I am tired, and I should be considering I am 5 weeks out from my first Ironman.
I would expect to be tired as I train for an event that will take me all day to complete; but what I didn't expect, a whole host of other symptoms. In the past few weeks, I've forgotten a few appointments; my brain is fuzzy; everything seems like a chore even the training that I usually love to do; I am more anxious; I am holding on to some weight for dear life; my periomenopausal symptoms are worse; and let's just forget about my sex drive. What sex drive? A slightly achy back, craving salty foods, and overall weakness are also bugging me. I suspect my adrenals are to blame (and my labs confirm it); fortunately for my family and me, it is tolerable at this point. For some women, it is much more debilitating.
The adrenals are the walnut sized glands that sit atop our kidneys. While their role in helping us cope with stress is just one of their functions, they also help regulate hunger, digestion (potentially causing leaky gut), blood pressure (dizzy when standing up?), sleep, and our ability to get through the day efficiently. While both men and women have the same biological function of our adrenal glands, I suspect some women might be at greater risk. As we try to be everything to everyone, if we don't take time for ourselves, our bodies will get our attention. Besides the hormonal effects, there is a greater likelihood of injury, slower recovery, and decreased athletic performance.
Endurance sports are not kind to a lot of women, and what I am finding it's worse for us after our 40's. As we are going through so many other hormonal shifts during this perimenopausal time, excess exercise causes the body churns out more cortisol (which is secreted from our adrenal glands). This excess cortisol (but can bounce from high and low in later stages), not only alters our fluid retention and we feel bloated (due to aldosterone also produced by the adrenals), but we just don't seem to get through the day with as much energy and enthusiasm.
There are other hormonal imbalances at play here, specifically too much estrogen and too little progesterone. Almost every woman athlete I know is suffering from some of the effects of our love for training on our hormones. Even if you are not training for anything (modern life is stressful enough), you are probably suffering from some form of adrenal fatigue. Most of us are. In the earlier stages, listening to our bodies is the best gauge of whether to exercise or rest. In later stages, absolute rest and working with a qualified nutrition and lifestyle coach, wellness consultant, naturopath, or functional medicine practitioner are you best bets. While there are some good practitioners available, YOU are the one most invested in your health. Don't forget that.
So I've come up with a list of wellness tips to mitigate the stress of cortisol on the woman endurance athlete (but helpful for all women) from of my great resources and from what has helped me.
1. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Anti-Inflammatory Diet that supports gut health and regulates blood sugar, especially greens, berries, fermented foods, turmeric, sea vegetables eaten in a relaxed and non-hectic manner. Do not diet or try to cut calories ever, especially while training! Make sure you getting enough protein in all meals and snacks. Eat good fats, especially essential fatty acids. Use Himalayan or other good salts to season food, which will help restore the fluid shifts.
2. Get rid of Coffee (and other sources of caffeine) and alcohol. I quit my beloved coffee 3 months ago. While I miss the taste, I do not miss the highs and lows and blood sugar woes it was causing me. If you do drink coffee, eat breakfast first. Do not drink on an empty stomach.
3. Take the Day Off or even two days from exercise. Maybe even do a gentle yoga class. I am a fan of Yin Yoga. Even a pose or two can shift my day.
4. Quality Sleep. I use a combination of things, particularly getting off-line early (set a time and stick to it), essential oils, and blocking all light in my bedroom. I am a big fan of Young Living Oils, but I have been experimenting and really like Floracopeia as well.
4. Supplements. Vitamin B, C and D are essential to adrenal health, but so is Magnesium and Zinc. I have found that a Vitamin D mouth spray works the best on me (taken with fats), and I take a multivitamin that is 2 doses. Some vitamins can only be absorbed in smaller doses, so spreading doses helps absorption.
5. Consider Herbal Support. There is a ton of options, notably those called adaptogens (help us adapt to stress). Right now, I am using a combination of Ashwagandha, Rhodiolo, and Holy Basil, and I feel at ease recommending those. There are some, licorice, for one that should be used with cautionly and possibly under supervision. Tulsi tea is a good choice too for calming and getting extra fluids.
6. Protecting My Energy. "If it isn't a Hell Yes, it's a Hell NO."~ Marie Forleo
My time (and your time) are sacred. Honor that.
7. Be Gentle to Yourself. Breathe Deeply, Carve out You time, Forgive, Set boundaries, and
Ask for Help. Do what makes you Happy!
My teacher Aviva Romm MD wrote a great blog today on a similar topic, but she dives deeper into Herbal Support of Adaptogens, including dosage.
I hope this helps, but I would love to hear from you. What do you do to nourish you and your adrenals?