You’ve probably all heard of the term ‘overtraining’, and you can no doubt guess what it is. Some of you might also be familiar with the terms ‘overreaching’ or ‘overarching’ which are all degrees of overtraining. With most forms of overtraining, the result is usually impaired energy, increased physical stress, drops in motivation, impaired immune response, overall weakness and in some of the more extreme cases, neuromuscular fatigue (fatigued mind/muscle connection) and thus severe plateaus/declines in your training and health (Gibson and Edwards, 1985; Lehman et al. 1993).
Some say Gongoozler, some say lazy....
Or maybe you’ve just failed to consider CNS fatigue and peripheral fatigue aka long-term and short-term overtraining respectively. Some gym goers hammer themselves thinking they are becoming lazy, complacent or lackadaisical in their training, when in fact it was that discipline, motivation and drive that got them in that state in the first place. CNS fatigue is responsible for the drop in motivation, spaced out/dizzy feeling, and reduced response rate and hand eye coordination. Peripheral fatigue can lead to reductions in muscle strength, power, and diminished contractility (reduced contraction force and efficiency). Peripheral fatigue is more common in powerful, short burst activities such as resistance training and sprinting, and activities lasting up to or just over 60 seconds.
Role of Training
Training splits are thankfully common practice at most gyms today. Resting muscle groups for 24 to 48 hours is important in the prevention of overtraining. If this recuperation time is ignored, hormonal imbalances i.e. increased cortisol secretion, will increase mental stress and fatigue, emotional distress and anger, as well as increased injury susceptibility. The top strength and conditioning coaches out there alternate between high intensity and low intensity activity, this way the body has adequate time to recover and replenish its stores, flush itself of catabolic hormones (cortisol) and allow the ‘muscle mind’ connection to restore itself. If rest is ignored then overtraining is sure to follow, however it isn’t always apparent to the athlete, and the only way an athlete finds out is when they incur a muscle strain or tear, or some other short or long term injury. Muscle injuries are common due to the neuromuscular and muscle fibre damage that has resulted from the over use of the muscle. Calcium, potassium and sodium ions become depleted resulting in the impaired firing rate of nerve cells, which ultimately leads to ‘overreaching’ or overstraining, and consequently muscle damage and overtraining!
Role of Supplements
Although supplements are not a substitute for a healthy balanced diet, their incorporation might help to stave off the onset (along with reducing/stopping training for a month or so depending on the severity) or support in the recovery from overreaching or overtraining. How many of us have fallen into the trap of buying a multi-vitamin because they keep getting colds!? Vitamin C has been touted to be a remedy to the common cold, when in fact there is very little evidence supporting this theory. Quite often, a cold is a consequence of metabolic stress and not so much a deficiency in vitamins, the consequent immunosuppression that accompanies overtraining will expose you to the common cold or other illnesses. Vitamin C does appear to have a role in preventing (as opposed to treating) the common cold. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, antioxidants have been seen to support our immune response and reduce oxidative damage to our bodily tissue including arteries, veins and muscle tissue.
The priority should always be a healthy balanced diet consisting of the optimal proportions of each food group. Our bodies function most effectively when our daily intakes consist of approximately a third starchy carbs, a third fruit and veg, and the final third split between protein, milk and dairy…See the Eatwell plate which is representative of a total daily intake, but can also be used to direct your individual meals (NHS choices, 2011).
A supplement is a substance that is added to something else in order to enhance its overall effect. Therefore the addition of a structured supplement regimen to your diet may well help to maximise your nutritional intake, thus helping to recover from overtraining, or limiting its onset in the first place.
- Supplementing with a multi-vitamin and mineral has been seen to limit the onset of overtraining.
- Overtraining also causes damage to your joints and connective tissue, so consider the use of an omega oil blend for optimal ratio’s of the anti-inflammatory, anti-catabolic, and lubricating omega 3, 6 and 9 omega oils.
These support the prevention and recovery of overtraining syndrome, omega oils also have neuroprotective properties meaning they help to maintain the integrity of our nerves in muscle and brain tissue.
- Zinc and magnesium deficiencies are also common in the overtrained state; therefore a ZMA supplement such as Optimum Health ZMA is advisable for the mineral replenishment and vitamin B12. These minerals have also been associated with improved sleep, a vital factor in the prevention and recovery of overtraining syndrome.
- Iron deficiency is also common in the overtrained state, especially amongst females! An iron supplement can help to reduce anaemia and improve oxygen delivery and energy levels!
Bompa, T, O. (1999). Periodization. Theory and Methodology of Training. 4th Ed. Fatigue and Overtraining. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
Gibson, H., & Edwards, R. (1985). Muscular exercise and fatigue. Sports Medicine. 2: 120-132.
Lehmann, M., Foster, C., & Keul, J. (1993). Overtraining in endurance athletes: a brief review. Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise. 25: 854-862.