It is common at this time of the year to review your past season's goals and how you fared in accomplishing them. You may look at how much you trained, how hard you trained and what activities made up your training program. You may look at training data, bike set up and racing tactics under the microscope to search for any minute detail to help you step it up in the season to come.
All this is fine and dandy but sometimes you may not see the forest for the trees. An often overlooked, broad and all encompassing area that may have the largest effect on your training and racing performance is lifestyle management. During my 15+ years of training I am still amazed at the relatively small, minor things that athletes may focus upon while almost completely ignoring the bigger and often more important picture of their current lifestyle.
Below are three areas of lifestyle management that often need consideration by the motocross athlete but may not receive the same weight in the goal setting and planning as other training and racing related items. These areas are diet, recovery and sleep habits. These broad topics have a great effect on the results of your training and how you perform long term over the course of a season and a career.
I view diet as a lifestyle choice because good dietary habits are built by your actions all the time, not just in and around training times. Good habits here pay off not only in increased performance and benefits from training and racing but also heavily influence your general well being and long term health. Here are some lifestyle tips centered on diet that you may overlook:
- You can't eat what you don't buy and you will eat what is convenient before you will eat what isn't convenient. Go through your kitchen cabinets and just throw out unhealthy choices. Put the occasional desert or treat items in a cabinet that's harder to get to. Make a conscious decision to buy only healthy and wholesome foods. Hunger and economics will take over and you will eat what you have, which should all be healthy! Healthy eating habits start with healthy shopping habits. Cook food in batches so there are plenty of leftover staple items like cooked lean meats, pasta/rice, veggies and premade salads. That way it's super convenient to heat up some of this and some of that or put this and that between bread for sandwiches. Convenience becomes king during a hectic training week. Before you know it, this will all be a habit and seem normal!
- Think of diet in weekly terms, not daily terms. It is often impossible to control each meal so that your daily dietary intake is acceptable to your standards. Time slips away and life can just mess up the best-laid dietary plans. Frustration can ensue and may cause you to give up on dietary control altogether. If you give yourself the leeway of having a diet that is up to standards by the week then it becomes way more manageable. Give yourself a break and look at your diet over the course of the week and you will be much more in control and more likely to stick to the plan.
- Give yourself one "cheater" meal a week. This does wonders for long term motivation to stay on a healthy diet. Eat whatever you want or crave once per week. Use this as a diet "holiday" to reward yourself for the week of good shopping and eating habits. Satisfying a craving will help you refocus on the diet plan. One meal isn't going to be detrimental to your health or performance in the big picture, unless of course it's the meal right before your race!! Save cheater meals for after the race!
- Hydration. Drink water as soon as you wake up. You haven't hydrated the whole time you have been sleeping. Drink water before you go to bed. Figure out what amount you can handle so you don't get up and have to go to the bathroom. Although you are resting, going 8 to 10 hours without water is a long time for your body! Give your body what it's mostly made of and what it needs more than anything else when it needs it. Keep a bottle of water handy at all times. Driving? Get that water. Watching TV? Do it with water in your hand. Athletes are usually good about hydrating when they are exercising but can often be chronically dehydrated because of lack of water consumption at all other times.
- Eat before training! Again, you are trying to give your body what it needs when it needs it. Exercise releases growth hormone but studies have shown that this is increased by eating 2-3 hours before training by taking advantage of the insulin response caused by eating. Plus, eating directly before and after training has the added advantage of utilizing periods of increased metabolic rate to help maintain ideal weight.
Exactly half of training is recovery. It's very easy to make the actual training a priority; most serious athletes have a hard time making recovery a priority.
- Keep a stress vs. recovery "register." Just like a checking account register. All stresses are withdraws: physical stress, emotional stress, mental stress. Give them a value from 1 to 7, one being the least stressful and 7 being the worst. All recovery activities are deposits: stretching, recovery rides, massages, watching a movie on the couch, listening to music, taking a nap, etc. Give them a value. 1 being the least recuperative, 7 being the best. At the end of the week, your register should balance. Week after week of balance will get you get great results from training. Being negative week after week and you can become overtrained. No, you WILL become overtrained.
- Eat within 30 minutes of training being finished. This is a time window where your muscles and liver can absorb the most glycogen, the fuel they need to continue training the next day and the rest of the week. Give your body what it needs when it needs it. If eating is impossible, then use a commercially available recovery drink such as Endurox R4 or similar. The ratio of carbohydrate to protein has been studied for quickest and most complete muscle glycogen reloading and recovery drinks use this to your advantage. Eating real food is much better but recovery drinks can save you when situations just aren't right to eat a wholesome meal in that time frame.
- Seems elementary but get out of your wet clothes as soon as you can after training. Get that shower or get into dry clothes ASAP. Your body's immune system is suppressed right after exercise so you are most susceptible to infection then and being chilled suppresses it even further. Wash your hands as soon as you are done training. Same reason plus gyms are notoriously "dirty" environments in terms of microbes.
- Tired means tired. You may not be tired or under recovered from just training. It could be from other stresses as well but they still affect your body negatively in the same way. No amount of willpower will overcome physiology. Sick means sick. If you are sick, your number one priority is to get well, NOT to train. Your body has to spend immense amounts of energy to combat illness and draining it even further by training will only extend your illness or make it worse. Plus, any training while ill isn't going to produce a positive result anyways. Listen to your body!
Sleeping is your body's #1 recovery tool and thus the largest contributing factor for consistent training and consistent gains from training.
- Book it! People will schedule workouts, make appointments for doctors or trainers but they won't schedule sleep. Why not? Schedule when you will go to bed and when you want to get out of bed and don't break that schedule or schedule something else in that time frame. It's a priority so treat it as such. Tell everyone else what this schedule is so they will respect that time as well.
- Schedule naps. Do it! Even a quick 30-minute nap after training will do wonders. Human growth hormone is only released during the deep, rapid-eye-movement cycle of dreaming sleep. Taking a nap is like cheating with an extra shot of growth hormone per day! Once this becomes a habit, it's like taking a magic pill. People go to great lengths to cheat and get extra growth hormone in some sports. You can just take a nap!
- Consistency is king. Missing an hour or two of sleep won't ruin your next day's racing or training performance. What can negatively affect your performance are your general sleeping habits of the two weeks prior. But miss out on adequate sleep at any time will eventually affect your recovery at some point and you will have to make that up or back off training somewhere. Bottom line? You have to be very consistent in your sleeping habits to have consistent training, consistent recovery from training and consistent race results.
All the items above may seem obvious and elementary but it's amazing how many athletes overlook these items or don't prioritize them as much as their training activities. Your lifestyle supports your body in its efforts to gain from the hard work you put into the actual training. Shortchanging yourself in the lifestyle department is at least the same as cheating yourself out of a workout. Give your lifestyle the attention it deserves so you can obtain what you deserve out of your training efforts!
Seiji Ishii is the head coach of www.coachseiji.com. Coachseiji.com provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Matt Lemoine, Hunter Hewitt, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Drew Yenerich and Rusty Potter.