Overtraining can be just as detrimental to our fitness gains and overall health as missing training, or some may argue, even more so. Overtraining can cause lack of muscle / strength growth, sickness, lethargy, and can also cause lack of enthusiasm.
Overtraining is when your training has exceeded the body’s ability to recover. You can also think of overtraining as chronic fatigue, burnout, and overstress. If for a period of two weeks for unexplained reasons your performance has dropped, it can be that you are overtrained.
Let’s look at common symptoms of overtraining:
- Persistent fatigue: don’t confuse this with the tired feeling that comes from hard training that day. This is the sluggishness, dragging your butt feeling you get even though you have gotten enough sleep/rest.
- Elevated resting heart rate: Another reason to where a heart rate monitor. I’m assuming you haven’t abandoned your fitness program so that’s not why your resting heart rate has climbed back up.
- Increased injuries: when the body doesn’t have adequate time/nutrition to recover this happens
- Delayed recovery: you haven’t taken a long break from working out but you start to notice that muscle soreness is lasting longer than normal
Does this look like you? Are you overtrained? Alright then, let’s look at what we can do to address this and hopefully prevent it from occurring again. It may never occur again, but if you are aware of the symptoms than you’ll be ready to address it.
Calories: I’m listing this first because I feel it’s often overlooked as the reason and also it’s simple to address. Unless you are an elite athlete, and by elite I mean you are competing professionally, you probably have no idea how many calories you are consuming daily. The fact is the harder you exercise, the more you exercise the more calories you need. And how do you know you are getting more? Weight gain is a good indicator but unless you are monitoring your weight weekly you may not notice. I like the idea of defining a baseline. Take a ‘normal’ day and measure everything you consume and then calculate the calories. If this is a representation of a normal day then you have a good idea of calories in. Then, calculate your RMR (resting metabolic rate). RMR is the amount of calories your body needs to live. Right, to live. This is the amount of calories you need to lay in bed and do nothing. This does not take into account physical activity at all. Now, take the amount of calories you have consumed in a given day and compare this to your RMR. Your calories consumed should be higher. If not, I don’t know how you are still here because RMR is the requirement just to sustain life.
Now, look at an average day of exercise and google the amount of calories required to complete those exercises based on duration and your sex, age, etc. Add that to your RMR. Now, take everything else such as walking, house chores, everything else other than sleep or sedentary activities. Look up the caloric consumption for these things. Add them to your RMR.
Now compare the total of RMR + workout calories + other calories to the calories you have consumed and where do you end up? If your calories consumed are lower than RMR plus the other calories you burned than this could be why you are overtrained. I know this may seem like a lot of work to calculate but you need to do this.
A simpler method is to weigh yourself weekly and keep that history and compare it to your workout log that you have also been keeping. Another benefit of keeping logs. If you have been steadily working out for let’s say the last month, and all other things are pretty much the same, and you have not put on weight despite resistance training; really pushing yourself; experiencing muscle soreness; knowing you have been working hard then YOU ARE NOT CONSUMING ENOUGH CALORIES.
Try it. eat more nutrient dense calories for 1 week. Not junk food, none at all. This is your test to see if this addresses any notion of overtraining and also will provide your body with what it needs/wants to repair the damage done and to also build muscle. Without nutrient dense foods, and eating too much junk foods, the body is not getting what it needs to repair itself and potentially build muscle. Try it. One week. One week to eat as much as you want of high quality whole foods that are plant based. Beans, lentils, greens, whole grains and rice. You know what I mean. But before you do this weigh yourself a couple times that day and take the average weight.
Now, one week later. You did it. You ate more than normal. And hopefully you feel better. Now go weigh yourself a few times this day and take the average. You should see a slight weight gain. If you don’t and if you see a weight loss than you are not eating enough. Maybe some things came up and interfered with your plan. Try extending another week to see if you notice a change. Just as a point of reference, there are professional athletes who are consuming well above 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day just to maintain their training weight.
Lastly, be sure to do this if you are competing in an upcoming event. Just like tapering, you will want to make sure your body has the nutrients it needs that week or two before to be ready for a beat down so it can repair the damage and build on muscle and strength.
If you don’t see any positive changes after two weeks then I would recommend you see your doctor.
Sleep: Makes sense, right? The body uses sleep to repair damage done to it. But it needs to be quality, uninterrupted sleep. It can be tough to get this but try to make it a priority. You will feel better both physically and mentally. If you find on your days off you feel like your legs are twice as heavy as they usually are, and that you are lacking motivation listen to your body. Rest, have a nice long nap. These are cues your body is giving you to tell you to stop and sleep. Don’t give in to guilt and ignore the cues. Be reasonable and if you have had a busy week, worked out hard then take the break and let the body repair itself.
Calories, rest, output. It can be a delicate balance but it can be achievable. You can achieve what you set out to do with proper planning and measuring. A lot of money has been and is being made on taking things that have been around forever and rebranding them. Think of first principles. Put a load on the body frequently and it will grow given the right environment. Create that environment for your body and you will see the change.
Yours in health,