Epic stories of your favorite athletes—going ham from dawn ‘til dusk— never fail to get the blood boiling. You may develop an urge to triple your cardio routine or spend an hour extra pumping iron. But the truth is, even the most devoted of athletes require proper rest to match their strenuous efforts. They may exert themselves like champions, yet even the strongest succumb to overtraining syndrome if their routine lacks sufficient recovery periods.
What Is Overtraining Syndrome?
Overtraining syndrome(OTS) occurs when the accumulated level of stress on your body is greater than the amount of recovery you’ve allowed. It strikes after weeks or months of excessive training versus inadequate rest. Under performance and plateaus become the norm when OTS settles in. By then, a typical rest day just won’t cut it anymore.
Symptoms to Watch Out For
Those afflicted with OTS exhibit not only physical symptoms, but emotional and behavioral as well. Here are the main indicators:
The energy just isn’t there. You struggle through your routine, but you feel too tired to push it hard like before. Even two subsequent rest days will prove ineffective.
OTS lowers testosterone and raises cortisol levels, creating a hormonal imbalance.(1) This in turn causes mood swings and can lead to depression.
Constantly Feeling Sick:
Decreases in glutamine from OTS lowers your immune system response, making you more susceptible to infections.(1)
Ridding Yourself Of OTS
Once diagnosed, you should start resting immediately. The longer you delay treatment, the longer you’ll need to rest. You may need one week of rest, or 3-6 months depending upon the severity. Consult with a medical professional for an estimate.
For shorter rest periods of 1-2 weeks, refrain from any physical activity but continue to practice myofascial release and maintaining flexibility. A clean diet high in protein and healthy fats is necessary to rebuild damaged muscles and restore balance to your hormones.(2)
For lengthier rest periods over one month, follow the above advice and consider light cross-training after the initial fatigue begins to clear up. Perhaps try yoga or swimming before returning to marathon running. The goal is to remain just active enough to avoid athletic hypertrophy without exacerbating your symptoms.
Of course, it’s preferable to prevent OTS from occurring in the first place. To prevent overtraining, you must treat the recovery process as seriously as the training itself. Here are a few considerations to start off on the right note:
Get Sleep: Sleeping too little hinders recovery of damaged muscles after exercise.(3) A solid 8-10 hours a night is essential for maintaining high energy in dedicated athletes.
Myofascial Release: Deep tissue massages after a workout significantly decreases fatigue and soreness as well as clean out lactic acids.(4) Calories, Carbs, And Protein: Your total energy and carbohydrate intake has to match the stress put on your body.(5) Likewise, 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kilogram daily is recommended for dedicated athletes.(6) Listen To Your Body: Evaluate and plan accordingly. Downsize training if need be. It’s not worth pushing your limits when exhausted or emotionally drained. Take it easy and come back fresh the next day.
If your muscles are still sore and tired after the 72-hour mark, proceed with caution and survey the symptoms above. OTS is best nipped in the bud as it bodes ill for the future of seasoned athletes when left untreated. As athletes, we crave the rush of endorphins from performing at our best. But managing athletic injuries and illnesses requires long-term planning, not short-term rewards. So, treat your body with respect, stay alert to symptoms of OTS, and reap the rewards with a lengthy athletic career.