Originally published: 17.MAY.2018
Last updated: 11.AUG.2023
Strengthened muscles, improved brain health, weight management; regularly working out, and getting active have many benefits! But did you know that it’s possible to train too much? Overtraining occurs when someone doesn’t give themselves enough time to recover after high-intensity training which can result in fatigue, decline in performance, and sometimes injury.
Learn more about overtraining, the signs that you may be overtraining, and the risks associated with excessive training. Plus, hear from nutritional therapist Angelique Pangos and gym owner Ronan Murphy for their expert opinion on the topic.
- What is Overtraining
- Signs of Overtraining
- Symptoms of Overtraining
- Recovering From Overtraining
- Ask The Experts About Overtraining
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining syndrome (OTS) can occur when a person regularly exercises without giving themselves sufficient recovery time between sessions. It can cause decreased performance and fatigue triggered by hormonal, metabolic, or immune changes and dysfunctions. Symptoms tend to appear after a prolonged imbalance between a high-intensity training program and insufficient recovery.
While overtraining is most prevalent among endurance athletes, it can affect anyone who exercises regularly. And although it can be difficult to diagnose, it is possible to test the body for physical symptoms of overtraining as natural reserves of testosterone, estrogen, and stress hormones such as cortisol are usually disrupted after a long period of excessive training and insufficient rest.
Signs of Overtraining
#1 A preoccupation with the gym and food
Meal and exercise times are what you look forward to most each day. Maybe you even skip meeting up with friends to not miss a scheduled workout on your training program.
#2 Constantly experiencing aches and pains
You experience muscle soreness beyond what you typically would after a workout. You may even begin to feel a little run down. Despite this, you continue to follow your program and push through the discomfort.
#3 Unidentified stress
Overtraining can have a negative effect on your stress hormones, causing mood changes. This means your mood may begin to shift, you may feel moody or ‘on edge’ but can’t identify the cause of your feelings.
#4 Craving sugary foods at night-time
A spike in cortisol stimulates glucose stores so the perceived threat or cause of stress can be dealt with by the body. On-going glucose depletion results can result in your body craving sugary foods later in the day.
#5 Feeling exhausted during the day and alert in the evenings
You spend the whole day dragging your feet but when it’s time for bed you can’t switch off. This is a combination of imbalanced adrenaline and cortisol wreaking havoc on your sleep cycle.
Related article: Why am I so Tired? 6 Common Causes of Fatigue
Symptoms of Overtraining
#1 Weakened immune system
If you don’t give your body enough time to rest or are undernourished, it can impact your immune system, leaving your body at risk of viruses or infections.
#2 Loss of libido
Hormonal imbalance, coupled with intense fatigue may mean that you have very little sexual desire or interest in sex.
As previously mentioned, if you are not getting enough rest in between workouts, adrenaline will keep your body in a constant state of “flight” mode while cortisol will keep you alert, preventing restful sleep.
#4 Failure to reach fitness goals
Weight loss ceases or weight gain ensues when a body is unable to respond to calorie burn. Your body may become immune to physical rituals or can no longer recover in time to perform at an optimum level.
Recovering From Overtraining
If you are experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms of overtraining, speak with your healthcare provider and/or trainer who can help you with taking the right steps to recovery.
Recovery will typically include:
- Resting or temporarily cutting back on training
- Eating nutritious foods to support your body's recovery
- Practicing mindfulness or other techniques to benefit your mental health
Overtraining can be avoided if signs and symptoms are noticed early on. Some of the most reliable ways to try and avoid overtraining include:
- Consistently listening to your body
- Prioritizing rest days
- Filling your body with the nutrients it needs to perform
- Speak with someone you trust about any concerns you may have
Related article: Five Signs of Stress: How Stress Affects Your Body
If you are concerned about your stress hormones or whether or not you are getting just the right amount of nutrients to ensure you’re feeling your best, you can check in from the comfort of your home with LetsGetChecked’s Wellness Testing Range.
The LetsGetChecked Cortisol Test can give you insight into your adrenal performance and the Essential Vitamin Test will help identify any deficiencies of key vitamins that are essential for your overall wellbeing.
Ask The Experts About Overtraining
Are people at a higher risk of overtraining leading up to Summer?
Ronan: Yes I think they do, they put themselves under a lot of pressure. I think women in particular put themselves under a lot of pressure. 70% of my clients are females and I find they get more emotionally attached to how they look whereas men are more interested in the functionality of what they can do. Facebook and Instagram are big players in comparison, they want to get to that level even though they know it’s not real.
What does overtraining do to the body?
Angelique: You become nutritionally depleted. Your metabolism is disrupted by your adrenal glands. Over-training interferes in sex hormone production. Things someone might notice include: worsened PMS, more irritability, elevated testosterone symptoms and acne.
Over-exercising can lead to cortisol depletion leaving us in a chronically stressed state.
Ronan: Overtraining and undereating are the biggest issues. People might come in and do the same exercises everyday but they can’t do them everyday if they’re not getting the right amount of nutrition, hydration and rest. It’s more of an issue of under recovery as opposed to over-training. It causes the nervous system to go into overdrive.
Do you think overtraining is a physical or psychological manifestation?
Ronan: It’s psychological. The body craves endorphins like a drug user would crave a hit. After the gym, they’re walking on clouds but in the long run, they’re doing themselves harm. In most cases they get injured and they’re forced to take time off. In women, you often see differences in their hair, skin and nails when they haven’t given their body a chance to recuperate. The hair is greasy and looks dead. Nails are yellow and the skin is spotty.
Some people who over-train still won’t actually lose weight..in fact they may put some more weight on. Can you explain this process?
Angelique: The nutrition part is so important. You see people who didn’t eat for long enough going to work-out. People sometimes replace their energy stores with sugary sports drinks. This doesn’t offer them the nutrients that food does but those products are generally packed with sugar.
A simple description of this replacement is as follows:
Cortisol breaks down sugar stores in the body. Insulin then comes in to rectify this because the body can only handle a certain level of blood sugar. Insulin begins to store the excess sugar as fat if you’re eating a diet that is high in refined sugar,
Ronan: When your cortisol levels go up, your muscles become inhibited and you hit a plateau. If you’re hammering away and not recovering, the muscles will never increase in strength. It’s like flogging a dead horse. The body is trying to get rid of cortisol and cortisol is the biggest inhibitor of muscles. People think to themselves “but I feel great after my session” when they leave the gym, this is the rush of feel good endorphins that is making them feel better in the short-term.
How can someone begin to overcome overtraining syndrome?
Ronan: Rebalancing the body with nutrition, hydration and rest is paramount. Occupy yourself.
Take yourself out of the situation but don’t do anything physical.
Working with a personal trainer can be really helpful as they can decipher how to optimally exercise the body. They can make a programme that is tailored to your needs and in doing so, they can give you an idea of what is healthy and what is not in terms of frequency of exercise.
Decreasing the intensity of your work-outs especially for those who have been working out 6-7 days each week for a prolonged period of time, it can be difficult to cut down on work-outs. Yoga and going for walks can help with irritability brought on from exercise withdrawals.
Talking-therapy can help you navigate healthy choices. Once you start making conscious steps towards recovery, you will begin to realize that you have an issue that can be solved.
Understand your body Until you’re ready to make progress you won’t. Know what you won’t to achieve and try to do so in the healthiest way possible.
Overtraining: Know The Risks with Dr. Dominic Rowley
Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley