Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs whenever a patient works out too much or too hard without giving the body enough time to rest. It is common among athletes who train beyond their body’s ability to recover, particularly when preparing for a competition or sporting event. Some people often exercise longer and harder than the average person in order to reach peak performance in their desired sports activity. However, without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimes can backfire and actually begin to decrease physical performance.
Conditioning for athletes and exercisers alike requires a balance between work and recovery. Too much overload and / or too little recovery may result in both physical and psychological symptoms of overtraining and can lead to overtraining syndrome. Typically, proper hydration and nutrition are essential to performance, recovery, and prevention from further severe conditions.
As mentioned earlier, overtraining the body without taking time to rest can impact athletes and exercisers both physically and mentally, and can lead to a condition known as overtraining syndrome. Therefore, excessive training may cause decreases in athletic performance that can be long-lasting, sometimes even taking several weeks or months to improve. The psychological effects of overtraining can also lead to unfavorable changes in mood. Some research has linked overtraining syndrome with increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Causes & Symptoms
Overtraining can occur when you work-out without allowing enough recovery time between sessions. After a certain point, too much exercise may be harmful to your health and hinder your results; especially if your workouts are close together. Most symptoms regarding overtraining include the following:
Lack of eating
Some patients who maintain an intense training schedule may also cut back on calories. This can negatively affect health and performance. If your body consistently draws on its energy reserves, you may have a chance of developing nutritional deficiencies such as anemia. More serious conditions can arise that affect your cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems. It is also possible to develop nervous system and reproductive system complications, including period loss or irregular cycles in women.
Overuse during activities
Running too often can lead to overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, or plantar fasciitis. Other overuse injuries include joint strains, broken bones, and soft tissue injuries. High impact exercise such as running puts more stress and wear and tear on your body.
It is somewhat usual to feel tired after exercise, however, fatigue happens when your body repeatedly does not fully recover after you work out. You may feel excessively drained, especially during or right after heavy workout sessions. Fatigue can also set in when you regularly do not get enough fuel before you train further, as your body then has to use its carbohydrate, protein, and fat reserves for more energy.
When your stress hormones are out of balance, you may find it difficult to relax and let go of tension when bedtime arrives. This cuts into the crucial time your body needs to rest, repair, and restore itself during sleep. Lack of quality sleep can also lead to chronic fatigue and mood changes.
Exercising too much without resting enough in between can lead to low testosterone levels and high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. These hormonal changes are often associated with loss of muscle tissue, weight gain, and excess belly fat.
A Sudden increase in difficulty when working out
If you have an overtraining syndrome, you may feel like your workouts are much more difficult; like they take more effort to complete. This increase in your perceived effort can make you feel like you are working harder even though your body is working at its usual rate. You may also have a higher heart rate whilst you’re working out and a higher resting heart rate during the day. Additionally, your heart rate may take longer to return to its resting rate once you have finished your exercise session.
Generally, while overtraining syndrome involves training stress, the real cause is a lack of recovery. Often, overtraining syndrome involves other stresses that combine with training stress so that recovery is impaired. The non-training stresses add to the training stresses to compound the overall impact. However, these non-training stresses also impair the quality of rest, further reducing recovery. Stresses can be categorized as physiological, psychological, and social in origin. This makes overtraining syndrome harder to diagnose and treat as the sporting community tends to ignore the non-biological aspects of training and often stigmatizes psychosocial issues.
Who Gets Overtraining Syndrome?
A rapid increase in training workload is a frequent cause of overtraining for many people (men and women) who are starting from a base level of low fitness. Typically, athletes can also trigger overtraining symptoms by doing too much too soon. This often happens in the spring when warmer weather, longer days, and event goals boost enthusiasm and commitment. Athletes who are accustomed to a high training workload have a higher threshold to reach before suffering the effects of overtraining. In most cases, experienced or very fit athletes more often get into an overtraining situation due to prolonged periods of training with insufficient rest and / or disruptions to their recovery habits.
How Does It Affect You? How Serious Is It?
The spectrum of overtraining before leading into overtraining syndrome can be represented by three stages (the merging of a progressive, worsening state of health and fitness caused by the body’s inability to adapt to the accumulation of stress):
Stage 1 Overtraining
The transition from functional to non-functional over-reaching can be considered the first stage of overtraining. While its recognition is not always obvious, identifying it presents the opportunity to prevent further serious physical, biochemical, and mental-emotional problems; including injuries, and performance decrements. Stage one overtraining is associated with the increased production of stress hormones and a rise in sympathetic activity, with the onset of signs and symptoms as described below:
- Athletes may become more aware of elevated stress, feeling more fatigue / less energy during the day, with more physical soreness.
- Sleep quality or quantity may be affected, especially waking during the night and unable to quickly return to sleep.
Stage 2 Overtraining
This stage is a deterioration of non-adapted stress that began in Stage 1. It is associated with specific neurological, hormonal, and mechanical imbalances causing a variety of more obvious signs and symptoms. Causes within the second stage of overtraining include:
- Restlessness and over-excitability, especially in relation to reduced sleep.
- Increased potential for depression and anxiety.
- Increased general fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
- Immune dysfunction (an increase in colds, flu, and other infections).
- Gut dysfunction (an increase in bloating, excess gas, and intestinal discomfort).
- Muscle imbalance (weakness and tightness of two or more muscles).
Stage 3 Overtraining
A serious chronic excess stress condition; this end-stage of overtraining is associated with the exhaustion of neurological and hormonal mechanisms, typically with more severe physical, biochemical, or mental-emotional consequences. Training and competitive performance continue worsening, with many athletes competing poorly or not at all. The lack of physical and mental energy reduces the desire to compete and train. Depression, significant physical injury, poor immunity, and gut dysfunction are commonly associated, together with poor health.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
Traditional medicine provides no reliable way to identify overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome may be the result of another underlying condition, and it sometimes is masked because of symptoms that are similar to other conditions. Complete rest is the single most effective means to treat overtraining syndrome. The amount of rest required depends on the length, intensity, and type of training that caused the condition. Your personal medical history will also play a factor in the amount of rest prescribed.
It is incredibly important to note that complete rest is essential for full recovery from overtraining syndrome. This is because the body does not differentiate among different types of exercises. To the heart, lungs, adrenal glands, and other organs and systems, all stress caused through physical activity is identical.
To better understand the deceptively simple treatments of overtraining syndrome, it is helpful to learn the physical effects of exercise and rest on the human body. The purpose of hard training is to enhance the body’s muscular and cardiovascular systems by working them to their maximum capacities. However, the exercise itself does not actually achieve this goal. In reality, intense exercise actually causes damage to the body. Muscle fibers stretch and tear; the heart is forced to work harder, and blood pushes faster and harder through veins and arteries, raising blood pressure significantly. It is only after the workout is complete and the body has rested sufficiently that the desired physical benefits occur. This is known as a recovery period. It must last long enough for the body to completely heal from the damage caused by the training period.
Once the body is fully recovered, the results include increased strength, greater endurance, improved efficiency of the heart, and enhanced capacities of energy storage.
In addition, some of the best ways to avoid experiencing further symptoms linked to overtraining syndrome are to:
- Avoid monotonous training activities.
- Avoid sudden increases in training, such as doubling workout times or intensities. Gradual increases allow the body to properly train, adjust, and recover.
- Integrate appropriate rest periods into all training regimes (for example, you may alternate high intensity, aerobic days with low intensity, endurance-focused workouts).
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
If you developed overtraining syndrome, you will need to take specific steps to speed up your recovery in order to prevent further injury. Depending on the duration of symptoms and the severity of the case, overtraining syndrome is a serious condition that can take a long time to recover from. Overtraining syndrome not only affects the muscular system, but also the circulatory system, the nervous system, and the hormone regulation system. Recognizing the warning signs early and being proactive in prevention will help you avoid overtraining syndrome. Below are a few at-home treatments for you to try:
One of the first and primary treatments for overtraining syndrome is to simply rest. More rest is required the longer the overtraining has occurred. After the rest days, slowly taper back into training at a lower training volume until recovery is complete. Typically, the intensity of training can be maintained as long as the volume is decreased. It is highly recommended to start an alternative day recovery cycle; i.e. train for one day, and then rest the next day.
Ice pack therapy can reduce swelling, tissue harm, blood clot development, redness, muscle contraction, and pain. In addition, it increases the circulation of nutrients into the area, helps in the elimination of metabolites, grows strength, and promotes healing.
Incorporating acupuncture into your recovery process can be extremely beneficial. Acupuncture can help to address a multitude of conditions that affect the nervous, muscular, and hormonal systems. All three systems should be addressed during the recovery process. During acupuncture sessions, you can take time to specifically work on intentional relaxation and meditation which has the added benefit of addressing the nervous and hormonal systems.
A healthy diet is critical to avoid injury. Your body tissue needs nutrients to be able to perform at a high level. Avoid processed food as much as possible. Limit sugary food and add more protein and healthy fat to your diet. Maintaining a diet with adequate healthy fats is essential in providing the nutrients to support all hormone functions in the body, as well as to support the brain and nervous system.
Hydrate more frequently
The human body is primarily made of water, which is critical for all body functions. In the case of overtraining syndrome, it is recommended for you to hydrate more frequently during recovery. Adequate water intake is critical to avoid dehydration which can negatively affect your training. Dehydrated tissues are prone to injury as they struggle to gain the needed nutrients to heal and repair. Dehydrated tissues are less flexible and tend to accumulate waste products; therefore, staying hydrated by drinking water is a great process in the course of recovery to prevent any further symptoms linked to overtraining syndrome.
Some of the pitfalls of overtraining include illness, injury, and burnout. These supplements can help fortify your body and avoid some of these pitfalls:
- Vitamin B