The Flaw in the System
Now, I am finally back to hit the keyboard of my laptop for a bit! Turns out that the year 2018 has not quite let go of me just yet. After my best effort, but low performance race (compared to what I know I can do) on Hawaii in mid-October, my body really turned on me. Obviously, I would have cancelled any other IRONMAN after the accident and whole year of inconsistent training, but with it being the World Championships and having commitments to my support team, I went for it.
Initially after the race my body seemed to recover well, but then it got really mixed up. I won`t bore you with the details, but I got sent to a few doctors to find out what was wrong after 4-6 weeks of doing almost no sport. I just kept active with walks and 20-minute easy rides. Eventually, due to my whole body swelling, they tested my heart and organs - all green lights luckily!
So, they ended up with the diagnosis ‘overtraining’ and their job ended there it seems. Resting and eating did not change a thing, even after several weeks. Overtraining is a complex story. It`s not just the obvious that you train too much and recover too little, which has not been the case with me after Hawaii. I do know my stuff on the medical side and I knew the likely main issue that messed up my whole year of 2018 must have been nutrition, mixed up with too many psychological factors, such as unnecessary stress from people around me.
I am a very hard working and also obsessed guy when it comes to my passion. I want to dedicate everything I have towards my dreams. I do not half wheel anything. That can bite you back quite easily.
When I found out about the low carb high fat diet and it´s benefits regarding endurance sports, I was amazed. Being me, I took it too far there (lack of proper guidance in coaching) hanging around 50g of carbs a day for many months with a very demanding physical job. In short, this diet eventually led me to eat WAY too little. Maybe it would have worked if I ate enough, since I was feeling great from July to November 2017, which ended with a fantastic IRONMAN in Florida.
In my opinion, the diet has this issue - that each body type has a different need for the amount of carbohydrate your body needs daily (you can test this with a ‘spit test’ of your DNA). Me, not being the typical thin triathlete, am always on the heavier but stronger side than others. I always saw this as a disadvantage due to higher weight = more to carry around in the marathon. Obviously, it influences it, but your body will make the right choice for your body weight when you eat, train and recover well. Maybe the diet would work for me with a few weeks of really low carbs and then stock up again, a kind of periodization. Something I will of course never test again. Carbohydrates are essential for brain and nerve function, so long time depletion did not work for me. The huge stress on my body eventually messed me up between the ears as well, since you feel almost depressed without putting a finger on the issue. I got rewarded with the fricking shingles in May, which is basically the last sign to stop your body, with an inflammation of your nerves. My main strength has always been, being able to eat like a horse, train hard every single day if I wanted to, recover well and never have any orthopaedic injuries like runner’s knee, Achilles etc.
With the physical work load and 20-25 hours of quality training, I would have needed a minimum of 150g of carbs daily and then packing the diet with so much cheese, crème, avocado, nuts etc. that it came out of my ears to meet the calorie demands. Me on the other hand, not feeling hungry due to the changed hormonal response to hunger (great for overweight people to actually lose weight) under ate at least 1000-1500 cal. a day for a long time, without my body giving me any signs except moodiness and feeling off. Performance and legs were still flowing along so that I felt content with it. It would have probably been 30% better, if I had actually recovered well with enough food.
So fast forward to face plant on the asphalt in August 2018, prepare to the best of my ability (still undereating calories without realizing, stopped the real LCHF in spring 2018) and do an IRONMAN in October.
Well, that really fudged up my hormonal system, I can tell you that.
Add a proper jetlag of 12 hours, a job change and moving flats, and you got a cocktail with a real kick to it. Not the good kind though.
After I got screened from doctors etc., and was sent off to do nothing but sit around, which didn´t change a thing for weeks, I went off to fix myself.
I knew the diet had changed my hormone levels and this was what was still off. Waking up with adrenaline and cortisol through the roof without any reason, being unable to sleep and lack of appetite, are the easier of the symptoms. The nasty ones are what it does to your thinking and mood. Quite exhausting I can tell you, especially if it does not change for months.
I found this amazing website: https://experiencelife.com/article/the-cortisol-curve/
which talks about the cortisol curve.
Cortisol is a hormone released by your adrenal glands which gets kicked in when you are under pressure or a perceived threat = fight or flight system. A healthy cortisol curve starts with higher levels in the morning and lower towards the evening, so you can sleep. I had it tangled in all sorts of ways. The physical shock of the bike accident, the IRONMAN and the weeks after, certainly helped to worsen it.
For the last week, I have been self-experimenting with the following points and the results are crystal clear that it was the main issue. Within a few days I felt significantly better and more normal (a feeling I could barely remember!).
Before you start, read this from the website I just posted:
Endocrinologist Alan Christianson, NMD, author of The Adrenal Reset Diet, directed the trial. He now prescribes this carb-cycling protocol to his patients who are dealing with any type of cortisol disruption.
“Imagine a seesaw: Higher-carb meals drop the cortisol, and lower-carb meals allow the cortisol to stay higher,” Christianson explains. This is because carbs elevate blood sugar, so the pancreas makes more insulin to manage that increase. Insulin decreases cortisol output. As blood sugar goes up, cortisol gets pushed down.
When you eat carbs, cortisol goes down and Melatonin up (sleepy after higher carb meals? That´s why I ate it late in the day)
What did I do:
Same sleep and food pattern every day, precise to roughly 30 Minutes.
Low carb breakfast, medium amount of quality carbs lunch, higher amounts of quality carbs evening
2400mg fish oil daily, max. 1000mg Vit. C daily and Vit. B complex
Drink enough daily
Meditation evening to get cortisol in check
Use of natural herbs, mostly fresh peppermint morning and evening (Adaptogens Traditional Chinese Medicine, not the ones recommended on the website yet)
Cut out Caffeine, especially in the morning (Okay, I did sneak in a cheeky cup of black magic coffee after lunch)
So, I feel MUCH better and can actually think about going out to train again. My head always wanted and did not need any ‘rest’ as in Off-Season, as I had enough breaks in training this year. Before, I could do 30 minutes easy cycling and chances were that I was completely messed up hormonally for the day, NOT because it was too much work for my heart and muscles.
So why is the blog called ‘The Flaw in the System’?
Simply, because I realized this year (after being a patient more than ever before in my life), that most medical professionals are so overloaded, that they cannot give you the full care you need. What you need, is someone that takes over control entirely. Checking you, finding out what is wrong and then solving the issue. Send you to the first specialist, get results, evaluate and then refer to the next. The diagnosis ‘Overtraining’, doesn’t mean anything at this point. You need to find out what is causing the load to be so high, that you do not recover. I would have needed an Endocrinologist that tested me to see what was wrong, then gave me the regiment I stated earlier. Luckily for me, I have a better understanding of the human body, working in a medical profession. I can only imagine the other patients, being so lost. No wonder cancers and other horrible fates are recognized so late. Doctors have to take full charge of the patient, until they find out what is wrong and really listen to the individual. I do understand the load of 16 + patients a day and it is not easy. Even if they cannot solve it, they better keep referring the patient to someone who has the capacity to treat the person accordingly.
I am very happy with my new work place, a short distance outside of Zürich ( https://www.sport-physiotherapie-kloten.ch/ ), since my workload is now split as follows: a maximum of 40% of my time spent with patients (giving them the proper care and attention needed), with the rest of the time used to develop the Physiotherapy practice and do lots of other fun things. The work change alone will make 2019, 50% easier to train and recover. As a company, we are very busy and growing quickly, but rest assured, if you need some help with your body, you can be sure that I will do anything I can to get you back to your old self. Either I can fix you, but if I notice that I cannot, then I will send you to someone that can. Combine the new work, to a really cozy and relaxing flat and a great Coach (Jo Spindler) and his squad, and we are in for a real treat, that is for certain.
I cannot wait to get back to some real training weeks, that make me feel I am the ‘hardest worker in the room’, as Dwayne Johnson likes to say.
Happy training to all of you,