Saturday, February 14, 2015

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Avoiding Over-Training. And How to Deload

When I was a young, I was such a sucker for falling in love. Maybe I was so hell-bent on the idea of falling in love that I didn't ask myself if I was falling for the wrong guy(s). I interpreted clues as mixed messages all the time. Looking back, I see the mixed messages were due to a lack of objectivity. When your fearless, naive heart becomes involved, it tends to lead to fuzzy thinking. In cases of love, it took my very-honest sister, Wendy, to see the big picture and say, "he's just not into you Steph." Ouch. A objective punch to the gut.
In my prime, no not a PR, can I find this sweet spot again? Hell ya!

It's SUPER easy to become blinded by your emotions when your heart is involved. Which is why listening to your body's messages can be very tricky business. During a workout, your body gives messages like a red face, a pounding heart and burning limbs when the going gets rough. Does that mean you should stop your workout to drink some water and wipe your sweat off until your heart calms down? Hell no, that's when you should push harder to see big gains in your training! At least that's what I've understood of it. But when does that theory harm you more than help you?
A sucker for love, yup!

There are questions we must ask ourselves and look for truthful answers: Am I pushing myself hard enough? If I stop now am I doing my body a favor or am I quitting because I'm wimping out?  Does my body love running long distance miles or are my aches begging me to stop? When is your drive for fitness doing more harm than good? Where do you draw the line between training and over training?

One of the topics of my Crossfit Certification is that when you are training well and eating well then your physical markers should all move toward health. Markers like cholesterol, blood pressure, a healthy weight, etc. should improve. When you start to leave that cushiony "health" area then you might start seeing red flags. Those are your objective answers to does "he" love me. Red flags were waving at me and I wasn't listening, so... my body finally made me listen.

Cholesterol Level:  Total Cholesterol: below 200:  He Loves Me
                                                         above 240:  He Loves Me not

A fitness Over-achiever? Possibly...
Flashback to a year ago, when I started to clean up my diet, my body responded instantly to my changes. Results were popping out all over the place encouraging me to carry on, green lights ahead. Every week my clothes felt looser, and I bounced on and off the scale with a shit-eating grin (ah, I miss those days). I felt happy and light on my feet, I was lifting heavy, could run long distances without getting hurt, and barely ever had sore muscles despite PR after PR. I got to do what I loved (lift heavy and workout at a high intensity) my body was happy and life was like a giant hunk of chocolate.
Life, like a delicious hunk of chocolate

Who Turned off the Music...Flash forward to current, and welcome the "he loves me not" stage. Recently, my blood and saliva test results show high cortisol and low progesterone levels. Turns out my body was waving a red flag as I was racing down the race track.  I was told my cortisol levels were elevated from my workouts, having that coupled with raising my two young daughters.  Yes, a bad, ugly, dirty word was thrown at me by my doctor: over-training. That's like telling Santa he gives too many presents. How could I have fallen off the healthy boat?

Signs of Over-training- Your Red Flags:
  • Depression
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Inability to sleep (hyper alert)
  • Irritability
  • Injury
  • Belly fat on a normally fit gut (endurance bikers tend to have this)
Somewhere between feeling like a hunk of chocolate and present, something did change. My mood had shifted from happy to more often grumpy.  And this is where mixed messages walk into the scene. The only thing that got rid of my grump mood was working out. WTH. What I was doing was making my body think it was being chased by a tiger (he loves me not). What I've seen objectively is excess weight (7 pound weight gain) and clothes that are shrinking or else I'm growing. Say it ain't so. This is what gets me the most. I haven't felt like I'm in control of my body shape. Take away that control and I get really angry as a victim. So I decided to address the issue head on and create my game plan: The Adrenal Smackdown of 2015. 

So it's my goal to keep up my level of fitness while telling those pesky red flags to eat my dust! There are a couple words to throw around losely- cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Here is my self-prescribed Smackdown.

Avoiding Stress AND Training Like A Warrior, Tips 
Any form of exercise will increase your corisol levels, but outside of exercise you want to keep calm. Keep your cortisol level low, otherwise your body will burnout with constant high cortisol, Physically, you'll develop more belly fat, a little baby pooch that looks like you are a few months pregnant with a cortisol child. Mentally, you will become unfocused, slow and short tempered and your digestion will be as reliable as a losing lottery ticket. Over the long haul, you develop adrenal fatigue which guarantees a cascade of hormonal disorganization.  Let's give cortisol the boot:

1. Avoid Stress by Being Present
Pretend you are me. And you have a 3 year old daughter who is talking to you as you are cooking dinner while searching for a website on your cell phone, then you start to think about your busy day ahead of you and poof as your 1 year old starts pulling on your pant leg screaming to be held- You, (as me) as a stress ball, ya, that just happened. Trying to do too many things at once is a fault of mine. This is what it is like to live utside of the present moment. Both of those result in a loss of could-be-epic moments. If you've ever partially had a conversation while tapping on your cell phone, then you know. Your mind can't be in two places at once. The most effective thing to do is one thing at a time, studies have proven that multi tasking actually works against you. Put your cell phones down. Focus on the here and now. Remember, your body is always present, it's your mind that needs to be reset.

2. Keep the majority of your workouts to an hour. 
On a regular basis, anything exceeding 45-60minutes of high intensity work outs runs you the risk of over-training, which leads to adrenal fatigue. So my last doctor's visit had me wide eyed and reaching for some adaptogenic herbs to slow my cortisol roll. And if you are there (guilty) then give yourself some time, adrenals can take up to 6 months to rebuild themselves. Also, if you are going to put in more time than that in the gym, try instead to break it up into two separate workouts with some good recovery between: think relaxation + hydration + quality foods

3. Get Your Amino Acids. And Eat Protein for Breakfast
Train like an athlete and eat like one by keeping your protein intake high. For me, that meant adding in protein shakes after my workouts. Especially since my workouts were often 2-a-days and I tend to not be hungry after either one. Thus my muscles were starving for nutrition.
"Give me Steak!" My muscles said
"I'm too busy not being present!" I said back
More info on the protein connection with cortisol can be read here, The Adrenal Reset Diet.  In the book, he also stresses the importance of eating a high protein breakfast to offset your naturally high morning cortisol. Because I am not a dairy kind of a girl, I have to avoid whey protein which knocks off about 70% of the protein shakes on the market. Thus I found a pea/cranberry/hemp protein powder to make my vegan wanna-be self happy:

4. A Deload Week every five weeks. I learned this from my gymnastics studio. They program in a deload week every 4th week but I extended mine an extra week. You can structure these as you wish, but the way it's done in gymnastics is a progressive style. That means the first week of the month the goal is to maintain your strength and allow your muscles and your body a break. Crossfitters tend to go all out 100% of the time, and in gymnastics they want to avoid you getting injured and avoid you getting fatigued and burnt out. I have come to love this strategy, I am working to see if I can keep up with it. The best way to do it is mark it on your calendar. And if you have competition training, structure your de-load weeks around that.
Week #1 - Easy, maintain strength, workout still but not to exhaustion
Week #2 - Easish, adding in more skill work
Week #3 - You are starting to work harder and you're going to be tired
Week #4 - You are going all out, badassery here, PR's could happen here. Recovery need to be optimal

Hope this helps you! I plan to keep you posted on my journey back towards health.