It is usually during this time of the year (Autumn) when the nights are drawing in that I will often be asked for advice on what to do about zero motivation. The first thing I do is check through the following possible culprits and often the answer will be found after having time to reflect:
- Quantity and quality of sleep;
- Fatigue through intensity of training;
- Fatigue through volume of training;
- Work stress;
- Family stress;
- Keeping a balance and remember why you are doing this.
Quality and quantity of sleep – I am conscious that I will be teaching you to suck eggs with this one but it’s always the first thing we compromise when under time pressure. However, it is also the most important factor for maintaining and/or igniting motivation. In addition it has a massive impact on your hormone system which regulates your weight and recovery levels. In terms of quantity I always aim for at least seven and a half hours and ideally eight hours each night. To help ensure a good quality of sleep tick these off before getting your shut eyes:
- Come off the caffeine after mid-day;
- turn off any electronic gadgets at least an hour before going to bed;
- if something is on your mind make a note of it to be dealt with the next day;
- leave gadgets out of the bedroom or turned off;
- have curtains or blinds that keep your bedroom completely dark;
- keep your bedroom at Goldilocks temperature – not too warm and not too cold;
- finally, keep to the same routine as to when you go to bed and get up even at the weekend if possible.
Fatigue through intensity of training – This is more common than you think particularly with those hooked up to Strava. Going at an all out effort on your long bike rides (over two hours) or on the long runs over an hour will eventually have consequences with your body kicking you where it hurts. In addition you will not get any fitter once you have plateaued and may even find your racing times getting slower. Keeping to the 20/80% rule will have a big impact on both keeping you motivated because you will see your race times improve. Plus, you will have fewer injuries if any, fewer sick days and on the whole feel more refreshed.
However, keeping to the 20/80% rule is more challenging for some than others but it’s the one rule which has the biggest impact on the performance of professional triathletes. However, most of us don’t train in zone 1 and 2 at as low intensity as we should or the zone 4 and 5 at as high an intensity as we should. This Polarised training is key and will help keep you motivated with its inbuilt recovery plan. So, keep your weekly training to 80% talking zone 1 and 2 pace which will increase your mitochondria cells numbers which provide you with a more efficient oxygen system. Keeping to the tough zone 4 and 5 will improve the quality of your mitochondria cells, make you more pain and threshold tolerate and on the whole improve your overall running, swimming and cycling pace while still at the same heart rate as before. Also, remember to have a recovery day once a week with lower intensity weeks every four or five weeks
Fatigue through volume of training – This is not such a problem if you are a professional and keeping to the 20/80 rule. However, if you are trying to balance work, family and a social life it can become a very serious problem and may have serious consequences on your life especially if you begin to compromise your relationships and/or your professionalism at work. We can all fall into the trap of thinking more is best when in reality it maybe worse. There comes a point when you pile on the quantity so much that you forget about the quality. Also you are loosing valuable time with family and friends which adds to the richness of our training and competing. So, how much is too much? This is a difficult one and depends on the time of year/season, family and work commitments. However, I keep to the rule that, “Family, work and friends come first” and training comes as a means to enrich your life rather than complicate it. So, if you have a young family, work shifts and only have one evening a month to meet up with friends who don’t train you maybe looking at five hours a week training at best. However, you will probably make every second count and be surprised to see yourself still making significant improvements with higher motivation which you can channel into any extra training time that surprisingly turns up.
Nutrition – Again I am aware that I will be teaching to suck eggs and that you know all about what to do but can’t keep consistent for so many reason. So, let’s eliminate why we often fail to keep to a half descent nutrition plan.
- Confused with all the advice out there – If so, remember to keep it simple, manage your potion sizes and you can’t go far wrong. I prefer a low carb, high fat with moderate amounts of protein (LCHT) and will extend my overnight fast to mid-day or no earlier than 10.00 am. I tend to focus on unprocessed foods like fish, eggs, chicken,vegetables and nuts and try to keep off highly processed, packaged food, as well as sugar. I also try and follow the advice of an olympic nutritionist, “If you can’t read or understand the additives on the label don’t buy it and if you can’t cook it don’t eat it.” However, I do work on the bases that if I get my nutrition right for 80% of the day/week I allow myself 20% of treats. Also, if I am being treated to a celebratory meal or I am at any get together meal all bets are off, as I want to have fun with everyone. I call these meals my “Feast and Famine meals” as I will be back to being focused the next day.
- Fatigue and tiredness- I have already mentioned fatigued and quality of sleep and how this will always have an impact on your nutrition and weight. I am sure I have no need to remind you of the times when you have felt fatigued and tired. You reach over for the quick fixes – chocolate, cake and takeaways. Enough said!
- Evening munchies – I am always feeling the munchies after eight in the evening which is usually through boredom, stress, habit, a need to have a treat or combination of all these. If I can’t resist the munchies I try and have healthy alternatives ready – a hard boiled egg in the fridge, small handful of nuts, a pickle onion, small piece of cheese, small bowl of fruit with Greek yogurt etc.
- Carb up and protein down – What I mean by this is that if you are heading out for a long bike ride or long run at zone 2 pace carb up as this will be used up like fuel and not stick to the hips. After all your training session, especially a tough one, get some protein and a small amount of carbs down you within half an hour. A simple and effective one for me is a mug of milk and a banana.
Work Stress – This is a difficult one as your mortgage depends on you working. However, you will need to watch out, take stock every now and then to check that you are not being put under too much pressure. Or it maybe the opposite, that you feel under challenged which can lead to a dip in motivation in other areas of your life.
Family Stress – Again this is a very difficult one as each family is unique with an infinite number of variations – Teenagers, one, two, three or more children under ten, babies, an exam year, bereavements, looking after elderly parents the list goes on and on. All I can say is that there will be times when your training may have to be put on hold for a while, or you may have to accept that they maybe no pattern to when you can get out for a run or a bike ride. The stress will often be because of the tension between family commitments and your desire to get out for some Me time on the road. Spending time discussing the weekly diary with your other half will pay dividends and if both of you have “Me” time it will benefit the whole family.
Keeping a balance and remember why you are doing this – Thankfully my mortgage doesn’t depend on me winning any races or endorsing any of the many products advertised in triathlon magazines. So why do I enter events such as the Ironman, duathlons, marathons, ultra distance swimming, running and cycling events? For me it is about enhancing my life and being the best I can within the balance of my home, work and social commitments. However, if I was competing to win or beat certain times that require me to be away from my family and friends because of the increase commitment to training I may find that my life stops feeling as enriched as it could be. Also, if you are doing it to solely be a winner every time, you may also miss the intrinsic nature of why you first started on this path of being an amateur athlete.
So, when you feel you have zero motivation check to see if any of the above or a combination of them are the culprits. I am sure that once you have discovered what has happened and have addressed it, you will be back to your usual motivated self very quickly.