Email of the Week: Jess and the 2020 Olympics "I just want to be able to do all the training and stay healthy."

YOU LADIES ARE REALLY QUITE AMAZING. I AM SO HONORED TO RECEIVE THE BEAUTIFUL, HEARTFELT EMAILS THAT YOU SEND. WHILE EACH ONE OF US IS A UNIQUE WOMAN WITH HER OWN STORY, THERE ARE MANY, MANY THOUGHTS THAT WE ALL SEEM TO HAVE IN COMMON. WITH THIS IN MIND, I AM GOING TO SHARE SOME OF YOUR EMAILS AND MY REPLY HERE ON THE WEBSITE. (NAMES AND PERSONAL DETAILS HAVE BEEN CHANGED BECAUSE YOU'RE MY PEOPLE AND I LOVE YOU.)

This week we hear from Jess, an Olympic athlete. She unfortunately missed out on the 2016 Olympics due to an unrelated health issue, but is now focusing on 2020. In her efforts to go down a weight class in her sport, she got into a pattern of restrictive eating. She dropped the weight, but became overly concerned about calories and burning off as many of them as possible. Of course, this led her to suffer from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. She has gained weight and regained her cycles, but is concerned about staying healthy as she increases training for the next Olympics. She has been following a Facebook group for HA recovery, but wanted some additional advice about her goals.

Because so few people in my Facebook groups have wanted to get back into a sport because they genuinely love it or have other goals, I am a bit lost about how hard I can push myself and how much I can add back in.  To be clear, I want to make the 2020 Olympics, but I do not want to be a lightweight again.  I'm going to try to make it happen as an openweight, which I think is totally possible.  Do you have any advice on this?  I am eating a lot more than I was, especially around workouts, and I haven't been counting calories at all.  I also could care less how my body looks; I just want to be able to do all of the training and stay healthy.  I don't know what more I can or should be doing.

My response follows:

...some women train a ton and eat well without without losing their periods, but then head straight to HA when they drop calories. Other women train at a particular level and eat healthfully, but then HA becomes a factor when they ramp training up drastically. Either way, energy deficiency is the heart of the matter, but it's much easier to take a woman who can clearly withstand heavy training and have her eat more than have a woman whose body doesn't take well to heavy training and push her harder. 

I am going to guess that you are the former and can withstand the heavy training, but your weight goals forced you into unnatural territory and threw everything off. This is good. Also good is that you are not counting calories and don't care about being skinny. You would be amazed to know how many elite-level runners can't let go of the idea that they have to "look like a runner" in order to perform like one. 

I think you can do this. The foundation is there. Your desire is there. Your mindset is strong. Your plan will be to ramp up training and be extra mindful of fueling. You've got to keep the stress hormone cortisol as low as possible at all times because when it gets up too high, you risk losing your female hormone production. You won't be able to control all of this due to the increased physical demand coming from muscles/bones/tissues that are working hard and need repair, but there are some things that you CAN do (assuming you are eating to compensate for the caloric expenditure of training). 

1. Never train fasted. Fasted training is a cortisol bomb. Eat ALWAYS before training even if it's 4am. Burp while you run if you have to :)

2. SLEEP. You've got to do whatever you can to get lots of good rest. Napping is great, but try to get 7-9 hours at night.

3. Keep carbohydrates in your diet, at least 40% of total intake. Low carb is the worst thing you can do. Hormone production needs plenty of carbohydrates to keep things moving. 

4. Meditation puts the cortisol fire out like no other. Add at least 10 minutes of meditation to your day, any time of day. It is proven to help.

5. Rest days, COMPLETE rest days, need to be a part of the schedule. I very much dislike the term "active rest days" and believe that they do more harm than good. 

6. Refuel 30 minutes after exercise. Again, for recovery and reducing stress hormones, this is another way to put out the fire. If you can't get to a meal, consider a recovery beverage like Recoverite from Hammer Nutrition or something else that has at least 10g of protein and 30 g of carbohydrates. 

7. Get a hobby. No seriously. You've got to have something that you love to do that has nothing to do with your sport. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it brings you joy: knitting, movies, petting your dog, baking, etc.

8. Massage. A 30 minute massage drastically reduces cortisol in the body. If you can afford it, it really helps to do it regularly. 

Aside from all of this, a positive outlook will kick stress hormones to the curb. You've got to believe in yourself through all of the changes that you will be going through. Truthfully, I don't think this will be a problem for you.

Of course, we are not all getting ready for Olympic-level training, but the techniques for keeping cortisol low can apply to all of us. Have any of these worked for you? What tips can you share?