So basically I figured that I was over stressed, perhaps I had some cortisol dysregulation, but taking time off was just one part of my rest and recover strategy. If you know me at all by now you will know that I typically go overboard when I'm presented a problem with my health. Here is what I implemented.
- Quit all training
- Focused on sleep quality
- 3 meals a day, no fasting
- Increased carb consumption
- Quit coffee
First lets look at stress overall. Your stress tolerance is like a bucket and it starts filling up from multiple sources. Perhaps its poor diet, training, sleep, work, kids, Facebook, the list goes on and on but they all can contribute to your stress load and once your bucket is full and it starts to overflow things can start to go wrong.
- Quit all training - well duh captain obvious. This is a big part of my personal bucket as I work out quite a bit and had been training hard up to the Spartan race in July. However I wasn't about to just go sit on the couch and do nothing. I replaced my workouts with walking in the sun, yoga and a little sauna. I also continued my gymnastics bodies stretching routine. At first I was just walking around the office building at lunch. It was nice not having to go to the gym and it gave me a little more time to do things. But it was almost too nice and I noticed that my desire to go to the gym started vanishing pretty quickly. So I decided to keep up my routine of going to the gym at lunch, but instead of smashing some weights or running I would go outside where there are some nice trails and walk in the sun. I would then stop at a bench and meditate for 5-10 mins (more on that later). I would do the Yoga once a week and the sauna about 2-3 times a week but only for 10 mins. The sauna is relaxing but it does still stress the body and if you have ever tracked your heart rate in the sauna you will know that it can get quite high (I've seen 120 bpm after 20 mins or so) so I didn't want to go crazy in there either.
- Focus on sleep quality - pretty simple you can read my post on sleep but I was paying closer attention to sleep quality and if I was waking up feeling refreshed and obviously noted if I had to get up and pee.
- 3 meals a day, no fasting - maybe some day I'll write a post about all the different kinds of fasting and the many benefits which is why I have and do fast occasionally. But during a period of recovery is not the time to do it. So 3 good square meals a day, you need to tell your body food is plentiful so don't worry about it.
- Increased carb consumption - wait, what, I know what you're thinking. Increase the carbs??? This is really just for my situation. I think in general most people should definitely cut back on carbs especially processed carbs and sugar. However for me I already don't eat bread, pizza, sweets, cereal, pasta etc etc so I'm not getting all those carbs. My carb sources are pretty much potatoes, fruit, starchy veg and maybe some rice. I was probably around 100g a day of carbs. Too low carb can be a stress on the body especially if you are doing a lot of anaerobic training. I decided to bump carbs up a bit and especially on days that I trained anaerobically. I don't know where I heard this but "You earn your carbs" pretty much sums it up. If you are a cross fitter you might want to rethink that ketogenic diet.
- Quit coffee - pretty simple I stopped drinking coffee. If I did have any cortisol issues not drinking any caffeine is advised. Besides I went from never drinking coffee to a large cup a day pretty quickly and I think its good to reset from time to time. I didn't drink any coffee over the 5 weeks and as of this writing I have just started drinking coffee on the weekends again.
- Meditation - I've played around with meditation quite a bit the last year or so but lately had fallen off the wagon. The two apps I always recommend are Calm and Headspace. This recovery period has gotten me back on the meditation wagon so I'm trying to meditate at least once a day for a minimum of 10 mins. This time around I've been using Brain.FM, it uses sound wave frequencies to en train your brain to a certain state. I've found it is quite effective. It is a subscription service and costs around $5 a month so if you're just interested in meditation maybe start with Calm or Headspace first. However I also use Brain.FM at work as it has a focus option that I use when I'm coding. It also has a sleep function that I haven't had a chance to try yet. When I start training again I'll try to keep up with the meditation because if I can reduce stress I can in theory train harder. Patience with my kids is also another benefit that I notice, it doesn't always work though ;).
Finally, I took a Dutch Test to make sure I didn't have any more serious Cortisol issues. I'm also a sucker for any medical tests that can help me quantify myself. If I had really screwed things up I could be looking at a year or more for complete recovery. Dutch stands for Dried Urine Test For Comprehensive Hormones. Basically you pee on some strips at different times of the day and they analyze those to get a proper Cortisol Curve for you. Cortisol changes throughout the day so a single measurement is pretty useless.
My results were fairly normal and there is a ton more info in the full report including hormones like testosterone and estrogen. You can see my metabolized cortisol is quite low and free cortisol is normal, this basically means I'm a slow metabolizer of cortisol. This pattern points to a thyroid or liver issue, at least that's what the educational videos told me because I'm not a doctor. I think I can safely rule out the thyroid and a poor functioning liver would line up nicely with my iron issues. Perhaps it is possible that my iron overload is also causing my stress tolerance to be lower. I'm not a doctor and I'm totally guessing but that seems totally logical to me. I am still giving blood once a month for my iron overload and although my ferritin has now dropped to within normal range my iron saturation % is still quite high.
I'm hoping as my iron normalizes further and I'm assuming my liver function improves I'll be able to have a bigger stress bucket.
The five weeks are over and I feel pretty good right now, I'm sleeping well, I don't feel tired at all so I'm now ready to ramp up the training again. No doubt I'll go from zero to full speed but now I'm going to be very vigilant for signs of over training and I need to listen to my body for signs that maybe I need an extra rest day. To assist me with that I've started using the HRV4Training App - $10.
I'm not going to get into HRV right now as this post is already dragging on but HRV stands for Heart Rate Variability (its the measure of time between heart beats) and your reading in the morning can show you how stressed you are and if you're ready for a hard days training. I have used an HRV app before but it required a heart rate strap and a 3 minute morning reading. This just isn't going to fly when kids are waking up. There is nothing more annoying for my wife than having crying kids and I have to lay there like a log for 3 minutes. This is the first app I've seen that gets an accurate HRV reading from just the camera and it only takes a minute. Maybe it's not as accurate as the strap and three minute reading but a reading I don't take is totally useless to me.
Finally I'm going to take 4 weeks off every year after my last spartan race.
Sock Doc - Cortisol and sleep
bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast - what-is-the-dutch-test/
garmaonhealth.com - Adrenal Fatigue tests you can do at home
marksdailyapple.com - 8 Signs you are overtraining
chriskresser.com - why you may need to exercise less
Selfhacked - Reasons your cortisol is low or high