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Women's Physique

Tammy Strome C.KIN, RNCP, IFBB Pro

Tammy Strome is a Transformation Coach, Fitness Intuitive and IFBB Pro with 17 years in the industry as a Transformation specialist, Life Coach and Supplement Expert. She uses a combination of science, insight and intuition to help her clients sculpt their bodies and transform their lives.  For more info on Tammy please visit her website at www.tammystrome.com or follow her on social media at FB:  TammyStromeIFBBPro,  Instagram @tammystromeIFBBPro and Twitter: @tammystrome

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Dangerous Bodybuilding Conditions

Q. The terms “metabolic damage,” “burnout,” and “adrenal fatigue” are thrown around a lot, especially by competitors and coaches as it relates to contest preparation and dieting. What is your experience with these conditions, what is your opinion on them, and what do you think can be done to lessen their effects or avoid them altogether, if you think they exist?

A. These are actually three separate and very real situations that can arise in hard-training athletes as well as the average population.

Metabolic damage:
What people often term metabolic damage in the bodybuilding world is usually the result of extreme dieting, overtraining, and/or engaging in dangerous behaviors such as using thyroid hormones or insulin when there isn’t a medical requirement. “Metabolic damage” has become a bit of a catchphrase in the contest prep world, but it can be a natural consequence of poorly structured contest prep diets, crash diets, and disordered eating behavior. Everyone is biochemically unique, so it doesn’t affect everyone at the same time or in quite the same way, but the effects will take their toll eventually.

The body is very smart, and this metabolic reaction is a built-in survival response. Leptin is a hormone that essentially guides metabolism. Constant strict dieting will lower leptin levels, which signals the body to reduce thyroid hormone, raise cortisol levels, reduce metabolic rate and conserve energy. The body will also turn to muscle as a fuel source in this state, which will further lower metabolism. When people consume excessively reduced calories for prolonged periods, the hormonal changes and loss of muscle signal a rebound reaction. The body responds by increasing appetite and signaling the body to store more calories as fat than it normally would. The good news is this damage can be minimized or avoided altogether in contest prep by following an intelligent prep plan.

Contest preparation diets should be monitored throughout to ensure they provide the right amount of protein, healthy fats, and properly timed carbohydrates to keep the body burning fat. Calories should be kept at optimal levels to keep the metabolism at optimal levels. I also recommend properly earned re-feeds to replenish stores and stoke the metabolism. It will create a leaner physique, spare more muscle, and minimize rebound.
I also consider long-term no-carb diets to be potentially risky. They too can lead to a type of metabolic damage. It can negatively affect how the body handles carbohydrates. To stay lean, we need to stay maximally sensitive to the effects of insulin. When we don’t consume carbohydrates for a long time and later reintroduce them, the body can have issues with estimating how much insulin to release. In some cases it may over-release, leading to massive blood sugar crashes and, in other cases, a lack of response to insulin. This can lead to increased fat stores and a higher risk of developing full-blown insulin resistance.

The term “metabolic damage” encompasses many changes that occur at the cellular level within the body. Following properly structured nutrition plans and smart training strategies and maintaining as much muscle as possible will go a long way toward keeping the body metabolically healthy.

I refer to “burnout” as overtraining syndrome or, simply put, exhaustion. It’s very real. Athletes need to rest to recover and perform at their very best. This is also important to maximize metabolic health. Several situations lead to burnout:

1. Not taking scheduled time off as part of your training protocol.
2. Trying to maintain high-intensity, high-volume training without cycling between less intense training phases.
3. Trying to maintain intense training with inferior nutritional support.
4. Trying to maintain intense training despite external life stresses that also tax the body.
5. Jumping into advanced training protocols when you’re not yet physically ready.

Overtraining or burnout is a physical, hormonal, and mental response to an inadequate balance between rest, training, nutrition, proper supplementation, and lifestyle. It involves physical and mental consequences. Increased injury, lowered immunity, muscle wasting, exhaustion, and depression are just a few of the possible symptoms.

Adrenal fatigue:
Until recently, most medical doctors would only acknowledge the existence of an adrenal issue when it reached clinical significance on blood tests. The disease is then called Addison’s disease. Most medical doctors acknowledge adrenal fatigue as a secondary component to another disease. Most naturopathic practitioners and many nutritionists openly acknowledge it. I’ve had both personal and professional experience with this one.

Approximately three years before my formal diagnosis with SLE, I was diagnosed by an internal medicine specialist as having adrenal fatigue. It was late in my 2002 competitive year, and I was advised that it would be unwise to compete in 2003. Fatigue was a major part of my issue—I hadn’t listened to and respected my body when it needed proper rest. It was later determined that the adrenal fatigue issue was part of the development of my SLE but was too early to detect.

Most experts on adrenal fatigue believe that it is a consequence of adrenals that have lost their optimal reserve due to poor stress management, life imbalances, bad habits, improper nutrition, and more. Individuals who are at increased risk for adrenal fatigue often have had their adrenal reserves tapped by traumatic events or very early long-term life stress. Normally, they’re also usually very high-energy and driven individuals.

The adrenals are very important for enabling our body to manage stress. Today, we are faced with increased stress loads on the body, which causes very similar hormonal signals to occur if you’re late for a meeting or stuck in traffic. Some of this is the nature of our society trying to cram 48 hours into 24-hour days. Left unchecked, adrenal fatigue can become debilitating and can lead to addictions and disease.

I mentioned that adrenal fatigue is more common in very driven people. Well, we commonly see very driven people in the bodybuilding world. Drive is a great thing, but if it isn’t balanced with rest, eventually productivity will decline and ill health effects will appear. Combine this with the fact that many bodybuilding athletes don’t support strict diet and hard training with vital micronutrients and proper rest and are also using fat-burning stimulants, which tax the adrenals directly.

Adrenal fatigue can even interfere with proper metabolism function because adrenal function and thyroid output are connected. On a nutrition front, it blows my mind that people think that they don’t need nutritional supplements. The average person eats a highly processed diet, and although many bodybuilders may eat a lot of nutrient-rich foods, soil depletion due to overfarming, food oxidation, and insecticide use ensure we aren’t getting from the healthiest foods what we were getting 50 years ago. Nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and vital trace minerals are just a few nutrients that your body needs more of to support the adrenal glands.

For more on Tammy Strome visit her website at www.tammystrome.com.