Many equestrian athletes have different stresses in our lives, some of which may result in a lack of sleep, due to increased/decreased mental stimulation or strain. Others may experience organisational stress, such as work patterns or shifts or personal illness due to a lack of exercise and/or poor nutrition. When we experience excessive stress, whether it be chronic or acute, we secrete a hormone known as cortisol. This hormone acts as a signal to the brain and increases our demand for carbohydrates and fats. This demand unfortunately leads us to make poor nutritional choices, usually when we are disorganised (another cause of stress). This sugar and fat intake has to be stored somewhere and the body tends to store stress related calories around the midrift.
Cortisol, is the devil to all equestrian athlete’s!! It also blocks our happy hormones (serotonin), growth hormones and sex hormones from doing their jobs efficiently. A side from many other roles, these hormones are essential to maintaining an elevated resting metabolic rate. When cortisol suppresses these, we ultimately burn muscle as a fuel for energy, because the cortisol tells the body to hold on to as much fat as possible and release as little as possible for energy. This leads to weakness in the saddle.
Stress comes in different flavours-none of which taste good!
With the financial cost of keeping these beasts (our horses) on the road, the equestrian athlete will find themselves under stress in this sense. For those equestrian athletes who are lucky enough not to have to work, this does not necessarily apply, but those who do can be subjected to additional workplace stressors. These will not only affect focus but will create tension in the upper trapezius and affect mobility in the saddle. Personal illness and injury are factors that commonly crop up in the equestrian world, it is after all a dangerous sport. It is not meant to be a contact sport, but can be for those of us who have ended up on the deck at some stage! Time off work, out of the saddle and the trauma of any injuries sustained are all stressors that the equestrian athlete has to contend with.
Now this may sound strange coming from a fitness professional and someone who is completely dedicated to getting equestrian athletes fit to ride. But going haring out of the blocks and bolting towards your goal without a structured plan, will stress the body and eventually in combination with other stressors, your Ferrari will break down.
Lastly, poor nutritional habits, eating foods that actually place stresses on the body to digest. This is anything that the human body was not intended to digest. When it comes to food, you need to make this as easy as possible. Unfortunately, ‘dieting’ sends alarm bells of ‘pointless calorie counting’ and ‘silly slimming shakes’ through most people’s minds. Here are some tips that will help take that stress away this week:
1. Never starve yourself (eat every 3-4 hours)
2. Eat more of the right foods (Avoid sugar and packets of foods)
3. Try to exercise for only 10 minutes at a time every day this week.
4. Try to get to bed before 10pm at least 4 times this week and sleep for 7-8 hours.
If you would like to know more about this subject I can highly recommend ‘The Cortisol Connection Diet’ by Shawn Talbott.