Demotivated? Grumpy? Tired but not sleeping? Getting slower despite training hard? Keeping fit should bring an abundance of healthy rewards. But there is a flip side.
Welcome to the world of overtraining.
What's the Story?
As endurance athletes, we tend to be a fairly obsessive breed, and strive for success in everything we do. This is a great trait to have, but with this comes a tendency to take the training too far. Overtraining happens when you repeatedly push beyond your ability to recover. The body starts to shut down with stress load rather than respond well to it, and this produces the sensation of burnout or staleness. We must operate at a demanding level in order to optimize improvements, but without all-important rest and recovery, these relentless training schedules can backfire, and actually decrease performance as well as causing damage.
It can be hard to gauge when you are reaching the limit but the great news is there are some key biomarkers that can give you an indication of when you are close to this point.
The Science Bit
One of the key biomarkers is cortisol levels, which generally speaking is a marker of stress. When training, it is normal for this hormone to rise in response to stress, and aid recovery. In fact, short-term overtraining can be part of a planned training cycle, and in this scenario cortisol may be raised due to the increased stress. If, however, there is no recovery period, and the excessive stress becomes a chronic rather than temporary load, a situation of adrenal burnout can occur and cortisol levels will be low. Cortisol will be unable to respond.
Symptoms of adrenal burnout include:
- Lack of energy/listlessness
- Repeated drop in performance. One bad session can be down to a number of factors, but 3-4 consecutive days of below-par training will indicate over-reaching: the first stage of over-training.
- Sugar cravings
- Increased number of colds and sore throats
- Moodiness and irritability
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport OR
- A compulsive need to exercise
But wait, there’s more markers that by monitoring will help you to detect if you are at risk of overtraining:
Testosterone levels may decline as the adrenal glands are vital to its production, and this can add to decreased motivation.
Inflammatory markers such as CRP and Ferritin can also indicate overtraining over the shorter term especially if they do not correlate with a period of excessive load or competition and they fail to recover.
The immune system response can be lowered by overtraining and low levels of white blood cells and platelets will be seen.
Muscle breakdown markers - Creatinine Kinase and AST - will also be raised. High levels are normal so long as they correlate with training load.
The key with all of these inflammatory markers is that they should return to baseline (which should be established for individual athletes) during periods of recovery or lighter training loads. Failure to do so is a sign that the athlete should ease off.
How do I recognise it early?
It can be difficult to recognise overtraining. We can easily dismiss our lack of motivation as ‘being soft in the head’, or take getting slower as a sign we should actually be training even more! This is where hard data can be crucial.
What’s the treatment?
REST, stay hydrated, eat healthily and abundantly, and consult your team as to what training you can do, if any. Total recovery from overtraining can take several weeks, but if it’s managed well, it is simply a bump in the road.
About Forth Edge
Forth Edge is a biomarker tracking platform specifically designed for competitive and recreational athletes. Our Training Load profile is ideal for those who are involved in frequent and intense training and want to monitor their body’s stress load to enable them to improve their training plan and avoid long-time outs.
The service offers an intuitive digital platform enabling you to track changes and identify trends in your body’s inner health. Rather than a short-term snapshot, by tracking your biomarkers over times you gain long-term insight into your own unique biomarker profile, so you can understand how your body is responding to your training and know when to ease-off.