Are you overreaching or overtraining?
Here we go again, everyone wants to get into shape for the summer and for some reason, the best way to do this in the minds of millions of Americans is to start competing in running events! According to Runners USA, the combined number of events for 5 and 10k races in 2012 totaled up to more than 18,000, with the number of participants exceeding 7 million. After a long, cold ass winter these 7 million strongly motivated runners will take to the roads, treadmills, and if they’re lucky enough, beaches to log the miles needed to “get in shape” for these races. Some will run competitively, some will try to beat their previous PR’s, and many will simply get involved as a means to have something to train for. I am a huge advocate of fining a reason to get in shape, become healthier and push the limits of what you think you can do (hell, I wanted to go through Navy Seal training at one point), but there does come a point when training can turn into “overtraining,” and the line between the 2 can be extremely variable based on the individual, and a tough one to spot. Overtraining is not something that should be taken lightly. It is a syndrome that has been known to cause a multitude of problems and even halt the careers of many professional athletes.
Overtraining is hard to identify, and in fact remains an indefinable syndrome in the realm of sports science to date. As with any athlete, the physiological factors of fatigue and poor performance are inevitable. The best way to crack the mystery of overtraining and identify when you might be teetering on the edge of increased performance/overtraining is to track performance.
I have been an athlete all my life, played soccer and competed in the 100m, 200m and 400m track in events in indoor and outdoor track in high school. I went on to play soccer in college, was a 4-year starter (and if you ask me I was also the best player on the field at all times), and have always trained hard for these sports. After 4 years of college my soccer career was over. No more summer soccer, no more 3 a days during preseason, and even more importantly, no more preparation going into preseason. What was there to look forward to? Naturally, as a competitor I needed to find a reason to continue to stay in shape, so I decided to start training for 5k and 10k races.
I started out running 25 miles a week in the beginning of the summer, my times were just as I had expected (6:15 min. mile). I would increase my overall mileage per week by 3-5 miles while maintaining or bettering my pace. As the weeks went on, I was competing at least every other weekend in a race and continuing to increase my mileage and splits until I was up to 60 miles/week at an average pace of 6 min./mile. Mornings became tough (it was hard to roll out of bed), I had little to no energy to perform simple tasks, and according to my girlfriend my mood was pretty crappy all the time (she is now an ex-girlfriend…).
As this became a recurring theme, my split times during track workouts continuously worsened. So, as much as it hurt me, I decided to rest. After a week of no running I decided to test myself. Still bad split times! It pains me to say this because I have never quit at anything before, but after the worsened times, bad mood and complete lack of energy I gave up altogether.
So why were my times decreasing? Why was my mood changing? Why did I have no energy? The answer is overtraining – a reduction in performance that takes place when the body is pushed beyond its ability to recover. Common symptoms related to this mystery tend to be fatigue and constant mood swings (makes sense now). The problem was I wasn’t letting myself sufficiently recover through proper nutrition, sleep, and programmed rest days. Yeah I had great workouts initially, but without adequate recovery, the performance improvements declined to the point where I was getting worse. This is to all the exercise enthusiasts out there who have ever seen a model or diagram where there is overreaching and overtraining.
Overreaching is the point in which enough stress is put on the body for adaptation to occur. In no way is this bad! It’s all about realizing where you are in your training and knowing when to back off. Poor Programming is a result of going beyond overreaching. Here are some more ways to avoid overtraining:
1) Individualize your programming: Not everyone is the same! Don’t expect to get a one-size-fits-all program from the top results of “running program” in Google. Everyone recovers differently. Self-monitoring how you are adapting to training (i.e. improved performance), muscle soreness, fatigue, and stress level must be taken into consideration.
2) Sleep: A lack of sleep during training can decrease performance from a physiological standpoint, and can also psychologically decrease performance due to the causation of a sense of confusion as well as mood swings. Physiologically, during sleep periods we secrete anabolic (muscle building) hormones and decrease catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones. When insufficient sleep is taking place we are not mobilizing the anabolic hormones enough for adequate recovery(Ripptoe, Practical Programming of Strength Training, 2009).
3) Diet: Proper nutrition during training plays an important role. What most athletes and novice lifters alike tend to overlook is ample caloric consumption during intense training periods. I’m not saying you should eat as much as humanly possible. Proper caloric intake means your calories in = your calories out, in order to maintain performance. Fueling your body is comparable to fueling your car. If you were to put 20 miles worth of gas in and try to go 50 miles, your car simply won’t do it. The human body is no different: if you only fuel up for a particular amount of energy expenditure, how can you expect to go beyond that point without sacrificing stored energy and ultimately breaking down other tissues (such as muscle) to reach your goal? One of the biggest mistakes made by people who begin a new exercise program is inadequate carbohydrate consumption (Mother, this one is for you). You need to get over that road-block ASAP. Carbohydrates are essential for muscle glycogen and provide the quickest source of energy production. If there is depletion in carbohydrate intake, the result is a decrease in performance and an increase in muscle deterioration.
All-in-all overtraining can more properly be titled “under recovering.” You can train as hard as you want if you make sure you are accounting for the 3 things listed. If you have any questions on overtraining hit me up on Twitter @JRoswell3, and enjoy the race season!