If I could go back in time: Part 1 of a 3-part series on running injuries

I write this post from the perspective that  SO MANY runners are injured right now! It seems like 1/2 of the runners behind the blogs I follow are dealing with injuries. NOT FUN.

This 3-part series is about what I would do differently if I could go back in time. Maybe you’ll learn something or be able to prevent an injury in the future.

PART 1: If I could go back in time, I would go back and tell my fifteen-year old self, “Eat more.  In fact, eat more fat.  Good fat is actually good for you. Don’t get sucked into thinking fat is bad.” 

I avoided fat for a long time. Not because of anything other than growing up and hearing, “Fat is bad.” I wanted to be the best athlete I could. My goal was not to lose weight, but I was very restrictive with my diet in the name of wanting to be the best  athlete I could be. I don’t think that is a bad thing, necessarily, because let’s be honest, the Olympians aren’t out there shoveling cakes into their pie hole, BUT, to stay healthy and to keep your metabolism and digestive systems going, you gotta eat enough, and you gotta eat good fats. I simply did not know this. I didn’t have great coaches telling me what was good to eat, and honestly, I was just uneducated.

What happened next?

Well, when I was 16, I lost my menstrual cycle because I wasn’t getting enough nutrients, and BAM! Stress fracture. My first injury. How many times have we seen this in the running world with young women?! Way too many times.

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Shortly after this race, I developed my first stress fracture. I did not have a cycle at the time.

Here is what I wish I knew at the time, and what I would tell women:
-First, make sure you are incorporating enough good fats into your diet (avocados, coconut oil, peanut butter, hummus, etc)
-If you lose your period, do not ignore this. It does not mean you are at “peak fitness”, and it is not something to take lightly. This can affect your fertility and bone mass. No bueno. Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman have all had children. I do not know their personal health history, but in order to carry a fetus, they had to have a cycle. You can train at a very high level and still have regular cycles. In fact, you need regular cycles.

This is a perfect excerpt taken from Camille Herron, an elite marathoner who has qualified for multiple US Olympic Trials. (check out her blog: http://www.camilleherron.com)
“Unfortunately, diet and menstrual irregularities can be a huge risk factor, esp. for young women, often referred to as the Female Athlete Triad. It boils down to getting enough calories to match the energy demands– your energy balance. If you aren’t getting enough calories to fuel yourself, you certainly aren’t getting enough calories to provide for a fetus– the first thing to shut down is your reproductive system. Your estrogen level goes down, which also protects bone. Over time, you can lose bone mass, and your bones become more fragile and fracture-prone. Ladies, it is not normal to miss your period, month-after-month. If you haven’t had a consistent menstrual cycle, that is a direct correlation to your energy balance, whether you need to eat more and/or cut back your training load to get your period again. It has nothing to do with your percent body fat– you can be a woman with 10% body fat, and as long as you’re in energy balance, you should get your period.”  – See more at: http://camilleherron.com/2011/05/11/overcoming-stress-fractures/#sthash.dddBPldl.dpuf

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Proof body fat percentage doesn’t matter. Camille Herron (Left) talks openly about the importance of having a regular period, while Deena Kastor (center) and Kara Goucher (Right) have both had children.

This is an issue not talked about enough in the running world, and many times the ramifications are not good.

Also, like Camille referenced, it does not matter what your body fat percentage is. I got another stress-fracture even though I had put on quite a bit of weight, as you can see below. I didn’t understand. Don’t I weigh plenty enough? Still, though, I wasn’t getting enough good fats and calories, and my body was actually storing fat. Even with my body fat percentage higher, I still didn’t have a regular cycle.

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So, what did I do to fix this? Everyone is different, but first, I got on birth control to regulate my periods. Currently, I am experimenting with being off of it, because Birth Control pills can actually masque symptoms that need to be addressed. (They also really started messing with my moods. I was on them for 4 years).  I decided this year (2014) to go off birth control, and attempt to regulate my periods naturally, because I know it is possible, and I want to be more in control and aware of my body. So far, I’m on the right track. I’m determined to stay injury free. Here has been and what will continue to be my plan until I learn something else. (I’m always researching and reevaluating to see what is best):

1. Fueling immediately after a run instead of waiting a few hours to eat.

2. Eating good fats, especially when consuming vitamin-rich foods (research shows the nutrients found in many fruits+veggies are better absorbed when eaten with fat. Top a salad with a handful of almonds. Add avocado to that quinoa fried rice, or roast veggies in coconut oil.)

3. Taking a fat-digestion enzyme daily. It is called “Hi-Lipase” (After avoiding fat for a long time, I often get constipated after eating it.)

4. Getting my hormone and body levels checked bi-monthly through Biofeedback.

5. SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP. 8 hours per night. (If these were numbered by importance, this would be number 1)

6. Taking a magnesium/calcium supplement. I use a brand called “Natural Calm”, and mix it right in with my water.

7. Eating whole foods. Lots of fruits, veggies, eggs, real butter, etc. 

 

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a race back in November of 2013, when I really began to work on my sleep and healthy fat intake. This was a PR race, too 😉

This list is what I believe will work for me. Hormones, menstrual cycles and injuries are all individual, and really are different person-to-person. If you take one thing from this post, I would suggest making sure you (or your girlfriend/wife/daughter) is having a regular cycle. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. I have personally experienced 2 season-ending injuries in the form of stress fractures, and I really encourage everyone to take a second look at how missing your period regularly negatively affects your body in many ways.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Enough said. Don’t try to self-diagnose yourself based off what I say. Seems obvious, but I’m supposed to say something like that here in the blogosphere. 

QUESTIONS: What has been your experience? Do you agree with this post? I would love to know your thoughts!

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5 thoughts on “If I could go back in time: Part 1 of a 3-part series on running injuries

  1. Great post, Katie! I have SO many runner friends who have had stress fractures due in large part to not eating well. I might be wrong about it potentially causing injuries, but another thing to check often is your iron/ferritin level…it turns out I was severely anemic and didn’t even realize.

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  2. Great post! I may give an interesting spin to this, or I may annoy you when i say that I do not have a cycle, nor have I had one in about 5 years. My gynacologist put me on really strong hormones then to prove my body could do it, and it did, but I have not had one since. That being said, I came off my birth control pill a few months ago for the first time in about 7 years (I was put on them to make sure I have enough estrogen) and I felt like I had symptoms of pms last week. hopefully that means my body is trying to cycle, and I will in the next few months.

    I am an elite athlete, training at a high level, and my diet is very good with lots of good fats. I have blood work numbers “all athletes should strive for”, but for me I think it was a combination of my pill preventing it, and stress. I am hoping it comes back soon, but my doctor said they were not concerned as my bone density was good and I have been healthy overall.

    Just thought I would provide my insight, I am an anomalie….but we will see what happens. Glad you have figured it out!

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    • Tina! This is very interesting and not annoying at all! I now wish I would have gone into more depth regarding effects of BC. (Another post perhaps!) I, too, did not have a period while on birth control, but like you said, my levels were all good. I wish I would have clarified that in the post. I had normal signs and was getting enough estrogen and not getting injured as well, and I think that is what my body needed at the time. And mentally too! I was so tired of being injured,, so that has been kind of a quick fix the last 4-5 years. Now, I’m more interested in trying to regulate without the BC. Keep me updated and I’ll do the same! It’s definitely an interesting process to say the least!

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    • Also, after thinking about it for a little while, I realized I didn’t clarify in the post that I wa strictly coming from the perspective of someone NOT on birth control. Clearly, like your own experience and my past experience, Birth control for some reason affects some in the sense that they don’t actually menstruate, but they are still getting all the nutrients (even if it is synthetic). Ha does that make sense? It’s a little confusing and I still don’t understand it all, but that’s all a part of the process I presume 🙂

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  3. Great post! Sounds like you’ve done a lot of reading on birth control and injuries. Did you ever come across anything to suggest that the Mirena (progesterone) IUD affects bone density? I think in theory it shouldn’t affect it directly, but I wonder if it would have any indirect effects on estrogen levels that could either increase or decrease the risk of stress fractures.

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