To perform at your best, it’s not always about the outside. I can swim, bike and run like it’s my job, but that does not mean I’m going to kick ass at any race. What I do know is, when you start to pay attention to your inside, amazing things can happen on the outside, and I’m not just talking about appearance, I’m talking about performance.
I used to think I was doing everything perfectly. Key words: USED TO. I was training a lot, but still finding time to stretch and get massages… I was eating SUPER healthy eating all ‘real food’ for the most part and I was avoiding processed foods at all costs. This must be enough, this is the recipe for the podium at every triathlon. I was convinced (blame it on the triathlete ego) that my first test results were going to come back totally perfect. I mean heck, whenever I go to my primary care physician, my blood work is always normal.
The most shocking was my high cortisol. I was on a mission to figure out this sneaky cortisol and understand what was making my levels SUPER high. Honestly, before the test, I didn’t even really know what cortisol was and how it could affect my performance.
After reading this blog post from InsideTracker about cortisol, I couldn’t help but relate to two things….
Lack of sleep + excessive self-criticism lead to ^ cortisol . Go Figure. Holy sh*t , That’s me.
While I knew I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I didn’t think it was that BIG of a deal. I guess you could call me naive about the amount of sleep I was getting. No matter what, I was forcing myself to get up at 4:45/5:00 AM to do my workouts. I wanted to maximize the time at night, after work, so I could decompress before bed. Well in effort to have extra time in the evenings, I was increasing my cortisol, ugh.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked sources of chronic stress is excessive self-criticism and a lack self-compassion
Reason #2 Why my cortisol was probably elevated: self-criticism.
Research has shown that perfectionism- a personality style that is commonly characterized by striving for flawlessness and tendencies toward self-criticalness- is linked to a variety of mental ailments such as depression, anxiety disorders, etc.
Like most people, I am the most critical of myself and this can be unhealthy. While self-confidence with me is always a work in progress, the high cortisol results made me realize that all of my negative self thinking might be affecting my health and triathlon performance. This is not something that you can change overnight, but I have been working at it! Looking on the brightside:)
So… what have I done differently since getting these results?
– If the alarm goes off and I feel groggy, so groggy that all I want to do is stay in bed, I move my workout to the evening.
-I’ve been consistently trying to get 7 hours – 7.5 hours of sleep a night. A big difference from my 5.5-6.5 hours on average before. THIS I feel has made the biggest impact. You don’t realize how sleep deprived you are until you are well-rested. Sleep is the recipe for proper recovery, something I did not realize while training for my first Ironman!
-I’ve been more aware of negative self thought and stress. To be honest, I have always been a complete stress ball. I have no patience, I get easily stressed out, I tend to sweat the small stuff…. part of me just accepted this and thought it’s just who I am. I know I can’t change this 100% but I am more AWARE of how I react to things!
While I was doing all of these things differently, I was worried that my excess training from January (Boston Marathon and Half Ironman training) would have increased my cortisol, even when I was working on sleep and stress. I have been training A LOT and my second blood test was even done after my two peak weeks for Eagleman 70.3.
So how was Cortisol the second time around?
Boo-yah!! Optimized cortisol!
Let’s just say I was jumping up and down for joy when I saw this:
Cortisol DECREASED significantly to my optimal zone, WITH added training. According to my sports scientist colleagues, this equals increased fitness and performance. GREAT news going into tri season!
Another VERY positive change was my Testosterone-Cortisol Ratio
This ratio is tested only by the Ultimate Test and it’s critical to know as an endurance athlete. Here’s why:
Elevated cortisol can cause the body to enter a state of constant muscle breakdown, suppress the body’s immune system, and increase the risk of injury. The free testosterone:cortisol score (FT/C) is therefore an indicator of whether the body is in a state of increasing or decreasing muscle mass. The score ranges from 0-100, and the higher the score, the more optimal the conditions for increasing muscle mass. A low FT/C score can be an indicator of over-training, high stress levels, or poor quality sleep, any of which can result in muscle breakdown and fatigue.
Thrilled to see the change in my FT/C ratio score. This means I am doing the right things with training, stress and recovery. While it’s not optimized, it’s VERY close to being optimized in the ‘green zone.’
How were my Iron Levels this time around?
The first test reported that I had low Ferritin levels:
Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, and therefore it is a good marker for the amount of iron in the body. Iron is required for the formation of the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin, and for enzymes involved in energy production.
I did make some changes to my diet, by supplementing with Iron a few times a week. But looking at my results, I am still not getting enough. With the increase in training I will have leading up to Ironman Mont-Tremblant, I’m going to start taking Iron daily. I plan to increase consumption of eat red meat (grassfed) at least once a week, especially when training gets hard… burger with sweet potato fries, yes please!
In other good news, my Calcium and Magnesium levels are still optimized with added training volume.
Calcium is especially important for maintenance and repair of bone and muscle tissue, increased muscle mass, reduced risk of bone and hip fracture, greater bone density, and normal blood clotting.
Levels stayed exactly the same from the first test! Great news for bone health.
Adequate magnesium improves muscle strength and increases the time to muscle fatigue during short, intense bursts of exercise. People are likely to sleep better and feel happier when they have enough magnesium.
Magnesium went down slightly, but not concerning.
Test #2 with InsideTracker was a great way to see how I have done since the previous test. The first test was to screen my health, the second test was done to see changes! I look forward to a third test to see a trend in my biomarkers.
I tested specifically two weeks before my Half Ironman to see how the training block had affected my biomarkers. This will be valuable information for not only me, but my coach, as he plans my next block for the Ironman. As an endurance athlete, I could not be happier with how I am feeling thanks to InsideTracker’s recommendations. I no longer have to ‘guess’ if I’m healthy on the inside. I know that while there is some work to do, I am pretty darn close to optimal and that feels fantastic.