Exercise and thyroid disease -- Part two

I can't stress enough the importance of finding a good endocrinologist to work with.
Q: See Part I of Exercise and Thyroid Disease.

A: The Part two answer comes from a woman that has lived with thyroid disease for 32 years. At times in her life she has dealt with the disease in the midst of a highly competitive, elite athlete career in South Africa. Her answer is below:

Hypothyroidism and sport performance

At the height of my competitive swimming career, some 32 years ago, I was diagnosed with an under-active thyroid. In a way this came as a relief because the incredible fatigue and the below par performances in training and racing just made no sense to me as a competitive athlete with a love for training and racing.

I was tired of hearing that I was burnt out and over-trained. So when the news came -- I was in fact relieved that I would be able to take medication to treat it and then get back to where I wanted to be as a competitive athlete.

I soon found out it was not that simple and after a few months on the medication I was back to square one. There were days I was tired from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. Other days I was 100 percent fine. It was there and then that I learned that TSH and Free T4 levels need to be monitored and balanced on a regular basis.

For me, that means blood tests every three to six months depending how in-synch my levels are. I sought out a really good endocrinologist that worked closely with me and showed an interest in my well-being as a patient AND as an athlete. During the years that followed, I never felt my thyroid held me back at all. When I moved to the USA in 2001 I needed to, once again, seek out someone that I could work with and trust.

Over the many years, I have found this to be a process of discovery, and I have managed fairly well to keep on top of the problems as they have arisen; but I do find that at times my levels go crazy. More often than not I find imbalance coincides with stressful times in my life and times where I do not pay attention to my diet and rest needs.

Over the years I have also needed to increase my dosage somewhat at certain times when the blood tests indicate the need. Right now I take a particular dosage Monday to Friday, with a slightly lower dosage Saturday and Sunday. In this way my doctor manipulates my dosage to keep me at the required levels. For now, this seems to be working very well.

I am not a competitive athlete anymore, but I do enjoy regular runs where I like to test myself. I feel, for the most part, that I have things under control. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a good endocrinologist to work with and the need for regular testing to balance your levels.

Do not try to manipulate dosages without clear instruction from your doctor. I firmly believe that once I learned this valuable lesson, I could then focus on my sport rather than constantly worrying about how my thyroid was letting me down.

Libby Burrell
Director International Triathlon Union Sport Development

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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