Recently I decided that i wanted to understand a little better, what was going on inside my body. There are frequently stories bouncing around the ether about endurance athletes who have suffered sudden cardiac arrests or blod clots, whose training has come to an abrupt end because of immense fatigue and whilst i am pretty confident that I am healthy, I couldn’t resist finding out a little more. So i decided to ask Dr Tamsin Lewis of CuroSeven to perform some blood tests.
The reasons were two fold. Primarily I have been battling fatigue of varying proportions on and off for over 2 years. There seemed to be no pattern to this, heavy training loads didn’t automatically result in me feeling wiped out, in fact the contrary was often true. Around 2 years ago and shortly before I started training for my first full distance triathlon, visited my GP and explained how I was feeling. He agreed that I probably shouldn’t be feeling exhausted and arranged for me to have some blood tests to check for anaemia. Some of you will guess what happened next. The tests came back negative- my iron levels were “within normal ranges”. I was told that it was “just life” and that it was exhausting me. My GP advised me to try and become more active, even though i had distinctly told him the amount of exercise i was doing, in an attempt to boost my energy levels – oh the irony!
I put this to the back of my mind and got on with life until last year when again I mentioned to a different Doctor that i was feeling very tired. He had a look through my notes and noted that i had been tested for anaemia before concluding that it was unlikely anything had changed and that i should try resting more! Two children, my own business and a triathlete…..what did i expect – he asked.
I shrugged it off and ploughed on, accepting that this was indeed a consequence of my lifestyle. Only I wasn’t really feeling any more energetic even when my exercise levels were reduced. Then last year I made some changes to my diet which some of you will be horrified with and others agree with. I gradually reduced the amount of carbohydrates I was eating and increased the saturated fat. Bacon and eggs for breakfast became the norm rather than a treat and instead of fuelling for a long training session on oats I chose sausages, eggs and occasionally an accompanying slice of toast. I didn’t miss carbohydrates. I must stress at this point that I did and do still eat them, but I was very selective. People were warning me about heart health and cholesterol – a myth that I have never bought into for various reasons.
In the past 4 months I had noticed that I was becoming really fatigued after harder training sessions and that I had absolutely no energy on Mondays for my swim session, following a weekend of cycling and running. I looked back through my training log and realised that it hadn’t always been this way – even when i had had my periods of exhaustion, i had never consistently been this fatigued every Monday. A pattern was developing, but I wasn’t sure what was going on.
The second reason I decided to have some tests done by CuroSeven was that I agree wholeheartedly with the concept behind screening and I know that Dr Lewis is incredibly knowledgable about athlete health being a professinal triathlete herself and a Doctor i have a huge amount of admiration and respect for her – so it was really a no brainer! I had read enough to realise that the parameters used to judge health for a sedentary person do not always apply to an athlete. Quite simply the needs are different. I was also interested in finding out whether the changes I had Made to my diet were as detrimental as some people would like to believe.
The main thing that my tests highlighted was that my ferritin levels are on the low side. I am not deficient, but they are lower than optimal for a person doing as much exercise as I am. Could this explain my fatigue over the past months? possibly. Of course there is no definite way of knowing whether me increasing my levels will result in more energy or whether this is a result of a placebo response, but the science suggests that it cannot do me any harm and will in fact benefit me greatly.
The other main revelation was that my diet was not doing me any harm at all and that the results suggest that my heart health is very good. Sorry to disappoint all you low fat lovers….. However, I have been advised to increase my carbohydrates consumption slightly in the window after hard sessions to help with refuelling and immunity. I began this right away and noticed that my last 2 Monday night swims have been much, much easier. I am still following a low carb diet but with the help of fitnaturally, am now focusing on timing my carbs around my exercise. For me personally I know that this is what helps me perform better.
I am excited to be working with Sally Pinnegar of fitnaturally- an experienced and respected nutritionist who helps a wide range of individuals achieve and maintain good health through eating well. fitnaturally has my test results and recommendations and is working with me to tweak my diet so that my deficiencies can be met mostly through the foods I eat. This means that I will only be taking a couple of supplements to boost dietary intake. It is a perfect solution and one that I confident will make a huge difference to my energy levels and performance.
Bring on the steak!