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Reaching the limit: how healthy is too healthy?

Maddie Keast twists the weight stoppers onto the bar, reaching down to grip the metal. Her hands adjust on the bar. She gets lower, adjusts her hands, looks up and adjusts her hands one last time. She takes a deep breath and rips the bar up onto herself. Completing the lift, she drops the bar. A thunderous boom echoes through the tight, dusty space, followed by the clank of colliding five-kilogram plates. A cloud of white chalk explodes from the ground. Her face reads focus, effort, and a touch of pain. Her body reads nothing but the work she has put into it. 

“Fitness gives you a sense of self-empowerment and confidence. When you push yourself past your limits, your comfort zones, your threshold, you tap into something only you yourself can experience,” Keast said.

A healthy lifestyle is something everyone should strive for. Making good choices when eating and exercising regularly is routine advice in most doctor visits. But, what if you were told you are living too healthy?

As a member of the University of Montana Lady Griz basketball team, Keast exercises vigorously on a daily basis. During the season, athletes are expected to practice two hours a day, five times a week, lift for an hour three times a week, and attend required team functions, including team meetings and film.

She usually works out three times a day. These workouts include any combination of biking, swimming, basketball practice, basketball skill work, cardio, or lifting. Keast also tries to eat every three hours, which turns out to be about six times a day.

“I like to think of it like, athletes don’t diet, they fuel themselves,” Keast said.

Check out a slideshow for more images of Maddie
Check out a slideshow for more images of Maddie Keast.

While on away trips for basketball she packs her meals for the days she will be on the road. It takes hours of preparation to stuff Tupperware full of healthy foods into her already bulging suitcase. She is as far right on the healthy spectrum as one can be. For Keast, healthy living isn’t a hobby — it’s a lifestyle. She understands this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and she knows people may disagree. For some, this is too much.

“Athletes can go overboard,” Head Weight Trainer of UM Athletics Charlie Woida said, adding that they can be driven by feeling “unhappy with body image, unhappy with strength levels, unhappy with playing time and think the extra training can get them there. There needs to be balance, whether they are an athlete or not. So I would say that there could be a too-healthy mentality.”

The UM Rhineinhart Training room sits just around the corner from the blaring workout room. The training room sees all types of athlete injuries, everything from taped ankles to recovered ACL tears.

“Over-training is a huge problem with most college athletes,” Head Athletic Trainer for the Lady Griz Karla Judge said.

Many student athletes eat too much or too little protein. Stretching and recovery are usually left out of work out regimes due to time constraints. Poor weightlifting mechanics lead to problems that lead to even poorer technique. It can break down athletes physically if they don’t rest sufficiently. Some muscles literally stop working, making others work overtime to propel the body. The body becomes inefficient, threatening bigger injuries like tendinitis and stress fractures that put athletes at higher risk for breaks and tears.

In Junior High, Keast pushed her body to the limit while exercising and paid for it, suffering from Achilles tendinitis. She said it was because she did not know how important rest days were. It wasn’t that she was afraid to take one, it was more she didn’t realize her body needed one. For her, it was much more about the challenge side of the workout than the actual workout itself. She has since changed her regiment to be more basketball-specific and added a couple rest days here and there.

Since the first day of little league, athletes are told to push through, be tough, and rub some dirt in it. The play-through-it mentality that comes with being an athlete may play a part in over working.

“Athletes, especially elite athletes, tend to be very driven people,” Grizzly Sports Psychologist Charles Palmer said.

“They are comfortable working hard, even when their bodies or minds might be telling them that they need a break. They can be ‘too healthy’ if an athlete is so focused on staying in shape and keeping their edge that they push themselves too hard.”

Doctor Carla Fritz, who is trained in sports medicine, said it’s not about what athletes are doing, it’s about what athletes aren’t doing,

“It’s not unhealthy until it becomes obsessive.”

When a person is counting every carb or calorie put into their body to the point they can’t sit down and eat with friends, that is when it becomes unhealthy, Fritz said. If it takes away from other parts of your life, or you are spending so much time thinking about what you will be eating or what the scale says, then that is unhealthy.

In a lot of ways, Keast and these experts would agree with each other, “I never weigh myself,” Keast said. She doesn’t count calories. She eats until she is full. She focuses on good carbs, good proteins, and healthy fats. If she reads a label and can’t understand what it is than she decides it’s probably not healthy.

There was a time where she felt she might have been overdoing it, but she thinks there is a fine line of overdoing it and there is a possibility of going overboard. Once she became educated, she understood the importance of rest days and recovery.

“When someone tells me I’m ‘obsessive’ or ‘over-the-top,’ I consider it an honest compliment. It’s no secret that living a healthy lifestyle, working out hard, and eating clean is a challenge, but that exact thing that deters people, makes it all that much more worthwhile. In my opinion, ‘obsessed’ is just a word lazy people use to describe the dedicated.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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