As I roll into another season going 100 miles an hour in every different direction, I've learned that there are some key factors that need to be attended to so I can be successful in my athletic pursuits no matter how short on time I am. We are all busy, and challenged with juggling life while trying to squeak out time for a training session here and there. There's a rolling priority list that seems to always be evolving and rearranging. For me, my kids and school are at the top of that list and I try my best to manage the rest, often not so gracefully. I realize that this is a common struggle for most of my friends and fellow athletes, and it occurred to me that to have success juggling all of this, there are some rules to live by. You can cut a warm up short, stretch while doing homework with your kids, skip that recovery ride or learn to let it go when you just aren't hitting your marks for that days training session. However, I have learned the hard way that there are some short cuts you cannot make and decided to share my thoughts as we enter another triathlon season. Sleep is gold, good nutrition is essential and stress is a big hairy monster that needs to be constantly managed.
Sleep. Ah, that delicious time we daydream about. You're aware when you don't have enough of it, grateful when you get too much, and bitter when you lay in bed, welcoming it with open arms and it never shows. I spend a lot of time thinking about sleep. I have struggled with lack of sleep enough to understand you must respect this elusive gift, and learn to coddle it. I think it all boils down to consistency, and understanding the ingredients necessary for a good nights sleep. First off, it helps to go to bed the same time every night and wake the same time each morning. We haven't changed all that much since we were infants. We require less sleep but our bodies still appreciate being able to anticipate when sleep will arrive and went it will leave. Secondly, for the most part, athletes require more sleep than most. Get in your 8 hours. If you can't get it in all at once, a cat nap can serve as a 'sleep snack'. In my experience though, this nap cannot last for more than 20 minutes or it effects the next nights sleep. Lastly, caffeine, nutrition and hydration can have a big effect on the quality of sleep you delight in. Personally, I've found that one cup of coffee in the morning is all I can handle. Then I spend the rest of the day conscious of good hydration, and making sure to eat a nutritious snack before bedtime that includes protein.
Considering I spend a lot of time in the car, kids sports practices and walking around a college campus, I don't have the luxury of having a refrigerator at my finger tips. This is where snacks that don't require refrigeration come in handy. The good news is, there are a lot of options out there from bites to energy blasts to protein shakes that although are great to eat while you're training, can also be consumed as a snack on the run. Powerbar has not only made it easy to get the types of calories needed during workouts but has made eating on the run mindless. In addition to consuming enough water, it's important to replenish electrolyte stores with a sports drink. I have found that coupled with adequate water intake, a sports drink instead of caffeine, helps me maintain a steady amount of energy throughout the day. I learned the hard way that more caffeine just ends up making me more tired, more anxious, and less able to have a restful nights sleep.
Stress. We all suffer from it, some more than others. You can feed it or learn how to deplete it's momentum. When not well managed, it can cripple us and leave us cowering in a corner. But when overcome, we can be left with a great sense of triumph. In my experience, I have found that the three major factors that have the largest impact on my stress level are regular exercise, efficient sleep and proper nutrition. Funny and frustrating how these are all intertwined, as a common theme in my life. If I get my training in, eat well, and sleep well, I am a well-oiled machine and can take on anything! However, if I don't sleep well, training sessions don't go well, I have trouble concentrating on daily tasks and then I suddenly find myself as a poorly functioning victim of the stress monster.
It's simple really, it just takes awareness and some creative prioritizing. We are all short on time, it is a scarce resource these days. But ultimately, what we do with our time is a choice. And it's amazing what we are capable of when we are taking good care of our bodies. Good luck in the fast lane!