Indecision is Catabolic

Indecision is Catabolic

Over the last week, spending time with visiting family, reading, and catching up on sleep and exercise have all been high on the priority list. Back in the spring of 2015 I tore my right rotator cuff and it generated quite a bit of scar tissue in my sub-scap. Since then I’ve been working to rehabilitate it, though admittedly not as diligently as I should be doing. So far the range of motion and strength in my shoulders are slowly getting back to normal, but not what it once was.

I really enjoy strength training, though I’m still a comparative novice. I enjoy training because it’s easily-measurable progress and there are no excuses to be had if you don’t complete the routine. Proper strength training and eating in a calorie surplus is how one strengthens muscles and bones. It’s an anabolic process, where the cells grow in size and the neural connections between the brain and the cells increases, thereby increasing the capacity of the cells to generate force. New tissues are created. The opposite process would be a catabolic process, where the body breaks down molecules into small molecules and releases energy. Running or exercising for an extended period of time generally results in catabolism, breaking down fat and muscle tissues to create energy for the body.

Anabolism is the growth of new muscle and bone tissue. Catabolism is the depletion of tissue to use for energy. The details are less critical, but the nomenclature of anabolic and catabolic processes are somewhat important to the story here.

At the gym one day last week I was speaking with one of the trainers there, John. He’s a super friendly guy from a large Chinese city who went to university in the USA and has been a personal trainer for the last half decade. I worked with him for half a dozen sessions this summer to help me with my rehab process. We were riffing back and forth about what I could focus on for the next year: rehabbing my shoulder further by focusing on range of motion, cutting weight so I can look my best at my wedding, or focusing on getting weights back where they used to be before the injury.

All three of these are equally realistic and compelling goals, but require vastly different plans to achieve them. The first would require a focus on stretching, yoga, and mobility with a calorie balance.

The second would require more cardio with a calorie deficit. The third would require more strength training with a calorie surplus. There’s no one perfect solution or plan, but it just depends on my goal.

Of course, me being me and naturally wanting everything all at once and yesterday, I asked, “Can’t I just do them all at the same time? Stretch, get fit, and strength train?" John replied, “Just decide what you want.” Immediately hearing Confucian-like wisdom through a veneer of bodybuilding brospeak, I laughed to myself.

Wanting him to share more, I asked, “What do you mean?"

He said, “You could try to do all three, but you probably wouldn’t see much progress in any of them then. Of course you’ll definitely be healthier if you go to the gym all the time, but you’ll probably end up about where you started at the end of the year. When you’re losing weight you’re also losing muscle. When you’re working on flexibility you will have trouble losing weight because the tissues need food to stay healthy and how do you say it? Stretchy? And when you’re gaining muscle you add fat. Just decide what you want."

Perhaps it’s a stretch to say this applies to everything in my life, but in that moment I sure felt like it did.

Walking home, I repeated John’s words to myself over and over.

"Just decide what you want."