Overtraining Issues - Too Much Exercise Without Enough Calories
a maddening situation to find yourself in. You workout six days
a week, occasionally twice a day, and you flex your discipline muscle
seven days a week with regard to your diet. It's low-fat, low-carb
and low-sugar. But something truly awful is happening. Despite your
herculean workout regime and monastic eating habits, you can't seem
to lose a pound. In fact, your body fat percentage is inexplicably
increasing and your weight loads in the gym are doubtlessly decreasing.
Your toned arms seem softer and your jeans feel just a bit snugger
than they did last month. No wonder you are in such an awful mood,
not to mention that you are unable to concentrate, sleep, or even
enjoy, well, much of anything.
Anyone's knee jerk reaction to this sudden backward slide in his
or her progress is to hit the gym harder and to bring down the calorie
count even further, but as counterintuitive as it may seem sometimes
eating more and working out less is the ONLY solution to this nightmare.
While this advice may be difficult to swallow for hard-core fitness
enthusiasts and chronic dieters, once the basic science behind this
phenomenon is understood, the benefit of turning everything you
know about diet and fitness on its head becomes clear.
The culprit behind a stubborn stall in fat loss and plummeting
gains in muscle size and strength is overtraining. Overtraining
is defined by the National Academy of Science and Medicine as an
accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in
long-term decrease in performance capacity. In other words, when
it comes to achieving your fitness and body composition goals, there
is in fact a point of diminishing returns. If you are constantly
working out at a high intensity level for long periods of time most
days of the week and not scheduling in recovery days then you are
dangerously towing the very fine line between admirable dedication
and counterproductive overtraining.
Ideally a proactive approach is taken toward overtraining by preventing
it from occurring in the first place. However, since overtraining
is a condition that grows worse over time, it makes sense to be
on the lookout for its earliest markers, which are a host of physiological
and psychological signs:
changes such as irritability, depression, and the inability to concentrate
are among the easiest to detect.
Altered heart rate and blood pressure, especially an elevated resting
heart rate early in the morning, are blaring signs that you are
overtraining. A low heart rate and low blood pressure are the trophies
brought home by the fittest among us, but if your resting heart
rate is elevated from your normal baseline and your blood pressure
has increased then your body isn't recovering.
Hematological alterations, which can be determined through a blood
test, including changes in iron status, protein status, electrolyte
balance, phosphorus / calcium balance, elevated blood urea nitrogen,
elevated uric acid, and a skewed lipoprotein balance (including
cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids) are markers that your
body is suffering from the shock of overtraining.
Abnormal aches and pains, nagging injuries that seem not to heal,
or other related symptoms are usually brought on by the "cumulative
microtrauma" of overtraining.
Succumbing easily and frequently to cold or flu bugs or other pathogens
in the environment, which signifies a compromised immune system.
Muscle wasting or easily putting on fat despite low calorie dieting.
Interestingly overtraining is almost always accompanied by appetite
suppression despite increasing energy expenditure.
Another way to confirm the suspicion that overtraining is to blame
for a stubborn plateau is to monitor energy levels during three
workouts according to Boris Sapone, a certified personal trainer
from Las Vegas. Sapone recommends that clients who are no longer
seeing progress toward their goals should time the duration of their
the point of exhaustion comes earlier and earlier with each workout
then they are overtraining," says Sapone. He gently explains
to these clients that they ought to back off at this point. "Those
who don't listen are the people you see in the gym week after week
month after month with the exact same body they had when they started,"
Once overtraining is diagnosed, reversal of the condition and its
detrimental effects may take up to a year. This of course is gloomy
news if you have become both physically and psychologically dependent
on (or even addicted to) your superhuman regimen, but fortunately
trainers and sport specialists have prescribed specific steps
to follow so that you can free yourself from the viscous cycle of
- STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. As difficult as it may be since
you are overwhelmed by your body's stubborn refusal to respond
to an increasingly demanding workout schedule and stringent diet,
you must REST. Take off a week or two. Eat sensibly. Sleep more.
Overtraining has altered your body's hormonal balance, wreaking
havoc on your adrenal glands and insulin levels, as well as your
body's ability to fall into deep cycles of sleep. Restoring this
balance will improve mood and brain functioning.
- Once training has been reinstated, keep workouts intense
but short and be sure to build in rest days. Gains in strength
and size do not occur on workout days, but on rest days. Remember,
NO REST=NO GAIN.
- Incorporate periodization into your workout schedule.
You cannot train at 100% all year round if you want to avoid overtraining.
Schedule in easier periods leading up to more intense periods.
This is an effective strategy the pros use all the time.
- While you are taking time off from the gym, make the effort
to learn about nutritional supplements that may be useful
in helping your body repair itself, both now and in the future.
Be sure to speak with a reputable person who is knowledgeable.
The salesperson at the national health store chain may not be
the best source of information.
No discussion about overtraining is complete without emphasizing
the symbiotic relationship between under eating and overtraining.
While under eating is counterproductive to weight loss efforts whether
one is working out or not, under eating in conjunction with frequent
and high intensity workouts puts you on the fast track to overtraining.
Eating enough calories to meet the energy and recuperation requirements
of your body is good insurance against overtraining in the first
According to Sapone the perfect formula for continually seeing
results in the gym can be broken down into a 20/20/60 split. Effective
workouts make up 20% of your results. Adequate rest makes
up 20% of your results. And balanced and adequate nutrition
makes up the remaining 60% of your results.
percent is too large a number to ignore. While eating only skinless
chicken and avoiding highly refined carbohydrates is certainly virtuous,
depriving your body of the calories it needs, not only to survive
but to sustain effective workouts, is downright self-defeating.
Your body needs energy for strength training, cardio, weight lifting,
walking, sleeping, digestion, etc. This energy comes from food.
The calories in food are fuel for your body. If you don't supply
the fuel then you will suffer from the following:
- Strength Loss. Your body doesn't receive the energy it
needs for the physical activities you do. You'll feel tired and
weak at the gym.
- Fat Gains. Fat is emergency storage for your body. Your
body burns muscle for energy first when you don't eat. You'll
become skinny but fat.
- Muscle Loss. The weight loss is muscle loss. Muscle loss
equals fat gains as muscle burns more calories than fat.
"The body is like a chimney," says Sapone. "If you
don't feed it fuel, it won't burn." In other words, if calorie
intake drops too much your body enters a protective starvation mode
in which it hoards fat. Sapone adds that in this mode you are simply
building muscle to tear it down over and over again. So, it makes
sense that in addition to building in scheduled days of rest once
you return to working out, you must fulfill your body's daily caloric
requirement. You can find this number using an online calculator
based on your lean muscle mass weight, height, age, and activity
level. Once caloric requirements are known, you must consider two
more non-negotiables: the appropriate balance of macronutrients
and meal timing.
As often as you have heard it, the body is truly a finely tuned
instrument in need of very specific ratios of nutrients to perform
at its best both in the gym and out. You must regulate carefully
the ratio of healthy fats, adequate protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates
in your diet. Also, with regard to meal timing it is essential to
keep glucose levels as steady as possible so that you can perform
at your best during each workout. Eat five or six small meals throughout
the day to avoid the common tendency to crescendo your calories-that
is, to eat little or nothing early in the day and to consume the
majority of your calories in the evening. Inadequate caloric intake
prior to working out leads to subpar workouts, and without a steady
supply of glucose in the blood the body is likely to burn hard-earned
muscle rather than fat while you are working out.
Once all of these steps are implemented the body will recover,
but the most difficult aspect of treating overtraining is the psychological
one. It takes a true leap of faith to eat more and workout less
when doing the opposite is so highly touted. And the truth is you
may feel worse before you feel better. You may become more agitated
without the release provided by your daily workout, and you may
gain a few pounds of water weight as your body readjusts to the
changes you are making. These issues according to Sapone work themselves
out within two to four weeks. "I recommend to my most hesitant
clients to simply trust the process," he adds. Through, it
seems, is the only way out.