Champion rower learns impact of metabolism on her athletic performance

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 11:25 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 14 at 11:27 AM

Your metabolism can help you lose weight, but you need to maintain it correctly. That's what champion rower Jill Gardner learned after years of strict diet and exercise with little results.

As it turned out, she needed to eat more. Gardner learned by slashing calories, she was actually under-fueling and over-training. Dr. Emily Cooper, founder and Director of Seattle Performance Medicine and author of "The Metabolic Storm: The science of your metabolism and why it's making you fat," treated Gardner. Dr. Cooper explains how Gardner got back on track by training less and eating more.

When Jill first came to you, did you think her condition was unusual?

No, quite the contrary! I’ve seen this over-training syndrome happen with many of the athletes I work with. Here she was thinking she was doing the right thing by cutting out carbs, eating less and following the Paleo diet. But the harder she tried, the harder it was for her to make the weight limits for her sport. Her performance wasn’t improving and she wasn’t recovering well after workouts. She didn't know what to do.

Where do you start when you see a patient like this? 

Blood work comes first. Her lab tests showed a few things. First, she was in diet fog, so we had to wait and to see the full picture until after that lifted. But I could see that her body wasn’t recovering properly from her stressful workouts. She pushed herself so hard without enough fuel or rest. And she also had the complex problem of what we call the “selfish brain”. That’s what happens when the brain takes most of the glucose needed to fuel the whole the body just for itself. What results is a glitch in the system that causes the fasting glucose levels to elevate abnormally. The brain gets to function, which is good, but it’s at the cost of the rest of the body. This is not good for an athlete who wants to go faster!  Her body started to hold on to extra fat for protection and pushed her into pre-diabetes!

What did she do to reverse all this selfishness?

She had to work on her nutrition...eating a lot more. Eating more carbs, and fueling her workouts really well. She truly had to take recovery days which is so difficult for competitive athlete and she had to figure out how to have quality workouts instead of just longer workouts all the time.

So, she had to eat more and exercise smarter to become a faster rower?

I know it sounds bizarre, but yes! She now eats more than her 6 foot tall husband (who she used to think ate a lot), and she’s eating more carbs than ever! No more paleo. Combining that with making her training smarter has made her performance improve dramatically. Her weight is much more stable and she’s not holding on to extra fat.

She succeeded not only in her age group, but also against much younger women. She broke the world record for the 500 meter indoor rowing and just last week she broke another record, the 1000 meter indoor rowing.

It’s amazing. At an age when most athletes fade out, Jill is reaching a higher level of performance. Her metabolism and glucose levels have improved so much, but we still need to monitor this and make sure that she continues to match her intake with her workouts. I think her dedication is so inspiring!

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