Overtraining syndrome is real, and it can be very serious. This syndrome is taken so seriously by experts that it’s been studied and written about in numerous scientific journals over the years. So if you think you might be suffering from overdoing your training, you’re probably not imagining it.
At the most basic level, overtraining syndrome (OTS) can happen when your body isn’t able to adequately recover after intense exercise.
But it’s more complex than it seems, and a wide number of factors can bring about OTS in individuals, including factors that don’t even relate to training.
Ongoing OTS can not only decrease your fitness level and your progress, but can also result in injury. Avoiding OTS from occurring is clearly the most ideal strategy. But it’s also important to know what to do if you might have overtrained.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Overtraining Syndrome?
As you would expect, the symptoms of OTS can be wide ranging but generally revolve around fatigue and decreased physical ability.
Some of the main signs that you might notice if you’re starting to suffer with overtraining syndrome include:
1. Excessive fatigue
Feeling heavy and drained when you know you should have recovered is a clear sign of OTS. If your body isn’t recovering adequately then your body is going to start draining your stored energy sources of fat, proteins and carbs. And this is when your gains can start to go backwards. This happens when you either overtrain, underfuel; or both.
2. Poor mental health
Agitation, moodiness, decreased concentration – these are some of the potential psychological effects of overtraining syndrome. This is not only due to your body being tired, but also because of the negative toll being taken on your stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol.
3. Declining sleep quality
It’s a double edged sword that poor sleep can contribute to OTS, while the condition can then go on to cause further sleeping difficulties. When you can’t rest and allow your body to repair, this enhances your fatigue considerably and leaves you open to a decline in immunity and general health.
4. Appetite loss
If you can’t fuel yourself properly with food, your physical decline can be swift. The more you train, the more your appetite increases normally. But with OTS the opposite can occur.
Common Causes of Overtraining Syndrome
OTS is a result of a poor balance between:
When these three vital factors become imbalanced, you are at risk of suffering with overtraining syndrome. In particular, some of the more specific reasons that you increase your chances of experiencing OTS include:
Training hard on recovery days
Recovery days are just that; days that your body needs to recover following intensive workouts. Although mild exercise on recovery days is unlikely to cause problems, overtraining on these days puts you at high risk of OTS.
This concept involves looking at how similar your workouts out are to each other, and how many hard days of training you do which are interspersed with easier training days. Too many consecutive hard days without sufficient easier training days is known to be a cause of OTS.
Other Causes of OTS:
Other factors not directly related to your training that can also lead to this syndrome involve the capacity you have to cope with stress, the adequacy of your diet, and even your genetics. Lack of quality sleep and recurring or previous illness can also play a role in whether you might be at greater risk of OTS.
Emotional stress related to interpersonal relationships and work are also known to contribute to OTS risk when the core causes of training and rest imbalance are present. Additional stressors, whether emotional or physical, can impair your rest and recovery.
How Can You Treat Overtraining Syndrome?
When it comes to OTS, prevention is always going to be favorable to treatment. Avoiding overtraining syndrome from happening at all should be the goal, and there are a number of recognized ways you can avoid the effects of OTS if you are seeing early signs.
If you’re already suffering from overtraining syndrome though, you’ll need to get serious about recovering. This process will depend on the severity of your OTS, the causes, and your doctor’s advice. Some professionals recommend a three month stress management and rest program to fully recover from OTS.
Prevention of OTS involves focusing on two areas:
- Avoiding training excessively without sufficient rest and recovery in between.
- Never under-fueling your workouts and your daily energy requirements. In other words: eating both the quality and quantity of calories and nutrients you need.
Avoiding OTS completely is the key goal – and this can be done by striking a healthy balance between the timing and intensity of your workouts, your rest and recovery time, and your nutrition.