Experiencing mid-season burnout and wondering how to get back on the top of our game? Here are a few things you can do overcome those feelings of low energy and lack of performance – physically and mentally.
Have your blood chemistry evaluated for any deficiencies before completing any max heartrate assessments. You need to identify any deficiencies that may inhibit performance, and more importantly, your overall health. Some of the common deficiencies we see with our clients are low iron and CoQ10 levels. With some adjustments to your diet and simply eating nutritional meals on a regular basis, your blood chemistry will return to normal. Keep in mind that it takes six months to completely replace all of your muscle tissue; the body you have today is literally a reflection of what you have been consuming over the last six months.
Eat more food and more often. The most common scenario seen with our athletes is that due to such a full schedule, they are often too busy to eat. To get a better idea of your caloric intake, simply keep a food log for four days (preferably two weekend days and two week days) and then evaluate the total grams of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that you have consumed for each day. There are many different theories as to which combinations work the best. However, each athlete responds to foods differently – carbohydrate sensitivity, slow metabolism, etc. Don’t take on one diet or another; instead, document and evaluate to make sure that you are doing what is right for you. Having your blood tested at regular intervals will help determine if you are getting enough of the necessary macro and micronutrients. The most consistent finding we have seen has been that athletes do not consume enough calories. This not only leads to fatigue, but also hinders performance levels because the necessary nutrients to rebuild muscle are inadequate.
Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water. When you realize that the average human body contains 96 pints of water and that 64 of these are intracellular, you quickly see the importance of hydration to the survival of an endurance athlete. When a muscle becomes dehydrated by only three percent, that muscle loses 10 percent of its contractile strength and also incurs an eight percent loss of speed. Imagine undermining all of your hard work by starting your workout under hydrated and then making the situation worse by not consuming adequate fluids and electrolytes (to facilitate the absorption of the water). Most athletes don’t pay attention to how much body weight they lose in a regular workout, so they are not able to determine their hydration needs in an important hard workout or race. Remember, knowledge is power. Know what your typical losses are and how to replenish them.
Complete a max heart rate assessment and establish specific heart rate training zones. Endurance athletes don’t have problems “going hard” but rather “going easy”. To many athletes, this would seem counterproductive given all of the hard work of a weekly schedule. However, active recovery days are just as beneficial as hard training days because they help get fresh blood flow into broken-down muscle tissue and also help loosen muscles for slow, passive stretching. What is the highest heart rate at which you can exercise and still get the benefits of active recovery? This training zone is a combination of your true max heart rate and your resting heart rate levels. Determining all of your training zones (from easiest to the hardest) requires capturing your resting heart rate for a minimum of four weeks to establish an up-to-date average and completing a max heart rate test every for 8-10 weeks to determine if your max heart rate has changed (the actual calculations of heart rate zones involve some additional calculations outside the scope of this article). Keep in mind that the heart is a muscle, and the stronger it gets, the lower your max heart rate becomes because it can push the necessary amount of blood and oxygen at a lower heart rate. Don’t worry about a low heart rate affecting your training levels, because your resting heart rate usually falls accordingly.
Add one hour a night to your sleep and add a nap on the weekends Though this is the tip that costs nothing (other than your time) and is the most comfortable (if you can calm your mind), it is the most overlooked. Rest is your body’s opportunity to rebuild and repair muscle tissue (which is the purpose of training in the first place) and replenish the blood chemistry with foods you have consumed. If you break down a typical 24-hour day, you immediately lose 8-10 hours a day for work, an hour for traveling to and from work, four hours to family and friends and you have nine hours left (ideally). However, nothing is perfect in the world and things come up that shift the above numbers, so be flexible! Striving to get the necessary sleep is step number one; arranging your schedule to allow for it is more difficult. I would challenge you to set your day up around your sleep versus fitting it in around your activities.
Take one day off per week Don’t be afraid to take a day off from training. This means no training whatsoever, no short 20 minute runs or short swims. If at all possible, don’t wake up to an alarm. Start your day off with a good-sized breakfast full of low glycemic carbohydrates, clean and lean proteins, and healthy fats. If you have been consistent with your weekly and monthly workouts, you have nothing to fear. If you can, arrange to get a massage or a session of facilitated stretching from an experienced trainer. This will help you relax and decrease your chances of a pulled muscle.