Most athletes train because they enjoy their sport. Exercise releases endorphins, and it can be incredibly addictive, and coaches encourage their athletes to train as often as possible because, after all, the best way to get better at a skill is to practise that skill over and over again.
However, when it comes to honing physical performance, it is possible to train too much. Overtraining can lead to mental and physical burnout, impaired performance, slower recovery times, loss of motivation and even injuries that require you to stop training completely for a while.
Signs of Overtraining
You may be training too much of you are experiencing any of the following symptoms.
If you are constantly thirsty, and drinking more water does not help with that thirst, then your body could be in a catabolic state. This means that you are burning muscle stores instead of glycogen and fat for energy, which is not a good thing. Drink more water to solve your dehydration problem, and give your body some much-needed rest.
Some soreness is natural when you are training, but if you are doing the same exercises on a regular basis and are always sore, then you could be pushing yourself too hard. If you are lifting weights, cut your workouts down to 45 to 60 minutes, and give yourself a rest day to help your body recover.
After a good session in the gym, you should feel as if you are ready to get a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, this means that you’re probably pushing your body too hard. This can cause overload on your central nervous system and create hormone imbalances. Take a week off from the gym and spend that week eating high-quality, healthy food in large quantities.
Injuries can happen, especially in contact sports and in sports that involve a lot of dynamic or explosive movements, but that does not mean that you should just accept them. If you are finding that you are getting lots of minor injuries, and it is not because you are new to a sport and still learning how to do the required movements safely, then you should consider taking some time off to rest and recover before one of those minor injuries turns into a serious and debilitating one.
How to Combat Overtraining
Overtraining is something that can creep up on you. Many novices overtrain because they are enthusiastic and keep adding more and more sessions until their body just can’t cope. For others, the problem occurs because they are following a linear progression or progressive overload regimen and they just don’t know when to stop.
In some cases, a coach may push an athlete too hard, not realising that their body or their lifestyle simply isn’t ready for the amount of training they are recommending. Whatever the reason, there are several things you can do to help you train longer and harder, and to help your body recover from being pushed to its limits.
- Sleep: Aim to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
- Hydration: Drink lots of water, but avoid fruit juice, soda and energy drinks. Stick to plain water, or coconut water if you must have the extra electrolytes.
- Rest: Give yourself at least one rest day per week, and try to spend that day doing as little physical activity as possible. Going for a long-distance run on your rest day because “at least it’s not lifting weights” will not help your body to recover.
- Massage: Visit a massage therapist or invest in a foam roller and use it to loosen up those sore muscles.
- Food: Don’t underestimate the importance of good nutrition.
How Your Diet Affects Your Training
Your diet has a much bigger impact on your training capacity than you might think. The modern grain-rich diet is simply not good enough to support an active lifestyle. Anyone who is training more than a couple of times per week needs to eat a high-protein diet that is rich in healthy fats. If you are eating a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet then you are setting yourself up for hormonal issues, long recovery times and limited gains in the gym.
The Paleo diet is a great diet for any athlete to follow. It includes healthy fats, muscle-feeding proteins and lots of vegetables. It is rich in creatine, vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients that support muscle growth and repair and boost your immune system.
The Paleo diet is a diet that involves getting back to basics. Instead of eating processed foods that our ancestors would not have had access to, those on the diet focus on grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, free-range poultry and fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and berries. Grains are forbidden, as are foods that are highly processed.
This diet may seem quite restrictive at first, but most people who follow it find that they feel healthier, have fewer cravings and have more energy. The macronutrient makeup of this diet is ideal for strength athletes (and many endurance athletes find that they can adapt to the lower carbohydrate intake over time, although they struggle in the short term), and it promotes faster recovery and better performance, so you can train more often, and for longer, without it taking a massive toll on your body.
Many older adults erroneously assume that the reason that they cannot train several times per week is that they are simply “too old” and that their body needs much longer to recover than it did when they were younger. While there is some truth to the statement that you do need more recovery time as you age, the fall-off in performance is not as great as some people would have you believe. If you follow the right diet, maintain good sleep quality and stay hydrated, you will be able to train more often than you think.