Hypothyroidism and athletes

Overview of the thyroid system (See Wikipedia:...

Overview of the thyroid system (See Wikipedia:Thyroid). To discuss image, please see Talk:Human body diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

**Disclaimer: I am not in any way an expert or doctor. This is just my experience with the disorder and what I have learned along the way. 

I used to never have to take a pill every day. Now I do. Since I was first diagnosed with cervical dysplasia and later cancer, the hormones started going crazy. Some how it left my thyroid underactive

Taking a look at the list, I had a variety of the symptoms:

  • Fatigue-Yes
  • Hair thinning
  • Dry skin-Yes
  • Abnormal periods-Yes
  • Low heart rate-Yes
  • Fogginess.sulligishness-Yes
  • Unexplained weight Gain-Yes
  • Constipation-Yes
  • Depression
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Puffy Face     (Source) and

Right around the time of my diagnosis, I became extremely fatigued, had dried skin in weird places, and felt bloated, with unexplained weight loss. I went back to the doctor for a follow up on my diagnosis and told her about these new symptoms, beginning with the lack of energy. I thought at first that my schedule of teaching high school full time and bartending a few times a week was taking it’s toll. She ordered a blood test and the results came back void of T3 and T4, the two hormones responsible for your thyroid.

This is common in women especially when your hormones change. For me it was the change in estrogen from my diagnosis. Many women find this an issue when getting pregnant or after being pregnant. If you want to read about the scientific, make you yawn stuff, this source is helpful. However, I think sharing my experience can be more helpful for people.

What I have decided to do for treatment:

Due to my lifestyle, I opted to not take the synthetic thyroid (synthroid) for the last coupleo f years. When I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the natural medicine (Armour) had been taken off the market because it was going through reregulation by the FDA. I started on a thyroid medicine that had to be compounded. Think about the old fashion pharmacy in your neighborhood growing up, complete with one of everything, no more no less, and a soda fountain. That is where I went for this. I would call and order a refill and it took a couple of days for the pharmacist to mix the exact amount of avian and bovine  thyroid. Yes, I supplemented my own thyroid with that of thyroid from birds and cows. But, it worked because you could play with the amount of T4 and T3 that worked for you.

Armour is back on the market and I am graduate student with student health insurance, so no more compounding for this girl. But, things started going weird again since I have been on Armour. I have spoken to a couple of different doctors at my clinic and they think that although Armour is now FDA approved and suppose to contain the same dosage in each pill, that may not be the case. So, right after the marathon (I don’t want to mess with thyroid levels) I will start on the synthetic.

How it effects me as an athlete:

The thyroid controls a constellation of networking process in the body. When it is under active, everything can slows down. Your hear rate and blood flow. This decreases muscle exertion as well as muscle recovery. You are tired to the point that you can’t focus and fogginess takes over. All of these things can affect you as an athlete.

For me as an athlete, I don’t really feel the difference except that weight does not come off. Right around the time of diagnosis of this and the other issue, I gained about 10 lbs-without changing my diet and exercise- and ever since then (2.5 years ago), I haven’t shook it. But, my running times are just as good, if not better, as are my times on the bike.

It took a while to get my thyroid level elevated. I had to have blood tests every 6 weeks, then every 6 months for the first two years.  I can tell when I miss a day. By 3 or 4 o’clock, I feel as if I have been hit by a brick. I can fall asleep standing up. If I miss two days in a row or for some reason it gets low, I get these weird patches of dry skin on my chin and my thigh. These reasons are why I am back to trying a new medication.

Taking the medication can be a bit of an art when you are not used to even taking a mutli vitamin daily. It must be taken on an empty stomach with no food for one hour at the same time every day. Certain supplements can interact with it like calcium and iron. However, other supplements can help with it like B6 and B12, Vitamin D, and Folic Acid. It is also connected to autoimmune diseases. Eliminating or cutting back on gluten and soy can aid with feeling better as well. (Source)

Anyone else have a hypo/hyper thyroid?

Any diet/supplement suggestions?

How does it interfere with your training?


16 responses to “Hypothyroidism and athletes

  1. Yikes! I had no clue you were struggling with such health issues while training for this marathon! Hope you can get your meds figured out soon!

    And… hopefully the taper crazies are not getting to you too bad 😉 Only a few more days…

      • Yes, so bad 🙂 I am OK at home but at work all I can do is obsess about the weather and read marathon recaps!

  2. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism when I was 15. Thankfully, it wasn’t a result of cancer (I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with it). I didn’t ever get a growth spurt, so I’m as tall as I was as a 12 year old.

    I’ve been on synthetic since then (almost 13 years), and as long as I take it, I’m fine. It doesn’t affect my training in the slightest. There was a time about 3 years ago that I got mad at the fact that I had to take a pill everyday to function as a normal person and rebelled and stopped taking it, and that was a disaster.

    I’ve never altered my diet (aside from taking it on an empty stomach), and it hasn’t been a problem.

    Sorry for being so long winded…I guess what I’m trying to say is that synthetic works wonderfully for me, and I haven’t had to alter anything else in my life because of it. Good luck in getting everything sorted out!

    • Good to know about the synthetic. It’s amazing how you feel so normal taking it, but then when you don’t you really notice the difference. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. Aw wow I didn’t know you were going through all that! boo 😦 I know my grandmother stubbled with thyroid problems for a long time before anyone even knew what was wrong (back in the day) and a close friend of mine has hyperthyroidism which i know can definitely be a struggle too. I’m glad you don’t let any of that hold you down 🙂

  4. Whoaa… I had no idea either. That’s a huge challenge. I have no clue about it whatsoever.That’s really even extra tough for an athlete. You really are rocking it!!

  5. I don’t have a thyroid at all anymore 🙂 I had lots of non-cancerous tumors growing on mine, and eventually they starting pushing on my esophagus and my vocal chords, so I had to have the whole darn thing removed.
    I definitely have to take Synthroid or I’ll die. It does really suck having to take a pill everyday, and especially on an empty stomach. I hate waking up hungry and having to wait an hour for breakfast and COFFEE. 😦 I’ve heard a lot about Armour but I am hesitant to try it.
    I was really stubborn after surgery and continued training and running- I ran a 4:46 marathon 11 weeks after that surgery. It took about a year and a half to get my T3 and T4 levels regulated, but things are going pretty well now, although I still feel like I have hypo- symptoms sometimes. It might just be in my head!
    Best of luck to you on your marathon, girl. I’ve got one on the 27th, then another one 20 days later. Bring on the taper shakes! 🙂

  6. Just found your blog and am very interested in the gluten/soy relationship to thyroid function. I too was diagnosed with cervical cancer…my diagnosis for that was in 2002 but I wasn’t diagnosed with hypothyroid until 2010. During the interim, I pumped myself full of hormones going through multiple unsuccessful rounds of IVF.

    Anway, I am a runner and training for my first marathon in less than 14 weeks. I eat alot of gluten filled products and get a significant amount of my protein intake from soy based formulas (though I am not a vegetarian…I just don’t eat meat every day). Wondering if I should make some tweaks based on your experience. Thanks for the insight into this!

    • Thanks for reading and for sharing your experience! I am actually coming off gluten starting tomorrow. Now that my last marathon is over, I feel the need to reset my body. The bloat has been incredible and cutting out gluten helps. It is worth getting a book about wheat allergies (“Wheat Belly”) is a good one or one about hypothyroidism. Most books discuss the relationship between gluten and thyroid.

  7. Just found this…I’m a 48-year-old (female) speedskater who was diagnosed hypo 2 years ago, and had borderline thyroid levels for 2 years before that. I’m on 2 synthetic hormones (synthroid, T4, and Cytomel, T3). Unfortunately, my thyroid issues have a huge impact on my training and race performance. Even when properly medicated, I have to time my T3 exactly (3-4 hours before race or workout) or I feel like a slug. Last spring, one year after diagnosis, my thyroid levels dipped again, I had horrible workouts and I spent most of the summer getting my meds adjusted to get my levels back where they should be. Once the levels were adjusted, I then had a very good competition season (winter). Now, this summer, I think my levels are low again…I’m waiting to get my labs back to confirm it. I did a trial of gluten-free a year ago, for 8 months, but didn’t notice a difference so went back to the gluten. I, too, have had issues with weight gain–each time my levels go down I gain a bit, and then only lose part of it, leading to a net 7-8 pound gain over the past couple years. I’ve had a great deal of difficulty finding any information on athletes with hypothyroidism…I’d like someone to tell me whether to keep training hard when my levels are low (and I can’t come anywhere near my target lap times, can’t get my heart rate up, and generally feel tired and unable to push myself) or whether it’s best to back off until levels are back up, etc.

    Hope your training is going well, and your thyroid isn’t messing with your workouts!

    • I can empathize with you quite a bit. Sometimes I hear from people that their hypo is like having a cold, and they brush it off and keep training. For me, the biggest struggle is the weight gain. I too am up about 7-8 pounds. The afternoon sluggishness is what really gets me. Naps are usually imperative. Good luck with training!

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