This is something that most triathletes deal with, but not one that a lot of people talk about.
The cause of post-race blues can be attributed to the neuropsychological processes occurring in your brain when you stop exercising so frequently. When you swim, bike or run, your brain releases very powerful chemicals called serotonin and norepinephrine. When you workout frequently – as you would training for a triathlon – your brain becomes accustomed to increased levels of these neurotransmitters.
Low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine are the cause of depression. When you stop training after your last race of the season, or even post big race, your brain will stop receiving these chemicals. This causes a depression-like state, aka the post-race blues.
Additionally, when exercising, our bodies produce further neurotransmitters called endorphins. These are responsible for the euphoria you experience when exercising. Just as with serotonin and norepinephrine, when you stop exercising frequently your brain no longer receives these ‘feel good’ chemicals.
So if this is our brain and minds’ normal response to the culmination of our training and racing season, what can we do about it? Here are the dos and don’ts…
1. Don’t run to the fatty foods you’ve been avoiding during your training. The problem is that the chemicals in fatty foods will only serve to increase your feeling of the blues.
2. Don’t drink alcohol frequently or excessively. Celebrate with a beer but try not to drink
too much or too often. Like fatty foods, the chemicals in alcohol may improve your mood for the moment, but will make the blues worse in the long run.
3. Do exercise regularly. Help your brain get the neurochemicals it’s used to by exercising regularly but not vigorously. Obviously your body needs a break, so pick exercises that will be easy on you and do them lightly.
4. Do reflect on and celebrate your accomplishments. This’ll help improve your mood, and will help remind you why you train so hard in the first place.
5. Do catch up on missed time with loved ones. Bonding with other people releases similar neurochemicals that can help replace the ones you’re missing out on by not exercising as much.
Matthew Tatum is a clinical psychologist and a keen triathlete (www.mentalendurancecoaching.com)