The catchphrase “listen to your body” is a general reminder to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you regarding your health, energy levels, mood, pain, etc. Paying attention to this information will show you when to rest, when to push hard in workouts, etc.
But we tend to only pay attention to energy, pain signals, and our general mood. Other things we measure and observe are also information our body is giving us.
Presuming you don’t have one: Some of this info can and should be tracked using a fitness watch such as a Fitbit or a Garmin. A suitable watch tracks calories burned and sleep on an ongoing basis. They’re not cheap (typically $100-400) but they are definitely worth their cost if you’re serious about fitness and personal development.
The information this watch can give you when worn everyday provides you with not just a wealth of stats, but those stats can communicate signals that your body hasn’t otherwise been able to get through to you.
Weight. This is one number you don’t need a fitness watch to track, but it’s still an important one.
If you get on the scale and the number suddenly goes up despite no other clear evidence you’ve overeaten, there’s a couple reasons this could happen.
Obviously, water weight is a prime culprit. Now, did you add water weight because of the food you’ve eaten? Have you been recovering from a period of hard exercise, and perhaps your muscles added water-aborbing glycogen? Were you perhaps a bit dehydrated and having drank some water your body has suitable re-hydrated?
Often, though, the composition of your recent diet is a likely culprit. A processed-food-heavy diet can lead to water-retaining inflammation. On the flip side, a carb-refeed combined with some rest may simply be your body restock glycogen, and since glycogen storage requires water you may be retaining water for a good reason.
Your energy levels will often indicate which is the case. A body full of restocked healthy glycogen will have more energy and drive in workouts. A body full of processed food inflammation and retained water will be more sluggish and possibly carrying some additional aches and pains.
Workout stats: Many athletes tend to view their workout stats one dimensionally. If their run times or weights/rep lifted begin to sag, they just get down on themselves… not realizing those stats may be telling them something important: They may be overtrained!
Your body will eventually fail to catch up to the volume and intensity of training when overtraining, and your performances will begin to decline. And, too often, letting your mood slide with your performance isn’t helping at all, as this generates a cascade of negative hormone reactions that hinder the recovery process you obviously need.
Don’t forget that regular periods of recovery are a valuable part of every training cycle and lifestyle. If you’re powering through all your body’s other signals that you need a rest, often your performance in workouts will tell you much more clearly that you’re due for a couple days off or a deload week.
Sleep stats: Not only is sleep now very underrated, but how we sleep (presuming we track our sleep stats with a fitness watch) can tell us about where we’re at physically.
Typically a person can get an hour or so of trackable deep sleep (where the body heals most) and an hour or so of trackable REM sleep (where we mentally and cognitively recover most), with possible occasional brief periods of waking during the night. Some may get more deep or REM sleep than others per night, and people who take CBD oil or other organic bio-friendly relaxants definitely get more deep and REM sleep than others.
However, an increase in deep sleep is not only good for you… it may indicate your body has faced some very physically demanding circumstances.
Often your training and lifestyle will match this, e.g. you went on a long run, or you didn’t sleep well the previous night, and then got 2-4 hours of deep sleep that night. Or you had a busy day of work training and study, and then got 2+ hours of REM sleep that night.
But what if suddenly, randomly… perhaps after feeling tired the previous day, you got 2+ hours of deep sleep out of nowhere, despite no discernible increase in activity? Again, this might be a signal that your overworked or overtraining. Perhaps it’s rather hot outside or indoors, and your body is taxed from dealing with it. For you it’s a bonus if you wake up that morning with great energy. But it can still be a body signal that you are doing quite a bit and need to scale back your training or other activity.
If suddenly you get a bunch of REM sleep… especially if you’ve burned a lot of calories the day before despite an unspectacular amount of training, you may be dealing or have dealth with a lot of stress, and your body is catching up to it. This can affect your training over time, though obviously if you feel physically fine then there’s not much need to cut down. Just perhaps simplify your workouts in the short term and avoid any high-intensity workouts for the next day or two.
Bathroom signals: I’ll try and minimize the TMI-risk with this information. This information is typically combined with other body signals to tell you important info.
People know that the tint of urine is a sign of hydration or lack thereof. We forget that the body is supposed to expel waste problems through urine, and it should be tinted yellow to some degree. That means our bloodstream and kidneys are doing their job. Your urine should often be darker during and after workouts not because you’re dehydrated, but because your muscles and blood produce waste and your urine is properly expelling it from your body.
Going beyond that, there is one dehydration signal to pay attention to. If you notice you’re sluggish, and also notice you have not had to pee much in recent hours… you probably need more water. Your blood viscocity has gone up and slowed movement of oxygenated/CO2-nated blood, which has sapped your overall energy. There’s less water available to flush waste into and out of the kidneys to your bladder. Drink some water.
Likewise, if you’re gaining weight, and you’re not constipated but do notice you haven’t had to crap as much… some of that weight might be biomatter trapped in your intenstines. You need more soluble fiber to help move things along. And you probably need the nutrients in the vegetables and grains that provide that anyway. So, mix in more vegetables, fruit, rice. Once this… passes… your weight will likely go down in kind.
While listening to your body requires you pay attention to the physical signals (pain, energy, etc) your body gives you, the resources available to you can also give you extra signals from your body worth paying attention to.