Overtraining is the result of not taking certain cues from your body, and an inattention to proper nutrition. This is usually the case when an athlete has the discipline, drive and will power to keep pushing past the pain, but is not giving his or her body what it needs to recover. How do you know that you are overtraining?
- Low immunity
- Poor sleep
- Losing strength and muscle mass
- Dreading working out
- Low sex drive
- Loose bowels
- Consistently sore muscles
- Chronic fatigue
- Hard to get out of bed
I have found that the best training schedule to maintain without overtraining is 3 days a week with rest in-between each day, and 1-2 days of yoga. Many athletes do not have control over their training schedule, and therefore may not be able to take every other day off to fully recover from their last workout. This is where nutrition and sleep are your best and only allies in the prevention of overtraining.
1. Eight hours of sleep each night. This is your only time to truly rest and repair. A deficient amount of sleep in just one night will affect recovery and performance. The time you fall asleep may be even more important, with 10:00pm being the best late cut-off.
2. Hydration with electrolytes. Keep yourself hydrated and maintain optimal electrolyte levels throughout the day. The adrenal gland rests on top of the kidneys and is composed of multiple layers. On the outer layer you have the mineral corticoids which control your electrolyte balance. If you are finding yourself constantly thirsty and water is not satisfying, your electrolytes are too low and you are risking going into the next layer of the adrenal gland.
3. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates every 3-4 hours, grass-fed whey, vitamins and minerals. If you are not re-fueling with electrolytes and your diet is lacking in nutrition, your body goes into the next later of corticosteroids that controls sugar and generates stress hormones.
Have you ever found yourself stress eating? What sounds the best? Usually sugar and carbohydrates right? This is why. Mental, emotional and physical stress will all lead to imbalanced blood sugar levels from the adrenal glands trying to bring order back from chaos. When you are training hard, you have to keep on top of your protein (especially egg yolks and liver), fat and carbohydrate meals every 3-4 hours, recovery protein shakes, and vitamins and minerals to give your body all of the building materials it needs.
4. Adaptogens. If you have entered overtraining mode, your brain is fried and everything makes you anxious or angry, this is usually when you get sick and are forced to rest. This is when you enter the third layer where the adrenal glands generate growth hormones and sex steroids. In this layer, cortisol levels increase, robbing you blind of muscle, glycogen, immunity, confidence and mental clarity.
The feedback mechanism called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis controls reactions to stress, regulates digestion, immunity, mood, emotions, sex drive, glycogen storage and calorie expenditure.
How do you regulate the HPA axis? Oxytocin released from positive social interactions reduces the stress response (why support is critical), sleep, relaxing activities, laughing, and my personal favorite for athletes, Cordyceps.
Cordyceps have been found to balance the HPA axis and help you adapt to stress and prevent the catabolic effects of cortisol while boosting your mood and immune system. Interesting enough, anti-depressants work by regulating the HPA axis and may be unnecessary with proper attention to nutrition, adaptogens, sleep and sun.
5. Optimal Vitamin A and Vitamin D levels around 35-50 ng/ml. A high protein diet, heavy training and exposure to viruses increase the need for vitamin A. vitamin D deficiency will lead to low immunity, poor muscle function, strength and depression. Optimal vitamin D levels will help reduce inflammation from cytokines, which can become a chronic problem in an overtraining state.
I recommend using Virgin Cod Liver Oil for vitamin A, D and omega-3’s, and recommend aiming for 20-30 minutes of full sun exposure in a bathing suit at least three times a week between 10:00am and 3:00pm, during the spring, summer and fall. Avoid burning.
If you are not able to do this or it’s winter, consider taking Vitamin D3 Liquid, which is the one we use at Swanson Health Center. The dosage is dependent upon your current level.