Stress is all around us, at work, in our relationships and even in the gym. We live in a high paced, fast moving world where the expectations on our mind and body are continually compounding and growing.
With all of these aspects playing on our body, it's important to evolve our definition of stress in order to treat it effectively, and to give us the tools to perform at our peak.
Traditionally, stress is thought to be confined to the head. Feelings of anxiety, tight deadlines, and unseen pressures all added to this definition. However as modern medicine is moving towards a holistic approach to health, the "stress" we experience also receives a modern definition.
According to Dr Ron Ehrlich, author of A Life Less Stressed: The Five Pillars Of Health and Wellness, stress can more accurately be defined as any factor that has the potential to compromise homeostasis [that is keeping a balance biochemically, structurally and psychologically]. Maintaining this balance is key to performance, and a healthy life in general.
Dr Ehrlich sat down with MH to share the effects of stress on your own training, and how to counter these stressors to reach your athletic goals by recognising the causes.
Getting nutrients to your muscles is central to athletic performance. If you are stressed, with high cortisol and adrenaline levels, you simply won't absorb your nutrients as well as you should irrespective of how good your diet is, or whatever supplements you may be taking. Many athletes think that 'carb loading' is important to fuel the body, but current research tells you this is outdated. Topping up on healthy fats and proteins are the key for effective nutrient transport.
- Consume a nutrient dense diet which incorporates healthy fats and proteins, and healthy salt (Himalayan rock salt or Celtic sea salt). These will work towards optimal nerve and muscle function and proper fluid balance.
- Hydration is critical. Water is the best drink, plain and simple. Nothing beats it.
Consistently sleeping well is also a direct route towards maintaining a healthy hormonal balance, and not sleeping well is a potential and significant stressor. Growth hormone is produced during sleep, so poor sleep is therefore limiting the production of this hormone, important for rebuilding muscle post workout. A rise in ghrelin, a hormone that tells you that you are still hungry, also occurs with low sleep, encouraging you to eat more. Another hormonal imbalance that occurs is lowered levels of leptin, the fat metabolising hormone, along with unusual level of insulin.
Essentially, sleep is the most important part of the day and critical to a healthy life and athletic performance.
- Focus on getting a consistently good night's sleep and make sure you are breathing well while you sleep. Sleep is a question of quantity (7-8 hours/night) and quality (are you breathing well and waking up refreshed).
Dysfunctional breathing is also a potentially significant stressor, important for athletic performance. It is adversely affected when you are stressed. It affects body chemistry which has the potential to hugely affect the body's biochemical balance, not just while you are asleep, but during your waking hours. Are you a mouth breather or a nasal breather? Its surprisingly significant, affecting not only the biochemistry of the body but also your posture.
- Consciously work on your breathing; nasal breathing is best throughout the day and night, ensuring production of nitric oxide, one of the body's most important regulators, improving blood flow. But with more strenuous exercise a combination of mouth breathing and nasal breathing can occur, so beware.