Toolbox: Combating Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue can be an underlying cause of the overtraining syndrome, and umbrella term for many causes leading to a decrease in performance and motivation. This week we look at a case study and some things that may be done to maintain adrenal health.
Adrenal Fatigue Case Study
Retired professional cyclist Amy Moore understands adrenal fatigue all too well. Racing her last years with T-Mobile alongside teammates such as Ina Tutenburg and Judith Arndt, with a packed race schedule with all its travel time, Amy looks back on the end of her career:
“After a full year of racing in Europe my body pretty much shut down before the end of the season,” she says. She was in a race in Italy and as soon as the pace went up, she couldn’t even push on the pedals. There was just nothing left. She dropped out of the race and literally sat in a hotel room for five days.
“I didn’t have the symptoms of being sick with a cold or fever, rather just a general feeling of being tired. I barely had the energy to get up and go outside for short walks. I was exhausted in a way I had not experienced in all of my years racing professionally,” she says.
“I attempted to race Worlds after a week in bed, but had a very short race and was dropped early on. For months after that season I would try to work out, even for a short ride, but get an hour in and want to stop and cry. The smallest things put me over the edge. It was an emotional time as I was so used to being so active, yet my body was telling me to STOP.”
It took a good six months before Amy started to regain energy. Luckily, she had previously decided to retire that season and didn’t have the pressure of getting ready for another season. “I was never good at listening to my body but, in retrospect, I can say with certainty that proper rest is key in a sport like cycling, where the demands are high and the season is long.”
I’ve known Amy for some time, and when someone as vibrant and full of energy and life like Amy gets to a point like this, it’s not just “being tired”. Adrenal fatigue is beyond needing a nap and a sunny day to perk you up. It’s deep into your hormonal system and it takes time to get where Amy found herself. Gladly, I can say Amy took it upon herself to take all the right steps to regain her health over time. A year after this time above, Amy was full of energy and had the sparkle in her eye that we all knew her for. She was back to her old energetic self.
Adrenal Fatigue Physiology
Now the question remains, how does adrenal fatigue happen? What can you do?
When your adrenals are functioning normally, they secrete balanced amounts of steroid hormones. But as we saw above, there are many factors that can interfere with this fine balance. Upsetting this balance can reduce or increase your body’s output of adrenal hormones, namely cortisol. Your body no longer responds the same way to stresses and can’t manage stress as it was designed to. Slowly, fatigue sets in and you experience low-energy days more often. (Many other diseases are related to the adrenals but I have limited room here to expand)
Of course, this is a simple way to understand a complex problem and there is a lot of literature to read if you wanted more detail. I recommend the book “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” by James Wilson.
Nutritional Tips to Support Adrenal Function
Below are some nutritional tips on how to support your adrenals to help you begin to heal and regain adrenal strength, energy and that “joie de vivre” that you may have thought you would never feel again!
• Eat a nourishing whole food snack before 10am to replenish low blood sugar from a night of fasting. Example: nut butter/oats/lemon juice and water/poached eggs.
• Have a snack with protein, fat and carbohydrates between breakfast and lunch.
• Avoid fruit juices.
• Use sea salt on your food.
• Have a 4 oz vegetable juice with a pinch of salt with a main meal.
• Eat carbohydrates, fats and protein in combination at each meal.
• Steer clear of simple sugars, sweets, chocolate, flours and pastries.
• Start your day with salted water just after you wake up. Use sea salt.
• Eat whole good quality proteins such as eggs, fish, plant sources, meat and dairy if you eat dairy and can digest it. Quality protein is essential for recovery.
• If you can be sure of the safety of the source, sushi, sashimi or ceviche is a good raw source of protein which hasn’t been denatured by cooking.
• Have a digestive enzyme that includes HCL (hydrochloric acid), pepsin, papain with meals to aid digestion. A full spectrum plant digestive enzyme with HCL would also be good.
• Stick with grains and root vegetables for carbohydrates such as; brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, barley, whole oats, beets, squash, turnip etc.
• Consider some form of daily relaxation such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
• Have 6-8 servings of vegetables daily. Focus more on vegetables than fruit to heal adrenals.
• Consume veggies high in sodium such as kelp, green olives, dulse, Swiss chard, beet greens, celery.
• Avoid bananas, raisins, dates, figs, oranges and grapefruits and when you do eat fruit choose, papaya, mango, plums, pears, kiwi, apples and cherries, but not too often and later in the day is best.
• Consume essential Omega 3 oils in the form of cold pressed organic flax seed oil.
• Consume raw sesame, pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds (fresh).
• Consume fresh almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans or chestnuts.
• Remove caffeine, including chocolate, consider herbal teas such as licorice and dandelion.
• Supplement with magnesium & eat high magnesium foods (kelp, cashews, almonds, sesame seeds, peas and beans).
• Eat your food sitting down in a relaxed atmosphere and chew your food well so that the process is restorative rather than “hurried and rushed” which is exactly what we need to avoid.
Other Helpful Interventions
If you truly feel your symptoms fit the profile of adrenal fatigue, I suggest you look further into causes and remedies for the problem. Change your lifestyle. See your endocrinologist. Get professional testing along with a proper treatment regime.
But rest assured – you have to listen to your body.
If you know that it seems like the ‘old you’ is a distant memory, start taking the right steps to find your energy again. Give the repair process time, keeping in mind that adrenal fatigue can take years to set in.
“Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Syndrome”, written by James.L.Wilson
Disclaimer: Articles on this site are not meant to replace medical advice. Always consult with your physician when you are concerned with your health.
Anne Guzman is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Sports Nutrition Consultant with a degree in Kinesiology. Her passion lies in Sports Nutrition for endurance athletes as well as general health and wellness. Anne raced full time on the women’s Professional circuit in North America with some bouts in Europe from 2008 until 2011 and previous to cycling was a Provincial and CIAU Champion and National Bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes helping them reach their potential by combining their own training plans with her nutrition plans. Anne believes that many athletes undermine their intense detailed training regimes by not backing them with sound nutrition. Her personal experience as a cyclist and athlete is a great asset to her business as she understands the needs and nuances that come with the sport. Currently Anne works with Peaks Coaching Group as well as her own business Nutrition Solutions Anne Guzman.