On my initial evaluation, I have a space where I ask clients to rate their priorities in order of health, performance, body composition, and simplicity. While I’d be lying if I said I am surprised, but it still amazes me that with every competitive athlete I have ever worked with, performance always gets the nod over health. I would answer the question in the same way. But in reality, is there a difference between health? Saving the use of PEDs, I am inclined to say no.
Health is essentially the absence of disease and dysfunction, which both are unquestionably important in reaching optimum performance on the track. My goal is always to get and keep the athlete as healthy as possible with training, nutrition, and regenerative strategies. It’s the same strategies that I would use with someone seeking optimal health, be it freedom from low back pain or preventing metabolic syndromes. Each direction will be tackled with similar, if not the same, modes. There are a few instances, however, where one seeking performance will temporarily put health second on the priority list.
1.) An acute injury in the competition period. Now, in this case, the severity of the injury will obviously dictate if the athlete does race, but if it is “runnable” and the competition is important, I’ll do everything in my power to get the athlete to compete with minimal risk. How this gets done is more in the realm of expertise of an AT or PT, so be sure you have someone to work with. A specific example may be a lower grade ankle injury, even if some pain and lack of function exists, if the ankle can get taped to get the requisite stability and allow competition, we will get it done and deal with the recovery later. The same can be said for newly symptomatic stress reactions and fractures if and only if the athlete MUST compete. It is, in my mind, far better to take the time to recover and find whatever the root of your issue is and correct it and be ready to go later, but sometimes that’s not an option.
2.) An illness. Again, in the early season it is probably best to rest, but in the post-season if the athlete isn’t on his death bed and wants to compete, it may be alright. If severe fever or an inability to keep food down is present, however, it may not be the best idea. Again, you need to work with a medical professional to make the best decision for the athlete and his health.
While it is okay to do this once or twice, when it is important, the best course of action is addressing the issue head on. When in doubt, don’t race. It’s not worth it in the long term. It is important to utilize a holistic program that is focused on developing and maintaining health throughout the year, and use the band-aid approach sparingly.