L-Carnitine (found in the Yang RLA) the effect is even more pronounced as the nutriceuticals potentiate one another.
The Poliquin Yang R-ALA is a great product that I use year round, both to improve my “get up and go” and as an all round pre-workout aid. I’ll steal a few lines from the Poliquin website on this particular supplement:
Yang R-ALA contains:
Acetyl-L-Carnitine Propionate 500 mg
R-Lipoic Acid 100 mg
Benfotiamine 25 mg
Biotin 4 mg
The Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) gives it its Yang property by helping you get energized write from the get go. Being the ester form of carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Nutrition researchers believe that ALC improves cognition by enhancing the activity of acetylcholine and/or increasing neuronal metabolism. There is a good chance that ALC might increase dopamine activity in the part of the brain where dopamine is produced and it has been documented in the literature that ALC enhances cerebro-vascular and cardio-vascular blood flow, which will potentiate any other pre-workout nutraceuticals that I usually recommend. A further added benefit of acetyl-l-carnitine, is that like the branched chain amino acids, it will prevent the decrease of plasma testosterone associated with high training loads, and will likely have a positive effect on your endogenous testosterone. This product is particularly useful for people who when exposed to long term stress show signs of low morning cortisol, such as early morning and difficulty waking up. A great thing about ALC is that it has an amphoteric effect on cortisol levels, raising or lowering levels depending on feedback mechanisms. If it is too low and, it will bring cortisol up. If it is too high, it will bring it down.
From an observational standpoint, I have noticed increased strength performance in athletes who take a high dose of ALC prior to workouts. Athletes report being more awake and focused. I would recommend you use 3 grams of acetyl-l-carnitine on an empty stomach upon arising in the morning before you have breakfast. Anything less than that is not worth it. It seems that the more the better. I have used as much as seven grams with remarkable results.
The R-form Alpha-Lipoic Acid as a supplement offers you many advantages:
More lean muscle mass
Improved insulin sensitivity
Increased fat loss
Enhanced post-workout recovery by increasing glycogen synthesis and ATP levels
Very potent anti-oxidant
Lowering cardio-vascular risk factors
Benfotiamine is basically allithiamine, a naturally-occurring lipophilic form of thiamin (vitamin B1). Benfotiamine’s main advantage is its ability to cross cell membranes effectively. Which means that bioavailability over conventional thiamin supplements, thiamin pyrophosphate, and other allithiamines is superior. Benfotiamine inhibits glycation, which in layman’s terms is a caramelization of tissues. The Biotin works synergistically with the ALCAR to boost dopamine levels, and it is a team player in insuring that the enzymes that metabolize nutrients are in optimal supply.
Resveratrol – you can read much more about resveratrol supplementation here, but in a nutshell just one of the many things that it does is boost metabolic efficiency giving you a noticeable kickstart to the day!