What Is Overtraining, What Are The Effects Of Overtraining And How Do You Avoid It When Dieting?

Gone are the times when calories in equal calories out, which means that sweating it out at the gym to try to burn off the donut that you just ate may be a complete waste of time. So why is it that many of us feel the need to hit the gym hard when it comes to dieting and losing weight?

For some it could be the all or nothing attitude, ‘if I’m going to do this, I’m going in all boots and all’, for others it may be a part of their strong weight loss commitment. Either way it’s important to be aware that if you are going hard at the gym or exercising way more than what is normal for you, you could potentially be overtraining during your workout sessions which can negatively impact your health and your diet.

Let’s take a look at what is overtraining, the effects of overtraining and how overtraining, or too much strenuous exercise can impact your health. Overtraining occurs after you have trained more than your body can recover or when you go past the point of exercise in which your body can recover adequately. That undue stress on your body, like any other of life’s stressors, stimulates the hormone cortisol, which in turn raises insulin and leptin. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle of gaining body fat and craving carbohydrates. Depending on the individual, the damage caused by overtraining may take weeks or possibly months to recover from.

Additionally, for most of us overtraining will not be the only stress that we are experiencing on a day to day basis. There is for many individuals a compounding effect of several factors that usually involves work, home life, diet, our relationships, and your body’s ability to cope with all the above. With the added stress of overtraining symptoms, your body is pushed to the limit which can lead to serious adrenal fatigue and burn out.

How Do I Know If I’m Overtraining, And What Overtraining Symptoms Would I Experience?

  • Constant muscle soreness
  • Fatigue, often even after adequate rest
  • Low Immunity, increased numbers of colds and flu or Unexplained Illness – A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee on overtraining showed that athletes displayed signs of physiological danger primarily related to sustained high load training, often coupled with other stressors. Researchers found a high percentage of illnesses could be accounted for when individual athletes exceeded individually identifiable training thresholds, mostly related to the strain of training [1].
  • Higher incidence of injuries and delayed recovery
  • Elevated resting heart rate, a persistently high heart rate after adequate rest[2]
  • Irritability, mood swings
  • Increased psychological stress from the impact that these physical symptoms project on family life, work, and study. For example, a 2012 study published in Sports Health found that people with overtraining syndrome have high levels of tension, depression, fatigue, confusion, and loss of energy
  • Physical stress – insomnia, weight gain

Don’t get me wrong, there are many positive aspects to exercising on both the mind and the body as we have mentioned in previous posts, but by putting pressure on the body through dietary changes and excessive exercise counterintuitively, this constant stress causes the individual to stop progressing and may even prevent them from gaining the strength and fitness desired, leading to eventual burnout and putting a stop to any weight loss progression.

These are some things to consider if you think you may be overtraining as the effects of overtraining can be far reaching:

Possible hormonal imbalance. When your hormones are out of balance and cortisol is high from the continual stress of strenuous exercise on the body, your body responds by increasing blood sugar and insulin and slowing down your metabolism, this is a major cause of weight gain, especially around the midsection. Additionally, the effects of overtraining can cause something known as HPA Axis Dysfunction. Basically, this means that all of life’s stresses compound and cause a major miscommunication between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, leaving your body to respond with all kinds of negative physical symptoms – as we have mentioned above.

The hormonal imbalance will undoubtedly also affect the menstrual cycle, it has been noted that overtraining may cause menstrual cycle alterations and an increase in anti-reproductive hormones.

The effects of overtraining may also lead to insomnia, which can be debilitating, as when you are sleeping your body produces the hormones required for muscle building and recovery. Poor sleep quality means that your body produces less of these hormones and as mentioned previously insulin rises with cortisol which will increase carbohydrate cravings, over time this may lead to insulin resistance, eventually adrenal fatigue and your body will start storing additional fat. Also consider how your appetite increases alongside increased physical output, again leading to potential weight gain, which is not ideal particularly when you are dieting. The effects of overtraining and the symptoms experienced after continual strenuous exercise significantly impact our hormones, our muscles and potentially our weight. So how do you stop the overtraining cycle and regain life’s balance?

The bottom line is that your body needs time to rest and time to repair after any workout, listen to your body, ensure that you are giving your body the love that it needs and deserves by reducing stress, regularly meditating, and feeding it the right nutrients. Get regular massages and enable your body to heal. You don’t need to constantly be ‘pushing’ to achieve your desired results, tuning in to what your body is saying to you will prevent you from slipping into the dangerous world of overtraining, and remember the old adage that sometimes less is more.

 

Liza Brunell

Adv Dip Health Science Naturopathy, Nutrition