Being athletic doesn’t necessarily mean you're healthy. I used to run for miles, restrict my caloric intake, and eat as little fat as possible. Then I’d do it all over again the next day.
Though I appeared fit and healthy, I’d actually destroyed my metabolism. By slingshotting my body into a cycle of stress-and-starvation, I had committed metabolic suicide. Due to regularly over-exercising and under-nourishing, my body was releasing a hormone called cortisol (the "fight or flight" response to prolonged stress), which prompts the body to store fat and triggers a drop in metabolism.
Not only was maintaining a healthy weight next to impossible, the scale was reading higher and higher numbers, my knees were aching, and I could feel my panic level rising. I’d also set myself up for low energy, a lowered immune system, crazy food cravings, and very confused hormones.
Luckily, holistic nutrition has come to my rescue! A yoga retreat leader noticed my distress and sat me down for my first holistic nutrition consultation. I quickly discovered that in order to get my athletic body back on track, I needed to embrace an entirely new perspective on balanced fitness and proper sports nutrition.
Healing my metabolism by re-wiring my brain and my body has been a long, challenging process. Simply eating quality, nutritious foods wasn’t enough.
Here are few key things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me emerge from a very deep metabolic rut:
Focus on high intensity exercise. Those 10 milers that I used to run on a regular basis? Not a good idea! Alternatively, shorter sessions of high intensity, even for a short time (think high knees and sprints), do wonders for a healthy metabolism. High intensity exercise prompts your body to condition itself for max performance by burning your body’s stores of sugar and fat for up to 36 hours after your workout. After a high intensity session, I can practically feel my metabolism humming along.
Integrate regular yoga and strength training. Balanced muscle tone is key for a healthy metabolism and a healthy athletic body. More athletic styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa, strengthen and tone a range of muscles. (You know the poses that make your muscles burn? Those!) Integrating light weights into your fitness routine (up to 3 pounds for ladies, and up to 10 pounds for guys) is also a great way to promote muscle tone. You don't necessarily need to bulk up (unless you want to), gentle toning is generally enough. In addition to being great for a healthy metabolism, strength training is also essential to bone health.
Count nutrients, not calories! The first thing I used to do when looking at a packaged sports drink, energy bar or diet food was zoom in on the calorie content. I’ve since learned that the ingredient list offers much more valuable information. Though calories are important, athletes need to shift their focus to the nutrient density of the foods they’re consuming. In fact, it’s a good idea to move away from packaged sports nutrition products altogether! There are so many amazing whole food options out there.
Enjoy healthy fats. I used to suffer from what I call fat phobia. Fat in foods meant fat on my body, or so I thought. It’s now fairly common knowledge that this isn’t necessarily the case! Particularly for athletes, healthy fats are not only essential for a healthy metabolism, they’re also vital to reducing inflammation, keeping energy levels high, balancing hormones, and more. I’ve had to re-wire my thinking around fats and I’m glad that I did! My favorites include avocado, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds
There ya go! These simple tools can help you support your body and regain a healthy metabolism. Interested in going deeper with quality sports nutrition and balanced fitness? Check out my website, I’d love to support you!
Photo Credit: Tailwind Jungle Lodge