For most dedicated endurance athletes there’s a fine line between being fit and healthy and being broken down and sick. Overtraining syndrome (OTS) usually occurs as a result of a training schedule that has suddenly increased, lasts for long periods of time, and is performed at high volume and/or intensity without adequate rest periods.
Mood changes are an early indicator of OTS. Emotional disturbances usually occur before a noticeable drop in performance and coincide with increased training load. Research has shown that clinical depression shares common characteristics with OTS, such as changes in immune function, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Be mindful of any sustained negative mood changes.
Our body’s immune system is also a key indicator of chronic fatigue and overtraining syndrome. Never-ending colds, flu-like symptoms, and scratches and cuts that are slow to heal are all things to watch out for.
Nutrition plays is critically important when it comes to avoiding OTS. Dieting to lose additional weight during intense training periods should be avoided. Make sure you’re consuming enough carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to fuel your training regimen and allow for proper physical recovery.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests the following ideas maybe helpful in preventing OTS:
1. Keep accurate and detailed records of your training program. This allows you to self-monitor and adjust training volume and intensity depending on your current training status, e.g., feeling great, feeling tired, etc.
2. Eat a healthy diet, drink enough fluid to stay hydrated, and get enough sleep.
3. Openly communicate concerns, both physical and mental, with a family member, friend, or health care professional.
4. Be aware of your emotional health. Job stressors, interpersonal relationships, and other environmental stressors may have a harmful effect on athletic performance. Maintaining health and wellness in all areas of life will help prevent OTS.
5. Overtraining syndrome is most successfully treated with rest and/or meaningful changes in exercise volume and intensity. The amount of rest and decrease in exercise depend on the individual.
6. Highly fit individuals sometimes find complete rest a greater source of stress. Consider “active recovery” activities such as walking, stretching, mind-body classes, and core training.
Physiological Symptoms Of OTS:
• Altered (often elevated) resting heart rate and blood pressure
• Chronic fatigue
• Decreased efficiency of movement and physical performance
• Decreased maximum work capacity
• Frequent nausea/gastrointestinal upsets
• Impaired muscular strength
• Inability to meet previously attained performance standards or criteria
• Increased frequency of respiration
• Insatiable thirst
• Joint aches and pains
• Lack of appetite
• Lower percent body fat
• Menstrual disruptions
• Muscle soreness and tenderness
• Prolonged recovery from exercise
• Reappearance of previous corrected mistakes
Psychological Function Symptoms of OTS:
• Changes in personality
• Decreased self-esteem and motivation to work out
• Difficulty concentrating during work, school, or training
• Emotional instability
• Fear of competition
• Feeling of sadness and depression
• General apathy
• “Giving up” when the going gets tough
• Easily distracted during tasks