3 Habits of Healthy Athletes
Overtraining is an epidemic in running culture. Because running is addictive AND we have been taught that we are supposed to do more to get faster.
Yet the truth is…
We need to slow down to get fast.
We need to reflect on our habits, determine what is helping us and what may be hurting us. Often when we take the time to do this, we don’t like what we find, but being an athlete is about facing challenges and digging deep.
There is no “secret sauce” when it comes to being a healthy and successful athlete. Ultimately it comes down to prioritizing your basic needs, practicing discipline, and creating a routine that values mental and emotional health.
Here are some of the healthy habits that Deena Kaster, Paula Radcliff, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Lebron James take seriously.
Getting a good night’s SLEEP
Getting a good night’s sleep is a basic requirement for every human, but it is even more important for those who push their body regularly. Sleep is when our body can heal, repair, and recover. While you are sleeping you are rebuilding your muscles and bones. Without sleep we become irritable, at risk for respiratory illness and sickness, foggy, unfocused and make mistakes. Having good sleep hygiene is an important basic need for any athlete.
The bare minimum amount of sleep athletes need a night is 7-9 hours, but often much more is required especially if you are in the peak of your training. You don’t have to sleep all at once, you can add naps into your daily routine if they don’t exceed 30 minutes and are not too close to bedtime.
Set up a good environment for sleep to get the most out of it. Make sure you aren’t woken up by noise or light, the room temperature is cool (ideally 60-65 degrees) and no screens right before bed.
Food and water are basic needs. You must fuel appropriately and drink enough water
Hydration and nutrition should be at the top of all athletes list, but unfortunately this is often not the case. If we do not consume enough calories or water our body is no longer able to perform basic cellular functions. The body is smart. Before it allots energy for exercise it takes care of its basic needs. The body will choose function over performance.
Energy In – Energy Out = Energy Availability.
Low energy availably and Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (REDs) is very common in running athletes – both men and women. It can occur because of a general lack of knowledge/understanding what our body need to perform OR because an athlete is restricting their intake. In either case it is detrimental for our health, causes injury and illness and steals your ability to perform.
Athletes have different needs than non-athletes for both hydration and fuel. I remember when I discovered I wasn’t eating enough for my marathon training and made some small changes, my performance skyrocketed, I had less injuries, I was no longer hungry all the time and I lost weight by eating more - I am not joking. Every runner is different and so are their nutritional needs. If you are struggling with getting enough or if haven’t even thought about what you eat, you might benefit from speaking to a sports dietician.
General hydration rules of thumb:
Start your day with water and end your day with water
For every pound you lose after you run drink 20-24 oz
Have more than plain water, add drinks with electrolytes
Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water. Adjust based on how much you sweat and how hot and humid your environment is.
Working on your mental game.
Mental training is just as important as physical training. As athletes it is important to train and strengthen your body- your mind is no different. There are several ways to begin training your mind, but often, the help of a sports psychologist or a mindset coach can be a huge help. They can create an individualized plan for you and what you need to be successful.
Here are some tips on how to begin improving your mental games:
Keep a journal. This can help you get out of your head and into your life or race. You can use the journal to track your progress, express your feelings and work things out.
Start meditating. Meditation is a secret weapon used by some of the highest performing athletes. It is not easy, and it takes practice but the benefits outweigh any discomfort you might feel when sitting still for ten-30 minutes.
Have a plan. The Fear of the unknown is where anxiety lives. We can by no means control everything and we certainly don’t know what is going to unfold in front of us. However, carefully thinking through the possibilities and creating a plan can help decrease the feeling of anxiety and fear.
Have fun and socialize! Runners are people first. Running is something we do and the more we remember that the easier it can be if we become injured. Make sure you have something outside of your sport that brings you joy. It helps if you have a good support system too.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the latest running trends that offer injury prevention and optimal health. BUT unless you address your basic needs, mental and emotional health you will never reach your full potential. Our body is made up of cells and those cells only function when they are getting what they need. Focus on your basic needs first then begin to tackle everything else.