Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mind Over Matter- Not exactly the case for the doggedly determined athlete. (a very basic explanation of over-training)

"The legs were there but the mind just wasn't in it."

"My lungs just weren't there today."

"I just couldn't push as hard as I wanted."

"I just wasn't tough enough."

People say this kind of stuff all the time to justify poor race performance and although I'm not trivializing the importance of attitude and mental strength in the sport, I would like to STRONGLY stress the mind and body are one in the same.

Some athletes are blessed with a dogged determination and will. They fight to the death. Performance for them is worth entering deep into the pain cave. The mind is an incredibly strong tool to overpower the body and these strong willed athletes push their bodies to forge on even when every cell screams, "Stop!"

When the body doesn't respond though they feel that they only faltered mentally, but their is indeed a physiological reason for whats happening: endocrine burnout.

Athletes with strong discipline have a tendency to push themselves hard in training. Sometimes they feel recovered physically but in reality they show up on race day fatigued. This is hormonal fatigue.

Runners get their ability to push hard from their hormones. These hormones are primarily epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, and testosterone, as well as cortisone and a myriad of others.

Read this excerpt to learn about the hormones:

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of your kidneys that are made up of two distinct parts.
  • The adrenal cortex—the outer part of the gland—produces hormones that are vital to life, such as cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
  • The adrenal medulla—the inner part of the gland—produces nonessential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
When you think of the adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands), stress might come to mind. And rightly so—the adrenal glands are arguably best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body to spring into action in a stressful situation.
But the adrenal glands contribute to your health even at times when your body isn’t under extreme stress. In fact, they release hormones that are essential for you to live.
Anatomy of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two, triangular-shaped organs that measure about 1.5 inches in height and 3 inches in length. They are located on top of each kidney. Their name directly relates to their location (ad—near or at; renes—kidneys).
Each adrenal gland is comprised of two distinct structures—the outer part of the adrenal glands is called the adrenal cortex. The inner region is known as the adrenal medulla.
Hormones of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla have very different functions. One of the main distinctions between them is that the hormones released by the adrenal cortex are necessary for life; those secreted by the adrenal medulla are not.
 Adrenal Cortex Hormones
The adrenal cortex produces two main groups of corticosteroid hormones—glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. The release of glucocorticoids is triggered by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Mineralcorticoids are mediated by signals triggered by the kidney.
 When the hypothalamus produces corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), it stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenal corticotrophic hormone (ACTH). These hormones, in turn, alert the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.
Glucocorticoids released by the adrenal cortex include:
  • Hydrocortisone: Commonly known as cortisol, it regulates how the body converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to energy. It also helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function.
  • Corticosterone: This hormone works with hydrocortisone to regulate immune response and suppress inflammatory reactions.
The principle mineralcorticoid is aldosterone, which maintains the right balance of salt and water while helping control blood pressure.
There is a third class of hormone released by the adrenal cortex, known as sex steroids or sex hormones. The adrenal cortex releases small amounts of male and female sex hormones. However, their impact is usually overshadowed by the greater amounts of hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone) released by the ovaries or testes.
Adrenal Medulla Hormones
Unlike the adrenal cortex, the adrenal medulla does not perform any vital functions. That is, you don’t need it to live. But that hardly means the adrenal medulla is useless. The hormones of the adrenal medulla are released after the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which occurs when you’re stressed. As such, the adrenal medulla helps you deal with physical and emotional stress. You can learn more by reading a SpineUniverse article about the sympathetic nervous system.
You may be familiar with the fight-or-flight response—a process initiated by the sympathetic nervous system when your body encounters a threatening (stressful) situation. The hormones of the adrenal medulla contribute to this response.
Hormones secreted by the adrenal medulla are:
  • Epinephrine: Most people know epinephrine by its other name—adrenaline. This hormone rapidly responds to stress by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the muscles and brain. It also spikes your blood sugar level by helping convert glycogen to glucose in the liver. (Glycogen is the liver’s storage form of glucose.)
  • Norepinephrine: Also known as noradrenaline, this hormone works with epinephrine in responding to stress. However, it can cause vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood vessels). This results in high blood pressure. taken from

These hormones are what make up the fight or flight response. They make your heart beat faster and allow you to release fuel like fat and glycogen into your blood stream. They give athletes the ability to dig deep and really enter the pain cave in a race. Well rested and trained athletes can push themselves at 100% when these hormones are readily available.

When athletes train too much and ignore the signs of over-reaching and / or over-training these hormones become released in smaller quantities. 

The mind can't just "force" the body to perform optimally because in essence the athlete is experiencing a shortage of necessary fuel for your race. These hormones which runners usually use while racing are not there in similar quanity because the hormone system is fatigued and won't dump out the same level of hormones as it would in a non-fatigued state and therefore the runner can't dig as deeply as normal. 

For more info I suggest researching flight or fight response and stress adaptation.

You can't push at 100% all the time. The body can't differentiate life stress and training stress. Allow balance and recovery. 

Racing too frequently is a major cause of endocrine fatigue. The body needs downtime to restore hormone levels.

Good luck in your training! 

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