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Let's Talk About Stress!

When we train we stress our musculoskeletal system. With appropriate rest and recovery this stress from training will cause adaptation. This is the whole purpose of training! BUT…any form of stress is stress to your body. You don’t just experience stress from running, you experience life stress everyday. AND THIS STRESS MATTERS! You must factor everyday life stress and emotional stress into how much recovery you need. Your body does not care if the stress you are feeling is from a 12 mile run or from your blood pressure being elevated from being angry at work. Any form of stress is stress to your body!

The effect of stress on the body

When we become stressed our body produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands on the kidneys. When you experience stress, the level of cortisol increases in your bloodstream. Now you may be thinking, what's the big deal? Well, an imbalance in cortisol levels can cause some health problems. Too much cortisol can lead to weight gain, acne, and irregular menstrual cycles. Too little cortisol can cause weight loss, fatigue, muscle weakness, and nausea. However, when cortisol levels are in balance, this can have significant health benefits such as increase in metabolism, controlled blood pressure and reduction in inflammation.

Cortisol is regulated by the pituitary gland. This gland sends the signal to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol when it senses stress. Whether the stress is from waking up, life events or exercise, the response is all the same. The body does not have the ability to discern whether it is sensing emotional stress or physical stress. To the human body stress is simply stress. Now why is this a problem? This becomes problematic when you are training hard and experience a high level of stress from life (i.e. work, family, etc.). If you are living in a state like this, then cortisol is constantly being dumped into your bloodstream and that is not good.

The importance of recovery

Not recovering properly can also cause more stress on your body. Are you taking enough rest days? Everyone requires a different amount and it’s something you’ll have to discover through trial and error. Are you getting enough sleep? The answer from most people is probably, NO! Running on only five hours of sleep is not sustainable. Sleep is so important to our recovery so try to prioritize it. How’s your nutrition? Are you eating enough? If you are underfueling this also causes more stress to the body! Make sure you are eating enough carbohydrates to fuel your runs and enough protein to aid muscle and bone recovery after your runs.

If you do not properly recover from stress you will not see any adaptations in your training. In order to progress our training we must balance it with recovery so our body has time to adapt to the changes we are trying to create. If you are not properly recovering from that hard speed session or from lack of sleep because your toddler is sick, then the only thing you will achieve is burnout! Sometimes we need to take a step backward to move forward.

Everyone has a different stress threshold

You have to find your balance of stress vs. recovery. This requires a lot of self awareness and everyone has a different threshold, its not a one size fits all recipe. You may have different sleep requirements than your running bestie. He or she may be fine on six hours of sleep whereas eight hours might be your minimum and that's okay! You may be going through a major life change and need to cut back on mileage or intensity to honor your body and that is okay too! Finding the appropriate balance of running stress in relation to life stress and your quality of recovery is essential to prevent burnout, injury and illness!

If you think this is something you struggle with, Hit Your Pace offers 1:1 coaching and can help you find your balance of stress vs. recovery. Follow Hit Your Pace on Facebook and Instagram for more running tips!

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