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ADHD in Endurance Sports, BurnOut and Depression with Erin Ayala Sports Psychologist

ADHD in Endurance Sports
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Jenny Tomei [00:00:00]:

Hello, and welcome to the Jenup Podcast. I’m Jenny Tomei. I’m a qualified, nutritional therapist, eating disorder coach and personal trainer.

We have Sam Woodfield, who is my co host. So Sam is an ex elite cyclist and has recovered from anorexia, orthorexia, and exercise addiction.

Welcome to series 2 of the Jenup Podcasts focusing on all things sporting performance, mental health, physical health, and removing the stigma around eating disorders. So some VIT D3 is sponsoring this podcast.

You can find more details about them at some VIT, and they supply a large range of vitamin d supplements along with multivitamins that are vegan and vegetarian.

If you want to ask us anything, you can find us or ask you that on Facebook and on Instagram and my new TikTok account, Jen Tomei. I’m going to pass you over to Sam who’s going to introduce our amazing guest we have today who I am super excited for.

Sam Woodfield [00:01:01]:

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s it’s been a little bit of a while since we’re recorded one of these, especially with the muscle and and skeletons behind us last couple have been from home.

So just wanna say, hello to Erin. Erin is a sports psychologist and certified mental performance consultant. based out in America.

She is the author of over 20 publications and regularly serves as a review up for empirical research journals in the health sciences. Erin has a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Albany.

Erin is also a certified mental performance consultant and is listed on the US Olympic And Paralympic Mental Health Registry. Did I get that all right to start with? You did get it right. Thank you. Good.

There was a there was a couple of big words in there for being on the on the Monday after being after a long training right in morning, but it is it’s an absolute privilege to have you on, Erin. I could have done with you on Saturday afternoon and probably Friday evening after finishing 3rd, but it’s virtually thinking my world was over after what was possibly the world’s worst physiology, physical performance I’ve ever had on a bike cool.

But here in the UK, we’ve just had the heat wave. The heat wave is here on my first 30 minute time trial. in 28 degrees heat with a TT helmet and a full black like Kruskin’s suit was not optimal.

But previous guest I will just inform you previous guest, Ollie Pecova, did hand it to me and put 3 a half minutes into me. And he was the driving force to make me go and finally do some time trials. So I do have him to thank for. He’s a he’s a good friend of the podcast. and we will be supporting the nationals, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.

So we’re gonna kick this off. Jenny’s gonna take the lead on this one. It’s a bit more of a health one. I like to take the sit back and relax on the health ones, and I’ll let Jenny lead away. I know most of this will be aimed at the my performance on Saturdays, so we’ll go for it.

Jenny Tomei [00:03:07]:

Excellent. And so, Erin, I wanted to talk to you about the role of mindfulness and endurance training because that’s something that I’m, obviously, I’m really interested in. Would you be able to explain that a little bit deeper for us, and is it useful for anxiety, for example, to use for, like, pre races as well?

Erin Ayala [00:03:25]:

Yeah. Absolutely. So This is one of those topics I’m always really excited to talk about because they think there are a lot of misconceptions about mindfulness and athletes tend to have a hard time because of all of those misconceptions, I think we often think of, like, a very zen, like, monk at the top of the mountain meditate Right?

And then you think of how raw and real endurance sports are and how in your head you get. So mindfulness, I would approach it as just like a really like, being very aware of how you are feeling and what are you what you are thinking in the moment without judging yourself for it. Right? And so it’s just kind of checking in with yourself consistently as an athlete and being like, how am I doing right now? What do I need? How am I feeling? What’s going on with my inner sensations? and then adjusting accordingly. Right?

So then when it comes to anxiety and athlete who is very aware of how they’re feeling, it might be, like, let’s say you’re in the starting grid or the starting corral before a race, your heart is beating. You’ve got this adrenaline flowing. You’re thinking, like, all over the place, having a hard time settling down. The mindfulness or the mindful athlete in that situation can be like, I’m, like, really revved up right now. What do I need?

And then they can take a few, like, deep breaths, do a couple of cycles of box breathing, for example, which we can talk more about to kinda bring themselves down so that their heart rate doesn’t spike from the beginning of the race. Right? So the mindfulness is an awesome I think of it as, like, a volume dial where they can use it to to set the right volume for their nervous them to figure out how revved up they need to be to perform well. Yeah. I think this This is really dumb. We should just turn it into a session per se.

Sam Woodfield [00:05:18]:

but I rolled out my warm up in Saturday. I missed actual time trial in the fall. Yeah. I don’t In the UK, we do road bike time trials as well. That’s a bit more of a strength that might have spent a lot of time over the years on a road bike.

This was my first time giving a hit out. When I rolled out, my heart rate was in the 1 fifties, which, for me, I do most my endurance rides in the 1 teens, 1 twenties, and I simply, for love, more money, could bring it down. I nearly opened my suit, I want to take my helmet off. I’d have caffeine, but not to my normal extreme.

Right? I wouldn’t say I’d overdosed on caffeine. I’d had Well, I I’ve gone to work, so probably had 2 double espresso’s and just popped a couple of pieces of caffeine chewing gum. way before the start just to make it get in my cyst, and I simply could not bring it down to the point I flatlined my heart rate at about 185 for the entire race, which was I mean, most people are really high because of the heat on Saturday.

So you’ve I have got to take that into account, but then went out yesterday. Sunday, and did my threshold efforts in, like, the 160. Mhmm. So, you know and you were talking about that revving up I find it really easy to get revved up for training. Like, I like, people have seen me, and I read my like, I walk into a room, and it’s like, this is my room. I think racing, I need to go the other approach.

Erin Ayala [00:06:48]:

Mhmm. Yeah. And I think one of the best skills for an athlete is to figure out how to rev themselves up or bring themselves down depending on the competition or the moment. Right? Yeah. And so it’s And so many athletes were used to just, like, being really intense and, like, go go go.

So we’re used to that like, that pressure and that activation of kind of that fight or flight system and not that intensity. Right? Like, a lot of us including myself feed off of it. but then we don’t realize how we’re unintentionally kinda lowering that ceiling because we don’t have as much room to go. You know, if you start the race at 16 see, you’ve only got 20 beats per minute until you kinda hit that mark as opposed to if you start the race at, like, 120, you’ve got a lot more wiggle room to ramp up. Right?

Sam Woodfield [00:07:35]:

Yeah. I have no wiggle room. I’m sweating. That I’m strange enough last night, ended up watching the film rush, which is to do with Nicky Lauder and James Hunt, the former one drivers from the seventies and how different they were as characters, and then I also thought about, you know, if you look at someone like Phelps or you say in bulk, you know, you’re saying both look like he was having a disco, but then all of a sudden, he just goes and he’s in the zone and goes.

Erin Ayala [00:08:06]:

Yep. Mhmm.

Sam Woodfield [00:08:08]:

Mhmm. Yeah. But we could talk about those different characters for hours. And it’s not the point of the the the point of this podcast. So I’ll let Jenny keep going away.

Jenny Tomei [00:08:20]:

Nice. What would you recommend then? Like, to do some sort of, like, meditation then you recommended, like, a what you said before,

Erin Ayala [00:08:27]:

some sort of mindfulness technique. So I think there’s a couple of things that I do. And and during sports are special too because, like, special with air quotes. Like, we have a lot of things going on in endurance athletes.

But so I think for for the typical endurance athlete, before a race, one thing that I always say is, like, especially if, like, triathlon, you know, like, 5 k marathon where you’ve got this mass start where there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of stuff going on, create a prerace routine that is super important because then it’s one less thing for your brain to think about or worry about. If you’ve already taken care of, it’s, like, one less decision to make. Right?

So, you know, it could be breakfast 3 hours beforehand assuming the race is into too early. And then, like, having your snack, having your, you know, your nutrition and hydration kind of all set and packed, like, just having all of these routines helps decrease your stress levels to begin with.

But then what I say is is put yourself, like, give yourself 5 to 10 minutes of just alone time where you can go and hide and just kind of chill, bring yourself down a little bit, like, re center, you can do a little bit of visualization.

One of the things that I say to athletes is we don’t wanna visualize this, like, PR performance or PB performance where we’re crossing, you know, the 5 k finish and winning the race, and we feel like a million bucks because it’s not gonna be as realistic.

And then the second things aren’t going our way and we’re not hitting those paces or splits, we can easily get, like, jolted and frustrated and flustered. So imagine the point in the race where you’re gonna start to hurt, and you’re gonna start to feel that lactic acid building up and you’re gonna have that self talk in your head of, like, oh, this is fine.

This is comfortable enough. I’ll just settle in right here. and knowing what that pace is, and then what are you gonna say to yourself to keep that intensity high and push a little bit more to get to where you need to be. Right?

So if you visualize that before the race, you’re then prepared for it in the moment when it shows up. And so that’s where the mindfulness can also help you during the race. because then you’re more being like, oh, I practiced for this. Right?

And so then that 5 to 10 minutes before the race, you can also do some box breathing and Some people will call it square breathing. So this is where you inhale to the count of 4, and then you hold your breath for 4 counts. you exhale to the count of 4, and then you hold for 4 again.

And you can do this for a few rounds And research shows this is a really great way to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system to kind of, like, help bring that volume button down a little bit so that you’re not starting the race at 160. Right?

So you’re able to kind of, like, bring yourself down before getting into the mix and the chaos of a mass start race. So those are my suggestions for athletes before our bigger competitions.

Sam Woodfield [00:11:38]:

is that nasally or is that mouth breathing just to clarify? I’d be interested to know. It’s interesting.

Erin Ayala [00:11:46]:

Usually, people will suggest inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. And I know there’s a reason for that, but I don’t know what the physiological benefit is. But when you ask people, like, I know Andrew Beale does a lot. He does it’s called the 478 breath, where you inhale for 4 hold for 7 and then exhale for 8. Yeah. He’s another example where he’ll say inhale through the nose and then exhale through the mouth.

Sam Woodfield [00:12:15]:

So Yeah. Okay. No. That’s Yeah. I have heard of it. That is all If you think about it, like,

Erin Ayala [00:12:20]:

one thing to think about too is, like, you can’t control if you think of, like, the fight or flight system, I always say think of it as a teeter totter. Like, you on one side of the teeter totter, you have Your heart rate is really elevated and going really fast.

Your breathing is probably pretty shallow and fast. your thinking, like, is not very clear. Lots of ideas, like, may not be making the best decisions for yourself. Sometimes GI troubles Your GI system is not happy. Athletes will have to go to the bathroom ten times before the race, sometimes throwing up before a race. Right? and we can’t control we can’t really control our heart rate.

We can’t just say, like, hey, heart, chill chill out, slow down. We can’t control, like, our thinking patterns, we can’t control our GI system where we’re like, no. You don’t actually have to go to the bathroom. So the breathing is kinda like the gateway into your your nervous system.

That’s the one thing you have control over. So that’s why when therapists are always like, just breathe They don’t always explain why it’s helpful, which I think athletes get annoyed because they’re like, I was told to just breathe. Like, what is that gonna do for me? But there’s actual physiological benefits to doing that, therapists, we just sometimes do ourselves a disservice because we don’t explain

Jenny Tomei [00:13:39]:

why it’s helpful and why it’s effective. But it makes sense, though, because it shifts yourself into the parasympathetic state like more.

You don’t wanna be in that fight or flight state all the time because that’s not healthy, is So it makes sense, like, why to kind of be in that you know? And probably most of us nowadays aren’t in that parasitic state due to, like, you know, just our daily lifestyle, like, things like that. because everything’s, like, go go go, like, all the time.

Yeah. But, yeah, it’s, like, really interesting that. Totally. speaking of that, actually, that leads on nicely to adrenaline, actually. I wanted to ask about that because that’s something that I’m really fascinated with and interest in, especially the links with ADHD with that as well.

So, for example, like, you know, if I do a heavy training session, I am literally not hungry after that. So it literally strips my hunger. Like, you know, I’m just, like, I I stand, like you know? And that can go on for hours and hours I think I think I’m someone that produces a lot of adrenaline, and I think I believe I thrive off of that for so many years.

And I’ve come away from it now. I’ve taught my body to, like, come away from it, but I know when I’m doing it. So I’m quite gonna bring I know that I have to bring myself down now, but it’d be great if you could explain, like, if there’s a genetic link to some people produce more adrenaline, to some people to produce less. I know that’s a good long question. Mhmm.

Erin Ayala [00:14:57]:

Yeah. So one thing that we know that’s really interesting is research suggests athletes are more likely to have ADHD or ADHD symptoms than non athletes in the general population.

And there are a couple of different, like, theories as to why that might be, but one of them is that adrenaline that you’re speaking to, Jenny, where it’s, like, you thrive off of, you know, this adrenaline and this risk taking behavior and this impulsivity and kind of, like, living on the edge.

And another thing to think about too is when we look at sport performance, arguably, the the best and the highest performing athletes are the ones who are willing and able to take risks and kind of fly by the seat of their pants and put themselves out there. Right? Like, quote, unquote, playing scared is not or playing safe, like, is not gonna get an athlete to that next level.

So that’s why some some scholars, including myself, we we feel like, well, athletes are more likely to have ADHD because they’re the ones who have, like, stayed and who continue to be successful because of their ADHD symptoms have allowed them to, like, put themselves out there. Right?

So one of the things that then happens for athletes with ADHD is, like, I used to be the the director of ADHD assessment program for a local university because stimulants are considered a performance enhancing drug. And so if an athlete has ADHD and they want to take stimulant medication, they have to have a medical exemption for it in order to have, like, permission if they’re tested. Right?

So I’ve worked with a lot of athletes with ADHD, and what I’ve said to them is, like, yes. your your risk taking behavior, your impulsivity, like, thriving off of that adrenaline is a really important piece of who you are. and sleep is really important and nutrition is really important and hydration is really important. And so Think of that as one piece of your puzzle, but you cannot neglect those other pieces. Right?

So when it comes to, like, nutrition or fueling, the adrenaline is gonna suppress that appetite. And an athlete in the moment will be like, no. I’m good. Like, Okay. You feel that right now, but how are you gonna feel in 10 k? Right? Like, you will not feel so good. And so it’s being able to think about, like, the future, Jenny, or, like, what is the future athlete in 5 k gonna need?

And so that’s where you have to do, like, prerace routines and the fueling routines to make sure that you’re fueling appropriately to set yourself up. Because sometimes your ADHD brain like, no. I’m fine because you’re not thinking about that future and, like, that delayed

Sam Woodfield [00:17:41]:

gratification that athletes need. See, I’m I’m I’m probably in the minority, whereas I know I produce adrenaline, and I know I have certain ADHD tendencies. but going way back when I was overtraining and and under fueling and blah blah blah blah blah blah, I was never someone that walked through the door and went I’m gonna delay eating.

It was one thing I never did. I can still go upstairs. I can do VO 2 efforts to the point that you know, I’m seeing stars and that alcohol downstairs have a can of coke and a rice cake. And, like, it it doesn’t even phased me, my work used to be during, and I used to do that. I used now I’m fine. Now I’m fine.

But I’m very good now because of how my work life has all changed that I know if I don’t have something within 20 minutes I’ll just end up eating at 10 o’clock at night, 11 o’clock at night. And it’s something I tried to instill with my clients, and and I have a lot of clients, and they go to Smith. Oh, I’ll I’ll be sick. can you actually give me evidence that you’re gonna be sick?

Like, actually highlight physical or show me a text of you being sick post training because I’m like, that’s just how you feel. Now I’m not saying you need to go and have steak and chips. But I’m like, have a handful of Harry Bow or candy or something very sugary.

Just you know, even if it’s a sip, you watch the guys finish Toyota France, the first thing they get handed is those mini can cans of fan tour cola. You know? Mhmm. The last thing they actually want is food, but they know they need it. So it’s — Right. — and it’s something that I think everyone needs to hone in on regardless your level of training. stopping these to go into that system really quickly because and I still work in the fitness industry.

So many people validate their post exercise feeling on what they can eat after.

Erin Ayala [00:19:36]:

Yeah. And I think it’s too also knowing, like, your body you have to just the physiology behind it, right, is, like, you have to fuel your body in order to allow your muscles to repair from all of those micro traumas and those really hard efforts.

And if you’re not giving your body the nutrients it needs, it it, like, it really messes up your your endocrine system, like, just your hormones get all funky and wacky. and you’re, like, you’re working against yourself instead of with yourself.

Right? So if athletes have a hard time with the fueling and this also includes before a race, Right? Like, for a lot of athletes before a marathon or a 5 k, they don’t want a hearty bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Like, it the texture and, like, the temperature often throws them off. Right?

So so we say find something that works for you, and that might mean, like, a smoothie or a, like, a really, like, high, like, nutrient dense caloric, like, juice. Right? Or Olette from scratch labs will talk about, like, use this super carb drink mix. Yes. It’s 400 calories in a bottle. It’s got a light flavor. It’s not too sweet, so then you’re still getting the carbs that your body needs.

Sam Woodfield [00:20:45]:

really recover and repair. So I mean, I don’t I don’t know if you have it in the US, but we get tins of, like, rice pudding, and that was ideal. as long as it didn’t have too much dairy, just have a tin of that and that’s, like, in your system digested within, like, an hour. And, actually, rice is a I’m I’m I I’ll eat rice at 6 o’clock in the morning if I know I’m racing by 8. because I know for me it’s Exactly. I can’t do. I’m someone that I can’t do fluid. I like to eat something to Everyone’s different, and that’s something we’ve

Jenny Tomei [00:21:22]:

spoken about plenty of times on here. Mhmm. Just one question. Did the people with ADHD produce more adrenaline than people that don’t have ADHD? Do you know that at all? Do they produce more?

Erin Ayala [00:21:35]:

I don’t know. That is a really good question. I would say, like, there it could be one of those things, like, what comes first? The chicken or the egg where, like, maybe because athletes with ADHD really appreciate adrenaline, they’re more likely to put themselves in situations where they feel adrenaline.

Right? Because we know people with ADHD are more likely to engage and you know, risk taking behaviors and impulsivity and doing things that a lot of people would not typically do. And so You could say because they put themselves in that situation, they do have more adrenaline, but I don’t know if they’re — Yeah. Yeah. The chicken or the egg comes first for that one.

Jenny Tomei [00:22:15]:

Okay. No. I just I just wondered because I just find it such an interesting area. I’m I’m constantly seeing, like, in a young because I because I work with Eton in Eton disorders as well. I’ve seen, like, a massive link between the ADHD eating disorders as well. And and the overexercising So it I I just think it’s a really fascinating sort of area. But, no, thank you for that. I could ask I I could, like, literally, go on far by way anymore.

Sam Woodfield [00:22:40]:

Do you want some — Yeah. It’s a fascinating area. Yeah. So this one is a bit is a little bit close for for me. This was something that I’m still going through. So quick background, anyone that hasn’t listened, I lost my mother in 2015, took up cycling, basically became an exercise addict to cycling, stopped work, We came a full time cyclist athlete, whatever you want to call me.

Didn’t work, basically, until the back end of 2018, still took a part time job. then because I couldn’t get over to my son’s addiction, and it was basically locked down. So when the world all went into lockdown, that I’ve only just started returning to full time work, and then I went back to being a full time athlete for about 8 months.

So one thing I’ve always struggled with is going from, say, really consistent 16 to 22 hour training weeks because I was an endurance cyclist. pretty much knowing that I wake up at 8, go out on the road by 10. You know, my numbers are gonna be fairly full on. Now it’s oh, I don’t know whether I’m training. I’m definitely more inconsistent.

What protocols could you help with someone, like, deal with, like, a full time pro that’s coming down to an amateur, but still really wants to compete at that high level, like, high age group, like, Kona, for example, how how can you help them, like, cope with that reduced volume or time spent exercising adding on top that I had problems around food at the time as well.

Erin Ayala [00:24:17]:

Yeah. That’s oh, it’s such a loaded question. It’s, I think, And the reason I think it’s so loaded is because athletic identity is so tied up in it. And we know athletic identity is such a core piece of, like, who we all are as athletes. And so when you take away or you reduce the training, it threatens that part of your identity.

And then the athlete is gonna start to feel flustered, worried, anxious, depressed, if they’re not, like, adequately filling their bucket. Right? And so one of the things I always say is, like, think about, you know, as a athlete preparing for retirement or as a retired athlete, like, what are what are your values as an athlete? Who do you wanna be as an athlete or a person? How do you want your competitors, teammates, family members to describe you? What words would you want your coach or your physio to use when working with you, and then use that to kind of create your game plan for this next chapter.

And so, for example, if the athlete is always, like, let’s say, community is really important to them. Right? Like, they just love to give back to the community. They like coaching. They like being a part of it. Right? So then maybe it’s not that, you know, 16 to hours a week of training maybe now they’re coaching or they’re volunteering at races or they’re doing other things that can still feel their bucket to give them that sense of satisfaction and community and kinda, like, feed that part of their value system.

I think the other thing that’s important is just, like, this sense of helping them from the the physiological side of things understand, like, how can you make sure that you’re not you’re not setting yourself up for injury or burnout? because you can only maintain that 16 to 20 hours a week for so long before your body starts to rebel and work against you because like, it it’s just so much. Right?

And so so I think it’s trying to, like, help them revisit saying, what do you want this next chapter to look like? Like, what are your priorities? What are your long term goals? and then let’s create a plan that works with that. And I think there’s more research showing. You know, you can get a lot of bang for your buck with fewer hours depending on what types of events you want to do. Right?

Yep. And so you can still be a really competitive age group athlete And then also reminding them, especially if they’ve got a solid foundation where they were let’s say they were pro for 5 years, Like, that foundation isn’t going anywhere. And so they can build off of that. They still have all of that volume, all those miles or kilometers in their legs. And so they may not need as much training volume now that they did in the past when they were really building up to to get some really strong results.

Sam Woodfield [00:27:04]:

I might have heard that a few times before. Sound familiar? people don’t what more people don’t know about me is I was a I was a competitive swimmer from the age of six to my mom was a national swimmer here in the UK, and I started basically competing at swimming from 6 into that 16 where I transferred sports polo.

Actually, I just was meant to go to the States on the swimming scholarship, start, like, apart from about a 3 year stint, 4 year stint when I was at university at my 1st year outside, endurance sports always been in me. So, like, I’m now I’m 33 this year, and I I still find the transition to if I’m being honest, difficult. Mhmm. And Jenny will admit, and my friends are I’m only going out for 3 hours today, and I have this really poor perception of time. Like, I’m just in 3 hours today.

It’s only a 12 hour week. Like but now I forget, I don’t go home and just sit on my sofa and watch TV or do training plans for people and and it is something that I’m fully admit I really still struggle with. I feel like that you’ll get this others might not. I feel like I’m the Tom Brady that I keep coming back and, like, I just can’t step away. Yeah.

But Yeah. I do do a lot of the things that you suggest. That’s why I ran a team for a few years. I go back. I I still help out at races. I am a coach now as well. So, yeah, I I do all of that. But I have found the transition really difficult ad on the top an eating disorder. around the volume of training, I found it really difficult if I’m being honest. Yeah. One of my students did a dissertation

Erin Ayala [00:28:50]:

on athletic retirement of professional women’s basketball players. And — Right. — we’re writing it up for publication now. And and one of the things that she looked at was like, to what extent do basically looking at athletic retirement and psychological distress? And what are some of those factors that contribute to psychological cold distress when people are stepping back from the professional level. Right?

And it’s interesting because one of those things is having a sense of control over your decision. And so we know, like, if an athlete is selected out, that they’re gonna have more psychological stress because they’re just not seen as good enough or strong enough anymore. You know, they’re aging out. Or if an athlete has, like, a devastating career ending injury, they’re gonna have more psychological distress because they didn’t have control over their their decision.

And so one of the things I’ll say to athletes who are transitioning is saying, like, you want to have control over this decision. And so let’s do whatever you can to keep you healthy and strong but, like, keep revisiting this conversation so that you know when it’s time to take a step back so that that rug isn’t pulled out from under you. because that’s gonna be even more of a blow. Right? So it’s like keeping the conversation top of mind rather than being in denial and being, like, I’ll be a great athlete forever until I’m ninety. like, sure, you can be, but it’s gonna look a lot different than on your 33. Right? So —

Sam Woodfield [00:30:20]:

Yeah. I’m guessing that’s by the phrase. on your own terms comes from. You know, a lot of guys try and go out on their own term. You know, they’re not injured. They wanna select this is my end season, and I kinda set you know, I have got one goal left. I have got one goal left. I keep it to myself. I know I have said once that goal is achieve, I can step away. Mhmm. And I have said and I will stick to it.

A couple of people know it. there’s just one left. So we whether we get there, who knows. But and and talking of that, and I’ve spoken about this in the past with a couple of other people. obviously, being around endurance sports, I’ve done 24 hour challenges in a couple of different sports. So I I kind of understand it. It’s quite a deep question. is there a link between endurance athletes who do kind of more the ultra side or compete at a high level and basically depression is their language.

Erin Ayala [00:31:21]:

Mhmm. Yeah. There’s I’ve seen some qualitative studies on this. I have not seen quantitative. They might be out there. I’m curious if they are. And some of the qualitative research suggests yes, there is a link. But, again, it’s one of those things of, like, what comes first, the chicken or the egg. Right? Where — Right. — we we know that this physical activity is one of the best and most evidence based ways to treat depression.

Regular physical activity is hands down going to be really effective when it comes to reducing depression symptoms. And so people with depression who find exercise may be more likely to do endurance, ultra endurance, or get to a really high level because they know how important it is for them and for their mental health and well-being.

There’s also some qualitative research to suggest that people with a history of, like, trauma find their way to endurance sports because all of us who are endurance athletes know, like, there are some I call them the dark and stormy miles or in the UK, dark and stormy kilometers that show up in a race where you’re, like, turning yourself inside out and you’re questioning, like, why am I doing this to myself? I just wanna quit. and then you, like, find this inner strength and bring yourself out of it knowing that you are the only one who brought yourself out of it in that moment. Right?

And that whole process, I think, is really, really just, like there’s something really powerful to that for athletes that kinda keeps us coming back. So so I do anecdotally. I think that there is a link. I’ve also seen, you know, again, anecdotally people with the history of, like, substance use. who find their way to endurance sports and ultra endurance as a way to kind of maintain in the sense of identity and health and sobriety. which is also just really powerful. Like, endurance sports give us so much in terms of physical health, but also mental health for sure. So it’s fascinating.

Sam Woodfield [00:33:22]:

Over to you, Jen.

Jenny Tomei [00:33:24]:

That is really interesting. Sorry. I was just absorbing all of that. You also I just tell I I tend to process stuff slowly. Sorry. No. So you spoke about, also, you had sort of, you know, expertise of sort of, like, you know, talking how do you distinguish between something like burnout or depression?

Erin Ayala [00:33:50]:

Yeah. This is so important for athletes to know, I think, is understanding the how burnout shows up in athletes and then how depression shows up, and then understanding the overlap between these symptoms. Right. They can like, you can have both, but it’s so important to know, like, at what point do you need to get help because it’s no longer just a burnout issue.

So so when we think about athletic burnout, the the core issue is a lack of motivation. There are, like, 3 core symptoms of burnout, The first one is, like, this sense of emotional and physical exhaustion where you just, like you’re just super fatigued. You’re feeling really, really drained. You just don’t feel like you have anything else left in the tank. Nothing else to, like, give. Right? So just feeling like going out on a 3 hour ride is just, like, such a chore, and you can’t just motivate yourself to, like, get up and get ready and go. Right?

The second is this, like, reduced sense of accomplishment. where you feel like whatever you’re doing, you might be getting these really great power numbers on the bike or getting, like, consistent splits and your intervals and doing well, but you don’t feel that sense of satisfaction or pride that you normally would. or you feel like you’re just kind of, like, dismissing all of those accomplishments, and you just yeah. You don’t feel as satisfied. So it’s this reduced sense of accomplishment.

And then the third thing is, like, this, like, sport like, we call it, like, devaluation where, like, just being an athlete or the sport isn’t bringing you as much joy as it normally would, or you’re just not as interested in it as you normally would be. So you’re just not enjoying it. as much anymore. Right? And — Okay. — so the 3 kind of symptoms of burnout are ultimately a result of a lack of motivation We’re just not motivated to do these things anymore. We’re just not interested in them. And the research shows that there are There’s, like, lots of threes here.

There’s 3 symptoms to burn out, but then there are 3 main ingredients to motivation. So the the cure for burnout or the way to treat burnout is to basically increase the motivation for an athlete. And the way to do that is three thing. It’s threefold.

The first one is to give them a sense of autonomy or a choice with their training and their competition, their schedule, their routine. And often, it’s the choice to take a break and just to, like, take a step back and kind of mix things up or change things up because the routine in their schedule just isn’t bringing them joy anymore. So having a sense of autonomy is really important.

And so if you think of training environments, the athletes who have no choice in the matter, where they’re given their training schedule and their their competition schedule, no questions asked, that can be really that can really hurt their motivation. because they’re not necessarily doing what they want anymore. And the best coaches are gonna be the ones who know, like, what their athletes really like And they’ll even if it’s not ideal for their training, we’ll plug it into their training plan to keep that motivation high. Right? it might be like, we know group rides for cyclists are not the best when it comes to building fitness. They’re good. It’s a good foundation.

Right? But, like, you’re not gonna get as much bang for your buck because you’re kind of all over the place with your zones. It’s not structured intervals. It’s not study zone 2, but a good coach knows if they have an athlete who loves those group rides and they love that community will give the athlete group rides in their training plan to keep that motivation high. Right?

So the second ingredient is a sense of belonging or relatedness. being a part of the community. And so athletes who are burnt out are often feeling more isolated or they’re not feeling as in touch with their community as they might only be. And so the trick, again, to increase the motivation is to get them back involved with their team, their teammates, community members to so they feel a sense of belonging again. So, like, privateers or individual athletes tend to get out more easily because they don’t have that sense of relatedness or belonging that someone in, like, a really stronger cohesive team might have. which, again, hurts the motivation.

And then the 3rd ingredient that can help with burnout is feeling a sense of competence So feeling like they’re good at what they do, being able to see progress and getting feedback from their coach regularly, being like, hey. See how you approach this interval. Look at your cadence here, your power numbers. How you handled this was really, really good. Or I like how how quickly you recovered with your heart rate right here. This show it’s a good time of fitness. Right?

That type of feedback is gonna be helpful for the athlete with competence. So burnout, ultimately, a motivation problem, and the way to address the burnout is to help provide a sense of autonomy, sense of belonging, and then a sense of competence. Right? Any questions on that before I flip to the depression side of things?

Jenny Tomei [00:39:13]:

No. I feel like you explained that, like, really well.

Sam Woodfield [00:39:16]:

I I did have a good session on a Thursday that I used to love. And it was no good it was probably a little bit too fatiguing for my race on a Sunday, but I stuck with it for about 3 years. because I it just hit all the boxes that I needed to feel like I needed to hit before or something. But it was too fatigue. It realistically, it was probably a little bit too much. But we know it put me in the head space. Right. So it makes me upset.

Erin Ayala [00:39:45]:

Yeah. And so, like, the best coaches are gonna be able to find that compromise for their athletes knowing, like, okay. This, you know, you know, this isn’t gonna give her a whole lot, but I’m gonna give it to her anyway. I know it it makes her happy and it fills her bucket.

Right? So some coaches will talk about, like, happiness Watts is, you know, go up for 2 hours, do whatever you want. My coach does a really nice job, especially, like, in the winter or as we’re getting toward end of the season when he knows I start to get burnt out is being, like, he’ll be, like, 2 to 3 hours endurance. If you wanna hike, then hike. If you wanna snowshoe, then snowshoe. If you wanna do the trainer inside, you can. If you wanna do gravel ride, go for it.

He’s basically, like, do any sort of movements to to make yourself happy. Right? And so that’s something that’s really helpful with the burnout side of things. So So with depression, this is where it gets tricky, is a lack of motivation is a symptom of depression. So you can totally have overlap between burnout and depression.

The issue is motivate burnout is a motivation issue. Depression is more of a, like like, biological, psychological, like, neurological brain chemistry issue. Right? And, obviously, there’s a lot. It’s not just brain chemistry. Like, it’s It’s a lot of different things that contribute to depression. 1 of the main symptoms is a lack of motivation, and it shows up in athletes, like, not feeling like going getting their workouts done, not getting excited about races or events anymore. The sport just isn’t bringing them joy anymore. So if that is happening to an athlete, it’s like, okay. This could totally be a burnout motivation thing. So what I always say is, treat the treat the lack of motivation as you would burn out.

And then if things still aren’t changing, it could be more serious where it is a depression side of things. So how depression shows up for athletes, it’s it’s like feelings of sadness or tearfulness or emptiness where, like, they might have they might just feel like a sense of hopelessness or even, like like, random crying spells. where they’re like, I don’t know why I’m crying right now.

Like, this is so weird for me, right, where they’re just, like, more tearful So that’s a symptom of depression where you’re not gonna find that for burnout. Another thing that is a really big red flag for depression that we don’t see for burnout is, like, irritability and — Yeah. — a sense of frustration over the littlest things. Like, let’s say you forget like, you bring the raw your spouse is helping you at a race, and they bring the wrong flavor of hydration mix. and you’re like, no. That’s not what I want, and it, like, totally throws off your race. Right? That could be an example of the irritability where, like, the littlest things start to kind of pick away at you, that’s not gonna be a burnout thing.

That’s more of a depression thing where there’s, like, this kind of, like, inner rumbling inside. and this inner dissatisfaction where, like or an example that I have seen, I’ve also experienced this where like, you’re just not feeling motivated to get on the bike or the trainer.

You finally get your butt. For me, it’s like my butt in the basement and Minnesota. And the weather is cold, and it’s dark and dreary. And and then you like, I get on the bike. I get my Zwift set up my workout, and then my I can’t find my heart rate monitor. And I’m like, oh, f it. Like, I’m not gonna do my workout. Right? where it’s, like, one little thing where, like, the heart rate monitor is dead. And you’re like, well, I guess I can’t do my workout anymore. Like, when those little things start to eat away, it can be more of a depression issue and less of a burnout issue.

Another thing is, like, sleep disturbances. or, like, eating disturbances that have led to, like, unintentional weight gain, unintentional weight loss, unintentionally sleeping 10, 11 hours a day or unintentionally sleeping, like, 5 or 6 because you just can’t get your body to, like, wind down.

So that’s more of a depression thing. Whereas with burnout, you’re your sleep and your appetite is gonna be relatively stable. And then I think some other things that you see with depression is this, like, slowed thinking just more like blah. Like, you’re just you don’t feel like you’re firing on all cylinders, and it’s coming across in multiple areas of life where it might show up at work, with family, with social relationships, and in sport. whereas with burnout, it’s gonna be more specific to sport.

And then I guess the final thing I’d say, which is probably obvious for most people. It’s like a a feel any sort of feeling of suicidal ideation or feeling like I just don’t belong here anymore. It’s not worth it. I’m a burden. I’d be better off dead. Like, those more severe symptoms are very much coming from depression and not burnout. So, yeah, very loaded issue.

Jenny Tomei [00:45:12]:

Yeah. Yeah. No. Thank you for distinguishing that because I think that’s really important to be able to distinguish between those 2. I don’t think it’s talked about a lot, So I’m really glad we covered it and spoke about it. Yeah. And I just wanna say, like, what yeah. Thank you so much for that. It was really interesting. Just wanna say, like, what you mentioned about because I used to I was never a highest level athlete as the sound was. I I wanted to be But, unfortunately, I I couldn’t because I became, like, really ill with anorexia, and then that sort of took over.

But I did run, I can say, I can say to myself that at least I did run for for Kent County. So I did do that. I did do Cross Country, Kent County. But it was for a short period of time. And then, obviously, that’s why I was interested in the adrenaline and the burnout because that’s what I did to myself. And I’m certainly taking the approach now because I’m obviously older now. I’m mostly 33 now. So I’m certainly taking the approach of, like, doing more quality sessions now over just, like, doing too much, like, strenuous activity now because I just can see that my body is just not, like, just doesn’t wanna do that anymore or go back to that.

Well, I just sense it. So I’m trying to deal what you said about, like, focusing on, like, just more quality rather than quantity. And I think that’s important for us as we get older.

Erin Ayala [00:46:38]:

And I think just, like, mixing it up, You know? Yeah. Yeah. I think being able to try, like, try strength training. Try, you know, try yoga. Try CrossFit. Try try bar or pilates classes. Right? Like, any sort of movement is good movement. And I think sometimes we get so stuck especially as endurance athletes on, like, the cardio, but there’s so much to say for other types of exercise and activity.

And so I think that’s also a helpful way to get this, like, newfound appreciation. And and one thing we know too with, like, the competence piece of motivation is that means you wanna see progress And so when we have athletes who plateau, they start to lose their motivation because they’re not seeing that progress. New sports you progress really quickly. And so when you try a new activity or a new sport just because you’re a beginner, you’re gonna get bet pretty quickly. And so that can also be a really nice boost to your ego, and that can help with the motivation as well.

Jenny Tomei [00:47:38]:

Right. Yeah. Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. Yeah. Now thank you so thank you so much for that. Like, Sam, is there anything else that you’d like to ask before we finish up? Or —

Sam Woodfield [00:47:50]:

Yeah. It’s just one question, and this is it. Are you a massive believer, and I’ll use both brands in the Wahoo and the Garmin effect on physical performance? I don’t know exactly what I mean by that. Do you think it slows people down?

Erin Ayala [00:48:08]:

Yes and no. So I think it’s, like, it is a double edge sword. As a psychologist, I always say it depends. Right? So — Yeah. — I think if we fixate too much on the power numbers or the heart rate, we can totally become our own worst enemy because we’re giving ourselves this, like, false ceiling.

Yeah. Because we mentally say, like, oh, this is my threshold or this is my max, I can’t go any higher. Right? Yeah. That being said, I’ve I have gotten like, I think about my my, like, 20 minute max or 10 minute max that I’ve gotten. I I think of this, I had a virtual race. This was a couple years ago. And I wish I could recreate the scenario, but now I can’t because I know what happened, where I was it was a virtual race. on it was it wasn’t Zwift. It was RGT platform for erasing. I had the GPS file of the course, so you had the elevation as if it was an actual time trial.

My court, my coach gave me my power numbers for my dissents and the climbs, and I knew exactly what I was gonna try to hit order to reach I think it was 45 minutes was kind of my goal time in order to beat the person I wanted to beat.

And what happened is RGT was reading the power and power meter from my crank or vice versa. It was reading the power number from my crank, and then I had my bike computer, my Wahoo u my head unit, in front of me so that I could see what my power numbers were, and it was reading it from a different power meter from my Direct Drive trainer. the power really different. And I was like, why is this hurting so much? Like, I need to hit this number And I was so fixated on the power number, not realizing that it was reading from the wrong power meter, and I blew my FTP tower number out of the water because I was so determined to hit that number because I knew I should be able to. Right?

So that was the case where my Wahoo head unit actually helped me because it was giving me the wrong numbers. So, yeah, so I say, like, you it’s it’s one tool. Right? And so be careful with the numbers. listen to them for sure. They can give you really, really important information, but, like, don’t let them be the end all be all because, again, it’s one piece of the puzzle.

Sam Woodfield [00:50:32]:

So Yeah. No. I’m I’m just moving into time trialing world. So it gets very addictive to just stare at that screen on the on the on the road, and I know I know I know I know all time bests, and I know roughly. And I know some days it will it has slowed me down. I know that. Mhmm. Or you hold back in a bunch race anyway.

Erin Ayala [00:50:56]:

Yeah. So And that’s it too. It can hold you accountable if start to in the middle of a time trial, especially, like, a 45 minute effort, like, where you start to get comfortable in the middle of the time trial, like, the Wahoo or the Garmin head unit, can hold you accountable and being like, my number’s dropping. Like, I need to push harder. Right? So I think it really just depends on your relief those numbers.

Sam Woodfield [00:51:18]:

Yeah. I used to do 60 minute tests for threshold. And between 30:45, you could just see This is feeling okay, but I’d lose, like, 20 watts in between that period of time. There was, like, Maybe because this wouldn’t engage for that period is a long time to do a test as well. Yep.

Erin Ayala [00:51:39]:

So — Yep. I will see the same thing for runners and runners. Yeah. where it’s like, they’ll paddle in the middle, and then we get like, we light a fire under our butt toward the end, and we’re like, okay. Finish this damn thing. Like, let’s just do it. Right? So Yeah. That’s where Saturday was for me.

Sam Woodfield [00:51:54]:

Right. I think that’s about just covered off for today. I’m just fascinated by all, and, yeah, we could turn this into a 4 hour podcast and and go into so much detail and and and that thing, you know, I’m someone that has openly admitted that I have suffered with depression and burnout, and everything else associated with endurance sports.

However, I I am still hacking away somehow. and I have got some big challenges on on the horizon still. We didn’t cover off the 25 hour challenge that I did last year that I did want to talk about, but maybe you’ll come back on air, and and we can discuss discuss burnout from large challenges. I know you’ve just done unbounded 200. Congratulations on that. That sounded a a a good result in well, just to finish from what I sound a bit. It sounded finishing it was pretty good considering the dropout ratios, I’ve seen. So — Mhmm. — many congratulations are does that mean you can go to the gravel world in Italy?

Erin Ayala [00:53:02]:

Oh, I should add that to my list. Yeah. That sounds fun. Yeah. I have I’ll I’ll need to think about my next. I’m doing more gravel, so I’d love start traveling more, it would be fun.

Sam Woodfield [00:53:14]:

I know there’s a couple of lads from the UK that are racing in different, like, privateers or their own teams and But I think to do the UCI gravel worlds like age group, you have to do a UCI gravel race but I don’t know where one of those in the States or Canada is. I know there was one in Canada.

Erin Ayala [00:53:32]:

Yeah. I think USA cycling announced they have a gravel think it’s a gravel national championships this year, but I’m not I I’m actually not sure when it is or where it is. So — I’ll probably put you straight to the

Sam Woodfield [00:53:44]:

So, yeah, so good luck in that. I have got unbound if I finally get to gravel bike on the horizon and Ram but I’m not allowed to discuss Ram publicly because it brings up a lot of different conversations. But, yeah, RAM will at some point be a be a bucket list, and I’m sure we’ll have to have a chat.

So just wanna say a huge thank you to Erin for coming on today and discussing all the different topics and deep dives topics and some fairly sensitive topics as well. Please remember, guys, if you do need to reach out and speak to anyone about any of those things, especially if you are feeling really low, and your training’s getting too much, you can speak to any of us about that. I cannot offer any help. I can just listen. Okay, guys? and I can force you into the direction of some fully qualified people.

There’s Jenny. There’s Aaron. Obviously, let’s cover off and make sure regarding the US and the UK qualifications cover off on on that. But we can get that all sorted. Jenny and I know enough people in the UK and, obviously, you know, if we’d like to chat fair and we can put you in contact.

But please do reach out guys. Talking does help.

Don’t suffer in silence. Okay. And anything eating disorder related, nutrition related, pitch any up. I just know coffee, and I know a little bit about bikes. So I can’t answer any of your questions as much as I’d like to. I’ll always send you in the direction of Jenny and Jenna So, finally, thank you to Summit D3 for sponsoring this podcast.

And if you’d like to purchase any of their supplements please use Ask Jen Up. That’s all in capitals as the discount code when you come to check out. All the details for their vitamins and their website will be in the show notes down below. Thank you ever so much for listening to the general podcast today. It’s been a bit more of a serious one. So we’re finishing on a serious time for change. You’ve had Jenny Jenny Smith as the main host. You’ve had me, Sam Woodfield, as the cohost.

You can find out any more information at facebook and instagram at ask Jen Up. or over on Jenny’s website, If you visit the website, you’ll find lots of different resources available there. Please, guys, like, subscribe, share, download, do everything you can. Erin, what are your social media handles for people to look up anything about you.

Erin Ayala [00:56:21]:

Mhmm. Yep. You can find my personal social media is Instagram. It’s Erin, e ialla. It’s erineayala. And then I just started my own private practice in sports psychology where I can do performance psychology anywhere in the world, and then mental health counseling in 35 States in the US, and that’s Scotty, sports psychology. So it’s skadi, Sport Singular, sportpsychology, psycholog y. Lots of lots of letters

Sam Woodfield [00:57:01]:

for So Scotty’s point psychology, and then I’ll send it to you so you guys can put it in the show notes. That’s yeah. We’ll put that all in the show notes. That’s brilliant that you can work worldwide. I know with Collect Colette was slightly limited. Probably she can work. That’s enough for me. I need to go and coach some cyclists for the rest of the day. and, yes, and try and recover and try and get my mental head around 4 minute efforts tomorrow. Again, which I have failed for the last 3 weeks. May I add to everyone?

Erin Ayala [00:57:33]:

Oh, gosh. Take the pressure off of yourself. The more fun you’ll have, the better you’ll do.

Jenny Tomei [00:57:37]:

Oh, thank you so much for saying that. Mhmm. Yeah.

Sam Woodfield [00:57:45]:

Bye for you, guys. Thank you very much.

Jenny Tomei [00:57:49]:

Thank you. Bye, guys.

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