Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Corner: Stress & Performance By Gordo Byrn

The Corner: Stress & Performance
By Gordo Byrn

I hope that the coaches, athletes and medical practitioners that read this article take these ideas and develop them further. What follows is meant to be, I hope, the start of discussion on managing stress loads within populations of working athletes.

Over the last six weeks, I have been wondering about the impact of “stress” on athletic performance as well as the role of high-stress loads in the unexpected deaths of athletes.

Endurance Corner is fortunate to coach some smart folks in the medical arena and I asked them how they quantify stress-loads in their patients. I was looking for a simple checklist that would enable me to help my clients assess their stress loads.

We talked about Type-A personalities, blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, smoking, genetics and lipid profiles. The docs also talked about the various ways that people like us drop dead unexpectedly. I score low-risk but am having my lipid profile re-checked on Monday just to be sure. If you do one thing for your health this month, get your lipids and blood pressure checked.

Within the athletic media we mourn the unexpected loss of our fellow competitors but we rarely examine the lessons in their deaths. The question that keeps coming back to me… “Could stress be killing my athletic buddies?”

The answer that comes back is pretty unanimous – in a big picture sense, NO. Athletics are beneficial to the population, as a whole. However, if you happen to have a personal profile of an “at risk” individual then you may wish to consider the total stress load in your life.

I’d like to offer you some alternative ideas (to taking a pill) to managing the stress load in your life. They seem to be helping me out in my own.

Nutrition – exercise combined with a diet that is high in “real food” and low in “processed food” has a powerful effect on your lipid profile. While that is discussed, I have yet to read an article talking about the role of sports nutrition on athlete lipid profiles.

A training approach that requires a material increase in sugar intake will have a cost in terms of long-term personal wellness.

The desire to eat sugar without weight gain was a big driver in why I started endurance training. If you are serious about personal wellness and longevity then you might want to consider your approach to sugar.

Red Zone Training – For an off-the-chart Type-A personality, it may be surprising that I like a bottom-up approach to fitness. I think that one of the benefits of being a control freak is that I really enjoy the challenge of delayed satisfaction from controlling my impulse to hammer myself.

As a community, we could be more open about the risks of using stressful training techniques on at-risk populations. Too often, we stick with our personal biases, get the waiver signed and continue down our preferred track. New athletes expect exercise to be both painful and hard. Appropriate exercise should be neither.

In an up-coming article, we are going to explore the various ways to set appropriate training intensity: lactate; maximal heart rate; power; pace; metabolic function; perceived exertion and repeatability. I’m going to start that conversation by explaining the “why” behind my current training regime (see my blog this weekend).

If you are an “at risk” individual then you will want to be very careful with the use of any session that requires more than a day of recovery. The key to athletic performance is the repeatability of your program. It’s also a good indicator that you are on the right track for personal wellness.


Measuring Stress
A friend of mine recently had a close call with one of his coronary arteries. In the spring, he mentioned that he was trying to manage his stress and we have kicked around a few ideas regarding stress. As we see it, our stress loads are a mixture of different factors:

Acute Cardiac Stress –bike racing, track sessions, sustained high intensity training/racing

Chronic Cardiac Stress – represented by sustained aerobic training and racing

Non-training Stressors – sleep, nutrition, emotional, travel, environment

In my life, how I sleep, eat and speak to my wife are the best indicators of my total stress load. You will have your own markers, it is worth paying attention to them. To absorb your training load, you want to manage your stress load.

Within my friend’s life he made a few decisions to reduce his stress load:

1 – no more early starts; he made sleep a high priority

2 – reduced the number people/projects/tasks that came directly to him. As a fellow Type-A, I hate to let stuff slide. Therefore, I need to remove myself from a situation that is causing unnecessary stress.

3 – created fixed blocks in his week of unscheduled time (not work, not triathlon). His goal being to create frequent blocks of “space”. I tend to use this time for reading. When I am able to sit in a chair and read for a couple of hours, I know that I’m under low stress.

4 – increased his focus on nutritional excellence.

I will pass along his advice, “train safe and keep it fun”.

Our kids are counting on us.