Overtraining is a bit of a fitness buzzword inciting opinions aplenty – and there’s a fine line between pushing yourself hard enough and knowing when to back off.
Treading this line is really part of the secret of being a good coach and athlete. Overtraining happens when continuous training is carried out without suffcient recovery to the point where sporting performance decreases.
It’s linked with immune suppression, glycogen depletion, performance incompetence and negative impacts on mood and there are a few theories of how overtraining syndrome manifests itself.
1. The glycogen system theory
This suggests that in a glycogendepleted state you have increased oxidation, an increased breakdown of BCAAs from muscle tissue, increased production of stress hormones and higher levels of 5HT, a precursor to serotonin, which then makes you tired.
Energy balance is a cornerstone to remaining robust and well recovered. The solution is to keep an eye on your intake and expenditure, making sure if it’s at a deficit, you don’t run it too hard for too long.
2. The oxidative stress theory
This proposes excessive training overwhelms the body’s antioxidant defense mechanisms. Increased oxidation increases inflammation, which in turn increases muscle fatigue and slower recovery.
The solution is to eat foods that support antioxidant enzyme systems (berries, pecan nuts and dark chocolate) while cycling training to avoid repeated stress areas. Also, training smart with short, higher intensity sessions, rather than plodding along for hours.
3. The central system theory
This is when your central nervous system (CNS) gets depleted and you lose your ability to produce stress hormones in response to training or other stressors. In the short term, this involves displacement of BCAAs, increasing 5HT uptake into the brain. In the longer term it involves adrenal hypofunction and dysregulation of the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, which is how your brain talks to the adrenals.
There’s contention around different types of CNS overtraining, but some experts suggest endurance training leads to sympathetic burnout and weights and power training leads to parasympathetic burnout. In both situations the answer is to cut volume while keeping intensity, increase rest days and use plant-based compounds.
4. The cytokine theory
Here we focus on the system imbalance where adaptation through tissue healing and strengthening happens thanks to the activation of local inflammatory response and recruitment of cytokines (part of your immune system that’s usually pro-inflammatory). Stress increases cytokine levels, causing depression-like symptoms.
So, how can you fight overtraining?
Up your fish oils intake, eat more herbs and spices and supplement with ZMA, curcumin, boswellia, resveratrol and quercetin. You should also eat more vitamin D-rich foods and boost your immune system with reishi mushrooms. Sleeping and chilling out should help, too.
Specific nutrients such as colostrum and probiotics can also improve your digestive health and immune system functioning during periods of high stress and higher intensity training. How do you know if you’re overtraining? A new stressor may arrive which you don’t factor in and something will have to give to allow you suffcient time to shift into the parasympathetic recovery mode so you regenerate and repair properly.