Overtraining is the common term for training beyond your body’s ability to recover – in fact, it would be very accurate to say that overtraining is just another term for “under-recovering”. While a minor (and temporary) degree of this can be used as a very effective part of training, going too far leads to stalled progress, loss of energy, and potentially illness and injury.
In the previous article, Recognizing overtraining, we discussed the signs and symptoms of overtraining to help catch it early. What steps should you take to avoid overtraining, or stop it before it becomes a serious issue?
Nutrition is key
Working out hard without fueling your body is akin to trying to build a house with no lumber just by swinging a hammer. If you don’t give your body sufficient protein, healthy oils, and the right carbohydrates, your workout will tear you down rather than building you up.
For most people, the best protein for building healthy muscle tissue and promoting recovery comes from animal sources (obviously, vegetarians, particularly vegans, have special needs in ensuring adequate protein intake). Meat, including red meat, poultry, and fish, along with eggs and some dairy sources, provide the best “bang for your buck” in protein intake. Needs vary greatly depending on the body type of the individual, along with their workouts. Start with a gram of protein per pound of lean body weight, and adjust up or down as needed.
We’ve been told “fat is bad” for so long that it’s practically ingrained in our nutritional psyche, but a variety of oils are necessary to build a healthy body. Omega-6 fats, while an important part of building cells, make up too large a part of the American diet, leading to inflammation (along with potentially other issues such as insulin resistance). Omega-3 fatty acids, readily available from wild-caught fish and fish oils, reduce these effects. Monounsaturated fats from sources like olive oil, and even saturated fats from animal or plant sources such as coconut oil are necessary for a healthy body as well.
People tend to think about carbohydrates for energy and recovery. They do have their place, but have to be consumed correctly. An excess of grains (“excess” is highly dependent on the individual) is another source of recovery-preventing inflammation, along with increased levels of insulin which can actually prevent your muscle tissues from getting the fuel they need to recover. Most hard-working athletes do well with 100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day from fruit and vegetable sources to promote full recovery.
Get your beauty sleep
Sleep may be one of the most under-recognized aspects of performance and recovery. Not only does the body and brain need the rest and recuperation of uninterrupted sleep, but without adequate sleep time body chemistry becomes severely disturbed. Adrenal fatigue, decrease in growth hormone, and increase in cortisol levels are all effects of poor sleep that interfere with recovery.
Although virtually everyone in our society would benefit from a greater quantity of sleep, often the best we can do is to improve the quality. There are several things that can help with this:
- Wind down before bedtime – turn off the television, put away the work you’ve brought home, and try to de-stress from the day. Stress interrupts sleep, and the more we have going on in our minds, the less recuperative our sleep is.
- Don’t rely on chemistry – alcohol and sleeping pills may help knock you out, but they make sleep less restful.
- Make it dark – Don’t just turn off the tv; experience with Olympic athletes suggests that even a night light or the display from an alarm clock can interfere with deep sleep.
- If all else fails, naps can help bring up the quantity of sleep to a degree closer to what we need.
Christine Zier, a Denver road biker currently training for the Double Triple Bypass (a two day event from Evergreen to Avon, CO and back, covering 240 miles and more than 21,000 vertical feet), definitely notices a difference. “When I supply my body with proper nutrients and plenty of rest, it responds better to everything in my life, including training, working, and spending time with my family and friends. When I fall off the ‘nutrition wagon’, or don’t get enough sleep, my body is quick to remind me why high nutrient density foods and restful sleep are so critical”.
The next installment will look at structuring your workouts and post-workout recovery to best avoid overtraining.