In many ways I am like a sunflower, I am affected positively and negatively by my environment. What is more significant though, is I gravitate towards the sun. I relish morning runs in the early light rather than slipping through the dark, and I prefer whistling through the air allowing my skin to become sun-kissed rather than bracing against the frost. My mood is utterly invigorated by solar vitamin D and Spring is my advent to happiness. Summer solstice, however, tricks me into packing more into my day. Longer hours make me feel I have more opportunity to, and should, get more done but to the detriment of sleep. This has serious repercussions on physical and mental health and subsequently professional and athletic performance.
A McKinsey report profiles how the performance of executives fails in terms of results performance, problem solving, seeking perspective and supporting their team when sleep deprived. After roughly 17 to 19 hours of wakefulness (11 PM or 1 AM say for someone who woke at 6 AM), individual performance on a range of tasks is equivalent to that of a person with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent which is the legal drinking limit in many countries.
As well as hydration and the right fuel, sleep is crucial to training and recovery. What athletes do in the moments during and immediately after competition determines how quickly their bodies rebuild muscle and replenish nutrients. This helps maintain endurance, speed, and accuracy. Tennis supreme Serena Williams told a UK publication that she enjoys going to bed early around 7 p.m. Usain Bolt, the first many in history to win 6 Olympic gold medals in sprinting says “Sleep is extremely important to me – I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body”.
This month I have been only too cognisant of the effect of rest and rejuvenation on my performance. One evening is not enough to recover from sleep deprivation, it is an accumulative drain, like a battery. I had two weeks annual leave in March and after three full nights of sleep I was able to hit target HR training zones more easily. During my time off I took time to rest with friends by gathering them for a flat warming tea party. Pleasing party food includes quiche which is high on the calorie scale but not on the sports nutrition. Instead I prefer making these healthier mushroom squares where leftovers can easily be wrapped in foil and slipped into back pockets on long bike rides.
The carbohydrates are obviously key to providing energy. Choosing wholemeal flour is advantageous over white varieties where the highly refined grains have much of the outer coating of the wheat kernel removed and with it most of the nutrients and fibre. Without fibre, your body digests the bread quickly, causing a jolting rise and fall in blood sugar. It is staggering that one Portobello mushroom delivers more potassium than a banana. Potassium helps maintain normal heart rhythm, fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function. The CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) content of certain cheeses (sharp cheddar has the highest amount) is an antioxidant, which enhances the immune system to prevent disease, and an anti-inflammatory, which reduces muscle and joint soreness after workouts and races. If you are looking to lose weight or reduce body fat opting for low fat varieties is better for you.
One dark February afternoon I made my way to the checkout of a health food store. As the male cashier handed me the receipt he also passed over two sachets with the comment “These are for you.”The glossy packets read “Dr Organic Snail Gel-supports skin repair”. Wow, I thought, today must be a bad face day. I had vaguely heard of this bizarre treatment when newspapers reported sales increases of 700 per cent when celebrities such as Ashley Roberts and Katie Holmes admitted to being fans in 2013. The link between snail slime and skin benefits was supposedly uncovered by chance when Chilean snail farmers noticed their skin healed quickly without scarring when they handled snails they were exporting to the French food industry. The gel contains the same slime, which is harvested by allowing snails to crawl over specially-built glass and plastic. The sachets remained in my bathroom until a couple of weeks ago when all of a sudden my skin blistered (probably due to work related stress) and needed by resurrecting. Seeing as the gel was free I thought I might as well give it a go. I applied a layer following my post morning workout shower; once the gel was absorbed I layered my regular moisturiser on top as instructed. Admittedly, after a couple of days, my skin was softer and cooled much quicker having applied the gel post-workout than not. Then again, I am sure aloe vera would have had the same effect.
Hopefully Spring is inviting you outside to be active but remember, power comes from resting and rejuvenating.