Athletes and Hyperthyroidism
Ok, this is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time. And since I am currently on vacation, I have all the time in the world to hammer it out. (I wrote these words before I was struck down with a nasty flu, but more on that later…)
I had mentioned in a prior post that I am an endurance athlete with hyperthyroidism and I have received a number of emails from you sharing that you have thyroid issues of some sort. It is one area for endurance athletes that is not widely researched and doesn’t have much background on. Any medical professional that I throw out the words “endurance athlete” and “Graves disease” to looks at me and says “Ohhhh, that’s tricky…”
You best believe it.
So backing up a bit. What exactly is hyperthyroidism? In a nutshell: Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate your body’s metabolism significantly, causing sudden weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and nervousness or irritability.
Reread those symptoms and then think marathons. It just doesn’t stack up.
How long have I had it? Well, in high school, I was a fairly average girl but during my final year of high school, I began to lose weight at an extremely rapid rate. It wasn’t until I went to the doctors and they saw I had lost 30 pounds in a month that they realized it was something actually medically wrong with me.
This photo was taken in 2007 right before I was diagnosed with what is called Graves Disease, which is a form of hyperthyroidism that is most common in young women.
So… lucky me.
Managing it has not been an easy task and there have been times when my training has been affected. I was given medication to treat the symptoms which include severe weight loss, enlarged thyroid, over heating, lack of sleep, hand tremors and more. I have needed to take blood tests every 3 months and report back to my endocrinologist to see how my levels are doing because the medication they put me on is not overly safe for long periods of time.
But the alternative is something called radio active iodine treatment or surgery to completely remove your thyroid. And there is NONE of that happening on my watch!
So what have I done to treat it? One of the most notable things I did was see a naturopath.
I am pleased to report that I visited my endocrinologist for the first time in a long time and she informed me that my levels are perfect and I have reached a second remission. (I had another in university). There is a huge chance that it may never come back. This means no medication, but regular blood work.
What does this mean for my running?
Because I am predisposed to hyperthyroidism, my metabolism will always run high and which ends up giving me a ridiculous amount of energy to do things, but it also means I burn through my nutrients much faster than others. I operate on adrenaline much more that I should, which explains why the moment I try to relax on vacation, I come down with the flu. It also explains why I am predisposed to injuries like stress fractures because I need to have more everything than most athletes to keep my nutrition levels normal.
I often need to eat more than my peers in a race. Heck, it means I eat more than my peers in general. (I was once on a date with a guy who was in the gain stage of his body building and he was humiliated that I out ate him. I was humiliated that I out ate him without noticing.)
I need to supplement to make sure my vitamins are in check. It means my heart rate will always be higher than my athletic peers. It means I need to constantly acknowledge that I am not invincible.
I guess what I am trying to say is that we all have our thing that is stopping us from being a perfect athlete. The year I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, I was told I couldn’t run a marathon because of the extra strain on my body, so I ran an ultramarathon instead. Limitations are a part of being human, but running has helped me to be too busy doing the things they told me I couldn’t do to mind. (I feel like this needs a disclaimer… There are some instances where you SHOULD NOT run when a medical professional tells you not to. This just wasn’t one of them. And, as always, I am not a doctor, this is just my personal experience with Graves Disease).
What is your “achilles heel” in running?
Laurie Z says
I meant to post on here the other day when reading you blog, but I enjoyed this post. I have Celiac’s and most likely have Hashimotos too, but my symptoms bounce back and forth between Hashimotos and Grave’s. Or rather my symptoms looks like Grave’s but my Thyroid looks like it has Hashimotos. I’m heading to a specialist in another few weeks. But I am a firm believer in the power of using food and exercise to help! So happy to hear about your remission and hope the stress fracture is healing!
Thanks Laurie! The stress fracture IS healing, just not as fast as I had hoped….
Celiacs and Hashimotos? I can’t complain anymore, that’s for sure!
Cass Hebbard says
After reading this it is fair to say I am teary and happy at the same time.
I refuse to let this get the better of me and reading this and hearing how you have dealt with it well, it’s pretty much 100% my plan.
Everything is fine unless you stop! Nice to know what is going on but really nice to read that there are other active people doing all of the things.
Hang in there, friend. And if you need more information – feel free to send me an email. xo
So glad I happened to find your blog and IG account. Just finished my third ultra two weeks ago and fought so hard for every step. I refuse to let this disease win or rob me of one of the things I love so much!!! Thank you!!!
Hang in there, Tammy! If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
I’m sorry but I have a hard time believing this, you make graves sound like a common cold. my graves makes heat unbearable, and my heart is so fast that I can’t sleep naturally, and im completely exhausted all the time. I used to be an avid mountain biker and now I can’t even go 10 minutes before I’m out of breath due to lack of oxygen in my blood, and the heat. I just hope I can get to your point one day, I’ve lost my will to live so I’m not concerned about the radioiodine at this point. Best of luck with your endeavors.
I am so sorry to hear this, Gary. The reality is, I WAS where you were – I just took an entire year off all athletics and rebuilt my body, worked with doctors and eventually became healthy again. It IS possible and I am sending only positive thoughts your way.
Just been diagnosed at a point where I am leading this year’s aggregate for marathon kayaking. Hearing you took a year off exercise is killing me!
It’s almost impossible to find professional dietary advice for an older athlete with Graves. Doctors don’t know anything about nutrition!
Also, it’s hard to find any scholarly studies on endurance athletes with Graves. Have you come across any?
I am so sad to hear this! I haven’t found any scholarly articles on this yet but the one thing I have found on hyperthyroidism that has been helpful is this article: https://www.marksdailyapple.com/hyperthyroidism-wim-hof-and-placebo/
If I can help in any other way, please let me know.
I am a distance runner and was diagnosed in March with subclinical hyperthyroidism- I had been in a “storm” for 2mo from what I can tell and had quit cross fit due to being so fatigued and weak. My integrative health specialist told me to continue running and put me on a gluten free, dairy free, night shade free diet. While I have still had symptoms, I have had normal test results since mid April and am not on any medication.
I am interested in hearing (reading) more about upping your iodine intake. The (limited) resources I have found say to go on a low iodine diet.
Thank you! Also, I am SO relieved to find this blog, the (limited) write ups out there regarding hyper/graves are quite dismal. It is very refreshing to see a blog that has a happier side of hyper.
Sam, your comment is so inspiring! Were you able to go off medication quickly with your AIP diet?
Im a endurance athelete, a traditional paddleboarder,meaning I alternate from knee paddling and prone paddling using my hands for propulsion .About 3 weeks ago I went back to my doctors office to follow up on a dermatology issue for possible skin cancerous lesion on my arm,when the nurse weighed me,I had dropped 8 pounds in two weeks,so the doctor immediately sent me to the lab for blood testing.Sure enough the results showed low numbers in the thyroid hormone ,but my T4 remained in the normal range,at the same time I was experiencing all ten of the symptoms .So the doctor told be to go on a high calorie diet,in which I did.Five days later my weight came back to my normal range and I feel great.I have two questions for you,my doctor told me not to take iodine because he said it could be from too much iodine in my body and you say you were told to take iodine,maybe I just don’t understand.? I always have heard endurance sports can reek havoc on your thyroid and I’ve done a paddle here in Hawaii where I live,twice as far as most people in the world,Oahu to Kauai,nearly 80 mile in 2005.Last July I made my 13th crossing in the 32 mile Molokai to Oahu race and not long after,this symptom came up.But on the other hand,especially where I live,I eat nori (seaweed) wrapped sushi like its going out of style.I kind of think both might be the cause.Can you give me your experienced insight of this,.My doctor said my situation isn’t an emergency yet ,so I have to come back in a month for another blood test,but I live for my long distance paddling and want to continue it,thank you
Sorry,you probably know this,the low numbers mean Hyper
This is a great article! I was just diagnosed and despite my doctor telling me that diet will not help and this condition is caused by stress and genetics, I put myself on an AIP diet. I feel so much better and don’t feel like I am dying anymore.
I have been working out almost every day for the last 4 years and have attended many trail races, bike races and road running races. I had just picked up CrossFit again when I was diagnosed with Grave’s. I haven’t worked out for the last month, besides my daily walks, because I was feeling depleted and heard from many people with Grave’s that you will never workout again. Mostly because I was scared that I would feel worse. Your story is inspiring! I need to hear more positive stories like this!
I was diagnosed hyperthyroidism on the 3rd January (what a new year’s present😥).
I used to compete on mountain-bike ultramarathons butlletí municipal endocrinologist has banned me all types of Sport because of possible arrithmias. She said it’s not for allways, only till the hormones are controlled. I hope it’s going to be soon because it’s boring to stay at home!
This 2017 I wanted to do a lot of races, indeed I wanted it to be “my year on the bike).
How long did it take you till you were allowed to do sport again?
I wish you all the best!
It was probably about a year. It is hard to sit on the sidelines, but you will be glad you did when you are back and rocking it!
I’ve had graves for 17 years with no issues ever till recently. I am 46 now. In the past 4 years I’ve run 7 marathons and many half marathons. In November I stupidly quit taking my methamazole 5 mg and my labs crashed. I now take 20 mg and my labs still aren’t back to normal . My TSH remains >.005, the t3&4 are nearing normal. I ran 8 miles today and stopped twice for a couple minutes to rest and I was so slow compared to last year this time. After runnng I’m drained and lazy.
I’m fairly certain my labs will be better in a month or so.
Once they are normal will running become easy again?
Sorry to hear about this Kim! Yes – if your numbers are normal, running should feel good again. Your body is just in over drive – to be honest, I would easy up on cardio activities until your numbers are stabilized to ensure you have a swift and healthy recovery. Wishing you the BEST.
I am an ultrarunner taking a little break from competition, but was just diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Thing is…I have almost no symptoms, except for disrupted sleep. I have the appointment with the endocrinologist next week, and I would love to know more about treatment options – especially diet and naturopathy advice. So glad I found this blog!
Becca, I don’t know enough about the severity of conditions vs symptoms presented but I hope it means that it is not overly severe for you! There certainly are natural ways to heal it alongside traditional methods. I hope everything goes well for you and you can return to competition soon!
Lorraine murphy says
I have had hyperthyroidism and graves for around 4 years I refuse to have radiotherapy or the thyroid removed,
I’m a triathlete or try to be , I’m struggling to swim without getting so out of breath I need to stop and hang on a boat , I’m not sure there’s some exercise induced asthma too because I’m so wheezy on the bike and run , the swim is embarrassing because I can swim !!!
I’ve always refused to let this beat me but I’m fed up of making a fool of myself in the water ! I’m 45 and love my sport , please direct me to this diet you’ve mentioned, my levels are slightly up and my eyes go blurry on the bike but I don’t want to sit knitting!!
Oh man, Lorraine – I am so sorry to hear this. Can you send me an email and I will send you some recommendations? Happy to help.
This is an old post, but hopefully you see this response and respond.
I was an avid biker and runner until about 3 years ago, when I started to feel completely exhausted all the time. Doc after doc would say there was nothing physically wrong with me, and tell me I needed treatment for depression.
Finally, I found a naturopath. and was diagnosed with Graves and all the good stuff that goes along with hyperthyroidism. I have the dermopathy and the tremors. The naturopath referred me to an endocrinologist and like you, I am NOT willing to remove my beloved thyroid.
Was your naturopath helpful? Mine seems to be acting like this is not in his wheelhouse. Thinking I should look for a new one.
Of course I will respond, Sam!
My naturopath was very helpful and I am happy to pass their information along if you are interested? Just send me an email at email@example.com.
Hi. I just was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I was mixing crossfit, weigh lifting and 10 KM run. I am aware that run into cardio excercises will be not good for the moment. Do You think I will be able to do weights at least? One week has past since the lab results. Thanks.
Hi Sal, I am so sorry to hear that you are struggling with hyperthyroidism. Thank you for reaching out.
Some weight lifting can elevate the heart rate which is not great when you are already running with a high heart rate. I would confirm this with your doctor. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wrote on January when I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Since then I’ve seen that many people have the illness and write here with questions. For this reason I decided to write again to explain these last 11 months.
From december till february I was feeling bad, I was not allowed to practice sport because of tachicardia risk and the endocrine prescribed me 5 propranolol pills + 10 tiamazol pills a day (yes, 15 pills a day!). On february I started to feel better and the endocrine reduced this dosis. On april I crossed to the other side, I had hypothyroidism because of the pills. I started to feel tired, I gained weight and the pulse returned to the normal rythm. Then the endocrine told me to start training with my bike training again but being carefull, my muscle may be affected. Only one month later I did a bike race again, I was happy. On summer I had Hyperthyroidism again but this time everything was controlled, I was taking metimazol again and I was allowed to train sport.
When the thyroid levels were controlled again (on august) the endocrine decided to give me the radioyodine dosis. It’s a little pill. My husband had to live away from home during 10 days because of radiation. I felt good. Only 30% of people get cured after radioyodine, the great majority get hypothyiroidism the rest of their life. I knew it but the endocrine says that it’s much better an hypothyroidism than a hyperthyroid.
On september I received the first analysis results. Everything seemed to be controlled. This week (onday 30th october) I received the second analysis results. I have to wait till the 2 next analysis but the doctor told me that I may be cured. I’m maybe one of this 30% :). I feel happy. I’m planing my better bike year on 2018.
I want to encourage everyone with this illnes. It may take long but you can get healthy!
YAY! Laura – I am SO excited, proud and happy to hear this! Is it ok if I share this on an upcoming post?
Feel free to use any info!
I read you often and I find your stories fascinating and curious!
Always gonna be good news when somebody got their health back. Congrats.
Me. as a male, was told that my hyperthyroidism could be easier to control. I was diagnosed 4 weeks ago and since then I am taking Tiamazol. I lost the most of my muscle and not allowed to get back to the gym by now. Reading that You were able to return biking in the matter of few months gives me hope.
Wish You the best,
Jimmy Smith says
Great read. I’ve worked with a lot of women with thyroid issues due to over straining and stress, it’s a nasty hole to get out of. I’d love to have you on my podcast to discuss this if interested.
Run Healthy Mom says
Hi, I am commenting on this thread again. I came across your article when I was first diagnosed with Graves. I just wanted to encourage you all to keep at it and stay positive. I lived through a strict AIP diet and for 70 days and generally reintroduced everything one at a time with the exception of gluten. All of my levels including my anti-bodies went back to the normal range within 4 months (a year ago from now) after diagnoses and stayed that way. I took about 6 months off of rigorous exercises and kept it to yoga and light hiking. I have been off medication for 4 months now and have been going to CrossFit frequently for the last 6 months, backpacked this past summer with my toddler on my back and have been feeling better than ever. The only difference is that I don’t push myself too hard anymore.
I never thought life would ever be the same but stick with it and believe in the power of healing!
I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU! Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂
So happy I found this blog. Always been extremely athletic. Running and lifting weights. Last three months I’ve gotten weaker – only lifting minimal weights with muscles shaking uncontrollably after workouts. Also extremely hot. Tank tops in winter! Weak and achy.Blood test reveals hyperthyroidism. I have an appt with an endocrinologist in two weeks.
I am due for my first half marathon in three months. Training derailed because of weakness. Your words have given me hope that I will get through this. This rave may not be doable for me as I work through this. But I will do one someday. Thank you!
You ABSOLUTELY WILL! My thoughts are with you and if you need anything – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Hyperrunning girl says
Thank you, dear Jessica, for this text. A lot is written arround the web bout running and hypothyrroidism, but almost nothing about running and hyperthyrroidism.
I myself have Graves-Basedow, it is auto immune in my case and likely to stay with me forever. I am also a runner, and this year I will run my first marathon. I think that every body is different. E.g., nutrition for me does not make any difference. When it comes to my hormones, I can it high quality food or I can eat crap, it does not affect anything in my TSH and FT3 levels. Also, although this is counterinductive, when I had really bad levels of my thyroid hormones, I was gaining weight. No, never lost any, and I still have to control it. Just for you to get the picture, at one moment, my levels of hormones were 224! I did not make a mistake. At the same time, I gained about 20 kg.
Then, against all the advice, I started running. And running has done for me what medication itself could not. In fact, running helped my medication to work for the first time (I drank prior to that extremly high dosages with no effect whatsoever). In only six months, my hormonal levels were stabilized and for about 4 years now, I am drinking minimal dosage, just to maintain my health. Yes, from time to time, I had some heart palpitations, but nothing worrisome. Since I started preparing for the marathon, which in my case amounts to 3 times a week of running plus 3 times a week of resistance training (weight lifting), my heart has not skipped a single beat. I do occasionally sleep more, but that is it. I feel really great.
But that is my case. A friend of mine, also a runner, diagnosed with the same desease, had to quit running. She did not feel good from it.
So, my point would be: for everyone it is diferent. Even the best endocrinologist cannot tell you all, for every single case of hyperthyrroidism is peculiar. Not to mention that you won’t find many expert medical texts on hyperth. in runners, and about hyperth. and female runners – there is none.
My experience of living with Graves-Basedow for about 10 years now has thaught me the following: always listen to your body. It knows what it needs. My body needs medication, so I take it and I do not have a problem with it, even if that means taking them for the rest of my life. My body feels good from running , so I run and I intent to do it for the rest of my life. I eat healthy food because it makes my run better. I eat meat because my body needs it. I love resistence training – it made my body stronger and more functional and I love how it affects positively my focus. I drink alcohol from time to time, and imagine my “sin”, I even smoke (although, just pure and good quality tobacco, not the cigarettes). In any case, when I put it down, I see that my life is in no way different from the life of a person with the healthy thyroid. I am sure that in case of hyperthyrroidism your one’s mind has a big role. Not crucial, perhaps, but big enough. And my mind understood that if it listens to the needs of my body, then it would be abke to help the body in return. The one good thing hyperthyroidism has thaught me is to seek and try to attain and maintain synergy. Running was, perhaps, the key factor in it.
So, thank you once again for your text, and my warmest support to all of us running with hyperthyroidism!
Thank you for taking the time to comment and I am so happy that you were able to return to running as well. 🙂 Wishing you a healthy future. xo