2017 has been one to remember. The year started on such a big high and ended at a low but honestly it was a year I would never change.
January started off cold being based in Boulder but I had a really fun and motivating training group to get me through the snowy days. At that time, I also decided to become vegan. The lifestyle changed my own personal life and how I viewed food and fueling in general. I knew switching to a plant-based diet would mean that I needed to be more aware of what I was eating (and what I was not eating) in order to be able to maintain a high training load. I accepted the challenge and really became passionate about the lifestyle.
I won St. Anthony’s triathlon, Escape from Alcatraz, NYC Triathlon and was having my best 70.3 to date at Monterrey 70.3 until I flatted. I was convinced that my focus on training, elimination of alcohol, and my new diet were critical to why I was having so much success. I finally felt like I figured myself out and I was achieving everything I wanted to.
The week after the NYC Tri I was out to dinner with a friend from college and when we got up to leave I just fainted on the way to the door. I assumed I got sick from the Hudson river and quickly forgot about it.
In early September I won ESCAPE Des Moines and felt extremely prepared for the Beijing International Triathlon, which was an A race of mine. I ended up getting 2nd at that race and literally had to walk on the run. I felt lethargic, drained and I had no energy at all. I quickly wrote it off to jet lag, lack of sleep, and just an off day.
I flew back to Boulder and I was suffering with extremely high heart rates, trouble breathing, and low energy. My coach proposed I leave altitude immediately and go to the site of my next event- Lake Geneva, WI. I took his advice, rested, ate a ton and just chilled one week leading into my race. I won ESCAPE Lake Geneva at the end of September and I felt I was back on track.
A few weeks later I flew to Kona to have a mini training camp and to meet with current sponsors. The camp was not that great. Once again I had low energy, nausea, and trouble recovering. There was a stomach bug going around Kona therefore I assumed that is what I had.
I flew to Miami from Kona to race Miami 70.3. I went in with confidence and ready to race for the win. I was immediately dropped in the swim, dizzy on the bike to the point where I was looking for a cop car to take me back, and basically walked/ran the run to complete the race. To have the poorest swim of my life was the most concerning to me. The bike and run are sometimes a wash, but the swim is 99.99% always the same for me personally.
Anyways, I left that race really defeated and went straight to McDonald’s for a large fry. I had big expectations and I failed. I talked to my coach and helped me to forget the result and focus on the main event of the year- Island House Triathlon. I spent 4 weeks in Miami (similar conditions to upcoming race in the Bahamas) and the only things I did were train, eat, sleep and recover, I never skipped a session and I felt like I was the most prepared I have ever been for an event. Well I will spare you the details, I ended up getting dead last in the race. Going into the race I told myself I would be upset with anything lower than top 7. Once again, I had no energy, I could not clear lactic acid, I was not sleeping, and overall I was lethargic and tired.
I immediately came home to South Carolina and just had some time to think. My mom told me it was clear- I lost weight, I wasn’t eating enough, and the vegan diet just was not working for me anymore. In my mind I thought that I was eating all of the time, I went to bed full, and I really hadn’t lost much weight at all. I had skipped my period for 3 months and I knew that meant something was not right. A friend of mine who was at Island House and knew I was not myself reached out and recommended that I work with a nutrition specialist in Boulder.
I immediately contacted Kiki Silver here in Boulder and explained to her what was wrong. I also reached out to a sponsor of mine, Blueprint for Athletes, to see if they could get some blood work done for me immediately. Fortunately, I was able to get all of this done within three weeks of finishing Island House and Kiki was able to help me figure out what was going on.
Below is the summary of Dr. Kiki’s evaluation of my blood work from 12/4. She also had my blood work from 9/4 and I was equally as malnourished. This was the time I started feeling lower in energy and unable to recover.
The deficiencies we identified:
- Low B12: long-term this can lead to memory loss/dementia, cognitive decline, neuropathy, fatigue, anemia….
- Low pre-albumin: indicates absolute nutritional (protein) malnourishment.
- Low Iron: leads to anemia, feeling cold, poor wound healing, fatigue, poor athletic performance.
- Low EPA/DHA and AA: critical fat and Omegas are low – which are associated with higher states of inflammation, poor recovery, anxiety, depression, neuromuscular disorders, etc.
- Higher CPK/LDH/AST/BUN: all indicating increased muscle breakdown as your body is breaking down muscle to obtain requisite amino acids given you don’t have adequate protein in your diet.
- Lower amount of free thyroid hormone: related to lacking the building blocks to make thyroid hormone (Iron, Bs, tyrosine, etc).
- Lower Carnitine: vital for production of acetylcholine (memory neurotransmitter) and also for ability to burn fat as fuel.
Basically my Omega 3’s were gone completely, my ferritin was extremely low, my B vitamins were gone, and my muscles were breaking down feeding my body because I did not have enough protein.
I figured I would have some lower values in a few areas but overall I was really surprised. I was convinced the plant based diet was the absolute best for me. I really felt good day to day but in the end I just was not getting the crucial nutrients I needed for triathlon.
I will be honest I am pretty sad. I am happy that there is an explanation on why I was so terrible at the end of the season but sad because I really loved eating plant based. I publicly posted about how great it made me feel and this really was the case until it was too late and my body started becoming deficient in critical nutrients.
So what is next? Well, I have been told by the doctor to eat red meat 3x a week, salmon 1x a week, avocado for the “good” fats, black strap molasses, and a ton of eggs. I have been on this regime now for 5 days. I am gaining some weight and this is what I need to do to be able to race and to get all the nutrients I need to function.
We all need to be careful with the choices we make with eating and not get carried away with any particular idea we may have. What’s most important is that our eating and fueling choices work well for us and our individual needs. This year I will focus on fueling with the foods that I need to function. My best racing, your best racing, comes from good health, not a number on a scale.