Wheelchair Fitness

Sleep... Best Supplement on the Planet

Sleep is by far the most important Tool that you MUST have in your toolbox for improving your strength and physique.  And for health in general.  Science and research into sleep have barely scratched the surface on truly understanding everything that happens during sleep as far as brain function and physical repairment.  To take that one step further, we know even less about how much long term poor sleep quality can effect everything related to your mind and body.

People are always on the lookout for that perfect workout program that will give you the sculpted arms, chest that pops and a massive back.  People will go to even greater lengths spending TONS of money on supplements and throwing anything imaginable into their body if a well done marketing campaign convinces them that THEY NEED THIS!  Yet people continually mitigate or flat out ignore the most important element into the formula to long term gains, proper rest.

Simple Formula

The formula to maximize your ability to achieve results is quite simple:

Workout Intensity + Nutrition + Rest = Results.

Assuming your diet is not a complete disaster and that you are eating somewhat clean by following the Basic Nutrition Guidelines your nutrition will be acceptable.  Also assuming you are working out at a high intensity at least 4 days a week with 3 strength sessions and an Energy session or two.  (Stretch goal of 300 minutes, Reasonable target of 200 minutes per week)  This is the case for most people who take their health somewhat seriously, they workout with intensity and have decent nutrition nailing 2 out of 3.

 I am not going to pay any attention to those who want to skip out on the Workout Intensity part, if you are NOT working out hard, or NOT willing to work out hard, you are on the wrong website...

Way too many people try to fake out the nutrition by throwing tons of supplements at bad nutrition, and this may work for a while.  But in the long run this will catch up with you.  Fixing nutrition is a whole other topic so I will not dive into that here.  Sleep, or Rest, is often the variable that is not a high enough priority for the majority of people and is the area in the formula that is the problem.

Sleep is Free

Sleep is the most affordable and easily accessible variable in the formula.  Sleep is also the element that you CANNOT fake out to maximize your results as you must rest via sleep.  Deep, natural sleep is required to fully clear out the junk in the brain as well as repair muscles, joints and ligaments.  After a night of truly good sleep you almost walk (or wheel) around minutes after waking as if you are tad buzzed.  This is a good sign you nailed your sleep the night prior.

Sleep Debt

Some sleep experts view sleep like a bank account where you can have a positive or negative balance on the amount of sleep and a negative balance is akin to sleep debt.  Some experts do not think it is possible for someone who has been not getting enough sleep to catch up on the weekend.  That these people cannot pay off that sleep debt over a weekend.  I disagree with this stance based on my experience as I believe you are able to make up a few hours on the weekend by throwing in a couple of 10 hour sleep sessions to make up for a few bad nights of sleep over the work week.  But weekend debt repayment, every weekend, CANNOT make up for week after week of crappy sleep.  That debt will overcome you and health issues will be around the corner.

How Much Sleep?

Experts put the ideal number of hours of sleep per night at 7-8.  Although this varies all over the place on the internet.  For easy calculation purposes lets assume a good starting place is to get at least 50 hours of sleep per week, which is a tad over 7 hours per night.  If you slept 6 hours per night on workings days, for 5 days you would have 30 hours.  To make up your sleep debt you get 10 hours on both weekend nights, and there you have your 50.  The problems arise when you start dipping below 6 hours of sleep per night during the week.  If you only achieve 5 hours of sleep a night for the five working days you get to the weekend with only 25 hours of sleep and need to catchup on 25 hours in two nights.  This is where it gets tricky to actually catch up and begins to lead into a long term sleep debt situation as you are placing a very heavy burden on two days to equate to five.

Sleep Debt Signs

Some very basic sleep debt signs that can arise over time.

  • If you are extremely groggy several minutes after waking up, you are behind on sleep.

  • If you have been up for several minutes, and the only thing you can think about is being back in your bed, your are behind on sleep.

  • If as you are about to head out to work in the morning, the ONLY thing on your mind is you cannot wait to get back home to sleep, you are behind on sleep.

  • Increase in muscle soreness, aching bones.

  • You become sick fairly easily, quite often. Every month or so.

  • Your problem solving or general thought process feels slow or cloudy. In other words, you feel dumber.


To improve your health and physique you must pay attention to all three variables, workout intensity, nutrition and SLEEP.  Make every effort within your control to get at least 7 hours per night on weeknights, limiting the amount you try to catch up on the weekend.  If your sleep is consistently falling under 6 hours you must make changes to adjust your sleep patterns as this will catch up with you over time.  In your 20s you can over come poor sleep.  In your 30s you will start to feel the affects.  In your 40s and beyond real problems in your health will present themselves for MOST people.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

The amount of calories required per day for a person in a wheelchair, who has limited or no movement of their legs, is a subject I see nowhere on the internet.  This is a problem as just blindly following a recommendation or guideline based on able-bodied individuals is truly an apples to oranges situation.  If we look at the most basic calculations for able-bodied individuals the simplest method is the following:

Fat loss = 12 - 13 calories per lb. of bodyweight
Maintenance (TDEE) = 15 - 16 calories per lb. of bodyweight
Weight gain: = 18 - 19 calories per lb. of bodyweight

So for a 150lb pound person they would take in 1800 for fat loss, 2250 for maintenance and 2700 calories in per day for weight gain.  That sounds reasonable for a person who gets a normal level of daily activity with some gym time.  However, I will tell you right now if you follow this table, and you are in a wheelchair with limited use of your legs, you will pile on pounds over time if you follow this table.  Every chart I have seen will do some calculation added in based on activity and once upon a time I based my caloric intake on this chart factoring in my 4-5 times per week of strenuous activity.  I found out after a couple months that just as the mortgage crisis found out, the formula is BROKEN!!!

I don't have to get too scientific here to make the claim that the legs are the main burn of calories, even in sedentary folks who do the minimal amount of walking required to get around.  It's leg day that destroys people in the gym, it's the day even the hardest core of gym-goers fears.  People who just walk around the office burn more calories in that little of activity than they realize and these types of calculations are based on that.  So what do we wheelers do?  

We do what we always do, adjust.  The ratios from above were 12 for fat loss, 15 for maintenance and 18 for weight gain.  For wheelers I would start with bringing that down to 10 for fat loss, 12.5 for maint and 15 for muscle gain.  For a 150lb person this gives you:

  • 1500 calories per day for fat loss.
  • 1875 calories per day for maintenance.
  • 2250 calories per day for fat/muscle gain.

This is by no means black and white, but this is a starting point.  In a comparison of an able-bodied person  to a wheeler it is around 300 calories less per goal.  Depending on your goal I would start with these targets and +- 100 calories on either side of the target.

RANT:  I F-ing hate the term able-bodied in comparison to us wheelers.  Put your typical lazy-ass male my age in a bench press competition, followed up with a pull up competition against me and see who is "able-bodied".   But people know what  I mean and it shortens the paragraph versus saying "a person who can walk".  I digress.

On days you do NOT do a hard gym session or a lot of cardio I would recommend dipping closer to a fat loss target of 10 calories per bodyweight.  We just do not burn a lot of calories wheeling around unless we are going up hills, and if that is the case I would classify that as cardio.  Our wheelchairs are all lightweight, titanium or aluminum.  Built to be as efficient as any high priced bicycle.  Plus over time our wheel stroke becomes extremely efficient as well.  Combine an efficient wheelchair with an efficient stroke and you burn almost nothing on basic wheeling and regular daily activities.  So start with these targets in mind.  

  • 10 fat loss
  • 12.5 maintenance
  • 15  muscle gain

If these are A LOT less calories then you normally consume, make a smaller adjustment.  On days you do perform a strenuous weight training session or cardio, bump the calories up  above maintenance levels.  Drop back down under maintenance on non-training days.  Base it on how you feel and monitor your weight/fat loss weekly and monthly.  And finally, DO NOT blindly follow dietary recommendations geared towards "able-bodied" folks as you will most certainly gain weight over time.

If you missed the article on the basic nutrition guidelines, check it out here.


Reference:  http://healthrecipes.com/calories.htm