As an athlete, and the one up logging miles at the crack of dawn and doggedly trekking through anything that Mother Nature fancies, it is easy to start bending and breaking the habits that keep us healthy. Eat breakfast, drink water—you have probably heard them time and time again and may even be finding yourself nodding your head now.
Old habits die hard, and good habits die easy. Neglecting some health-rule standbys when you are logging 50 miles a week and still feeling great may be easy to justify, but anyone in the fitness game will affirm that it will come back to haunt you.
Injury, fatigue, and plateaus plague every one of us—but they don’t have to. Here are a few of the top mistakes that we are making as runners, snowshoers, hikers, bikers, and the like–and the information you need to maximize your fitness life.
1. Refusing to Rest
You may feel like you are losing out on mileage or a decisive workout that could give you the edge over the competition during the hub of training season if you kick back one day a week. Remember, even Olympians have a day off. Our bodies require time to rebuild, and our minds require time to recharge. Inadequate rest can lead to overtraining syndrome and lagging workouts.
According to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physical therapist Rex Clark, during rest time, the body adapts to the stress of exercise. Then, the “real training effect” occurs–damaged muscle tissue is repaired.
He suggests that athletes allow two rest days a week. If that sounds outlandish and you can hardly stomach one day without your sweat session, he recommends doing a lower intensity exercise one day and then completely resting the other. Take one day a week to enjoy a trail ride on your bike or a long walk. Then try to rest, and let your fluids, muscles, and cells replenish.
2. Attempting to Stay at the Peak
When climbing, the goal is to reach the top of the mountain—but once there, you don’t just sit down and stay there to hang out in the snow. What goes up must come down. It is hard to get into this mindset, but hitting your personal record every go-around is not realistic. So why do we kill ourselves trying?
Tim Cary, head training coach at FLEET FEET St. Louis Running Company, urges to not think in terms of a peak but efficiency if you want to be working out ten years from now.
“We need to remember that our goals are positioned down a long road and that we must travel the optimum distance daily to reach them,” Cary said. “When you are unsure about a planned workout or race, take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Is this maximum or optimum?’”
Having an off-season is essential to really adapt to this off-season mindset and put it to good use. After your last planned race, let yourself go from 100 percent to about 60 percent fitness level for a few months. After a mental and physical letup, you can come back to training next season more ready than ever—and faster.
Read More: Ask The Coach: Summer Training
3. Missing the 30 Minute Post-Workout Munch
It’s easy to neglect your granola bar or protein shake right after you finish toweling off, especially if you aren’t the type to be hungry after exercise. Most people stick to the story that you should only eat when you are hungry, which is a healthy outlook. However, exercise raises your body temperature and, in turn, suppresses your appetite. Although you may not think you need to nosh, you do.
According to Suzanne Eberle, a sports dietitian from Portland, we have “the carbohydrate window” 15 to 30 minutes immediately following exercise. During this “window,” our body is primed to begin refilling glycogen stores. Even though we may have stopped exercising, we still have an increased blood flow to our muscles, which makes them very sensitive to insulin.
When we eat carbohydrate-rich foods that break down into glucose, our body is primed to quickly move glucose into our cells, where it is stored as glycogen, giving your workouts the boost they need.
4. Skipping the Breakfast of Champions
The old mantra, “You have got to put fuel in the tank to make the engine run,” has not stood the test of time for no reason. If you try to speed out on your workout lacking proper fuel, you will suffer for the next 24 hours while your body replenishes the glycogen stores it needs to get you to the next workout. Skipping breakfast enables this vicious cycle of depletion and replenishment to wreak havoc and hold you back from really racing through your routine with your best foot forward.
According to Eberle, one habit is that many athletes don’t eat enough to “save” calories for later. “It’s kind of like backward planning,” Eberle stated. “I encourage people to kind of look at, ‘where is your workout today, what are you planning to do, how much time do you need and what’s the latest you want to eat?’ Then, maximize the snacks and the meals earlier in the day.”
5. Forgetting to Whet Your Whistle in the Winter
Guzzling water when it’s 85 degrees in the summer is no problem for most of us. Surprisingly though, our hydration needs are the same year-round. “Hydration never takes a holiday and is just as important whether it is 20 or 120 degrees outside,” Leslie Bonci, the director of sports nutrition at the UMPC Center for Sports Medicine, said. In a 2006 study, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute found that over 50 percent of recreational exercisers show up to their workouts dehydrated.
Dehydration can lead to a laundry list of hindrances to your workout, such as muscle cramps, fatigue, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness. Once dehydrated, your body cannot simply play catch up if you knock back a few glasses of H2O.
According to Bonci, women should get 90 ounces of fluid per day, while men should be getting 125 ounces per day. However, this doesn’t have to all come from water. “In the warmer months, we may prefer our fluid on ice, or through juice fruit whereas, in the winter, we may opt for hot beverages and soups to help us meet our fluid needs,” Bonci stated.
Make fluids accessible to yourself at any time. Drink water before you feel thirsty, and make sure that you drink enough. Carry that Camelback everywhere!
Read More: Ask The Coach: How To Stay Well Hydrated
6. Sticking to the Same Workouts
We all have our favorite routes, our comfortable pace, and our stock exercises. But after six weeks of the same routine, our muscles have figured it out and cannot be duped out of a plateau without a shock to the system.
“Our bodies welcome change,” Ron DeAngelo, the Director of Sports Performance at UPMC, said. “Training should be pleasurable and positive.”
Keeping yourself physically challenged may be a little intimidating at first—but as outdoor adventurers, isn’t that par for the course? Variety can help you stave off plateaus as well as keeping the mental humdrum away.
Research from the University of Florida found that individuals that diversified their exercise every two weeks enjoyed their workouts more and were likelier to stick to it.
Varying your workout’s intensity and duration is the easiest way to mix it up and change your bad habits as an athlete. Adding an extra hill to a route or even going a mile off-trail makes a difference. Throw in a long and steady workout, and then try for a short and fast workout the next day. High-intensity intervals and rest periods switch things up enough to keep your muscles confused and your mind sharp.
7. Cutting Calisthenics Out of Your Routine
When we say calisthenics, we’re referring to activities that don’t require gear—no ski poles or snowshoes or helmets, just you and your weight. So why do we write them off as such a nuisance in our pre and post-workout routines?
Incorporating calisthenics such as lunges, calf raises, crunches, squats, planks, and pushups will up your strength, stamina, balance, and form. They will protect you against injuries and keep those underworked muscles in shape.
DeAngelo recommends that plyometric work, calisthenics, and strength training needs to ensure total bodywork—so think three-dimensionally. “As 3-D beings, we need to do 3-D activities,” DeAngelo said. “This will keep you enduring over the long haul.” Keeping up with calisthenics will also help preserve the range of motion in joints so you can keep athletically adventuring pain-free years down the road.
8. Relying on Your Revered Sport
Skiers want to ski, bikers want to bike, and runners want to run. Getting stuck in a rut with your activity of choice can lead to a lack of motivation, fitness plateaus, and overdevelopment of isolated muscles. Besides, no one wants to be a one-trick pony.
“Our bodies welcome change,” DeAngelo said. Cross-training doesn’t have to feel like cross-training. He recommends doing activities that mimic your favorites. If you are a downhill skier by heart, you are probably used to the short duration and high-intensity nature. Mountain biking is also a short duration and high-intensity activity and can take you through the spring and summer months.
Introducing your body to unfamiliar workouts will promote active recovery, balanced muscles, and mental rejuvenation—not to mention the possibility to fall in love with a new sport.
So, this snowshoe season, spring into new habits that can leave you happier and healthier than ever—and ready to tackle what’s next like never before.
What are the bad habits that you do as an athlete? What recommendations do you have? Please share with us your experiences in the thoughts below.
This article was originally published on May 21, 2013, and was updated on November 11, 2019, with new information and photographs.