I write this post from the perspective that SO MANY runners are injured right now! It seems like 1/2 of the runners behind the blogs I follow are dealing with injuries. NOT FUN. This 3-part series is about what I would do differently if I could go back in time. Maybe you'll learn something or be able to prevent an injury in the future.
PART 1: If I could go back in time, I would go back and tell my fifteen-year old self, "Eat more. In fact, eat more fat. Good fat is actually good for you. Don't get sucked into thinking fat is bad."
I avoided fat for a long time. Not because of anything other than growing up and hearing, "Fat is bad." I wanted to be the best athlete I could. My goal was not to lose weight, but I was very restrictive with my diet in the name of wanting to be the best athlete I could be. I don't think that is a bad thing, necessarily, because let's be honest, the Olympians aren't out there shoveling cakes into their pie hole, BUT, to stay healthy and to keep your metabolism and digestive systems going, you gotta eat enough, and you gotta eat good fats. I simply did not know this. I didn't have great coaches telling me what was good to eat, and honestly, I was just uneducated.
What happened next?
Well, when I was 16, I lost my menstrual cycle because I wasn't getting enough nutrients, and BAM! Stress fracture. My first injury. How many times have we seen this in the running world with young women?! Way too many times.
Here is what I wish I knew at the time, and what I would tell women: -First, make sure you are incorporating enough good fats into your diet (avocados, coconut oil, peanut butter, hummus, etc) -If you lose your period, do not ignore this. It does not mean you are at "peak fitness", and it is not something to take lightly. This can affect your fertility and bone mass. No bueno. Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman have all had children. I do not know their personal health history, but in order to carry a fetus, they had to have a cycle. You can train at a very high level and still have regular cycles. In fact, you need regular cycles.
This is a perfect excerpt taken from Camille Herron, an elite marathoner who has qualified for multiple US Olympic Trials. (check out her blog: www.camilleherron.com) "Unfortunately, diet and menstrual irregularities can be a huge risk factor, esp. for young women, often referred to as the Female Athlete Triad. It boils down to getting enough calories to match the energy demands– your energy balance. If you aren’t getting enough calories to fuel yourself, you certainly aren’t getting enough calories to provide for a fetus– the first thing to shut down is your reproductive system. Your estrogen level goes down, which also protects bone. Over time, you can lose bone mass, and your bones become more fragile and fracture-prone. Ladies, it is not normal to miss your period, month-after-month. If you haven’t had a consistent menstrual cycle, that is a direct correlation to your energy balance, whether you need to eat more and/or cut back your training load to get your period again. It has nothing to do with your percent body fat– you can be a woman with 10% body fat, and as long as you’re in energy balance, you should get your period." - See more at: http://camilleherron.com/2011/05/11/overcoming-stress-fractures/#sthash.dddBPldl.dpuf
This is an issue not talked about enough in the running world, and many times the ramifications are not good.
Also, like Camille referenced, it does not matter what your body fat percentage is. I got another stress-fracture even though I had put on quite a bit of weight, as you can see below. I didn't understand. Don't I weigh plenty enough? Still, though, I wasn't getting enough good fats and calories, and my body was actually storing fat. Even with my body fat percentage higher, I still didn't have a regular cycle.
So, what did I do to fix this? Everyone is different, but first, I got on birth control to regulate my periods. Currently, I am experimenting with being off of it, because Birth Control pills can actually masque symptoms that need to be addressed. (They also really started messing with my moods. I was on them for 4 years). I decided this year (2014) to go off birth control, and attempt to regulate my periods naturally, because I know it is possible, and I want to be more in control and aware of my body. So far, I'm on the right track. I'm determined to stay injury free. Here has been and what will continue to be my plan until I learn something else. (I'm always researching and reevaluating to see what is best):
1. Fueling immediately after a run instead of waiting a few hours to eat. 2. Eating good fats, especially when consuming vitamin-rich foods (research shows the nutrients found in many fruits+veggies are better absorbed when eaten with fat. Top a salad with a handful of almonds. Add avocado to that quinoa fried rice, or roast veggies in coconut oil.) 3. Taking a fat-digestion enzyme daily. It is called "Hi-Lipase" (After avoiding fat for a long time, I often get constipated after eating it.) 4. Getting my hormone and body levels checked bi-monthly through Biofeedback. 5. SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP. 8 hours per night. (If these were numbered by importance, this would be number 1) 6. Taking a magnesium/calcium supplement. I use a brand called "Natural Calm", and mix it right in with my water. 7. Eating whole foods. Lots of fruits, veggies, eggs, real butter, etc.
This list is what I believe will work for me. Hormones, menstrual cycles and injuries are all individual, and really are different person-to-person. If you take one thing from this post, I would suggest making sure you (or your girlfriend/wife/daughter) is having a regular cycle. I can't stress the importance of this enough. I have personally experienced 2 season-ending injuries in the form of stress fractures, and I really encourage everyone to take a second look at how missing your period regularly negatively affects your body in many ways.
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. Enough said. Don't try to self-diagnose yourself based off what I say. Seems obvious, but I'm supposed to say something like that here in the blogosphere.
QUESTIONS: What has been your experience? Do you agree with this post? I would love to know your thoughts!