Living on the edge of health
Maybe you have noticed it during this yearai??i??s Tour de France; all teams are obsessed with health measures. Riders refuse to shake hands, hotel rooms are disinfected before the riders arrive and some riders clean their hands almost every minute with portable hand soap. It is a fact that bikers in top form are more susceptible to illnesses, but are these time consuming measures really necessary to stay healthy or are there other, more easy, ways to avoid illness?
In the following article I will give you six proven and easy tips that will keep you healthy. These tips are not specific for mountain biking, but are common used strategies in the sport world.Ai?? Consider this article a brief overview of general sport principles.
- Sleep enough
It might seem obvious, but most people mess up with their sleep. Switching off the TV and getting up off the sofa can be very difficult and you as a determined and committed mountain biker are also suffering from these temptations. Sleep is extremely important in staying healthy because our body produces the human growth hormone when we are sleeping. This hormone boosts recovery and enables our bodies to adapt to the training load. An insufficient night rest means an insufficient recovery. The consequence is that your immune system is not fully recovered either.
- Eat healthy
When you are training on a high level and the top form is coming, food is an essential factor in staying healthy. Providing the needed building stones for your body makes sure that you are recovering at the fastest rate possible. Consuming a lot of vegetables and fruit is necessary, these provide vitamins and minerals which are co-enzymes of the immune system. They speed up the anti-bacterial and anti-viral activity in your body. The most important vitamin is vitamin C, but do not focus entirely on this vitamin. Other vitamins are maybe less well-known but this does not mean they are not important. A varied diet of vegetables and fruit provides you with the needed vitamins and minerals.
- Know the signs
I might sound odd, but every illness has an omen. A bad mood, headache, a decreased desire to train and disturbed night rest are altogether signs of diseases. A critical and objective reflection to your health is necessary to maintain healthy.
- Keep a training diary
Every serious athlete keeps a training diary. It doesnai??i??t have to be very complex. Noting your training intensity, training volume, hours of night rest and your perceived recovery is enough. Looking back in your training diary after a period of bad form or a period of illness provides you with information about the cause of your health problems. It will help you to discover bad patterns in your training and recovery and will prevent them to occur again.
- More than mountain biking
This is an easily overlooked issue, but one that is really important to realize. Many mountain bikers think that their sport is the only demanding thing in life, but they forget other things like work, a social life and their family. These have a massive impact on your energy level. Plan you hard and exhausting training sessions in a period with less other stress factors. Researchers at the university of Groningen recently published an article about psychosocial stress and recovery (Otter et al 2015). They proved thatAi?? increased psychosocial stress impacts the recovery heart rate in a negative way. Recovery is slowed down by psychological stress and the tendency in the sport is that we have to think more in a way of general stress instead of sport specific stress.
- Tapering periods
Recovery is not only a matter of hours or one day, but a matter of a couple of days or even a week. The modern training programs are using a training year that is divided into smaller cycles. Mostly the cycles are as long as 4-6 weeks. The last week of such a cycle is generally used as a recovery week. In such a week all intensive trainings are deleted and the training volume is significant lower than normal. Such a week gives your body the opportunity to recover fully of repeated weeks of intensive training and gives your mind time to get mentally ready for the next phase in training.
Sometimes it is useful to take a completely mountain bike free week. This means a complete reset of your mind and a full recovery of your body. During a long (race) season is it a very good remedy against a burn out and loss of motivation. Also the non-competitive mountain bikers can benefit of this strategy, because training for long tours means a lot of hours on the saddle and the training load differs not that much from that of competitive mountain bikers.
The complete picture
All the above written tips focus on one thing: reducing stress. Many people have a too simplistic picture of stress. Stress is not only the feeling you experience when you have to do too much in a short time, it is much more. A long training is stress and worries are also stress. Yes, the first is physical stress and the second psychological stress, but the hormonal reaction of the body is the same; it really doesnai??i??t matter for the body what kind of stress it is. The stress hormone that is released is called cortisol. Actually is cortisol a hormone that helps to cope with stress, but after a long time of stress the effects of cortisol will turn against you. Here are some effects of cortisol:
- Increased heart rate
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased alertness
- Suppressing of the immune system
All these effects are positive in a situation when you have to cope with stress. Even suppressing the immune system is positive, because all the energy is needed to cope with the stress. But, in the long run these effects will turn against you and cause all kinds of health problems. The six tips above will help you stay healthy.
- Otter, R. T. A., Brink, M. S., van der Does, H. T. D., & Lemmink, K. A. P. M.(2015).Ai??Monitoring Perceived Stress and Recovery in Relation to Cycling Performance in Female Athletes.Ai??International Journal of Sports Medicine.Ai??1055/s-0035-1555779
- Otter, R. T. A., Brink, M. S., Diercks, R. L., & Lemmink, K. A. P. M.(2015).Ai??A Negative Life Event Impairs Psychosocial Stress, Recovery and Running Economy of Runners.Ai??International Journal of Sports Medicine.Ai??1055/s-0035-1555932