Category Archives: Performance in women

Ageing in Endurance Sports

Getting older happens to us all, and if you are a competitive athlete the thought of slowing down can be scary, and also hard to deal with. Recently I have had a couple of emails from women who are concerned with ageing and how it is affecting them. From slowing down, getting more injuries, and putting on weight.

There are things that we can do to help, and taking a pro-active stance is positive for your mental well-being. But what happens when you are really struggling and nothing you do seems to help. This is the reply I gave to someone who wrote to me about her swimming declining.

Thanks for your message it sounds like you’re having a hard time at the moment.I’m assuming you contacted me, as I’m a coach, but I’ll just say, I definitely don’t have all the answers. It seems like a really hard time in our lives, and it sounds like you are giving yourself a hard time on top of that! All I can tell you is what I’ve found has helped me.

Try and think what it is you love about swimming, is it getting fast times, or are there other things that keep you going back to it? Sometimes a change of focus can help, or even a total break, if its making you miserable.

If you did break from swimming, is there anything else that can help you to get that feeling of what you love from swimming?

You may need to think about your training differently as we inevitably lose muscle mass as we get older. It will happen, and we can try and minimise it by doing weights and replacing protein after sessions. Nutrition info here

There is research to show that HIIT training is effective as you age, but again its harder to recover from these sessions as we get older. You may need to do a bit less volume, depending on what your training week looks like.

A book with a lot of info about this is Joe Friel fast after 50. (I’m not 50 but I think its still useful advice)

Sounds like you’re doing a lot of this already, though and it may be more the mental side of things that are troubling you.

When I was feeling really low I listened to podcasts, talked with friends, and also found making a list of my core values helped.

It made me realise that I was more than my times or achievements, but I also appreciate its very hard to do these things when you don’t even want to get out of bed, as I have felt some times.

I also know now that it will pass, and I’ll feel better again eventually!

I hope some of this helps, but if you are getting very low, I would see your GP, or someone you can talk to about these feelings, as it will really help if you express your fears and concerns.

Show yourself some self compassion at this time, you are not only a swimmer, you are so much more. Take Care

Celia

Of course men can feel the pressure of slowing down too, but they don’t have the same hormonal issues as women. Matt Dixon did a great podcast here  with some mature athletes. The takeaway is to be flexible and don’t be afraid to try something new. Its easy to compare yourself to how fast you were when you were younger, but that doesn’t help you to feel good about yourself. Remember that you are more than your accomplishments, be an amazing human.

Here is a bit of inspiration for you, stay positive, and if you can’t, then get help!

 

Peri-menopause, and Endurance Part 2

Perimenopuase and the endurance athlete

Perimenopuase and the endurance athlete Part 2

This year so far has been different. Different in lots of ways, kids growing up, and developing new interests. Me wanting to spend more time with them, and also needing to keep my endurance training going, as something purely for me. Life seems in a state of flux, and in some ways, I suppose that is what living with children is like, especially when they start changing so quickly. But I have also noticed a change in me, I don’t feel like I’m recovering as well from training, and I sometimes get depressed when I shouldn’t have PMS. A few months ago I had some pretty bad depression creeping in and just didn’t know what was wrong. I went to see my GP, and explained that I thought my hormones may be playing up, and also that I thought I may have low iron, (I did a home test and it was abnormal) Peri-menopause was dismissed, due to my age (I’m 43) but I still feel like my hormones have got something to do with what’s going on. The blood tests that I had confirmed that I was anaemic, but I’m still not feeling quite right after the course of tablets, I’ve been sweating at night and early morning, and have had heavy bleeding some months.

Hormones#2

What is Perimenopause?

Because it is difficult to diagnose peri-menopause (hormones fluctuate too much to get accurate test results) I still don’t know for sure, and that is what Peri-menopause is like. I’m 43, which puts me on the lower age for Peri-menopause, but I know that I feel different, and trying to persuade myself that I’m imagining it won’t help. The facts are, that your oestrogen starts to decline as you get older, and this causes symptoms, symptoms that may be impacted by the demands of endurance training. 

There is very little information about training through this period of your life, possibly because women experience it so differently, but there are a few things to bear in mind.

Tips to take away

Any training causes stress in the body, which causes the hormone cortisol to rise. Cortisol is an essential hormone, with many functions in the body, one of which is regulating hormones. I’m not a health practitioner but it seems to me that if cortisol is raised regularly then this will also impact on symptoms of perimenopause. Therefore it is essential to ensure you recover properly from sessions, eg doing Yoga, stretching, 5 minutes of meditation all help with reducing stress and kick-starting the recovery process.

Recovery may be impaired by poor sleep. If you are waking up feeling hot and bothered then that will impact on your recovery. There is some evidence to show that drinking Tart Cherry juice before bed can help with sleep, as it contains melatonin. Drinking it cooled may help to lower your core body temperature before bed and help with night sweats. 

As estradiol declines, recovery can be reduced (spotting a pattern!) as estradiol has anti-inflammatory properties. So eating a healthy and diverse diet to reduce inflammation may help. Avoiding refined, fried, and processed foods will help.

 

 

Stay on top of post-recovery protein intake. Your body uses protein less efficiently, so you can increase your protein intake over the day, and consider eating a small amount of protein before bed to help with recovery.

Bone mass starts to decline, so doing some plyometric and strength work helps to counter this. It doesn’t have to be much to get a benefit, a few minutes of jumping, loading your bones in a way that they are not used to, helps to stimulate bone growth. Regular strength work also translates to performance benefits, so it’s worth incorporating this into your training if you don’t already.

Knowing what to do is helpful, for an athlete who is used to a certain lifestyle and way of training. Making some adjustments, to your routines will probably be necessary, and accepting that it is a normal part of life and embracing the change is essential. 

But coming to terms with the unpredictability of this period (symptoms can last up to 10 years, whereas other people have no symptoms) will be a challenge. I’m aiming to have a supportive network around, along with seeking inspiration from older female role models. 

Remember that you are not broken, that you don’t need fixing, and be open to talking about it.

Useful links

https://www.fitnchips.com/2019/04/dr-stacy-sims-talks-menopause/

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/ob-gyn/gynecology/menopause-blog/january-2017/menopause-transition-don-t-miss-this-important-pre.aspx

https://www.zrtlab.com/blog/archive/menopause-all-in-your-head

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/feel-your-best-during-menopause

DNS and haywire hormones

I’ve blogged about a DNF before, but how about a DNS? It happens, and feels pretty crappy. So I’m just going to go through what happened, as I’m sure it may feel familiar to some of you, and may even help with accepting it.

Last year I entered an off road duathlon, which was cancelled, I was given a free place in this years event which I was really looking forward to, however in the week leading up to the race, I was feeling pretty negative about the whole thing. The thought of getting up on Saturday morning in the cold and dark to drive to Afan wasn’t really appealing to me.

On Thursday I woke up with a sore neck, and couldn’t swim on Friday because it hurt too much, I was also pre-menstrual. My moods have been really bad for the last 3 months. This is almost another blog, but just as an overview, I think some of my hormones are out of whack, as I have been extremely tearful and depressed the week before my period, which isn’t normal for me, then as soon as it starts I feel normal again.

Anyway I got up, prepared to race, and kept telling myself that as soon as I got there and was registered etc, it would all be fine, and that I would feel worse if I didn’t race, so off I drove. Just over an hour later I arrived at registration where it was still pretty quiet. I payed my £5 to park, went into registration, and my name wasn’t on the start list. The organiser said he’d have to wait to give me a number, and to come back in around half an hour. I left the building starting to get tearful, as I wanted to rack up and just get everything sorted so I could warm up etc. I waited for over half an hour then went back to join the now long queue. When I got to the table they still couldn’t give me a number, and there was no sign of the organiser. I was brushed off, and my second emotional episode of the day started. I called Patrick and explained the situation, I assumed I would have to wait until everyone had registered before I got my number, which isn’t how I like to get ready for a race, leaving everything until last minute. I tried to let it go, and just think of racing for fun, but was just too upset, and part of me just wanted to go and meet the boys. Patrick told me to go for a quick ride around, and then I may feel better, as sitting in the car on your own is not great for morale! I rode off into the bike park, did a few circuits, and then started to feel a bit better, but not better enough to go and make a nuisance of myself again at registration. By now I knew that they would be closing transition, and I just wanted to get out of there.

Maybe if I’d been feeling a bit more positive I would have gone and found the organiser, but by that time I was on a pretty negative spiral, felling sorry for myself, and generally giving myself a hard time. I decided to forget it, and go meet the boys at the climbing wall, so rode around a bit more until the runners had gone, and then drove down to Pontadarwe, where I went for a run, and continued my Canal path tour of Britain (3 different paths in the last 3 months!)

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The next 24 hours were horrible. After we’d finished climbing I cried a lot, tried to explain myself to Patrick, and got into a pretty depressed state. I’m over it now, helped by the fact that my period started, I’m sure.

So if you do have a DNS there are usually some pretty good reasons for it happening

  • Shit happens, you can’t always control everything, things may have been different if my name had been on the start list.
  • You can’t always be on it, sometimes you don’t have the willpower or motivation, and that is ok, even the best have bad days.
  • Sometimes you just have to ride out a bad mood, and accept that you are pretty miserable right now, acknowledging your upset will allow you to feel better in the end.
  • In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, although it may feel like it at the time.

If you are struggling with motivation, keep an eye on it, as it may be a sign of something a bit deeper. I’m monitoring my moods now, as The past 3 months have been pretty up and down, it could be a sign that something else isn’t right. Look out for patterns of behaviour, and if there’s anything you can do to improve the way you react in certain situations, then that can be positive. But also remember that sometimes you just aren’t “on it”

 

 

How hormones affect women in training.

How hormones affect women in training.

In her book, “Roar”, Stacey Sims reminds us that, “Women are not small men”. For both men and women hormonal fluctuations cause a reaction in the body that can affect your training and nutrition. But when it comes to hormones, clearly women are different; we go through cycles during our life, our menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, and the menopause. And yet to date, most scientific research on the effect of hormones and sports performance has honed-in on men between the ages of 18 and 30! So how do hormones affect women in training?

In this post I am focussing on what happens during your monthly cycle. I encourage my female athletes, to track their cycle, to make them more aware of the hormonal changes that happen each month. You can use an app like Hormone Horoscope, or monthly info to keep tabs on where you are in your cycle. Even if you don’t use it to inform your training, I still feel it is a useful thing to be aware of. If you’re not convinced then have a read of this article.

Also check how I am using the Fitr app to help women train smarter here

Let’s talk about it

I’ve found that some women are keen to get in tune with their cycle, and others just don’t want to talk about it. The messages that we are given in the media are, that it shouldn’t stop us from doing anything. Periods are an inconvenience that we need to try and ignore or take pain relief for. Its great that we can carry on with our lives when we have a period. But we also need to be aware of the effect that our hormones will be having, so that we can better understand our motivation levels, and our training and nutrition needs.

First let’s have a look at what happens every month in a menstruating female.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

What actually happens?

A women’s menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 21 and 40 days, and it can also be outside these ranges. It is pretty common for there to be variability from one month to the next in the length of your cycle. As long as it’s not wildly out every month, then it’s normal for this to happen. The picture above assumes that you have an “average” 28-day cycle, (very few women actually do have a cycle this length!)

The first half of the cycle (days 1-14) are from the day that you get your period until the day that you ovulate. Which I’ll refer to as the low hormone phase. The second half of the cycle (days 14-28) I’ll refer to as the high hormone phase. The day that you ovulate is not necessarily day 14, it is usually around midway through your cycle.

During the low hormone phase, and just after you get your period, oestrogen starts to rise. In this half of your cycle you are more able to make strength gains, and your mood will probably be better. You can follow general advice for nutrition and hydration because you are physiologically more like a man at this point in your cycle. If you have your period on race day, its not such a bad thing. There are numerous stories of women performing well when they have their period. In Victoria Pendletons’ book, “between the lines”, she refers to winning races when she had her period. From personal experience, I have found that it does not really impact my performance.

In the second half of your cycle, progesterone starts to rise, which may make you feel lethargic. It gets harder to recover, and sessions that felt easy a few days ago, now feel harder. You may have cravings, because your metabolism increases slightly, due to increased basal temperature, and you may also feel bloated as your body retains water.

What can I do about it?

In one study it was found that amongst women trying to lose weight, those who followed an exercise/nutrition plan tailored to their menstrual cycle lost more weight than the ones who just restricted calories. For best performance, you need to pay attention to the timing of nutrition and hydration, particularly in the high hormone phase. Stacy Sims recommends 10 to 15g of protein and 40g carbs at this time before any workout lasting longer than 90 minutes, and after sessions. Also hydrating well, and preloading before long, harder races with salt would be beneficial. During the high hormone phase your blood plasma volume is lower, which is why those hard sessions feel more challenging. Your blood is essentially thicker which makes it harder to get oxygen to your muscles, and as your core temperature is increased you will feel the heat more, and therefore need to ensure that you hydrate and keep cool, especially in hot weather.

I’m looking forward to seeing future research in this area, as more women take part in endurance sports, and become interested in making their training more effective. Watch this space!

I use the Fitr app with my female athletes to better inform their training and recovery, check my plans here