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Every athlete knows they need to push themselves to get the results they want to dominate in their sport or even just set their next PR. You don’t have to be an elite athlete, though, to push things too hard for too long and end up with Overtraining Syndrome.
What Is Overtraining Syndrome?
Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is a condition that develops when you put too much stress on your body through intense exercise or training sessions that are not balanced with proper rest and recovery. Although Overtraining Syndrome typically affects professional athletes, it is also possible to develop OTS even if you aren’t an elite athlete. Push yourself too hard for too long, and don’t give your body enough time to rest between workouts, and you may start experiencing OTS symptoms. While you may love intense workout sessions that leave you feeling like an overflowing bowl of Jell-O, overdoing it for too long will leave you feeling deflated and defeated.
It’s not just a localized muscle injury. It can show up when you keep hitting the gym for long hours and perpetually feel tired, don’t seem to see results, and find yourself feeling perpetually sore.
The Effects of Overtraining
Overtraining places excessive stress on your body, making it harder for your body to recover from training sessions, which can lead to muscle loss and weight gain. Overtraining can also cause:
- Hormonal disruptions
- Decreased performance during workouts
- A weakened immune system leading to frequent colds or infections
- Lack of motivation for workouts
- Increased susceptibility to injuries
Overtraining Syndrome Symptoms
There are several signs that could indicate that you have OTS, but keep in mind that you may not experience all of these overtraining symptoms, as OTS symptoms differ based on whether you are doing aerobic or anaerobic exercise. Some overtraining symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate during rest periods
- Longer periods of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
- Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- Irritability or depression
- Decreased appetite or weight loss
- Joint pain or muscle aches that linger after workouts are complete
- Digestive troubles
If these symptoms sound familiar to you, then whoops you may have pushed your body too far and now it's coming for revenge. Now would be a good time to repent and take a step back from your workout routine and focus on some restorative activities instead.
What does cortisol have to do with Overtraining Syndrome?
We know that cortisol is our stress hormone and it is released during episodes of acute or chronic stress. However, we typically associate stress and cortisol with bad stress – such as a traumatic event, financial difficulties, or when your dog swallows a tennis ball for the umpteenth time. But did you know that exercise is a stressor too? Exercise is categorized as an acute stressor, and it can increase your cortisol levels – particularly moderate to intense exercise. In fact, a study conducted by Hill and colleagues found that subjects who exercised at 80% of their maximal oxygen uptake had an 18.3% increase in circulating cortisol.
Now we have a conundrum. If exercise raises your cortisol levels, shouldn’t we avoid it? Not exactly. This is where the biphasic dose response becomes important. The biphasic dose response is a biological phenomenon where your body will benefit from a reasonable amount of exercise, but if you take it too far, it will cause harm. Turns out our bodies are quite finicky – annoying right?!
While exercise is a stressor and can increase your cortisol levels, an appropriate amount of exercise is still healthy and recommended. Exercise only becomes a problem when you train incorrectly, too intensely, and too frequently, without giving your body time to rest and recover. Overtraining will put too much stress on your body, increasing your stress response and therefore your cortisol levels, which will eventually lead to a ton of symptoms that can impair your ability to train and function in everyday life. Bye-bye goals. Hello pain, misery, and ice packs.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the sage advice “prevention is better than cure”, so let’s look at some tips on how to prevent overtraining syndrome.
Tips to prevent Overtraining Syndrome
Focus on proper nutrition
Eating a diet that provides your body with the building blocks it needs can help your body recover faster and more efficiently from workouts. This means you’ll need to ensure that you’re eating enough healthy protein, as amino acids play a crucial role in recovery.
This doesn’t necessarily mean add more burgers to your routine. Too much red meat can hinder recovery as it increases inflammation. Stick with fish, eggs, or even consider plant-based proteins such as beans, greens, nut-butters, or lentils.
Allow enough time for rest
Make sure to take at least one or two days off (or even longer if needed) between intense workout sessions to give your muscles time to recover and rebuild. Make sure to keep putting down water so you can help your body flush out any toxins while you rest.
Listen to your body
While you may have goals and a certain training schedule, it is also important to listen to your body. If you’re in extreme pain or feeling exhausted, don’t be afraid to take an extra rest day if needed.
Incorporating different types of physical activities into your routine can help to prevent your muscles from being overworked and allows for a variety of intensity levels.
Track your workouts
Keep track of your workouts and performance so you can identify any trends or warning signs of overtraining. Most people track workouts to push themselves and see gains. Tracking doesn't have to be limited gains. It's great tool to connect the dots of potential overtraining with your record of workouts.
Being aware of the signs of overtraining, and taking steps to ensure that you are balancing intense workouts with adequate rest days will help you stay healthy, motivated, and on track with your fitness goals.
Overtraining Syndrome Recovery
What happens if you already developed overtraining syndrome? You can still recover, but it may require compromise and getting out of your comfort zone.
How do you recover from Overtraining Syndrome?
If you think you may have OTS, the best thing you can do is rest and recover. How much rest and recovery you will need will depend on how severe your OTS is, which is why it is best to consult with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. In some cases, you may need to stop training for a few weeks, but if your OTS isn’t severe, you may continue training.
If you’ve escaped the wrath of severe OTS, you can start your recovery process by adding more rest days to your training schedule and reducing the overall volume and load of your training regime. The key is to reduce the intensity of your workouts so your body doesn’t have to work as hard. Reducing the intensity doesn’t mean reducing your results. It just requires training smarter, not harder.
Alternatively, you can switch to low-impact activities, such as walking or swimming, for a few weeks to give your body a break.
You’ll also need to focus on your sleep and nutrition to ensure that your body has enough nutrients and restful sleep for proper restoration and healing.
Finally, adding supplements to your treatment plan may speed up your recovery. Some supplements to consider include a multivitamin, magnesium, and glutamine. Two additional supplements that may be especially useful for OTS are ashwagandha and maca. Studies have found that ashwagandha supplementation was associated with cortisol reduction and improved stress resistance, while maca has been shown to improve anti-fatigue in mice trials. The Testosterone System, The Anxiety System, and The Hot Flash System contain both these ingredients, plus L-Tryptophan and L-Theanine for better sleep. So if you’d prefer to tackle your high cortisol levels and sleep disturbances with one system, then one of our systems may be worth a go.
By taking the necessary steps to recover from overtraining syndrome and restoring balance in your life, you may be able to reduce cortisol levels and improve your overall health. Remember to always listen to your body, take time to rest, and strike a balance between intense workouts and recovery days. With this approach, you’ll be able to reach your goals without overtraining or risking your health.