Over-training: Too Much of a Good Thing

By Michael Simmer BS, CSCS, LMT, FST

Often times I have been asked what is the correct number of times in a week to train, and the answer is it depends. I know not what you want to hear, but stay with me. It is hard to give an exact answer because several factors play a role, how intense is each workout, are you warming up correctly, how’s your diet and so on. The thing we need to watch out for is over-training. While over-training can occur in a variety of different ways, it typically results from a combination of hormonal, neuroendocrine, and nutritional imbalances, secondary to heavy training.

 The Signs of Over-training

Although it can produce positive outcomes, intense training completed too frequently without sufficient rest, can compromise a client’s muscular, endocrine, and immune systems, as well as psychological state. Signs and symptoms of over-training can be:

  1. Underperformance
  2. Extreme muscle soreness or stiffness during and in-between training sessions
  3. Unintentional weight loss
  4. Chronic fatigue
  5. Swollen lymph nodes
  6. Depression and/or anxiety
  7. Sleep disturbances

Escaping Over-training

Once we detect these signs and symptoms, we can work with our clients to avoid over-training.  By watching performance, attitude and physical changes, you’ll be able to quickly identify at-risk clients, and quickly offer practical solutions:

  1. Schedule training days complemented by rest and/or off days: To maximize performance clients need a schedule that incorporates both training and rest days. In a recent study, researchers found that athletes who incorporated light, leisure activity into their weekly training regimens reported less exhaustion and fewer injuries.
  1. Promote a well-balanced, whole foods diet eaten at the right time: During intense training, a well-balanced diet should be encouraged, emphasizing the importance of nutrient timing. Research suggests that the scheduled timing of dietary consumption can be just as important as its composition, and should complement heavy training to enhance performance. Ensure your client is adequately fueling their body before, during and after exercise.
  1. Encourage adequate sleep: During intense training regimens, competitive athletes require adequate sleep to provide rest to the body and support mental calmness as well. To improve your clients sleeping habits suggest a variety of approaches, keeping their bedrooms free of electronics an hour before bed, and incorporating relaxing strategies such as deep breathing before bed.

When a client’s Over-trained

If over-training is suspected, a few simple changes can help promote recovery while minimizing stress. To assist in the recovery from over-training, suggest dietary modifications, support the need for rest and off days during training.

  1. Dietary Modifications: Focusing on nutrient dense foods is vital to recovery from heavy training.  Some research supports that many of the effects and symptoms of over-training is caused by inflammation and cytokine release, which has been associated with fatigue, attitude changes and adrenal changes. Consuming a clean, well-balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, and antioxidants can help support recovery. Encourage your clients to add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, to help manage inflammation
  1. Rest: Five weeks of rest, which should include off and light training days, supports sustainable recovery. Although clients will recover at their own rate depending on the severity at which they’ve over trained, steady and constant recovery should not be rushed. 

I understand that we all have goals, and we are often willing to do most anything to reach those goals, but when we do not listen to our bodies that is when we can do real damage, that is perhaps the best advice I can give you, listen to your body, Training 6 or 7 days in a row, has been shown to do more harm than good especially if it goes on for several weeks at a time, you will start to breakdown muscle, and with no recovery days, you will never give your body a chance to build and repair, which can lead to losing muscle mass while gaining or holding body fat mass, and increase the risk of injury. Maintaining a proper exercise schedule along with a good diet, will keep you on a path to your goals, and remember you can have too much of a good thing.   Contact us today if you’d like to learn more about achieving your fitness and nutrition goals.

References:

Kreher J. (2012). Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide. Sports Health. 4(2), 128-138.

Zoorab R. (2013). Sports Nutrition Needs Before, During and After Exercise. Primary Care. 40(2), 475-86.