New to parenting and always liked to train? Wondering how you’ll fit in training, working and parenting? Juggling the juggle and wanting to avoid blunted training? My new Blog provides some advice on the pitfalls of training and working whilst adjusting to life as a new parent. Read on if this sounds familiar to you!
A client recently described their sudden decrease in running performance to me. A catalogue of frustrating training sessions, cut short by a loss of power in their legs, an overall feeling of fatigue and yet, despite a multitude of investigations, both musculoskeletal and pathological, no definitive answer as to why they suddenly had started to feel this way. Searching for answers, their Sports Medic referred them to me for an initial discussion. With one question I was fairly certain that we had the answer to their woes. I asked,
‘Were there any significant changes in your life in the lead up to when you started experiencing these symptoms’?
Answer; ‘well, I’d been training as normal for the past 2 years, maintained my normal eating habits, kept my 5am starts to train before breakfast and been fine, oh…, we also had a baby’.
Bingo! You see, whilst for any parent, the arrival of your offspring is a joyous occasion, one of the best, moments in your life, it comes filled with the blur of sleep deprivation, and a significant change to your usual routine, despite possibly your best efforts to maintain it! Through the fog of sleeplessness, it can be hard to tell what is causing you to feel in a certain way and in this case, why training was proving tricky. There is no doubt that poor sleep messes with your ability to think clearly!
In terms of family time, this change to your normal routine is obviously all for the better. However, trying to maintain your normal training regime, combined with work and chronic sleep deprivation, means the reality of those sleepless nights can take some time to manifest.
Poor sleep can be a challenge for any parent, under any circumstances. For those of us undertaking work, and pursuing a training programme, particularly an endurance based one where the stress on your immune system is high relative to other sports, the chronic reduction in sleep can mean your body will ultimately send signals that something has to change. Think of your body as a car running on empty and you may, for example, experience feelings of loss of power or general feelings of fatigue.
Now, I’m not suggesting that becoming a parent means the end of opportunities to maintain fitness or have any kind of exercise regime. Far from it. Important you do so, those small people are endlessly energetic and you need to be able to keep up! However, the manner in which you manage your training around those nights of nappy changes, feeding demands, teething or ‘waking just for fun’, can have a serious and detrimental affect on your ability to perform in training and ultimately competition.
So, what can you do to ensure you can manage training, on whatever level, around family and work demands? Obviously, everyone is different and it very much depends on your circumstances, but below are a few tips to help you on your way.
Manage your fatigue
· Accept that you’ll be tired. Listen to your body and prioritise sleep where you can.
· If you’ve had a particularly bad run of poor sleep then keep training to a minimum. Don’t overly stress your body when it’s trying hard to maintain its basic functions on very little sleep. Remember, tiredness will hit you like a steam roller at any time, so use opportunities to get good sleep when you can.
· Boring as it sounds, early nights will become your sanctuary and don’t beat yourself up about not socialising. In time, this will all balance out, you just need to prioritise your health if you want to parent, work and train effectively!
· Parenting is hard, especially with younger children, and combined with working and training, you’ll be struggling to ‘juggle the juggle’ even more so if you don’t listen to your body. So, for a while, get as many early nights as possible! In other words, get your sleep and downtime nailed.
· Keep training to base aerobic sessions, particularly when you’ve had a few bad nights’ sleep in a row. Being out in the fresh air (or gym, pool, bike etc.) will help to wake you up, but don’t train for too long or at too hard a level. Just 30 minutes gentle exercise will not only help maintain fitness, it will wake you up without going overboard on the challenge to your body’s immune system. In time, you can increase the volume and intensity but I come back to the point of listening to your body and making sensible choices based on how your sleep is going in any given week.
· Use the reduced time to train as an opportunity to do more prehabilitation (injury prevention) exercises. That way, when you can increase your training volume, you’re in a better physical position to manage your training load. These exercises can mostly be done at home too, making it an ideal training session around family time. Seek advice from clinical experts as to the best exercises for you.
· As you prioritise sleep, it might be better, for a while at least, to swap early morning training for a session later in the day. This doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule, but 2-4 sessions spread over different times in the week is better than 4 lots of 5am get ups following sleepless nights.
· If you are female, then there is a hormonal aspect to taking it easy in training. Your body needs time to recover from pregnancy, and also, if breastfeeding, associated circulating hormones means you’re still at risk of injury. So be cautious and seek medical advice before trying anything new or if you feel unwell or injured.
Nutrition and Hydration
· If ever there was a time to ensure you’re eating the correct foods, it’s when you have to look after yourself in order to care and be responsible for a tiny human. Of course, the odd takeaway won’t do any harm, but on the whole, try to eat a healthy, well balanced diet as this will stand you in good stead for surviving the sleep deprivation phase alongside a training regime. You’ll feel more energised and prepared for work and training from eating healthily compared to energy sapped from a diet of takeaways and ready meals.
· Don’t rush out the door to try and fit training in before breakfast. Ensure you have a light snack/protein shake if you are training in the early morning and fuel up post training with appropriate levels of carbohydrate and protein.
· Above all drink plenty of fluids (water, decaf tea/coffee, herbal teas). Regular and often fluid intake throughout the day will help maintain sufficient hydration. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol intake.
· In terms of vitamins, ensure you have a good ‘food’ intake first and then think about adding in a supplement to help, particularly in the winter months. If you’re a competing athlete, always check on ‘Informed Sport’ ahead of taking any supplements (www.informed-sport.com) and remember the risk is entirely yours if you decide to take any supplements.
· Not for everyone, but the demands of training alongside a busy work and family life, can often lead to niggles and these can potentially lead to injuries. If possible, try to get a sports massage to alleviate any niggles.
· Acupuncture can help and stretch too, particularly if you are post pregnancy or breastfeeding.
As a summary, take on board the fact that you can revert back to your old routine once the baby phase has passed. Giving yourself the break, or change in training load, may also help your body grab an opportunity for some recovery from your usual training demands. Remember, it’s hard in a sleep deprived state to recognise where you might need to make some changes with regards to training, work and home life. Seek medical advice where you can if experiencing any symptoms or illness or injury, as it’s better to nip something in the bud than ‘hope’ things improve without making any changes. Above all, enjoy your new phase in life and embrace the joyful challenge of juggling the juggle!