The OWC Prescription for Post-Endurance Sports Season Blues

For many of you, the Chicago Triathlon or Chicago Marathon was the culmination of an endurance sports season that began back in March or April. And while you’re probably still doing “semi-regular” runs, rides, and/or swims, I’ll bet you’ve noticed your motivation levels plummeting over the past couple of weeks. I can’t blame you, either. After all, it’s hard to muster the energy to stay active when:

– It’s cold outside
– There is far less sunlight in the mornings and early evenings
– There are fewer groups doing organized practices (or they’ve disbanded for the season)
– There are fewer events being held altogether
– You’re exhausted from grinding your body down for the better part of the last six months

Bottom line, you’re in a funk. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, you’re in a very vulnerable state at the moment that could easily transition (pun intended) into an unhealthy lifestyle. So here’s my take on what you need to do to stave off the “black dog” of the off-season:

1) Optimize your sleep cycles

Get to bed before 10:00pm and try to get a full 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. During the deeper stages of sleep, your body releases growth hormones and repairs damaged tissues. And the REM stage is essential for bolstering your learning, memory, and cognition.


What many people don’t realize is that these stages repeat during the night and increase in duration each time. So if you deprive yourself of a full night’s sleep or interrupt your sleep in any way, you will be depriving yourself of these essential restorative functions. Also, don’t stay out too late or sleep in too much on the weekends. This disrupts your circadian rhythms, and you end up in an unhealthy scenario where your body is constantly trying to re-adjust to an interrupted sleep pattern.

2) Get the right light exposure

If you are a typical urban dweller, your current environment actually “miscalibrates” your brain. You spend your work day being exposed to artificial florescent lighting only to flood your senses with the more natural incandescent lighting during the evenings. This directly contradicts how nature has wired you. You should instead be exposing yourself to more natural, full-spectrum light sources during the day and killing all the lights just past sundown.

I recommend you get outside during the day as much as possible to take advantage of the limited sunlight. If you work in a windowless office with only florescent lighting, invest in some full-spectrum light bulbs or a natural spectrum light therapy lamp. You should also have one at home that you can switch on right after you wake up. This will really take the edge off of a cold, dark morning!

3) Eat primal

Stay away from the game day spreads and as well as most of the holiday fare. All those chips, dips, crackers, cookies, cakes, pastas, and “finger foods” are hands down some of the worst foods you can eat.


Instead, zero in on more natural state foods such as lean source proteins – especially fish, poultry, and meat – as well as more “wet carbs” like fresh fruits and vegetables. And watch out for foods and beverages that contain high fructose corn syrup like soda and most sweetened items.

4) Do power law workouts

Step up your strength training – especially if you have been forgoing that in favor of more cardio. All that heavy endurance training has just made you one big lump of inflammation. Do your body and mind a big favor and engage in exercise routines or sports that involve omni-directional short burst, higher intensity movements.


5) Take a fish oil supplement

Most of the fish and practically all of the meat and poultry that you consume is derived from farms or hatcheries that predominately use grains as a way of “fattening up” their livestock. In other words, these animal protein sources are no longer directly or indirectly deriving their nutrients from leafy plants or algae – something which is necessary for the formation of the essential Omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).


Chronically low EPA levels can cause sleep dysfunctions and have been linked to bipolar and depressive mood disorders. So get yourself a quality fish oil supplement and make it a habit to take it every day. Besides improving your mood, these supplements will reduce your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels as well as your overall systemic inflammation. Not bad for single supplement.

6) Step up your play time in group settings

Human beings are social animals, and interacting with others in a “game” environment mimics the types of interactions that early humans would engage in on a continual basis. When you do mostly “solo” workouts, you tend to ruminate on things a lot more, and you can ironically put yourself in a worse state of mind than not exercising at all.


Now is the time to explore indoor physical and recreational activities that are healthy, social, and positive. Join a fitness-related group such as a sports league or a swimming club. Or take a class that forces you to be social and interactive such as a dance class or a foreign language class. But stay away from holiday or sports events that involve loud and smoky environments accompanied by booze, soda, and greasy appetizers. That’s about as toxic as it gets.

7) Get out in the cold

The human body is designed to be in the elements and to interact with nature all year round. And colder temperatures appear to be neuroprotective – i.e. they activate specific areas of the brain that appear to be involved with the regulation of positive mood in humans.

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And this makes sense. If human beings evolved by constantly adapting to various temperature ranges, any unnaturally ambient (read artificial) environments could create a sense of restlessness since we are accustomed to a dynamic versus a static environment.

So there you have it. The key to taking the edge off of the post-season blues is to get back to the basic things that optimize human health to begin with – namely, engaging in consumption and activity patterns that result in positive gene expression.

And did I mention cold water swimming?


  1. Chris Hernan
    October 24, 2009

    Hey bro, interesting reminder on taking those fish oil supplements….”Chronically low EPA levels can cause sleep dysfunctions and have been linked to bipolar and depressive mood disorders”…..gonna pass this information to that gal who sits near my cubicle” 😉

    • srhernan
      October 25, 2009

      Great idea – any port in the storm at this point!

  2. Michelle
    October 22, 2009

    Hi Steve, just wanted to say thanks for this blog entry about keeping motivated in the off months. I’m still just a lurker on the site but will gather my courage one day to join you for a swim at Ladder One. Maybe not until way after spring thaw, though….

    • srhernan
      October 22, 2009

      Hi Michelle. You’re welcome! For me, the biggest challenge this time of year is always the diminished sunlight. I bought that Verilux lamp two years ago, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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