My friend called me one morning to confirm that we were meeting up for a run. She’s the mother of three children who were giving her a hard time that day. She said “It’s not even 9 a.m. and my patience cup is empty.” We went for our run and afterward she said, “OK, it’s full again.”
If you put your ability to adapt to training into a cup, it would be similar to my friend’s patience cup. Stress is stress. Stress happens for many reasons like when we get sick, deal with difficult people, train and race. Our brain and body go through a chemical hormonal process that helps maintain health and adaptation to both physical and mental stress.
This stress response helps us adapt to training stressors, which are good because they challenge our current ability and help us grow. However with too much challenge and not enough recovery, we don’t grow. Sometimes people get burnt out or injured or have stale performances. Unfortunately there is only so much we can handle when it comes to stress and we need to recover so our cup can be refilled.
The cool thing is that your training and adaptation cup doesn’t ever have to be empty if you make good choices. Keeping strong is more than showing up for a hard workout or training for a triathlon or marathon. It’s more than going out there and pushing hard or going long. The harder we push, the more we challenge ourselves, the higher our risk of injury or burnout. You can get faster or go longer without beating yourself up and risking injury which disrupts your training and gets in the way of growth.
Through great self-care you will be able to keep that balance in your cup. Sometimes you can push it to the edge and other times you will need to keep it full. Through great self-care you can get the benefit of adapting to your training and the ability to train more often, and this results in improvements and most of all, happy and healthy athletics. Here are nine self-care tips for athletes.
- Sleep seven to nine hours a night. No fewer than seven and no more than nine hours a night is ideal. Not enough sleep or too much sleep can have detrimental effects on your heart. Also, your body repairs itself from the stress of training and life while you sleep.
- Sleep quality matters. Make sure your room is dark. Try not to use electronics for one to two hours before bed time. This includes TV. For further reading: “Good Quality Sleep May Build Healthy Hearts.”
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. More when you exercise.
- Eat as close to the earth as possible. Try to limit processed foods as much as possible.
- Make time to cook for yourself just like you make time to exercise. It does not have to be an elaborate meal. In fact the more simple, the more likely it is wholesome and healthy for you.
- Create a post-run relaxation routine. This can be gentle foam rolling, legs up the wall, gentle stretching or movement, or stopping a run a half-mile early and walking the remainder.
- Always eat a snack or meal within an hour after a challenging workout. This isn’t meant to be a celebratory meal for all the calories you burned. It’s meant to be a healing meal for all the work you have asked your body to do. This meal or drink should include protein and carbohydrates.
- Take at least one day per week where you do not do structured activity. This is called a rest day and during this day you can do restorative activity like yoga or stretching or walking or take it completely off.
- Be patient. We all have different rates of adaptation. These are dependent upon lifestyle, athletic experience and genetics.
Deanna Pomfret has coached fitness enthusiasts, runners, swimmers and triathletes since 2005. She is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Road Runners Club of America Certified Running Coach, Certified Functional Strength Coach and Owner and Swim Technique Analyst with Athletic Pursuits LLC. Deanna presents at clubs and symposiums on various fitness and motivational topics.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.