The goal of any training program should be to provide incremental steps that progressively overload the body so that physiological adaptations can occur and provide an improvement to performance.
The distance that we are running can change the type of stress we are placing on the body, but essentially we will always be overloading when the mileage or intensity is increasing. The successful program should aim to try and avoid the negative combination of excessive overload and inadequate recovery.
When our training frequency, volume, or intensity becomes excessive without adequate rest, recovery, and nutrient intake, conditions of extreme fatigue, illness, or injury can often occur.
The accumulation of training stress on top of training/life stress can result in a deterioration in performance with or without the associated physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of poor adaptation, this is termed – overtraining.
Depending on the extent that an athlete remains in this overtrained state, restoration of performance can often take considerable time and aftercare.
Usually by the time we are experiencing the negative effects of overtraining we will have already gone too far into the process and performance will have started to suffer. This can often over spill into other areas of the our life and a general feeling of being unwell or below par without an easily identifiable cause can start to play havoc with day to day functioning.
It is better then to avoid getting too far into this state in the first place than having to claw our way out of it with an enforced lay off period.
When a runner increases training loads that lead to short-term decreases in performance, we term this temporary response as overreaching or functional overreaching (FOR).
Recovery from this process can normally be achieved within a few days or weeks of rest; and we can consequently, use this process of overreaching as a planned phase in our training programs. Essentially we are aiming to overwork and then reduce training volume to allow for a “supercompensation” in performance to occur.
This is often where the problems can start to appear. In the short term this process can be a desirable state to illicit but it is often extended too far and begins to almost trip the athlete into the negative states that can then result.
Its A short step from From Over Reaching to Over Training
As the intensification of our training volume/intensity continues (excessive junk miles, more hard interval sessions) without sufficient recovery and regeneration, we can begin to slide into a state of extreme overreaching, or nonfunctional overreaching (NFOR).
NFOR can lead to possible decreases in performance that may continue for an extended period of time way beyond that of standard over reaching.
When we abuse the balance between training and recovery, we invite the process of overtraining into our lives. Often some of the first signs and symptoms of excessive training stress are:-
a decrease performance
an increased level of fatigue
Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Over Training
Two differing types of OTS have been suggested: sympathetic and parasympathetic and they can reveal themselves at any point where increases in training are not matched with appropriate recovery strategies.
The sympathetic overtraining syndrome includes increased sympathetic activity at rest, whereas the parasympathetic overtraining syndrome often involves increased parasympathetic activity at rest and with exercise.
Essentially with Sympathetic Overtraining, the SNS is overactive, and in Parasympathetic Overtraining the SNS is underactive or “fatigued” and unable to produce the necessary hormones.
The sympathetic syndrome is thought to develop before the parasympathetic syndrome and is often seen in runners whose training involves more speed/power/anaerobic components. Essentially all states of overtraining will descend into the parasympathetic syndrome and the eventual suppression and disruption of most physiological systems throughout the body. Some Symptoms include
• Trouble Sleeping
• Weight loss
• Decreased performance
• Frequent illness and colds
• Overuse injuries become present
• Elevated morning heart rate
• Elevated cortisol levels
Parasympathetic Overtraining symptoms are as follows.
• Decreased Performance
• Achy legs at night
• INABILITY TO REACH NORMAL HEART DURING EXERCISE
• Possible craving of carbohydrates and caffeine
• Overuse injuries
• Normal heart rate while at rest or LOWER HR than usual
• Low Blood Pressure
Essentially though there exists a grey area where symptoms can wax and wane either way so there may be an overlap between which type you are experiencing, but fatigue and decreases in performance will be a dominant feature.
Volume, Intensity, Duration and recovery are key
Runners in either state will often be unable to sustain high-intensity exercise or in some cases be unable to sustain/achieve previous levels of performance when training load is maintained or increased.
The important take home message is that it is often an avoidable scenario. In many cases OTS can result from mistakes in the prescription of training load and a poor management of the many training variables (e.g., intensity, duration, volume, and rest and recovery).
A common mistake that has been highlighted over and over again involves the rate of progressive overload being too high, and repeatedly increasing either the volume or intensity (or both) too rapidly without adequate recovery for extended and unnecessary periods of time.
The dose of exercise is more than is required and the recovery processes are being out stripped. By not allowing for adequate compensation to occur the body either breaks down or grinds to a halt.
Nutrient intake and adequate calories during training
Nutrition is an important factor in the overtraining syndrome and some important principles have been put forward. They are as useful in the prevention as they are in the cure, so adhering to them may actually help to avoid this in the first place.
Nutrition general principles
- Eliminate all high-glycemic foods, especially sugar and other refined flour. Moderating your simple carbohydrate intake overall can also be helpful as high carbohydrate diets may further elevate cortisol levels.
- possible removal of gluten and known reactive foods.
- Consume smaller, more frequent meals to help control blood sugar and cortisol, especially for those with symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, hunger and poor sleep.
- Adequate caloric intake is paramount and avoid the development of hypoglycemia. Include moderate amounts of protein and healthful fats like coconut oil.
- Adequate daily hydration.
- Overtraining may disrupt the normal balance of fats in the body, which help control inflammation. Eliminate the intake of omega-6 vegetable oils (soy, peanut, safflower, canola, corn), which may promote inflammation. EPA/DHA supplements can help reduce inflammation.
- Caffeine consumption is should really be avoided where possible in over trained athletes. Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea and chocolate.
- Zinc may help control the abnormally high levels of cortisol and estrogen,
- 24-hour cortisol should be measured to determine abnormal peak levels; then the zinc supplementation should be taken two to three hours prior to cortisol peaks.
- Biofeedback Training to retrain the autonomic nervous system.
- Hormone optimization to hasten recovery and reduce symptomology.
Nutrition during training
Aim to consume 30-60 g carbs per hour this will help to avoid blood sugar crashes during training.
Some drinks to consume during training include, Torq nutrition energy, High5 Energy Source Powder, or Vega Clean Energy this list is not exclusive and there are many others on the market that will fit the bill.
Post exercise nutrition
Consume Moderate/high GI foods.
• Consume 1g carb / kg immediately after exercise. ( eg 90 kg = 90g of carbs)
• Consume 50g carbohydrate every 2hrs for 2/3 hours if main meal is not available
• Carbohydrates can be consumed as solids and/or fluids.
Ingest of 10g -40g protein shortly after exercise, some recommend that using a recovery blend containing carbs and protein in the correct rations is the easiest way of achieving this process quickly and easily, making sure that the nutritional system in place is consistently adhered to.
Again some suggestions include Torq recovery, Vega Clean Protein Vegan Plant Based Protein Powder, high 5 recovery protein drink. Again there are many others but the important thing is to get the recovery process started as quickly as possible and sometimes a liquid based formula is the most convenient way of consistently getting the calories in.
Using a Periodized training plan
Use a Periodization training plan this will ensure that you follow the correct method of sequencing training loads and recovery periods within the overall training year.
An annual plan should be designed to ensure fitness goals are focused on at an appropriate time of the year.
You can follow a training plan that involves breaking the year up into smaller phases that are easier to manage and recover from-stressing the correct systems at different sequences in the training year predominately alternating hard and easy sessions to reduce training monotony and promote recovery.
4 excellent books on the subject of periodization and training planning are :-
Adaptogens, raise resistance to various negative factors: physical, chemical, biological and psychological. The preparations stimulate physical and mental ability, raise the organisms resistance to various kinds of sicknesses, poisoning, and training stress. They stimulate the central nervous system sex glands activities, decrease sugar and cholesterol level in blood, improve appetite, sharpen sight and hearing.
Siberian Ginseng produces a comprehensive strengthening and toning impact; it has been recommended in treating various neural diseases, impotence, lung ailments, medium forms of diabetes mellitus, and malignant tumours. Improving the body’s natural defences against stress.
Rhodiola boosts physical and mental performance, along with enhancing recovery from intense-resistance exercise. Broadly speaking, these beneficial effects result from the interplay of several physiological mechanisms.
- Enhances mitochondrial function, and therefore influences substrate oxidation and turnover.
- Reduces exercise-induced lipid and protein oxidation.
- Facilitates the biosynthesis, activation, and transport of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly the opioids (i.e., beta-endorphins).
- Influences the levels of biogenic monoamines, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex, brain stem, and hypothalamus.
- Modulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
OVERTRAINING PREVENTION RECOMMENDATIONS
Recommendations with the aim to prevent overtraining in athletes are presented below:
Consider that the athletes have different levels of ability and tolerance to the training load;
Monitor the performance by registering training and competitions. Athletes and coaches should register training frequency, duration and intensity, factoring in periods of adequate rest between the sessions ;
Progressively increase the training load through proper periodization methods. Do not increase the weekly training load in more than 10%
Provide training load modifications, with volume reductions, intensity alterations, avoiding monotony in the training as well, giving priority to recovery periods;
Integrate mental and relaxation sessions in daily training routines with the purpose to recover energy and reinforce concentration
Establish realistic and effective goals to training and competitions,
Avoid excessive competitions through an annual adequate planning(56);
Encourage the development of psychological as well as physiological abilities, controlling stress factors, diet and a balanced approach to training;
Keep a balanced diet, with large variety of nutrients which mainly contains carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes. The use of vitamins and electrolytes may be necessary in case the diet is deficient
Use the active and passive recovery processes, including periods of absolute rest where required.