Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ramblings on Diet, Stress and Training

Required "summit flex" after a big day down in the Adirondacks.
Having been an athlete from a young age, I have always been trying to find ways to improve performance. Until I started mountain biking, all my training had been unfocused speed-play. Speaking with cyclists, and other endurance athletes, they would always prescribe a much more focused style of training, periodization, and specific workouts to reach peak fitness. However, I believe that the human body/spirit is much more complicated than an automobile engine. Henceforth, I’ve been searching for and idealistic, healthy, wholesome approach to training / lifestyle for the last five years.  I believe I have finally reached a breakthrough training, and wanted to share it with all my friends.

So, a little background: I played team sports like most young kids in Canada. Hockey, football, soccer, etc. I started mountain biking at around age 10, in a super fun, non-competitive camp environment. At the start of high school, I started unicycling (a lot). I also played rugby, football, and wrestling at the high school level. What I came to realize years later, is that long hours on the unicycle, (very hard, high intensity spurts of effort, mixed into easy riding, and just chilling) set the stage for a very deep, and solid endurance foundation. All without burning out.

This brings me to my next point. I feel that one of the most common (and sad!) thing that I see in competitive youth cycling is burnout. Kids get into it for all the right reasons (fun, social, thrilling and staying active), then they see some success. Eventually someone tells them that they need to start riding lots in zone 1, doing intervals, riding road, focusing on goal events, losing weight, etc. This seems cool at first, but then it starts to seem like work. The fun gets sucked out, and if they have a few mediocre results, they get really down on themselves. Combine this with the fact that their hormones / ferritin levels / Other physiological markers are possible messed up from high training volumes, and depression, eating disorders, and many other negative things start coming up. Typically this happens around the junior / U23 age. This is pure badness.

I came to mountain biking just from background fitness, and progressed to the elite level in one year. Only once I started to “seriously train” did my progress falter. I developed very low testosterone levels. Ferritin levels down in the teens. Some of my social relationships were compromised, etc. I was lucky enough to have perspective enough to step back, take time off, try other sports, etc.

Last fall, I started playing around with more running than I’ve ever done. I tried doing my first ultra marathon distance runs, mountain running, and doing other really cool workouts. Over the winter, I hardly rode my bike at all (I think I took about 7 months off the bike!). I did lots of running, mixed with stretching, and then when I started to ride, I rode for fun. My friends and I would go out and hammer each other into the ground. I felt like I was 14 again! I kept running, doing around 60-100 km weeks. I also did 4-6 hours on the bike, almost all just hammering with buds. I showed up at my first O-Cup, and placed 7th. Considering it was my 4th ride of the year (and second longest ride of the year!), I was pretty happy. I raced a few other O-cups, finishing 3rd at Buckwallow. I won an 8 hour. I won an off-road triathlon. I won an adventure race. I ran fast. I set 3 long distance trail records in the last year. I rode fast. I slept enough, I stopped eating meat. I am feeling stronger than ever.

Now, here’s the biggest difference. Ever since December, I have found that I am excited to ride again! I get finished work (9-5 job), and I hit the trails. I am buzzing with energy before I run/ride. I am excited! I’m still training 14-20 hours per week.

Here are the few keys I’ve discovered that seem to work for me regarding Diet, Stress and training:

Diet: I stopped eating meat about 6 months ago. This corresponds with when my performance really took off. I lost about 10lbs. I started eating 3-5 eggs per day (the most “bio available” protein). I upped my veggie content. I cut out dairy (it makes me feel sick). I decreased my gluten consumption (same thing, I feel gross when I eat it!). Beyond this, I just eat good food. Lots of nuts, veggies, chocolate, and good stuff in general. Dark chocolate is my vice. Seems to work for me.

Stress: I got out of a negative relationship. I started focusing on what I wanted. I signed up for events that excited me! I started looking at really inspiring trips. I went hiking, and backpacking more often. I expanded my social circle, and I didn’t get all stressed out when I over drank at a party. I kept things in proportion, and stopped worrying about the future. Every day that I get out, and I’m able to sweat / breathe hard, is a great day. If I get to see friends, its even better!

Training: I’ve nearly stopped doing any form of intervals (maybe 5 times this year). I’ve started running and riding when I feel like it. I crank it out when I feel good. I chill when I feel tired. I sleep more when I can / need to. I stay up late when I’m at fun parties (no longer go to sleep at 11, because I ‘should’). I slackline 2-4 times per week, which I think is great cross training, and provides good balance and mental focus. I do 2-a-days when I feel like it. I take days off when I’m tired. I ride with a variety of people. I try new stuff whenever I can. I do “Rambo” workouts, mixed into 10-20 km runs, to keep good body balance.

Overall, this shift in training, and sport perspective has left me feeling great. I am training more like a teenager. I can only hope that someone out there can use this information to help them in their quest for a healthy, active lifestyle.