We’re going to cover what is overtraining, focus on the common signs, and the strategies to recover from it. After reading this, you should be more familiar with some of the common signs and symptoms of overtraining. Plus, we’ll be sharing tips on which supplements can be used to help someone ease back into training.
Overtraining is a physiological state where the demands from training and life stressors exceed recovery capacity. Research indicates that common risk factors for overtraining syndrome include mean daily work/study hours exceeding 8 hours a day, a carbohydrate intake below 5 g/kg/day, a protein intake below 1.6 g/kg/day, and a caloric intake below 35 calories/kg/day.
A study compared healthy athletes, athletes suffering from overtraining syndrome, and non-physically active adults across 117 parameters. The scientists identified low caloric intake, low protein intake, low carbohydrate intake, and poor sleep to be present in 100% of the cases of overtraining syndrome.
Some important definitions to understand when discussing overtraining include
Functional Overreaching: short term decreases in performance lasting days to weeks, followed by an improvement in performance (supercompensation).
- Non-Functional Overreaching: decreases in performance lasting weeks to months, followed by a full recovery. It’s important to note that during non-functional overreaching, an increase in performance doesn’t occur as is seen during functional overreaching. Non-Functional Overreaching has been associated with prolonged recovery time, disturbed sleep, and elevated heart rates.
- Overtraining Syndrome: long term decreases in performance usually lasting several months but can be indefinite. It’s recommended that athletes rest for at least 2-3 weeks before attempting to diagnose overtraining syndrome.
Overreaching is a common incidence in 5-60% of all athletes, however, the state of overtraining syndrome is rare. During the design of a periodized program, coaches will seek to create enough stress to cause functional overreaching. The stressors from exercise and the athlete’s personal life, as well as the athlete’s recovery are all closely monitored. This strategy of deliberate overtraining, consisting of heavy training with minimal rest, is done to increase performance.
Overtraining syndrome is more commonly seen in endurance sports. An estimated 30% of non-elite endurance athletes and 60% of elite endurance athletes suffer from non-functional overreach or overtraining syndrome at some point in their careers. [8,9]
Overtraining Syndrome is known to have a wide variety of symptoms with few absolute consistencies outside of an increased state of fatigue and greater rates of perceived effort during training. Symptoms that have been reported in some cases of overtraining syndrome include sleep disturbances, reduced appetite, weight loss, decreased immunity, lack of motivation to workout, extended muscle soreness and persistent injuries.
Prior to a clinician diagnosing an athlete for overtraining syndrome, they’ll evaluate their full medical history to account for other factors that are potentially contributing to underperformance. The two common symptoms clinicians observe for afterwards are decreased performance that persists despite weeks to months of recovery and disturbances in mood.
The recommended treatment for non-functional overreaching and overtraining is rest. This means, you take a rest day and don’t work out. The focus during this time should be to recover with sleep and chill out. Because inadequate nutrition has been identified as a common risk factor, eating the right foods to fuel up is important. Once this has been done, you can ease back into your routine by starting slowly. This can mean starting from as low as 5-10 minutes of exercise a day and working your way back up to an hour-long workout.
Some proactive ways to avoid overtraining syndrome include monitoring nutrition, hydration status, muscle mass, and endurance performance. This is often done through the recording of training loads, use of questionnaires to evaluate nutrition status, sleep quality, mood, and rate of perceived exertion, training diaries, and other observational methods.
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