The trifecta of optimizing your fitness

Now that we are past the holidays and many of you have started chipping away at your fitness goals for 2017, it’s time to get down to business and start training right, right? Perhaps you are already a couple months into training? Either way, before you mark down your races and build your plan, there are some special considerations every athlete should make that are not based on time, speed, pace, power, etc., but nonetheless highly influential to your success.

Of greater importance to having lightweight equipment and the latest, greatest GPS and indoor trainer tools, are a few factors that are true game changers when it comes to athletic success.  Whether you are a cyclist, a runner, a skier, or an athlete in a team sport, one must prepare themselves and develop certain habits that transcend into effective training days. These are some of the intangibles, however within each of the elements to be presented, there lies tangible and quantifiable improvements that will transcend into not only self betterment but increases in performance.

As a coach who provides data driven, science based coaching, it is never just the numbers and the circumstances are never perfect. In this regard my charge to the reader is to think about what aspects of your life are limiters in addition to identifying your assets and how to make the most of your time and energy so that you may consistently bring your “A” game.

Intangible #1: Nutrition

The most successful athletes are highly tuned physiologically in part because these athletes pay attention to the quality and quantity of their nutritional intake. As most of us live in a society of convenience, we have gotten away from placing a high emphasis on the quality of food we consume and just making sure we have enough.

As far as nutrition is concerned you may think you are eating a healthy balanced diet but that doesn’t mean that your body is absorbing nutrients at 100% efficiency. A good place to start is by tracking what your intake is using a tracking tool that assesses not only major macronutrients, but the micro nutrients as well.

The next step is finding out how your body handled your intake. Hint: The proof is in the blood. Consult with your doctor or physician and have recent blood tests done to assess your overall health. A Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) and a Complete Blood Count (CBC) will have very useful information and could possibly help you identify major limiters that may be addressed through nutrition or supplementation. Many physicians will be looking at clinically relevant reference ranges, however some may have more experience and be able to make appropriate recommendations.

But don’t stop there. A registered dietitian, nutritionist, or nutrition coach should be able to make recommendations as to what supplements or nutritional strategies may be worth looking at given the information obtained from the blood tests. As a nutrition specialist at Source Endurance, the interpretation of blood-work, and an in depth look at your current nutritional habits are a part of designing your personalized nutrition strategy to help you meet your needs and goals. Check out Source Endurance's nutrition consultations. 

Intangible #2: Stress

Everyone has different loads of stress imposed on them on a daily basis, and everyone handles stress differently. However, stress may not always be evident as there may be unidentified physiological limiters that present no symptoms (see paragraph above) which further warrants the importance of testing.

As the stress hormone cortisol has a major effect on adrenal function, adrenal dysfunction is known to affect other cellular and chemical processes in the body such as the body’s insulin response, and in turn regulation of glucose and fat storage in the body. Most athletes are quite aware of the importance of having those systems working properly but may not realize the impact that stress has on these systems. 

If you stay up really late working, spend your day in front of a computer screen or have poor sleep patterns, those factors are worth addressing before before beginning a progressive and periodized training plan.

The good news is that there are effective strategies that may help you stay balanced, focused, and mentally sound to make your workouts much more effective. Suggesting any one strategy would not be effective without looking at the bigger picture, however things like practicing meditation, yoga, or even taking ten deep breaths when you become frustrated can help you cope with stress.
As athletes often quantify training load in a number of ways, one of those ways is in looking the product of volume and intensity. The popular training software, TrainingPeaks, helps us assess the metric of our training stress on a day to day basis and periodize appropriately by giving us a Training Stress Score (TSS) for the workouts we do.

The catch is that the body responds the same to mental and psychological stress as it does to physical stress. Perhaps the reason that more people don’t pay more attention to this is that we aren’t given a life stress score on a daily or weekly basis that syncs directly to TrainingPeaks or other mobile app. Knowing this would be incredibly hard to quantify due to the wide range of variability among individuals,yet it still stands that one of your major priorities should be to balance your life and stress if you hope to be as effective as possible in your training.

All tolled stress from any source, whether it be training or life is cumulative and the more one can reduce social, psychological and physiological stress, the more effective your workouts and training will be.

Intangible #3: Whole Body

Strengthen what’s weak, loosen what’s tight. Having a background in strength and conditioning, it is impossible to ignore the benefits that come with proper strength training, stretching, and recovery techniques, Although I could get into sets and reps, what I present here is that there is an functionality to be gained by balancing your strength across major muscle groups.
Will having huge chest and shoulders help you up a climb? No, but having strength, stability and flexibility around your hips and torso equates to greater transfer of energy into your legs.

Having upper body strength is still important though, especially in mountain biking and long distance events where the better part of the day is in the saddle.  In this light, fatigue may be a surprisingly difficulty thing to manage, especially late in a race. Even if the source of fatigue is upper body, this will undoubtedly contribute to a decline in performance. So what can you do? Start slow and easy, but start to work in daily or at least routine strength  training exercises to compliment your endurance training.
As always, it’s best to consult with a professional to discuss the right exercises for your needs and goals. Even better if someone can check your form and offer insight as to how to improve the quality of the movement. With whatever type of strengthening you choose make sure you have guidance and that your progression is appropriate. Having seen some pretty bad technique from individuals receiving personal training, make sure that the guidance you seek is both reputable and knowledgeable as it pertains to your needs. Again this is something we can help you with.

Intangibles, together.

As discussed, there are various factors that are worth looking before you dive head first into massive amounts of time and energy focused on your specific sport. Of greatest importance is to understand that all of the factors presented are interconnected and all have an effect on each other. If just one of these elements is not properly aligned, it may have an effect that goes beyond conventional wisdom. Should you find that you need help with any of these things, don’t stress about it, but think about making one or two changes at a time and commit to the process rather than seek immediate results.

Grant Harrison grew up competing in a variety of sports including college football, competitive soccer and hockey. Since then things have switched all things cycling- in multiple disciplines to boot. His extensive Master’s education in Human Performance gives him a solid background in all things athlete-related. He’s focused on the delicate balance between pyschological skills, coaching, nutrition, and athlete performance. In addition to coaching services, he also offers one-on-one nutrition consultations. Learn more about Grant.