How do you know? Is it something you can quantify? Does it even matter?
There is a huge disparity right now between how athletes perceive their health and how healthy they really are. There are a lot mechanisms at work here that twist the logic of what healthy really is.
We are in this sport for many reasons;
Could be to tick a box.
Race the best in the world.
Or to just live a better life through choosing a healthy sport to pursue.
And whatever the reason, we are driven by the need to fulfil those desires. But that determination can override our common-sense and perception resulting in a convoluted thought process: thinking that you are living the healthy life, when in fact, you are not.
Your health is not determined by how hard you can train, or how fast you race or how may times you get to Kona, BUT your ability to race hard, train like a demon and punch tickets IS directly and consequently influenced by your health.
So what is a healthy triathlete?
Health can be defined as: The state of the organism (YOU) when it functions optimally without evidence of disease or abnormality.
So if you are the organism, you are only healthy if you are fully functioning.
In fact the word “health” evolved from the word “hale” which simply means “wholeness, being whole, sound or well”. So if you are healthy, then all aspects of you is healthy, not just some aspects of you that pertain to a particular sport. This requires a balance of your system, which is directly influenced by how well you look after you.
What I really mean here is that you can be fast, lean and fit but unhealthy. These are only parts of a bigger picture and by ignoring the remaining pieces, you are certainly not ‘whole’. How many athletes do you know who can race well but suffer from injury or illness every year?
I hate to break it to ya but getting injured or being sick is not normal. It’s not cool and shouldn’t be accepted as the norm for this sport, or any other. Being an endurance athlete does not mean you have to live on the knife edge of a bullet riddled immune system.
Who says you can’t be in exceptional shape with a super strong immune system? Why is this dogma believed? Is it because the foods we have been told to consume are in fact the ones creating the problems and loosely held together immune system?
Being fast, lean and incredibly fit are important to triathlon, but are they more important than optimal sleep, real nutrition, balanced mental state?
No and nor are those aspect more important than being fit, lean and fast. It is the complete athlete that has all of these things working for them.
You see it is the big picture that athletes are forgetting.
Your health is who you are – not just a few aspects that suit your sport.
Long term consistency, longevity come when the organism is fully functioning. You have to be complete in all aspects to be truly healthy. This can be hard in a society that appears to promote health, but in realty is working directly against health (if you doubt this statement, please just turn your TV on and tell me how many fast food / pharmaceutical/ fitness magic-pill commercials you see).
But so what, you say? I can still race and train hard and in doing so completely justify eating crap food, drinking too much and not resting my body.
And sure, you can. You might get away with it for a little while, but ultimately that attitude towards mediocrity is really going to come back and bite you in the arse. Justifying poor health standards by competing in a sport which promotes health is the ultimate contradiction. Trashing your body and then expecting to perform at high standards makes no sense.
You can directly improve your performance, reduce the severity of chronic injuries and generally be more awesome by taking action that favours your healthy and well-being.
It isn’t really that hard. All it takes is a mental adjustment to recognise that your health is more than turning up to a race, or logging hours in training.
Your health is who you are – it is how you train, how you recover, how you eat and how you rest. It is your mental approach to what you do and how you do it. There aren’t any exceptions here and it should be something that all athletes should strive for; the bigger picture.
You have to make the right choices. You have to truly acknowledge what you are doing and how you really are (not just convince yourself that you are ok). You can only pretend for so long until your health (you) begins to show you otherwise.
You can train like a demon and ignore the nutrition, sleep, recovery ad mental balance but eventually the cracks will appear. You can burn the candle at both ends and it might last even a little while.
But not without some eventual and needless suffering.
It is a conscious decision to train well, eat well, sleep well and rest well.
Nobody but you can make that choice and blaming external circumstances for it is just an attitude that promotes mediocrity. Arm yourself with the right tools: eat real food, not processed shit (not even at races), put the iPad away, turn the TV off and go to bed early, finish a session and get your nutrition in.
Be the healthy athlete who takes responsibility for what they do.