Information for Athletes

Tips for Navigating COVID-19 as an Athlete

COVID-19 has resulted in cancelation of entire seasons, termination of big competitions, and dismantled training routines. As coaches and athletic trainers work to maintain athletes’ health and fitness amidst the COVID-19 protocols, the emotional rollercoaster persists and the future remains uncertain.

  • One of the most important things you can do throughout this pandemic is maintain a consistent routine (sleep schedule, meal times, training sessions, etc.). Athletes are wired for stability and dependability, so creating a consistent routine can boost self-confidence and one’s sense of control during this time of turmoil.

  • Remembering, reflecting, and recommitting to why you are training and competing in your sport can help you stay motivated.

  • This time is valuable and can be used to improve flexibility, strength, and mental strength. Mental skills, such as relaxation, visualization, confidence, focus, and goal setting, can be built outside of the rink or gym. There are a handful of apps (i.e., Calm, Headspace) that can aid in improving mental strength and agility.

  • Focus on what you can control. You have no control over when essential COVID-19 protocols will change, but you can control how you manage your time.

  • Maintain an open and honest flow of communication with your coaches or athletic trainers. Be honest during check ins and articulate what your coach can do to better support you during this time.

  • Start journaling. Journaling can help manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression by helping you prioritize problems, concerns, and fears.

To learn about the "Navigating Covid-19 as an Athlete Workshop," click here or email nowbodywellness@gmail.com.

How can you be a successful athlete and also accept your body as it is?

Deciding to accept your body doesn’t mean you stop taking care of it.

Most athletes want what’s best for their bodies and are always trying to increase strength, endurance, and performance. Everywhere we look, it recommends we change our food intake to gain that competitive edge. But it’s actually a combination of consistent sleep, proper nourishment, good hydration, adequate recovery time and attention to one’s mental health and emotional needs, that create healthy, happy, and successful athletes.


What it means to be "successful" is largely subjective. It is important that there is open dialogue regarding what the skater's goals are and what being "successful" means to them. One skater's definition of success might be competing at Regionals or Nationals. Another's may to skate for exercise and show disinterest in competing. One is not better or worse than the other, everyone just has different goals.

Nourishing our bodies allows for growth and repair. Regardless of age, level, and gender, skating takes a huge toll on the body and food is critical to build up the body after breaking it down through exercise. Many athletes go to extremes to postpone their body's natural development. To learn more about embracing puberty, click here.


By dieting, over-exercising, and engaging in disordered eating behaviors, athletes actually shorten their careers and are eight times more likely to get injured (Ziegler). Proper fuel and nourishment are needed to have the strength, endurance, and mental focus to execute difficult elements.

We often assume that when someone performs poorly that it’s due to their body. But in reality, many things can impact performance: lack of sleep, high stress, inability to handle emotions, inadequate recovery time, over-training. To truly do no harm, we need to adopt a weight inclusive approach to figure skating, where all body sizes and shapes are accepted and respect. Accepting your now body doesn't mean you stop taking care of it. It simply means getting adequate food intake, ditching perfectionism, developing a self-compassion practice, and acknowledging that the limits of the human body are not flaws, but actually here to protect us.


If an athlete isn’t in “good enough physical shape” to be able to execute the trick, then it’s about strength & endurance training. If the skater has a growth spurt, it would be about adjusting technique and being patient with yourself as muscle memory catches up. Success is not determined by your ability to keep your body small. It's the work you put in, natural ability, and dedication to that determines it.

References

National Eating Disorder Association. Eating Disorders and Athletes. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorders-athletes on April 3, 2019.

Taylor, G. & Ste-Marie, D.M. (2001). Eating disorders symptoms in Canadian female pair and dance figure skaters. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 32, 21-28

Ziegler, P.J., Khoo, C.S., Sherr, B., Nelson, J.A., Larson, W.M., & Drewnowski, A. (1998). Body image and dieting behaviors among elite figure skaters. International Journal of Eating disorders, 24, 4.


Importance of Nourishing your Body

Interoceptive awareness is crucial to becoming a good athlete. Interoceptive awareness is a powerful and innate ability, which includes perceiving the physical cues of hunger and satiety, bodily states such as rapid heartbeat and a full bladder, and the physical sensations produced by emotions (Tribole & Resch).

Being able to tune into your body at any minute is advantageous in many ways. Knowing what food your body needs to be refueled is critical to optimize performance. Instead of being preoccupied with food and how your body looks, your brain can focus what’s happening on the ice at that moment.

So, how does honoring your hunger improve your athletic training and performance? Tuning into your body ensures you are getting your needs met. It also assures that you won't spend time during training thinking about food. You won't run out of energy in the middle of your training or performance and you'll have tools for greater body connection which carries over to other forms of self care. ​

Nourishing your body is a protector against Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), previously known as the Female Athlete Triad. RED-S causes changes in physiological systems, including metabolism, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis and cardiovascular and psychological health (Mountjoy et al). To learn more about amenorrhea and it's impact on the body, click here. 

Athletes that engage in disordered eating behaviors are eight times more likely to get injured than athletes that do not engage in disordered eating behaviors (NEDA, 2018). Medical complications of malnutrition can affect every organ system. This includes poor circulation, electrolyte disturbances, lack of available injury, skeletal system complications, reproductive system complications, and organ failure (heart, liver, and kidney). 

To learn more about how finding satisfaction in food can improve your athletic performance, click here.

References

Mountjoy M, Sundgot-Borgen J, Burke L, et al. The IOC consensus statement: beyond the Female Athlete Triad—Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). Br J Sports Med 2014; 48: 491-497.

Tribole, E. & Resche, E. (2017). The Intuitive Eating Workbook. Ney Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Athlete Mental Health

If you feel like you or someone you know may be struggling with their mental health, reach out to an adult you trust. If this option feels unsafe, there are numerous anonymous hotlines available.

Athletes face ongoing stress and pressures of training and competition on a regular basis. The pressures can come from parents, coaches, friends, teammates, or oneself. Negative and verbal comments toward young athletes are seen in increase psychological stress and burnout. Physical injuries, overtraining, and poor performance can also leave the athlete with the potential to develop feelings of depression and anxiety. Having an exclusively athletic identity of self-worth can lead to potential mental health issues, especially when self-worth is tied to performance and being on top of the podium.


In addition, retirement from athletics subject individuals to a unique set of challenges and circumstances that can make a person vulnerable to feelings of depression or anxiety. Retirement from sport is perhaps the most important risk factor for suicide in professional athletes. Every athlete experiences an array of different feelings when they leave their sport, and many times that is extreme grief and a sense of loss and purpose. The process of retirement is difficult and it’s in this time that social support and communication are vital to the mental health of athletes.

In our society, mental health has a stigma that is tied into weakness. It’s an ongoing issue in society and is heightened even more in athletes. Athletes are often perceived as physically healthy and “strong” individuals, with the ability to face challenges on their own. This results in a lot of athletes neglecting to seek help and increases stigma surrounding mental health. It’s important to recognize that getting help will most likely improve, not damage, one’s self confidence.

It’s also important to recognize that athletes don’t have to maintain the “super-human” identity. Athlete’s don’t have to “handle things” alone and reaching out for help does not make one less of an athlete. In fact, it makes someone a good athlete. Psychological ailments are equally as important as physical ailments because your mental health impacts your performance too. For everyone, especially athletes, seeking out mental health assistance is a proactive and brave decision.

List of Helplines: 

Dating Abuse and Domestic Violence:

loveisrespect: 1-866-331-9474

Depression & Suicide:

National. Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

Eating Disorder Hotline:

National Eating Disorder Association: 1-800-931-2237

General Crisis:

Crisis Text Line: Text SUPPORT to 741-741

Mental Illness Hotline:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264

Sexual Assault Hotline:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: 1-800-656-4673


References

Athletes Get Real About Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.psychotherapyworker.org/blog/details/1437/athletes-get-real-about-mental-health 

Hudson, J., Hiripi, E., Pope, H., & Kessler, R. (2007) “The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.” Biological Psychiatry, 61, 348–358.

Zhao, Y., Encinosa, W. Update on Hospitalizations for Eating Disorders, 1999 to 2009. HCUP Statistical Brief #120. September, 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. Retrieved from www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb120.pdf

Ziegler, P.J., Khoo, C.S., Sherr, B., Nelson, J.A., Larson, W.M., & Drewnowski, A. (1998). Body image and dieting behaviors among elite figure skaters. International Journal of Eating disorders, 24, 4.

 

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