Burnt Out? Me Too. - A Primer on Stress and Recovery.
Have you been feeling stressed? Burnt out? Exhausted? Trust me, you’re not alone. It’s tough enough to find balance in our lives outside of a global pandemic. When you add extra responsibilities like homeschooling and remove our self-care options, it can really turn the stress dial up to 11.
My name’s Will Frantz. I’m a personal trainer and a nutrition coach. I’ve helped people tackle a wide range of goals, from weight loss to scaling Everest, but my real specialty is recovery. I spent over 15 years driving myself into the ground and thought I was doing everything right - until the crash. Almost overnight I went from hard-charging high-achiever to depressed couch-potato. So I had to learn the importance of recovery.
We can’t be at our best when we’re burnt out. If we’re going to be our best not just for ourselves, but also for our families, we need to learn how to reduce stress and prioritize recovery. You can’t burn the candle at both ends forever. You will burn out. It’s just a matter of when.
I’m going to discuss a few ways to reduce stress and improve recovery. I’m going to discuss movement, sleep, food and supplements.
Some of these might apply to you. Others won’t.
I just want to provide you with some options to help you achieve your goals - whether that’s transforming your body, restoring your energy or renewing your passion for everyday life.
We can all appreciate the importance of exercise. Proper training can help you build muscle and lose fat so you can feel proud of how you look.
As you get stronger and more mobile, you also feel better physically. You don’t get winded climbing the stairs and you’re less likely to tweak your back while playing with your kids or picking up that bag of dog food.
Exercise also provides a lot more leeway when it comes to disease. Even a few hours of exercise per week will help you fight insulin resistance, even if your diet is…less than perfect.
That’s why I want to talk about movement. Unless you have specific athletic or appearance goals, you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the gym. You really only need a few hours per week of quality programming to provide you with great results.
But even if we’re hitting the gym every day, most of us aren’t moving enough. We live in an extremely sedentary world. We sit in our cars, at our desks, on the couch. Even if we spend an hour per day at the gym, we spend most of the other 23 on our butts. The ratio is all wrong. We need to move more.
Humans are built to move. Increasing our daily movement improves everything from our mental state to our digestion. And while it may seem a little counterintuitive, our recovery improves as well.
Most of us can appreciate the importance of a rest day. If you really crush yourself in the gym, you know you probably shouldn’t do the same workout the next day and expect to see good results. But “rest” doesn’t mean couch-patrol. The best, most effective rest actually comes from low-level activity. So if we’re really serious about recovery, we can’t just veg out in front of the TV. We have to move.
A walk, some light resistance training, or a bit of targeted mobility work will help you recover much better than sitting motionless in front of the TV.
It can be tough to fit movement into your day. Most of us don’t have the ability to take hour-long walks whenever we want. We have jobs to do and those jobs usually require us to be present at a computer.
We’ve all heard the “10,000 steps” idea, created in the 60s and recently popularized by fitness trackers. But 10k steps isn’t a hard rule. It’s more of an aspiration.
Movement Tips and Tools
If you’re able to dedicate half of your lunch break to a 30 minute walk, that’s great. It will help you digest your lunch, get you out in the sunshine, and you can probably collect 3-5 thousand steps in the process. You could also do three sessions of an “Active 10,” which requires less time than 10k steps, but seems to provide similar benefits.
If you can’t escape the office, a standing desk could be a great investment. I got an adjustable desk topper and it’s changed my life. Especially when I paired it with a tiny elliptical machine that fits under my desk. It gives me the option to move a lot more throughout my day without having to sacrifice my work. In fact, I wrote most of this article on it.
In the end, movement matters. Exercise is great, but we have to increase our low-level movement. Even small increases can provide huge benefits to your health, help you recover faster, and stave off burnout.
We can’t talk about recovery without discussing sleep. I was the guy who said “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” That’s how I spent most of my 20s. And while I wish I didn’t have to spend a third of my life immobile and ineffective, I do. I’ve come to appreciate the need for sleep and making it a priority has become a lynchpin to my success.
Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Some people have a genetic variation that allows them to get away with less, but it’s incredibly rare. Do you wake up every day after 6 hours of sleep with no alarm and no issues? No? Then it’s probably not you.
Everyone needs to prioritize sleep. It’s necessary to perform at your best.
The biggest factor when improving sleep? Consistency. I worked the night shift for a long time and I still get off work at 1am a few times a week. So I know a little bit about terrible sleep schedules and consistency can make up for a lot. The years where I stayed on night shift all week rather than switching back and forth were much better for my sleep. They weren’t great for my social life, but they were much better for my physical health.
When staying consistent, a sleep routine can be super helpful, but the biggest factor is waking up at the same time, every day. When you sleep in every weekend, you essentially get to experience jet lag every Monday. If you can commit to a consistent wake time, even on the weekends, you’ll do a lot better.
If you work an early schedule and don’t want to wake up at 4 am on Saturday, at least try to minimize the damage. A change in wake time from 4am to 6am is still a lot better than 4am to 10am. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
When you wake up, get yourself into the sunlight as fast as possible. Sunlight is the biggest regulator of circadian rhythm, by far. So the sooner you can get sunlight into your eyes after you wake up, the better off you’ll be. If you live in a Northern climate, consider some form of light therapy. The exact model depends on you and your needs, but they can really help those of us who live through cold, dark winters.
I could go on about sleep forever. The effects of blue light. Your bedroom environment. When and what to eat. There’s so much. It can get overwhelming.
The Big Two
So focus on the big two: consistency and sunlight. Wake up at a consistent time and get into the sunlight early and often. Once you get these down, we can talk about all the extra tips and tricks to start creating exponential benefits.
Food - And Food Prep
Food is clearly an important part of recovery. That’s why it’s often called the “rest and digest” state. We need to eat the right amount of high-quality, nutrient-dense foods if we’re going to recover.
But who has the time? Even if you like to cook, it can be tough to fit it into your daily schedule. That’s why I like food prep. I spend an hour preparing a ton of ingredients. Then I assemble those ingredients into different stuff throughout the week.
Multiple pounds of chicken thighs? Spread them out on a sheet pan and cook them in the oven for about 30 minutes. A few pounds of ground beef? 10-15 minutes in a pot on the stove. A few pounds of broccoli and green beans? Same sheet pan as the chicken for another 15-20 minutes in the oven.
I can get all of that done in about an hour. Then I’ll use different spices and sauces to make everything from Mexican to Indian to Jamaican throughout the week. Each meal only takes 10 minutes.
Food quality matters when it comes to recovery. And the best way to guarantee quality ingredients is to make them yourself. That’s why I focus so much on meal prep - because it’s one of the best ways to improve your health without taking up all your time.
Unfortunately, meal prep gets a bad wrap. Most people envision a life of Tupperware containers and boredom. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still get variety and spontaneity. And you don’t have to spend much time in the kitchen on busy weeknights.
Just focus on preparing ingredients, not meals, and invest in a few key spices and sauces that make those ingredients taste great.
If you want a little more info on meal prep, Taz has a guide that can get you prepping in 5 minutes a day. Go grab that here.
Lastly, we get to supplements. Let’s be clear, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here.
Supplements can be a great tool to get you through a rough spot. Licorice and Ginseng can help if you’re truly crashed. Ashwaghanda is great for cortisol regulation and can help to restore a healthy sex drive. Rhodiola can give you an extra boost in the morning while lemon balm and theanine are great at helping you to calm down. If you’re struggling with dopamine production, L-tyrosine can help restore your drive to get stuff done.
But all of these things are just band-aids. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try them. If you’re currently in a rough spot - new parent, working a 60+-hour week - then they can really help you get through it. But they’re not going to fix the problem.
Just like you can’t out-work a bad diet, you can’t out-supplement burnout. We need to address the cause of the burnout if we have any hope of feeling better in the long term.
If you do want to go the supplement route, remember two things.
1. Supplements are not regulated. So you have to trust the provider. Always buy from somewhere you trust, preferably a place that does 3rd party testing. Do your research.
2. More is not better. Too much can actually make certain supplements less effective. So always stick to the recommended dose.
Supplements are helpful, but they should never be your first plan of attack. They’re a tool. Not a crutch.
Recover or Burn Out
Recovery is not a short, one-and-done process. It’s a lifelong pursuit. We need to commit to a lifestyle that prioritizes recovery, or else all that macro counting and gym time isn’t really doing you much good. The work just teaches your body how you want it to adapt. The actual adaptations happen during recovery.
If you push too hard for too long, I guarantee burnout and a pretty fiery crash. So prioritize movement, get some good sleep, and focus on the right amount of high-quality food.
Thanks for having me! I hope some of this information proves helpful and gets you to start taking recovery seriously in your life.
I’m Will Frantz. I have a personal training certification from NASM and a couple nutrition coaching certifications from NCI and Precision Nutrition. I’ve helped people dial in their nutrition in order to help achieve a wide variety of goals, from losing weight to scaling Everest, but my real specialty is recovery. When I originally lost 50 pounds and got in better shape, I destroyed myself in the process. I thought it was the only way to look how I wanted. Now I look better, perform better, and feel better. And I get more done because proper recovery has allowed me to create more time in my day.
If you ever want to dive deep into recovery or learn how you can improve your sleep, please feel free to reach out: