A common sight I see in my running world – people who run often, mostly at higher intensities, always racing. They do high intensity classes at the gym. They’re active up to six times per week. They’re always pushing the boundaries in terms of race distance and challenges. Sounds like a fit, dedicated individual right?
Any athlete, not just runners, should employ a more holistic approach to their training. This means thinking about the actual training, plus diet, plus life stresses.
Physiologically speaking though, this runner is a disaster. They eat whatever they want and justify this with the fact they’re so active. This translates into a diet high in sugar, refined carbs, some processed food, and alcohol, among all the ‘healthy’ foods they’re eating. This runner carries excess body fat which in their eyes doesn’t make sense considering how active they are. They’re also always battling some kind of injury or illness. In fact it’s rare that they actually feel good. And most importantly when they race they’re confused as to why they don’t get the personal bests they’re expecting. What’s wrong with this picture?
Dr. Phil Maffetone, a big innovator in the world of endurance sports, explains this conundrum perfectly: “Being fit doesn’t mean you’re healthy.”1 While this type of runner has every good intention their approach needs to be revisited. In the pursuit of fitness too many people never actually attain the level they desire and suffer the consequences. With a few simple changes to their approach they can get on the path to improved fitness and overall health.
Any athlete, not just runners, should employ a more holistic approach to their training. This means thinking about the actual training, plus diet, plus life stresses. All can help you tremendously as an athlete. Don’t think that how you’re moving, what you’re eating, and the stresses in your life don’t work together – they definitely do. And if any of these factors is out of control your training and performance will suffer. You need to stop training harder and start training smarter.1
Fundamentally, as a driven athletes, we want to get better. We want to remain injury- and illness-free – we want to improve overall health and well-being. We want to recover well and build upon current fitness. We want to feel good about what we’re doing.
There are two major factors to consider when looking to improve performance:
The first step to improved performance, results, and overall health is to recognise your current way of doing things isn’t working. As Maffetone states “Let’s be honest with ourselves and we’ll make better progress.”.2
You need to reflect on your current training regime and self-evaluate. Ask yourself:
- Are you happy with the following: body fat percentage? Your best personal best (PB)? Previous PB’s?
- Are you still getting PB’s?
- Are you frequently injured?
- Are you frequently ill?
- Is your training doing what it’s meant to do?
- Are you seeing the results I want?
If most of your answers are unfavourable then it’s a clear sign that what you’re doing isn’t working. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
You need to be prepared to make some changes to the way you think and train in order to balance your overall health and fitness together.
The second factor and most important aspect in health for all humans, never mind athletes. Maffetone breaks stress down into three sub categories:
1. Physical stress: training programme, lack of aerobic fitness, the frequency of days active, too much anaerobic, too little sleep.
Conventional training programmes can dole out a whole load of stress! They usually emphasise far too much anaerobic activity while ignoring your aerobic fitness. Too many speed sessions, or just too many sessions a week, can overwhelm and stress your body. On top of that speed training only uses glycogen as fuel, not fat, which means you won’t be able to tap into that excess body fat you may carrying around.
Sleep is also extremely important as this is when your body is repairing itself. Less than seven hours of quality sleep a night isn’t enough. The more active you are the more you should sleep.
If you’re looking for a new training approach but feel lost a good starting point is the Primal Endurance Podcast with host Brad Kearns. Both he and Mark Sisson, former elite endurance athletes, challenge the long held beliefs on endurance training. All Paleo endurance athletes will benefit hugely from this series.
2. Chemical stress: poor diet (too much caffeine, sugar, grains, and junk), hormonal.
The food we eat can make or break us. By sticking to a high-carb, high-sugar, grain-based diet, with less protein you’re actually doing your body more harm than good even if you’re training. These foods along with junk food and processed foods lead to inflammation which leads to illness and ultimately disease. And not to mention you’d be a sugar-burning athlete which you don’t want.
As mentioned in my Paleo + Running article consuming a well-formulated Paleo diet that consists of much vegetables, some fruit, quality protein, and lots of healthy fats will give you that competitive edge you may be looking for. It will also promote quick recovery and keep your immune system strong.
And if you practice the 80/20 rule with Paleo,3 make sure that you’re eating quality real food leading up to big training sessions and race day.
3. Emotional stress: self-created pressures, job, finances, relationships, lack of education in training and health principles.
While it may seem that the rest of your life wouldn’t impact upon your training, the emotional and mental stresses you carry can greatly impact the quality of your training, racing and life.
Why focus on stress?
Because people can crumble under it. In terms of hormones (or the chemical stress mentioned above) when an individual experiences any one of the stressors mentioned the human body reacts by releasing cortisol, the stress hormone, to try and calm itself. Too much stress causes cortisol imbalance,4 which like insulin helps regulate blood glucose levels. If your cortisol levels are out of whack due to a highly stressful lifestyle your blood glucose levels will rise which triggers the release of insulin to lower them. And remember insulin is nicknamed ‘the fat-storing hormone’.
It’s quite simple. After your self-analysis you need to do the following:
- Choose a new way of training that emphasises building aerobic fitness.
- Get some sleep!
- Consume a well-formulated Paleo diet.
- Transition into a fat-adapted athlete for improved health.
- Eliminate the unnecessary stresses in your non-training life. Are they giving you energy or wearing you down?
Taking a more holistic approach to training is about career longevity, but also taking care of the human being, not just the athlete.
- Sisson, M. (10 June, 2015). The Primal Blueprint Podcast: # 71 Laird Hamilton [podcast]. Retrieved from http://blog.primalblueprint.com/episode-71-laird-hamilton/.
- Kearns, B. (19 May, 2015). The Primal Endurance Podcast: #3 Phil Maffetone [podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-primal-blueprint-podcast/the-primal-endurance-podcast/e/3-phil-maffetone-part-1-38162397.
- Sisson, M. (2012). The Primal Blueprint. London, UK: Vermilion.
- Cotter, L. (2014) Honey Bacon Rice Cakes and Carbohydrate Timing. In Cotter Crunch. Retrieved from http://www.cottercrunch.com/honey-bacon-rice-cakes-carbohydrate-timing/