You've been working toward your goal for months now, and it was all going so well. Your energy was great, you felt strong and in control. Then out of nowhere, you hit a wall. Suddenly, all your workout-related joy is gone, and your whole body feels heavy. Chances are, you've been overtraining.
Overtraining puts our bodies into a sympathetic state (fight or flight) that releases cortisol, a stress hormone involved in cravings, weight gain, and adrenaline in the body. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, runners, athletes, and even yogis. It occurs when the volume and intensity of exercise exceeds an individual's recovery capacity. People who have trained too hard cease making progress and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Long story short, it's not ideal.
Don't know if you're overtraining? Here's how to find out.
While it can be obvious when we're overtraining, that's not always the case. In order to keep your training flowing and moving forward, ideally you should try to recognize the early onset symptoms of overtraining so you can learn how to avoid them before they become so overwhelmingly physical and require far longer to recover from.
Here are some signs that you may be overtraining:
- You feel very stiff, sore, and achy for long periods of time.
- You have a lack of motivation to train for no specific reason.
- Your performance starts to tail off or you are plateauing.
- You feel stressed, irritable, or anxious in other areas of your life.
- Your sex drive has dipped.
- You're sleeping too much, or you're having trouble falling asleep in the first place.
- You experience loss of appetite or start craving comfort foods such as processed or junk food.
- You feel sad, fatigued, and experience lots of mood swings.
- You feel frustrated that your training no longer feels as exciting as it did before, and you resent the time you dedicate to it.
If you suspect you've been overtraining, here are a few ways to get back on track:
1. Rework your workout program.
Working out long and hard on a daily basis is extremely hard on the joints, muscles, and nervous system. It may yield some flashy short-term results, like six-pack abs, but it leads to frequent injuries and elevated cortisol levels in the long-term. Good programming includes periods of gentle movement and exercise variations like swimming, outdoor walking, mild sports, light jogging, bike riding, mindful and restorative yoga, tai chi, and more.
2. Say goodbye to 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. workouts.
Sleep is the body's prime tool for repair, so make sure that you are getting at least eight hours every night. If you fail to do so, you won't recover as quickly from each workout session, and the next one could hit you even harder. Sleep is vital to your recovery!
Our bodies are 80 percent water, and there is a strong link between dehydration and delayed recovery. Hydration is critical for proper body temperature regulation, muscle, and heart function. Research shows that hydration deficit of as little as 2 percent decreases muscle strength and performance because it leads to a drop in plasma volume, and hence, adequate nutrition doesn’t reach all the cells of our body.
4. Eat your greens.
Active recovery techniques are important, but post-workout nutrition can make a huge difference in your performance. The popularity of vegetarian diets has been fueled by the success stories of athletes who are world champions and also vegetarians, and the good news is that it's easy to get enough protein through plants like nuts, beans, peas, edamame, and more.
Be sure to eat antioxidant-rich fruits like berries, kiwi, pineapple, and pomegranate to speed up internal elimination of waste products, decrease inflammation, support enzymatic function, and restore cellular activities for faster healing and recovery. Eating nutrient-rich vegetables like leafy greens, cauliflower, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, chard, bok choy, kale, radishes, and turnips will also help with healing.
Every year brings more studies touting the physical, emotional, and psychological benefits of meditation. Meditation, or even just deep breathing, is an excellent way to reduce your stress levels, thus reducing the chances of muscular and nervous system fatigue. Meditating on regular basis connects us to our inner selves and improves our intuitive ability.
Meditation sounds a lot more daunting than it is. Luckily, there are hundreds of books, guided meditations, and websites that give clear, practical guidance on where to start and how to build a regular practice. All you need is a few minutes a day and an open mind.
The approach of pushing our bodies too hard is under scrutiny for various reasons, and moving to a gentler pace is now the latest development. Myofascial release therapies, cryotherapy spas, infrared saunas, foam rolling, self-massage with herbal oils, and group napping classes are among the new ideas that are being experimented with in many parts of the world. Study, check them out, and see if these work for you and your body.
And remember not to "copy" anyone else's workout. What works for them won't necessarily work for you, and it's important to listen to your own body. It is nature’s precious and unique gift to you. Love it, honor it, and handle with care.
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