Overtraining – When To Stop

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Very few things can equal the adrenaline rush of kicking a ball and watching it obey you and go exactly where you wanted.

We’ve all felt the elation, the disappointment, the highs and the lows that are inherent in playing the game, and also in watching it.

But that’s not what prompted me to write this article.

In fact, my focus today is to address an issue that doesn’t get talked about enough, and can often be overlooked as plain laziness.

I simply want to create awareness about it.

Tell me, does any of this sound familiar to you?

-Your kid plays on the school soccer team and you couldn’t be more proud.

However, in the last couple of months, he seems to be tired and fatigued ALL THE TIME (this is important, I’ll get to it in a minute)

He has also lost a couple of pounds.

-You play for your college soccer team and have been pushing yourself hard lately.

However, instead of getting better, you are getting worse as you seem to run out of energy halfway through training or a match.

You also seem to be losing weight though you justified it as an effect of your increased training intensity.

If any of this sounded familiar to you, then I want you to read the next part of the article very carefully, for you might be suffering from OVERTRAINING.

First and foremost, let me define clearly what overtraining means, and how it differs from merely fatigue from regular training.

Fatigue from normal training:

The symptoms subside with a couple of days rest and a carbohydrate filled diet.

Overtraining:

The symptoms do not go away even if you stay in bed for a week and go on a carb-binge.

The “symptoms” of overtraining that won’t go away can be any of the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss, especially muscle mass loss
  • Loss of appetite

And also some really disturbing ones, such as-

  • Depression
  • Anhedonia, or more simply, losing interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Inability to concentrate- can result in poor grades

Makes me shudder to think of the plight of a child suffering from overtraining, who sees his grades falling, feels terrible, depressed, and yet doesn’t know what exactly is wrong with him.

This was my motivation to come up with a clear article with no fluff or jargon, which explains briefly about overtraining, how to recognize it, and what to do about it.

About Overtraining

The body goes through a lot of changes in order to adapt for the increased demand of energy that accompanies overtraining.

First, after the fat is off, when the body can’t get enough energy rich food to match the increased demand, the stored glycogen in muscles is depleted explaining the low energy levels.

It is very desirable to catch overtraining at this stage, allow adequate rest and carb rich diet, which will make sure the body stores are replenished.

But if things aren’t so favorable, the body might start breaking down muscle just so that it has something to burn and provide the energy.

Now proteins are a really inefficient source of energy.

Their job is to build the body structure, the vehicle, not to be the fuel that runs it.

This leads to loss of lean muscle mass, decreased body weight and also increased blood levels of urea, which is a breakdown product of body proteins.

It has been proposed that the area and other metabolites that are produced act as stimulants causing the imbalance in the ANS (autonomous nervous system) and hormonal imbalances.

ANS imbalance:

Without getting too technical and risking loss of key information in jargon, I want you to understand that there are 2 components of the ANS.

Also, know that the ANS is that part of the nervous system which basically controls the bodily functions such as heart rate and blood pressure without requiring our conscious input. It consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.

Overtraining can cause both sympathetic overactivity and parasympathetic overactivity, leading to exactly opposite manifestations.

For an example, sympathetic overactivity increases the resting Heart Rate, while parasympathetic overactivity decreases it.

The point I’m trying to make is this- with both ends of the spectrum being a part of overtraining syndrome, it can get quite difficult to diagnose it. Coaches and parents, even athletes themselves would much rather prefer attributing it to laziness.

The solution?

Expert medical advice is the answer. Period.

Hormones all over the place:

Thyroxine (produced by the thyroid gland) and testosterone are the important ones involved in any exercise.

Thyroxine controls the B.M.R.(basal metabolic rate-the speed with which your body burns calories)

And testosterone helps in a variety of bodily functions, one of which is muscle-building.

Too much thyroxine, and too little testosterone are what cause the problems.

The solution?

Well, we are talking about normal physiological hormones here. Their levels are not to be meddled with by external supplementation.

Only rest till complete recovery is the option available, and professional medical help in cases of non-resolution of symptoms.

Immunity issues:

Overtraining has been associated with lowered production of antibodies. There isn’t much evidence to back this up.

However, athletes suffering from overtraining do have an increased susceptibility to infections.

This is a potentially serious problem, and needs serious consideration, as an infection in an already weak individual could prove difficult to eradicate.

Best way to monitor overtraining?

Monitoring the heart rate. Period.

While blood investigations for monitoring metabolites and hormone levels have been described, none of them was very conclusive.

They are also expensive and generally not feasible.

Monitoring Heart rate:

Athletes are supposed to have a LOW HEART RATE (both resting and during exercise)

If an athlete who had a lower heart rate previously, starts having a higher H.R., and also suffers from the symptoms mentioned above, it becomes quite clear that he is suffering from Overtraining.

Do You Suffer From Overtraining?

Now that you know what overtraining is, let me summarise by asking you a few questions:

-Do you feel unreasonably tired, and have felt tired all the time, for a couple of weeks to months at a stretch?

-Do you have sleep issues, such as insomnia?

-Have you lost weight in the past couple of months – especially muscle mass?

-Do you feel uninterested in activities you previously used to enjoy?

-Do you feel depressed or sad a lot?

 

If you answered any, let me repeat, ANY of the above questions in the affirmative, then you need to-

-Slow down or completely stop your training for an extended period.

-Make dietary modifications by increasing the amount of carb intake.

-Seek professional medical help in case the symptoms don’t subside in a week.

Experienced something similar and want to add your experiences to this list?

Please comment below and help me create awareness by sharing this article.


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