Every experienced athlete knows that you simply cannot improve in every single workout. If this were the case, everyone would reach extraordinary performance just by training long enough. After successful training phases, hitting plateaus are totally normal, and even top athletes have to deal with them. However, the worst thing you can do is to not to worry about them and just continue with what you were doing.
You can’t keep doing the same thing everyday and expect different results.
The main reasons why you plateau
There are many reasons behind hitting training plateaus. If you find yourself trapped in one, you first have to figure out how you got there in the first place.
- Not doing enough: Your body adapts to certain stimuli. First, it will improve performance in order to catch up to the stimulus, which in our case is the training itself. But once your body is adapted, it doesn’t need to progress any further and it will stop. So, the first and most obvious reason why you plateau is lack of training intensity and/or volume.
- Doing too much: Now we learned that not doing enough causes plateaus, but too much of a good thing can always be bad too. If your training intensity and volume is too high, your body will struggle to recover from it. Gains in strength, endurance and muscle size are not happening while you’re training. Your body needs to recover in order to build structures which help it adapt to the the stimulus. Not giving your body enough rest can lead to plateaus or even performance decreases. If this is the case, you may feel fatigued and tired. To correct this, either improve your recovery or decrease your training volume and intensity.
- Poor Nutrition: A car can’t run without gas and humans can’t function without food to fuel their activities. So eating too little can decrease your training performance as well as your recovery. You might know that already, but think of it this way: even if your gas tank is full, your car still can not drive without oil to keep the system running smoothly. Eating enough calories will provide you with the necessary fuel, but if you’re lacking micronutrients your body will not perform at its maximum potential. Vitamins and minerals are key to keeping your system running.
- Lack of Motivation: This is somewhat part of not doing enough. If you’re not in the mood of working out or you don’t feel motivated, your intensity will not be as high as it could be or you might even skip some sessions. Fixing your mood and finding new motivations can help you to get active again. Lighten your mood, remind yourself why you started exercising, and set goals that you want to achieve in a given time period.
Eating enough calories will provide you with the necessary fuel, but if you’re lacking micronutrients your body will not perform at its maximum potential
Of course, there are many more reasons why your progress can come to a stall, but the four I’ve listed are certainly the most common ones and most active people will come across at least one of them in their workout career.
Why Micronutrients can be the key
We discovered four different reasons why your progress can lack. However, those have underlying causes which could be the key to new levels of your training performance. Below is a list of key nutrients that affect mental and physical health. If one of those is out of balance, you can’t reach your maximum potential to perform your best.
Most of us know that low levels of magnesium can cause muscle cramps. However, there is much more to it. Magnesium aids in muscle and nerve function, energy production, glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Low magnesium levels have also been associated with depression, which can cause a lack of motivation and therefore not training frequent enough. Some symptoms of Magnesium deficiency are vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, and weakness¹. Approximately, 68% of adults in the US eat less than the RDA for Magnesium of which 19% consume less than half of the RDA². Human studies are indicating that Magnesium supplementation may improve strength and endurance.³
Vitamin D is called the “sunny vitamin”, because it’s the only micronutrient where the main natural source is not food, but rather endogenous synthesis fueled by sunlight. Without adequate direct sun exposure, our bodies do not produce much of Vitamin D. In 2010, 29% of the American population was clinically insufficient in Vitamin D and 3% were reported as clinical deficient⁴. However, 77% of the population ranges below the optimal amounts for bone health⁵. Suboptimal Vitamin D levels are associated with lower sleep quality which can lead to poor recovery⁶. It also correlates with depressive symptoms which can be a reason for a lack of motivation⁷. Finally, low levels of this vitamin are associated with suboptimal muscular performance in athletes as well as non-athletes⁸. So this one is certainly a nutrient you should worry about when you want to maximize your workout performance.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Sure, Omega-3’s are important for your cardiovascular health which definitely contributes to exercise performance. But low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids are also correlated with cognitive decline and depressive symptoms. Furthermore, a recent study indicates that Omega-3 fatty acids may ameliorate exercise recovery⁹.
Finally, I want to mention that B-Vitamins have essential roles in the body’s metabolism of energy¹⁰. A lack in one of those nutrients can decrease your potential to perform at your max. So don’t just worry about eating enough energy, but also have concern for your body’s ability to provide maximum energy to fuel your ambitions.
Bringing your nutrient levels in the optimal zone will maximize your potential to perform at your best, inside and outside of the gym
Take care of your Micronutrient intake
If you are reaching a workout plateau after a productive training phase, don’t just keep doing what brought you there. Go back an figure out what causes your lack in progress and try to take care of it. See if you can train harder, recover more, and eat better. Maybe change your workout routine to give your body a new stimulus to adapt to and find some new motivation. Also, get your nutrient levels tested and see where you can optimise. Bringing your nutrient levels in the optimal zone will maximize your potential to perform at your best, inside and outside of the gym.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary reference intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and fluoride. National Academies Press (US), 1997.
- Moshfegh, Alanna, et al. “What we eat in America, NHANES 2005–2006: usual nutrient intakes from food and water compared to 1997 dietary reference intakes for vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.” US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (2009).
- Zhang, Yijia, et al. “Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance?.” Nutrients 9.9 (2017): 946.
- Brock, K., et al. “Low vitamin D status is associated with physical inactivity, obesity and low vitamin D intake in a large US sample of healthy middle-aged men and women.” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 121.1 (2010): 462–466.
- Bailey, Regan L., et al. “Estimation of total usual calcium and vitamin D intakes in the United States.” The Journal of nutrition140.4 (2010): 817–822.
- Majid, Mohammad Shahi, et al. “The effect of vitamin D supplement on the score and quality of sleep in 20–50 year-old people with sleep disorders compared with control group.” Nutritional Neuroscience (2017): 1–9.
- Wong, S. K., K. Y. Chin, and S. Ima-Nirwana. “Vitamin D and Depression: the Evidence from an Indirect Clue to Treatment Strategy.” Current drug targets (2017).
- Koundourakis, Nikolaos E., et al. “Muscular effects of vitamin D in young athletes and non-athletes and in the elderly.” HORMONES 15.4 (2016): 471–488.
- Jakeman, John R., et al. “Effect of an acute dose of omega-3 fish oil following exercise-induced muscle damage.” European journal of applied physiology 117.3 (2017): 575–582.
- Depeint, Flore, et al. “Mitochondrial function and toxicity: role of the B vitamin family on mitochondrial energy metabolism.” Chemico-biological interactions 163.1 (2006): 94–112.