By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant | Tuesday, April 19, 2016In a discussion with some National Team athletes at last weekend’s Arena Pro Swim Series at Mesa, the topic of stress was ever-present.
Stress for a small population of athletes is a very real thing as we sit 10 weeks out from Olympic Trials. No athlete has a guaranteed spot on the USA Olympic roster, but some have a better chance than others at grabbing one of the two individual spots in each event.
Surveying the field and wondering if the last couple of years of training have them prepared for this moment, or if a recent setback is going to produce a third-place finish instead of a second-place one are common worries.
Throw in training stress, and the anxieties life away from the pool can create, and a physical situation may arise via the hormone Cortisol which can negatively impact training and competitive results.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland and is released in response to stress and low blood glucose concentration. That is one major reason why training hard (physical stress) and not refueling with a quick snack and a meal (low blood glucose) is a big mistake.
Cortisol suppresses the immune system and can inhibit protein synthesis (rebuilding damaged muscle tissue). It can also contribute to dehydration by acting as a diuretic, and interrupt sleep patterns. Keep in mind, the human body does not differentiate between physical and psychological stress. They all act the same way on the adrenal gland.
Managing stress is the key to managing Cortisol production. Try these three tips:
- Quality food on demand is essential to combating Cortisol produced because of low blood glucose. Plan and pack your meals and snacks, or ask someone to do it for you. This is the easiest form of Cortisol production to combat, but it takes some planning. Leaving post-training nutrition to chance is a terrible idea.
- Plan 10-15 minutes of quiet relaxation every day. A brief meditative session every day has been reported many times to lower Cortisol levels and over time reverse the effects of chronic stress. You can give it a try for free by downloading the Headspace app and throwing on a pair of headphones.
- Getting eight hours of sleep (or more) every night has been shown to do everything from improving performance to reducing the chance of injury. Lack of sleep will increase Cortisol the next day, but getting to bed early and putting in 8-plus hours on the pillow may help calm the Adrenal glands and lower Cortisol levels.