Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stress, Sleep, and Training

Add Training To This Sign!
Do you have a busy training and race schedule and have a job that requires long hours with lots of stress?  If you answered yes then you are not alone because many other people are in the same boat.  If you are driven to succeed then you probably work long hours and really hate to miss any of your scheduled workouts.  Most highly driven people are very driven to succeed with their training as well. Many times they overload their schedules with races that are probably more than they should take on given their work and family lifestyle. Let’s talk about how stress and lack of sleep can negatively affect your body. 

Stress can cause many problems and each problem can in turn cause another problem.  Everything can pile up and at some point the body can’t handle it anymore and it begins to breakdown.  Stress causes an increase in a hormone in the body called cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone that you need in small amounts, but in excess it can have a negative effect on your body, your training and your sleep patterns.  Stress can cause the following problems:

  • Headache
  • Stomach problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Tension or pain
  • Change in sex drive
  •  Anxiety
  •  Overeating
  •  Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  •  Inability to focus
  • Lacking motivation
  • Increase cortisol production
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle loss

If you have a stressful job you may not necessarily be able to change jobs but you can learn to manage your stress.  Most importantly is to not add to your stress by overloading your race schedule with unrealistic goals or goals that will stress you out more.  If you struggle to find time to train for shorter distance races then it might not be such a great idea to train for something longer.  I am all for people challenging themselves and setting goals however I don’t think its good if you are going to struggle to fit everything in.   If you are already time crunched and stressed then look again at the list of aliments you are looking at adding to your life.  On the other hand if you are stressed exercise may be just what you need but it needs to be able to be balanced right in your life.

Some ways to manage your stress include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, don’t drink alcohol or rely on drugs (medical or recreational), ease up on caffeine, get counseling, surround yourself with positive people, work on time management, and exercise.  If you’re an athlete then make sure your race schedule is realistic.

Too bad we all couldn't sleep like dogs!
Getting enough sleep is another key factor that will have an impact on your training.  Quality sleep is so essential for your body to recover from all of the training.  Quality training without quality sleep is the equivalent to driving a beautiful car but not taking care of the engine by getting regular oil changes and maintenance.  If you have a nice car and don’t take care of it after a while it will start to decrease its performance.  For a while it will run good but eventually without maintenance it will quit performing.  Your body is similar because without good quality sleep you may perform pretty good for a while but eventually it will catch up.  Sleep is when your body recovers from all the hard training you perform on a regular basis.  If you have trouble sleeping then you should experiment with ways to help you sleep better.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Remove all electronics from your room.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning if possible.  Shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Don’t short yourself on sleep one night thinking you will make it up another night.
  • Try meditation to help you sleep.
  • Try natural supplements such as melatonin, chamomile, L-theanine, L-tryptophan, 5HTP, and valerian.  I take a natural supplement called Tranquil Sleep made by Natural Factors.  It is a combination of L-theanine, 5HTP and melatonin. There are many more combinations out there and you can try several until you find one that works for you.  Most vitamin stores will guarantee their product so if one doesn’t work then return it and find one that does.
  • Cut back or eliminate caffeine and any other stimulate that you may be taking. If you have to have caffeine then don’t have it past 2pm.
  • Check your cortisol levels because if they are high then it will cause you to sleep restless.  There are supplements that you can take to reduce cortisol such as phosphatidylserine.
  • Try not to work out too close to your bedtime. 
  • Get regular massages.

If you are training and not getting enough sleep and stressed at work eventually it will catch up to you.  You may start to have subtle things that start happening such as getting sick more often or getting injured.  If you are training and you start your workout fatigued then your form is most likely not good and that can lead to injury.  Stress can cause an increase in inflammation in your body and that can lead to injury. 

Stress and lack of sleep have become a huge problem for most people and it will eventually takes its toll on your body so manage it now before its too late.

Train Hard.  Have Fun.  Recover Well.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Drink Up For A Longer Life

Without water we would die and our body is made up of water more than anything else.  Sometimes I feel like a broken record telling my clients to drink more water.  I can’t stress the importance of drinking more water.  It is such a simple concept that has huge benefits! 

I am going to name just some of the benefits of drinking more water.  Some of them are well known but I will also talk about some of the benefits that you probably didn’t know about.

Some benefits of drinking water that are well known to most people are:

  • Keeps skin looking healthy
  •  Improves energy
  •  Improve bowl function
  • Improve kidney function
  • Control appetite
  • Prevent headaches
  • Helps with fat loss
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Improve metabolism

Some less known benefits:
  •  Energize and build muscles - when muscle cells don’t have enough fluids they can become fatigued. If you are well hydrated it will take longer for them to become fatigued and you can work harder to build muscle.
  • Balance body fluids - your body is composed of 60% water.  The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. Consuming sufficient quantity of water is believed to prevent cardiovascular problems. Water keeps the body hydrated and prevents the arteries, both in heart and brain, from getting clogged. Therefore, it is believed to prevent heart attack and stroke.
  • Helps improve joint function -one of the lesser known benefits of drinking water is that it helps keep your joints strong, healthy and lubricated. Your joints need moisture in order to remain strong and flexible, so that your movements are smooth and pain free.
  •  Improves brain function - Drinking plenty of water also supports nerve function. It ensures that your body's electrolyte levels remain high enough to allow your nerves to relay messages to and from the brain in the way they were meant to.
  • Prevent diseases such as cardiovascular and cancer. Yes, that’s right – various research says staying hydrated can reduce risk of colon cancer by 45%, bladder cancer by 50%, and possibly reduce breast cancer risk as well. Water is essential for the proper circulation of nutrients in the body. Water serves at the body’s transportation system and when we are dehydrated things just can’t get around as well. Our digestive system needs water to function properly. Waste is flushed out in the form of urine and sweat. If we don't drink water, we don't flush out waste and it collects in our body causing a lot of problems. When combined with fiber, water can help with constipation.
  • Decrease pain – If you have chronic pain then drinking more water may help alleviate some of your discomfort.  Water is essential for transporting various substances within the human body. Cells exchange elements through a process called electrolyses. In the absence of water, this process cannot happen and the cells will become dry and die.

So how much water should you drink? There are many recommendations out there and not one exact answer  is for everyone.  If you exercise a lot and sweat a lot when you exercise then you many need more than the average.  Here is one recommendation I found:

The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day.  Another recommendation is to take your body weight and divide it in half and drink that amount in ounces each day.  I personally drink much more than either of those recommendations.  On average I drink about 1.5-2 gallons a day depending on how much I exercise and sweat.  That is about 190 ounces and according to the second recommendation I only need 70 ounces.  Both recommendations don’t factor in exercise so it is important to factor that into your total intake.  Its also important to factor in how much you sweat and you can look online how to perform a sweat rate test. If you don’t like water then try these tips to help you to drink more water:

·      Set a daily goal and keep track of your progress
·      Add lemon or lime to your water or try making a cucumber and mint-flavored water. 
·      Try incorporating some sparkling water.  I personally like sparkling water so if I allow myself and little bit of this each day in helps with my total volume. I don’t rely on sparkling water alone but adding a bottle or two each day helps with me total volume. 
·      If you are at a desk all day set a timer that will remind you to drink.

Drink up and feel better!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Master The Swim

Often times people come to be a few months before a race and want help with their swim.  Sadly at this point in many cases its too late.  Once you become a more efficient swimming in the pool you still need to learn to swim in open water.  All of this takes time and depending on what level you are starting at this could take a significant amount of time.  Many times I have people who can't swim ask me how many lessons it will take before they can swim.  I cringe when I hear that question because there is no right answer and everyone learns at different rates.  It also depends on how much practice they want to do on their own.  The more you can get in the water the faster you will learn and the more comfortable you will become in the water.  Even at an elite level this holds true.  I recently added one more day of swimming each week to my schedule and I had my best performance in an Ironman swim.  I went from swimming 3 days a week to 4 days a week adding about 4000 meters each week to my program.  Now a beginner does not need to add 4000 a week but even if you can get in the water 30-40 minutes 4-5 days a week that will help you become more comfortable in the water.  Here are some more tips to become more efficient at the swim:

  • Do it more- if you swim 1-2 days a week increase this to 3-4 days a week.
  • Get a coach to help you learn technique.  You don't have to meet with a coach for every session but meet with them 1-2 times a week to work on your form. 
  • Use tools - if you are having trouble getting it down then use tools such as buoy and fins.  These will help you focus on your form.  When you use a pull buoy you can take the kick out of the equation and focus on your stroke plus it lifts your body to put you in a better position.  Fins force you to kick with better form.  Some companies like Xterra have Lava pants that will make you more buoyant like swimming in a wetsuit does.  These pants are great for beginners and help you learn the technique without getting frustrated.  
  • Get out to the open water but do it with a friend.  Swimming in open water is so different than swimming with the pool.  The only way to get comfortable in the open water is to do it more.  Make sure you are safe out in the open water and always go with other people.  You can have someone paddle a knack next to you while you swim.  They also have safety devices that will attach to you while you swim and if you need it will help you in an emergency.  Even when swimming with one of the safety devices I would still make sure you have other with you. 
  • Get filmed - seeing yourself swim underwater and above the water on camera will help you understand what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong.  
  • Do drills and understand what they are working on - don't just do drills to do them.  Research or ask your coach why you are doing the drill.  Each drill usually is over emphasizing some aspect of the stroke. Drills are not how you will be swimming but they are helping a certain aspect of the stroke.  So understanding each drill will help you understand your stroke. 
  • Learn different strokes- learning each stroke will help your freestyle swim.  Don't just swim freestyle incorporate some or all of the other strokes into your workout.  Your workout should mostly be freestyle but adding other strokes is important to your freestyle stroke. Incorporating other strokes into your swim not only helps your freestyle form but it helps balance the muscles in your body taking you out of the freestyle position for your entire swim.  
  • Try a masters group- swimming with others in a large group forces you to get better.  Swimming with others keeps you moving and most times moving faster and makes it more social and less boring.
Too bad adult humans don't learn to swim as quickly as dogs.  My dogs picked up swimming on the first time.  Babies and kids learn quickly and usually if you learn to swim as a child it will carry with you through your life.  Learning as an adult is not impossible but much more challenging. 

Train Hard. Have Fun. Recover Well. 

Coach Cyndee