The Need for Athletic Wellness

Most athletes, both recreational and competitive, tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to their training plans. We look at our physical workouts, our calories in, our macro splits, and sometimes even precise attention to various supplements we feel will benefit our performance. And while all of these are factors in reaching our ultimate athletic goals, we're truly missing some of the foundations that build a well-rounded and successful athlete.

As female athletes, there are a number of obstacles that we encounter that block our paths. Often it's injury or illness, but it could also be different seasons of our lives. Pregnancy, childbirth, our parenting years, and perimenopause to name a few.

We have been taken out of the game. When this happens, we immediately grow anxious about how the lack of access to our scheduled training plan is going to affect our pre-planned path. How can we ever step into the athlete we want to be if we can't work out? How long are we going to be in this tie-up space and what adjustments to our nutrition plan should we make?

We often feel that these obstacles limit access to our resources for wellness and there is a weight that’s settling in with our unknowing of when we can return.

Sometimes we're given a return-to-play date - six weeks, three months, as tolerated - but these are all estimates at best. We know that life doesn't always adhere to the dates that we plan out. As athletes, what are we to do to ensure that we continue our athletic training during this time?

Secondly, we also need to start anticipating these obstacles and get ahead of the what-ifs before they occur. How can we bring in prevention measures while still maintaining our focus on our athletic performance goals?

The first thing that we need to shift is our mindset.

Regardless of the driving factor, female athletes need to expand beyond the traditional performance mindset and training that we're used to, and start bringing in a more holistic approach to their training plan. We need to focus on developing our athletic wellness as holistic-minded athletes and get out of the tunnel vision that is only sports-specific training.

What’s that, you ask?

Athletic wellness is a term that I’ve coined to address all of the aspects of health that an athlete should consider. It goes beyond our physical preparedness to include nutritional, mental health, lifestyle, and societal considerations. When our athletic wellness is balanced, then we can achieve top performance. 

There are a lot of reasons why having a solid foundation of athletic wellness can benefit us as athletes:

  • Injury prevention & rehabilitation
  • Training shifts between seasons
  • Supporting the hybrid athlete
  • Fear of deconditioning
  • Fear of missing out on peak performance 
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, frustrated, and lethargic
  • Making poor nutrition choices, partly because of miseducation

That’s a lot, but those stressors and fears don’t have to mean that we fall completely out of our training plans. Instead, we need to look at what we do have, what changes we can make, and shift our goals to better fit this period of our training we're currently in. 

Good training plans are based on a periodization schedule, and the foundations of athletic wellness fit nicely in the maintenance phase of training. What we know in sports medicine is that all healthy and successful athletes have a maintenance plan - in-season, out-of-season, and during times of injury and recovery.

Sometimes the maintenance plan is the only piece of our training that we're focusing on because, like everything else, many of us are overdue for a down phase of training. 

So, what are the different components of athletic wellness, and how do they factor into our development as a successful female athlete?


First, our physical training is often step one in our athletic development. All of us, regardless of sport or level of competition, have a sports-specific focus that we spend most of our time perfecting. But this is not enough. Only focusing on our sports-specific training create deficits and imbalances that eventually lead to pain and injury, so we need to consider some other pieces of physical training that will enhance what we're doing during our core training times. 

  • Mobility: Mobility has received a lot of attention in the past few years, but let’s be honest, most of us don’t give it the attention needed. Mobility goes way beyond foam rolling and band stretching. It’s about moving your body through more natural ranges of motion and progressively returning, increasing the ways a joint can move. There are a lot of programs out there that focus on this area - Nutritious MovementGMB FitnessThe Ready State, and you can find some videos on the She Moves YouTube channel.
  • Corrective Exercise: There’s a good chance that you have pain, injury, or functional condition (incontinence, prolapse, diastasis recti) that you’ve been ignoring a bit to allow for continued training. Why not tackle this setback before if puts you on the bench? Incorporating corrective exercises that balance the repetitive movements that you use in your sport can help make you stronger overall, and prevent those nagging injuries that many of us experience. You might consider consulting with a physical therapist, athletic trainer, or other movement specialists to design a program that best supports your goals. This is a service that I can help you with as well. We can talk about what’s going on and figure out your best plan of action, including recommendations for healthcare providers.
  • Core and Pelvic Floor: This is a big one for all women - Youth through Masters levels. It's a myth that you have to have experienced a vaginal birth to have concerns with pelvic floor function. We've seen girls as young a 7-years-old struggle with incontinence from engaging in high-impact sports, such as gymnastics, dance, and cheerleading. Even if you’re not experiencing major issues with core dysfunction, as female athletes, we can always give our cores and pelvic floors a little love. I’m not talking about major Ab Blasting, but rather ensuring that we maintain core function and learn to control the internal abdominal pressure that can lead to more concerning pain and functional conditions. 
  • Cardio: If you’re a strength athlete, then there’s a good chance your cardiovascular training could use a bit of help. Lately, we’ve been told that cardio training isn’t the best training for women, especially if you’re in the perimenopause plus years. And while it’s true that strength training is vital for us, we can’t ignore cardio training totally. Bringing in some focused cardio workouts - online option, running, walking, hiking, and home equipment - is a great option right now if you can’t access weights. Even quick HIIT or Tabata workouts can increase your VO2Max and that will lead to improved strength performance as well.
  • Cycle: One thing that many female athletes don't realize is how much our menstrual cycles can actually act as an ergogenic aid for our sports goals. Our training and nutritional needs, as well as our mental state, change throughout the month depending on what our hormones are doing. Knowing what your body is doing can be a game-changer to understanding what do off the field in order to increase performance on it. The first step is to start tracking your cycle - on paper or an app. After a few months, you can start looking at the patterns that are showing up, and really dialing down your training and nutrition plan, as well as competition schedule, to align with what your body is asking for on any given day.

Finally, you don't need a membership to a gym to incorporate these suggestions for physical wellness into your training plan as there’s a good chance that you have access to most of what you need to maintain it at home. Many of us have collected at least some amount of at-home fitness equipment, but even if you haven’t you do have items that make great substitutions. Stairs can be used for springs, dips, step-ups, and pushups. Paper plates on carpets or towels on floors add a new level of challenge to exercises like lunges, mountain climbers, planks, and more. A 2x4 makes a great balance beam and can be laid across a few chairs for agility, balance, and mobility work. If nothing else, there are many online classes on sites like YouTube, and many are free.

Take stock of what you have access to:

  • Bands
  • Dumbbells
  • Cardio equipment (dust it off)
  • Your Body (bodyweight workouts can be extremely effective)
  • Pillows, chairs, 2x4s, stairs, string, bottles, cans, etc.
  • Garden rocks and stones
  • Doorway pullup bars
  • Paper plates. Towels.
  • Trails and roads
  • Bike, kayak, SUP
  • Online classes
  • What else? Get creative!


We can’t talk about shifting our training focus without also touching on shifting our nutritional plan. The fact is that you don't need any fancy or restrictive diets to adhere to for most of your training. You simply need to learn how to learn to fuel your body appropriately to match your daily training needs.

We can set specific ranges for your calories and macros, but none of this matters if your body isn't primed to actually benefit from this dialed-in approach. Before we can start working on the details of our food plans, we have to establish a habit of eating nutrient-rich foods and an environment in our bodies where those nutrients can be absorbed. This means good gut health. Before you start diving into protein and carbohydrate needs, let's review the basics. 

  • First, focus on the rainbow. Eating colorful produce at each meal is a great way to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need. The fiber helps keep you feeling full and satiated, as well as aiding in good GI health. Try to eat these in whole form and limit juicing and smoothies.
  • In addition to vegetables, you have to stay hydrated. Many of us are drinking more coffee and alcohol than before, which makes water even more important. The rule of thumb is to get as many ounces of water as your body weight in kilograms. I like to aim for about 10-16 ounces between meals. I also have a giant water bottle that I try to get through twice a day.
  • Next, try to get lean protein at each meal. This doesn’t have to be animal protein, but ensuring that you have enough protein throughout the day will help protect the lean muscles that you’ve worked so hard to build. Don’t go crazy. Right now about 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is sufficient, or a palm-sized serving at each meal. When you're engaging in moderate to high-intensity training, consuming around 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of the end of your training will really help maximize muscle recovery.
  • Make no mistake - all active women need carbs. Carbs get a bad rap in mainstream media, but they are essential to fuel our training and recovery as athletes. The key is knowing how to adjust your intake and carb choice around the type of training you're doing on any given day, as well as where you are in your cycle. Our foundational baseline of carbs is basically about 3-5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day for those of us who are training less than 40 minutes, less than 5 days per week. For most of us, if you're focusing on your daily rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and then are adding in a fist-sized serving of starch, grains, or legumes at most meals, then you're getting this in. The key here is to add in more carbohydrates to refuel after more intense training. The harder and longer you're training each day, the more carbs you're going to need in order to recover and be ready for the next day. If your training goes beyond 90 minutes in one session and is more moderate-intensity, then bringing a quick snack to take during your training can help you push through and really enjoy the benefits of the training. Refueling with some carbs within two hours of finishing your workout will help your body repair muscles and refuel your stores the most efficiently. Once you have the basics down, then you can get fancy with aligning your carb intake by selecting the ideal types of carbs and ingestion timing with your training goal.
  • On a final nutrition note, be very careful of falling into a nightly “wine-down” habit, or even day drinking. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite adult beverage, but having more than about one to two glasses per day can start affecting your body negatively, and get those hormones a bit out of whack. 


Part of our athletic drive comes from the support of our team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an injured athlete fall into a state of depression because of the disconnection from her coach and teammates. For those of us who are athletic-minded, we are vulnerable to falling into a similar state of mind during this time. We are not connected with those who support us during our training - whether it has been the other members of your Crossfit gym, the women who attend your CardioPump, spinning, or yoga class, or even the members of your running club. They are all our teams. I know I greatly miss going to class to be with the other women in my taekwondo class. 

Find ways to stay connected with your team, even during the off-season or if you're out due to injury. Here are some ideas that might work for you:

  • Create weekly meetups to connect, chat, and stay accountable with your team. These can be online or in-person - whatever works best for you.
  • Create an online challenge. What can you improve in during this time? Flexibility? Mobility? Pullups? Pushups? Climbing trees? Endurance?
  • Use Strava, MyFitnessPal, or even a Google Form/Spreadsheet to track improvements. 
  • Start a Bookclub. Can you find a biography of an athlete for your sport? Inspiration for something you want to try or return to after the quarantine? Or, maybe more of a technique textbook. Choose one each month and meet with a group weekly to talk about the book and keep connected to your sport.
  • Find a workout buddy. This can be great during the off-season or when you're injured. Your buddy can be someone else in your sport, or just another woman who you know has similar goals as you. Get together in person at someone's home, a gym, a local park, or even virtually over Zoom. Find some workouts that align with your training goals and have fun in supporting each other through them. These buddies can also be wonderful for more restorative workouts, such as hiking, walking, or yoga.
  • Create a hashtag for your group and start some accountability around that. Check in on each other via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. 

However you choose to connect with your teammate, use that connection to continue moving forward toward your performance goals. When we’re able to train together again, you’ll feel like you haven’t missed a beat.

Mental Health:

I think the most important aspect of athletic wellness right now is our mental health. Even three years after the initial COVID lockdowns, we are living in a period full of unknown and fear. Anxiety levels are high, and our go-to mechanisms for dealing with them are missing or still being rebuilt. The importance of taking care of our mental health is finally getting the attention it deserves and being normalized, but many of us still struggle to understand what support options best fit our individual needs. Seeking out the support of a licensed mental health professional is always recommended, but there are also coaches who can help, as well as many self-directed activities that truly can bring you back into yourself and feeling settled.

I’m going to list a few suggestions, but please make sure you are contacting a professional if you are spinning down. 

  • Be aware of your emotions and feelings. It's OK to feel negative emotions and it's healthy to acknowledge them, but make sure you have a way of expressing them and bringing yourself back to center. Keeping them inside isn't healthy. Find a way to let them out - crying, dancing, singing, writing, and talking to others are all great options.
  • Meditation. Start with five minutes and build up as you can. Bringing this practice into your routine can not only help you during this time but is a great way to prepare for competition in the future. If you're looking for a way to get started, Insight Timer has a wonderful selection of guided meditations and timers that can help.
  • Gratitude Journal. Focus on the good. Spend a few minutes each evening to reflect on what you’re thankful for and the positives you experience each day.
  • Schedule Meetups. Connecting with friends and family is vital and needs to be done daily. Schedule times to check in with someone every day, whether it's in-person, online, via phone, or text. If you need someone to check in with, you can always reach out to me.
  • Walks. Get outside. It’s been proven that spending time in nature is beneficial to our mental health. If you are able, take off those shoes and connect with the earth.
  • Sleep. Try not to fall into the late-night habit. Establish a good bedtime routine to get you in bed. Grabbing a 20 minutes nap during the day is another great way to rebalance and recharge.
  • Take a Bath. Light the candles, pour in the Epson salts and hit play on Spotify. A bath is a great way to relax, destress, and lower that cortisol. Give your kids the boot and grab this time just for you.
  • The National Suicide Hotline is always available to help you regain control. You can call or chat, but please reach out to them if you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Your life is precious and your feelings are real.

Remember, you have big dreams around your sport and life goals, and I know that you want to do everything that you can to make sure they come to fruition. By shifting your mindset around training and incorporating these recommendations, you can ensure that you will continue to improve your athletic performance with few setbacks, and possibly improve your overall condition in ways you never considered. As a bonus, you will build a strong foundation of athletic wellness into your training plan that you can bring with you throughout your life and changes of focus to ensure balanced training and prevent additional setbacks in the future. 

Need help building a balanced wellness plan? Download my Cultivating Athletic Wellness workbook to help you get started. Need specific support to build your balanced plan? Let’s chat! I specialize in helping you devise a complete athletic wellness plan focused on your personal goals. 

Categories: : mental wellness, mindet, nutrition, performance

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