What Every Athlete Should Know About Overtraining

overtraining in athletes

There was a period of time about 2 years ago when I was a bad ass.  6’2’’.  200 lbs.  9% Body Fat.  Ran a mile with a 25 lb vest in under 7 minutes and could deadlift over 2 times my bodyweight.  

I say this not to brag, but to illustrate a point.  

It was in the month or two that followed that something changed.  

I started going the other way.  

I started regressing instead of progressing.  

I gained body fat, my performance faltered, and everything was just difficult, including work and play.  

All the while, I was training more than ever and I was eating a Paleo-template diet full of nutrient dense vegetables, fruits, Paleo-friendly carbs (tubers), and some not so Paleo-friendly carbs (mainly rice), plus generous amounts of protein.   

This of course discouraged me and being the curious type that I am, I had to find a reason for this.  

Children ask 244 questions a day and I was definitely pushing this number during this whole experience. Most of my questions centered around “what” and “why”.  

The “what” was adrenal fatigue due to overtraining.  

The “why” is where it gets fun. Prepare to geek out a little.

What is Overtraining Syndrome?

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is simply when the body cannot adapt to the demands being placed on it. It is usually due to a lack of rest and opportunity to recover. This can result in neurologic, endocrinologic, and immunologic degradation.  

Dollarphotoclub_27936337How do I know if I’m overtraining?

Listening to your body is a skill that every athlete should develop. It will serve you in many ways, and knowing if you’re going too hard is one of them.

“There’s a distinct difference between pushing yourself and breaking yourself.”

The following put you at increased risk of developing OTS:

  • You’re doing any of the following on a daily basis:
    • High intensity interval training (HIIT)
    • Heavy lifting
    • Extended endurance training
  • You sleep less than 8 hours per night.
  • You work in a stressful job/environment.
  • You don’t take time to have fun.

The following chart depicts the typical signs and symptoms associated with overtraining.  

Neurologic Changes Endocrinologic Signs Immunologic Symptoms
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental Fog
  • Memory issues
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Compulsion to exercise
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Severe fatigue
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Increased body fat
  • Night Sweats
  • Altered heart rate
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Sick more often
  • Decreased immunity
  • Fever, aches, chills
  • Inability to recover from workouts
  • Increased number of injuries
  • Impaired healing

There are other signs and symptoms that may be present, but this constitutes the most common ones.  

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to take a hard look at your training, diet, and recovery and if severe or pervasive seek out the help of a professional.

What can I do about it?

It has been well studied that imagery or envisioning your goals, improve athletic performance in competition, but I believe this can be extrapolated to daily training. Few studies have been done on meditation and athletic performance, but if we look at the overall benefits of meditation, it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t be beneficial to athletic performance.  

“Meditation improves cognition, mental clarity, creates a more positive outlook, and improves overall well-being.”

The most important factor when it comes to rest and recovery is obviously sleep.

In a 2011 study out of Stanford, college basketball players were asked to reach a goal of 10 hours of sleep per night. For most of the players that was about a 2 hour increase over what they usually slept.

Over the next 5-7 weeks of this extended sleep period, the players had faster sprint times, increased shooting accuracy, decreased reaction times, decreased perceived sleepiness and fatigue, increased endurance and feeling of overall well-being.

Deep sleep is when the body and mind recovers. During deep sleep, your body releases hormones that promote muscle repair and assimilation of neuronal pathways.

“Athletes should be aiming for about 9-10 hours of sleep per night.” 

Overtraining can be very complex depending on how long you have been in this overtrained state, other health conditions, and the way in which you have dealt with it so far. For that reason, I’d encourage you to seek out a functional medicine doctor that can help you determine the extent of damage to the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems and help you to formulate a treatment plan that will get you back on track faster and a prevention plan that will help guard against overtraining in the future.

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TheAthElite community thanks Guest Post Author and Functional Medicine Doctor, Brandon Allen, PharmD of Refueled Life for sharing with us.
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