Flex Your Mental Muscle
als who learn to fight back against negative thoughts by searching for a more positive spin, while also making sure to reflect and act on genuine concerns and problems, are more resilient to stress.
Lew Lyon, PH.D. and vice president of Sports Medicine at Medstar Health, which treats pros on teams including the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards, advises his athletes to practice techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation ( you focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group). He also suggests guided imagery (a technique in which you form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation) to help reduce the stress of competition and prevent burnout.
“A growing number of studies show that you can use such specialized stress reducing skills to help control your mind,” says Lyon. Deep breathing and meditation are two important techniques that can help reduce your response to stress.
The most productive way to think about stress is to learn how to gain control over the moment. Being in control of the moment is a very important part of whether or not you will feel stressed by a specific event. If you can learn how to feel that you’re in control of a stressful situation, you can help reduce your overall stress response (see the sidebar Zoned Out).
One of the more revolutionary new tools in the athlete’s recovery arsenal is biomarker analysis. Biomarkers (science-based blood analytics that are linked to injury, wellness and performance) are used to monitor and predict health states in individuals. Every biological system (for example the cardiovascular system, metabolic system or the immune system) has its own specific biomarkers. Many of these biomarkers are relatively easy to measure and form part of routine medical examinations. For example, a general health check may include assessment of blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting glucose levels. Body measurements such as weight, body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio are routinely used for assessing conditions such as obesity and metabolic disorders.
Biomarker analysis is now being used by many top pros to help keep them at peak performance levels. Brian Moore, PH.D., the founder and CEO of Orreco, a pioneer in the field of sports and data science, says that in any sport the trick to optimizing performance comes down to finding the right balance between load or stress and your recovery. Finding and maintaining that balance is unique to each individual, and it can becomes more complex for people who are also balancing the demands of family and full-time jobs.
“Ultimately, biomarkers are influenced by issues such as liver function, hormonal imbalances, thyroid problems and muscle tissue damage,” says Andy Barr, DPT, the owner of Innovate Performance in Los Angeles.
That’s why one of Barr’s important “three pillars” of high performance deals with an athlete’s nutritional status including proper hydration; adequate carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake; and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and magnesium. When an athlete’s profile starts to show specific biomarkers of fatigue and overuse such as high levels of white blood cells, Barr might add omega-3 supplements to his or her diet to help reduce the amount of inflammation in the body. In addition, Barr states, “A good probiotic is imperative for preventing leaky gut syndrome that can cause all sorts of inflammatory issues throughout the body.”
“A growing number of studies show that you can use such specialized stress reducing skills to help control your mind,” says Dr. Lew Lyon. Deep breathing and meditation are two important techniques that can help reduce your response to stress.
One of 'r. Andy Barr’s important ´three pillars” of high performance deals with an athlete’s nutritional status including proper hydration; adequate carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake; and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and magnesium.