My last post covered what I think may be one of the most powerful and commonly overlooked recovery tools available today. If you missed it, check it out here: Recovery Week: Earthing Products
Recovery Week continues with a personal story that illustrates the significant impact stress and nutrient deficiencies can have on one’s health and performance…
I haven’t shared this with many people, but about a year ago, I was in a really bad spot. After moving to Philadelphia, I took on significant continuing education loads, on top of all of my responsibilities at Endeavor, writing Ultimate Hockey Training, and taking on a more active role with USA Hockey. This, of course, was paralleled by a continued drive to push new limits in the weight room. While I felt then, and still believe now, that I had a thorough understanding of the importance for deloads and weeks of backing of training-related stresses, I DRASTICALLY under-estimated the accumulative effect of NON-training-related stressors. I also think I may have failed to recognize the impact the eustress, or “positive stress”, which simply refers to stress that’s coming from desirable events. In other words, my life at the time was filled with A LOT of awesome stuff, which lead me to burning the candle at both ends…and maybe a slight abuse of my favorite caffeinated drink.
Yep, three cups ought to get me through the day.
After a few months, I felt exhausted, but had good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. Enough good days to keep pressing on. I had been in this position before. In the past whenever I felt rundown, I knew it was time to get a little more sleep and deload my caffeine consumption. I’m pretty good about sticking with things, so when I want to go cold turkey on caffeine consumption for a couple weeks, it’s a fairly easy process, and I generally feel a lot better when I get back on the wagon (or is it off the wagon?)
After about a year, though, I realized things were different this time. I slept more for weeks, and didn’t feel any better. I cut back on caffeine and felt TERRIBLE, almost feverish, instantly. My typical sense of unconditional optimism completely vanquished, and I was uncharacteristically irritable. The usual tricks weren’t working, and frankly, I was a little lost.
It was at this point that I started learning more about a state sometimes described as parasympathetic overtraining, and a related consequence of adrenal fatigue (my friend Anthony Donskov wrote a great article on different times of overtraining last week: System in Balance: Programming Regeneration). Essentially Interestingly, it was also around this time that I picked up Joel Jamieson’s BioForce HRV and started monitoring my morning resting heart rate and heart rate variability. During that time, my resting heart rate was regularly around 41-42, and as low as 35.7, and my HRV was typically in the high 90’s. All of this would be great news if I was even remotely good aerobic conditioning, but I wasn’t. I also noticed that a little sympathetic stimulus (one heavy set of only a couple lifts, a small cup of coffee, etc.) made me feel infinitely better, but too much of this type of stimulus (e.g. what I’d consider a “normal” training session from the past, a couple cups of coffee, etc.) would cause me to crash, hard. On top of all of this, I was conscious that my short-term memory wasn’t what it used to be either, a scary realization.
Ultimately, all of this lead me to the conclusion that I was overstressed (or under-recovered), and that I likely had developed some nutrient deficiencies over that time period (and realistically, over all of the preceding years) that I needed to look into. In short, it was time for an inspection.
I went to a doctor for the first time in about 4 years and requested a physical and some basic blood work. They were glad to do the typical stuff: heart rate, blood pressure, blood lipid panel, blood glucose, etc. As usual, I passed all of these with flying colors. My request to get hormone levels checked was denied. After a follow-up visit, I confirmed my suspicion that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with a typical family physician and reached out to Dr. Rick Cohen at Bioletics. I first came across Bioletics years ago when Eric Cressey mentioned that they offered at home Vitamin D assessments. Having donned a translucent skin tone for most of my life, in large part the result of me spending all of my Summers training inside of ice rinks…and later gyms and research labs, I’ve long suspected that I had a deficiency and thought this would be a good time to discuss getting this, and a host of other things checked out. The neat thing about Bioletics is that they offer at-home saliva, urine, and blood assessments. I went through an initial battery of easy assessments that in many ways confirmed my suspicion of adrenal fatigue. I was low in specific amino acids, certain hormones, and omega-3 fatty acid levels, among other things.
Click here for more information on Bioletics >> Bioletics: Know your body, find your edge
After reviewing my results with Dr. Cohen, I started taking Bioletic’s “Core 4” program, which includes a Vitamin D spray, and Omega-3 peach-flavored syrup (taking this has been the highlight of my day for the past 8 months), a greens powder, a “daily dose” pack that included 2 whole food & herb concentrate tablets, a vitamin D tablet, an omega-3 tablet, and an anti-oxidant tablet. I was also taking two scoops of their “Fund Aminos” amino acid powder (another highlight to my day…this stuff is delicious, and tastes AWESOME with herba mate tea). All of Bioletic’s supplements come from whole food, non genetically modified sources, which I dig. I also started taking some different magnesium supplements, and a separate amino acid l-tyrosine. At the same time, I was conscious about trying to get some more sleep, drink only small amounts of coffee (one cup in the morning), and not take on more responsibilities than I should, almost all of which I had tried before with no significant impact on my health and energy.
It only took a couple weeks before I started to feel noticeably better. I wasn’t as foggy in the morning, felt less irritable, and had a little more energy throughout the day. Fast forward a couple months, and I felt considerably better, enough to start training regularly again, albeit at a slightly lower volume than before. The cool thing about the “Core 4” program is that you’re provided at-home assessments every month to assess different markers, so you can track your progress overtime. I told myself from the start that I would give it a solid 6 month commitment before I made any judgements as to how effective the process has been. At the 6-month point, my antioxidant, vitamin D, and omega-3 levels were all in optimal ranges. I feel AWESOME and have a renewed ability to train hard, while more stringently balancing my other responsibilities. Even better, I feel like I’ve regained a sense of “stress flexibility”. In other words, one long day of work or one night of suboptimal sleep doesn’t send me down a negative spiral anymore. In fact, I generally wake up after a short night of sleep and feel like I have the same energy levels the entire next day; I’m just aware of the fact that I’ll need to get some more sleep the next night. It’s been an educational journey, and I’m thrilled to have my energy/personality back. I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Cohen and the guidance he’s provided along the way!
There are two related points I want to make before wrapping this story up:
1) I can say with decent confidence that many doctors would read this and say something along the lines of “there is no conclusive research evidence that supplementation with vitamin D (or omega-3s, or amino acids, or just about anything else for that matter) positively impact performance, energy, etc.” There is certainly more research evidence that these things have a positive impact on specific health markers, but I think the “there isn’t sufficient research support” idea DRASTICALLY underestimates how integrated the body’s systems are and how providing better building blocks will have a significant and potentially unforeseen/unpredictable benefits on an individual’s health AND performance.
2) I’ve often wondered why certain people seem to break down emotionally so easily. I knew people in college that would completely freak out if they had two exams in the same week. Why do spouses snap because a dirty dish is left out or the trash wasn’t taken out? In certain cases, stress is mounting and a single event sets the individual off. That said, I think a lot of people live just beneath this stress threshold for a variety of reasons, and may not be aware that their response to any given stimulus is a little extreme. The multitude of factors causing to live at or just beneath this threshold are too extensive to fully outline in this article, but I believe some of the lesser known culprits are: exposure to electromagnetic frequencies, nutrient, chemical, and enzymatic deficiencies or imbalances related to dietary choices, heavy metal accumulation from dietary choices and water supplies, hormonal changes related to taking birth control, toxins leaching from plastics (think plastic wrap, tupperware, water bottles, etc.), and a variety of deleterious health consequences related to using microwaves. The take home here is that all of these things HEAVILY influence an individual’s personality, and, naturally, their ability to adapt to further stressors in their lives.
This story started as an illustration of the impact a more proactive and specific approach to owning one’s health had on me personally, but the implications are much larger. If you take a step back and look at our population as a whole, you’ll noticed that, on average, we aren’t very healthy. Roughly 75% of the US is overweight, most people’s diets are dreadful, and few people are even MINIMALLY active. You pair this with a dangerously irresponsible agricultural system and a REACTIVE “medicate symptoms” based health care model, and it’s fair to conclude that we’re headed down a scary and extremely expensive path. In my opinion, it’s time for people to start taking their health into their own hands, and, just as you would your car, get regular in-depth check-ups on various health and nutrient markers. Don’t strive for “normal” (normal values are adjusted regularly based on what the average person portrays coming into a clinic/hospital; in other words, as our populations becomes increasingly deficient in some areas or excessive in others, the norms change to accommodate!); strive for optimal. Optimal health is the foundation upon which optimal performance is built. If you’re serious about pursuing changes in your health, energy levels, body composition, or performance, start by ensuring your body is in an optimal state to do so.
To your success,
P.S. Optimal health + a specific hockey training system = Maximum Performance.
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Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.