The two scariest words you’ll hear if you’re super sporty: Overtraining Syndrome (OTS). It’s real, it’s totally rubbish, and it means enforced time out. The irony is you think you’re being really healthy, working out like a demon, but it turns out you’re doing yourself more harm than good. Your body basically doesn’t get enough time to recover from all the hard-core exercise and it takes a toll– big time.
I circled the OTS drain when I was marathon training a couple of years ago (I was not so cleverly running 15k+ a day/7 days a week). Fortunately my physio spotted the symptoms and warned that I had to totally change my approach to training or risk being out of commission for a long time.
WHAT IS OVERTRAINING SYNDROME?
When you do intense exercise, your body burns through sugar and fat for energy. Like wood burning on a fire, this creates “smoke”, or oxidative stress, which floods your system with free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells if the antioxidants in your system can’t keep up. This can happen when you don’t take any rest days. It’s further compounded if you aren’t eating enough antioxidant-rich foods and if you’ve got a bit of a stressful lifestyle (who doesn’t!).
Cue chronic fatigue, insomnia (even through you are seriously exhausted), muscle soreness (beyond bog-standard post-exercise achiness), low immunity (you pick up every cold going), injury onset and muscle weakness (since your musculoskeletal system doesn’t have time to repair after training), hormone imbalances (bad for everything from mood to skin), changes in heart rate (higher than normal), and mood changes (can feel depressed, anxious, unmotivated). Overtraining can also rather cruelly contribute to weight gain because your system is keyed up with the fight-or-flight, stress hormone, cortisol (particularly guilty for packing weight around your belly).
If so, take a break ASAP (easier said than done if you’re a cardio junkie) and see a doctor. It’s really important to catch OTS early because instead of taking a couple of weeks off, you might be looking at much longer (months/sometimes a year+) if you develop full blown adrenal fatigue. Scary.
HOW TO AVOID IT?
Make sure to take at least one full day off a week and try to alternate days of intense, high impact exercise (like running or cycling) with lower impact exercise (like yoga or pilates). Also, eat a diet rich in antioxidants (to mop up those free radicals) and try to get more sleep!
by Erin Moroney
Nibble Founder & runner