Stress LESS To Be Your Best!

tired In today’s world of competition, a competitor’s worst enemy is STRESS!! Do these symptoms sound familiar: fatigue, insomnia, weight gain and depression?  If so then there is a very good chance you’re stressing too much about things!! The underlying problem caused by stress may be adrenal fatigue, which will bring about these symptoms. The effects of adrenal dysfunction can be profound: fatigue and weakness, suppression of the immune system, muscle and bone loss, moodiness or depression, hormonal imbalance, skin problems, autoimmune disorders and dozens of other health issues all of which can wreak havoc on contest prep. The good news is that adrenal fatigue can almost always be relieved. Let’s look at the relationship between stress, high cortisol levels and adrenal fatigue and then look at how you can give your adrenals more support. The adrenals are walnut-sized glands located on top of each kidney, and are important control centers for many of the body’s hormones. The outer layer of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, produces hormones including cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone. The centers of the glands produce adrenaline, the hormone named after them.  The basic task of your adrenal glands is to rush all your body’s resources into “fight or flight” mode by increasing production of adrenaline and other hormones. When healthy, your adrenals can instantly increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release your energy stores for immediate use, slow your digestion and other secondary functions, and sharpen your senses. The two points of emphasis to remember about the “fight or flight” condition of the adrenals is  #1: When activated,  it takes priority over all other metabolic functions and #2:   This condition was designed only for emergency needs for explosive energy, not to be extended over hours, days, weeks, etc!! So, you can see why constant stimulation to adrenal’s can be very unhealthy. Unfortunately when in a contest prep or vigorous training regime, we tend to be in a constant stress mode. Instead of occasional, acute demands followed by rest, we’re constantly over-worked, under-nourished and exposed to environmental toxins, worrying about things that are sometimes out of our control----with no let up!! Every challenge to the mind and body creates a demand on the adrenal glands and the list of challenges can be endless. Bottom line, the result is adrenal glands that are constantly on high alert! One of the most destructive effects on the adrenal glands is high cortisol levels, which is commonly brought about due to high stress levels. In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that’s okay, but at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears your body down!! Sustained high cortisol levels destroy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, co-opt biochemical’s needed to make other vital hormones, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function and weaken your immune system. You can see how detrimental this can be to the success of a training program, and how counter productive this becomes. When the adrenals are chronically overworked and straining to maintain high cortisol levels, they lose the capacity to produce DHEA in sufficient amounts. DHEA is a precursor hormone to estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, and is necessary to moderate the balance of hormones which is extremely important to female competitors!! Insufficient DHEA contributes to fatigue, bone loss, loss of muscle mass, depression, aching joints and impaired immune function.  These are all characteristics that are extremely detrimental to contest prep and any regimented training program. SHOULD I GET AN ADRENAL TEST? In general, if you feel happy and well, have steady energy and emotions, sleep soundly seven to nine hours a night, wake feeling rested, recover well from stress and training and maintain a healthy weight range without over dieting, then your adrenals are probably doing well. On the other hand, if your energy lags during the day, you feel emotionally unbalanced much of the time, you sleep poorly or less than seven hours a night, can’t lose excess weight even while dieting, use caffeine or carbohydrates as “pick-me-ups” ----these are all red flags indicating adrenal insufficiency. Most adrenal tests are done by using a panel of saliva tests which will test cortisol levels throughout the day. You should measure cortisol levels at several points in the day to track the adrenal’s day-night pattern(called the diurnal rhythm), in hopes to see cortisol elevated in the morning to get you going, lower but steady throughout the day to sustain energy, then fall in the evening to support restful sleep. If cortisol levels are too high during the day and continue to rising in the evening, then this tends to indicate the early stages of adrenal dysfunction! HOW TO RESTORE HEALTHY ADRENAL FUNCTION! In my experience competitors with mild to moderate cases of adrenal fatigue can see significant improvement through these steps:
  • Dietary changes to enrich your nutrition and reduce carbohydrates and stimulants. I also recommend the addition of high-quality nutritional supplements, including essential fatty acids from fish oil.
  • Stress reduction, including moderate exercise and taking more time for you! It’s helpful to make a list of your stressors, especially those that are constant.
  • Get more rest!!! Your body needs time to heal.
Competitors with more severe symptoms, or those who have reached complete adrenal exhaustion, usually need greater intervention. It’s important to emphasize the role of emotional factors! Guilt, pain from past hurts, self-destructive habits, unresolved relationship problems------your past and present emotional experience may serve as an ever-present stressor. Dealing with these problems directly is much more beneficial than trying to compensate for the stress they create, in the same way that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

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