We’re hitting a dreaded wall with progress, so instead of re-evaluating, we dig in deeper. We work harder, maybe cut more calories, increase the distance of our runs, push our paces and suddenly everything seems WORSE. Overtraining symptoms are pretty easy to recognize, but not always easy to respond to wisely.
There’s that satisfying feeling of dog-tiredness as you reach peak marathon training or after a good speed sesh at the track.
Then there’s the feeling of utter exhaustion all the time, no matter what stage of training or how easy the runs.
While it IS important to log miles, it becomes less so if it means you’re sacrificing in other areas.
Eating, sleeping, hydrating, and recovery are all part of the entire training plan. Not just running alone.
And I KNOW YOU ARE TERRIFIED of losing fitness. So please read this to put your mind at ease — >> how quickly do I lose fitness??
If you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is normal marathon training tiredness or signs you’ve taken things too far, checkout these Overtraining Syndrome symptoms and make a change if needed!
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is a condition characterized by fatigue, diminishing performance, and burnout among athletes. This is also referred to as Overtraining Syndrome (OTS).
It is different from overreaching, and it’s important to understand the difference.
Overreaching is considered to be an accumulation of training load that leads to performance decrements that require normal amounts of rest days and cutback weeks. It’s actually a part of training as the mileage or speed work increases in your training plan.
It generally occurs after several days of intensive training and leaves you feeling more tired or with more muscle aches than usual. Fortunately, the negative effects of functional overreaching may be easily reversed by getting adequate rest. At which point your body rebuilds stronger!
This process is known as supercompensation.
Overtraining, on the other hand, happens when an athlete keeps training even though they’re experiencing symptoms of nonfuncational overreaching consistently.
Many runners think that feeling weak or not doing well is a sign that they need to train even harder, so they keep pushing themselves even further. This just worsens all the existing symptoms you were feeling from overreaching and leads to overtraining.
Overtraining can cause your athletic performance to plateau and then decrease rather than improve.
Full recovery from overtraining might take weeks or months of rest, which can be especially difficult for all the runners out there I know that love running.
This is where this article will help you not only understand what overtraining is, but recognize the symptoms of OTS, and know how to prevent it.
9 Symptoms of Overtraining for Runners
If you aren’t taking rest days as noted above and are noticing these issues, it’s time to rethink your training
- Sleep issues
- Thirst issues
- Feeling slower and weaker
- Aches and pains
- Mental Burnout
- Higher HR
- Mood Swings
- Loss of Appetite
- No Menstrual Period
Another one I’ve noticed popping up more is headaches after running, check out what will help that.
1. You’re Having Trouble Sleeping
If you’ve lately been experiencing new sleeping issues such as insomnia, or restlessness when trying to fall asleep, then it may be a symptom of OTS.
Poor sleep quality or inability to fall asleep quickly is a sign that your nervous system is on overload. Without regular sleep, the body cannot function to its full potential
Regular, high quality sleep stimulates muscle growth and repair and boosts the immune system.
Lack of sleep results in poor workout performance and inhibits conversion of carbs to glycogen.
Endurance athletes tend to skimp on sleep in order to get the miles in, however, sacrificing sleeping more and better won’t produce the performance results you’re hoping for.
Plus, you’ll feel sore and will likely get sick more often – ahem, your body’s way of forcing you to rest.
2. You’re Super Thirsty All the Time
If you’re constantly thirsty or notice that your pee is dark yellow, that’s a sure sign of dehydration.
Under constant stress, the adrenal glands begin to release cortisol, the “stress hormone.” This is known as adrenal fatigue.
In this state, the exhausted adrenal glands can’t properly produce aldosterone, the hormone that regulates electrolyte and fluid levels, thus stimulating a demand for water.
Another reason for insatiable thirst could be that the body has reached a catabolic state. This occurs when the body begins to break down muscle tissue to use as fuel rather than fats or carbs.
An unfortunate consequence of fasted running, or simply underfueling workouts.
Without proper hydration and fueling during times of intense training, the body has no other choice. Dehydration is one symptom that the body is in a catabolic state.
Drinking electrolytes can help to improve hydration levels and helps the body maintain more water.
3. You Feel Slow and Weak During Workouts
A bad workout happens to us all every now and then, however if it’s beginning to seem like every single workout is a slog, then it’s time to take a look at your training schedule.
Feeling slow, weak, or missing time goals by a large margin indicates fatigue. You’re likely not allowing enough time for your muscles to recover, not getting enough sleep, and not fueling properly.
Perhaps you aren’t taking your recovery runs easy enough.
There’s a reason most training plans only call for one to two hard sessions per week. The majority of your training runs should be easy efforts, but if your easy runs are dragging you down, then take a step back and see what the root cause could be.
Using Perceived Effort Running Chart is a great way to keep your easy days easy, but this talk test guide can help as well.
4. You Have Nagging Aches and Pains
If you’ve lately been experiencing joint pain and other aches, it could be a sign that you’re overtraining. When your body is tired, you have sore muscles from running, and haven’t slept well in days, you’re more likely to fall out of good running form.
Running long term with poor form is a recipe for developing an overuse injury from the repeated stress and strain.
If you weren’t taking enough rest before, you’re sure to find yourself forced into rest when you have a common running injury. The body is smarter than you think and if you don’t give it rest, it will ensure you rest.
Training stresses the muscles to create microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. With proper rest, the muscle then repairs to build back stronger. However, continuous, repetitive movements, like running without the right recovery only cause more tears that lead to inflammation.
This is one reason we may not be losing weight despite increased exercise. We’ve taken a short term stress and turned it in to long term stressors to the muscles and autonomic nervous system (which also explains other symptoms like mood).
While muscle soreness is completely normal if you’re just starting out, trying a new technique, or lifting weights, feeling sore all the time is a sign of overtraining.
5. You’re Experiencing Mental Training Burnout
Of course, there are always days where we don’t feel like working out. Maybe we stayed out later than normal with friends, we’re in the middle of peak week training or the wind is howling.
Days and days of needing to forcefully drag yourself from bed because both a deep mental and physical fatigue is a sign of burnout. A sudden loss of enthusiasm for running is a clear sign of it.
I’ve talked all about how to avoid that mental burnout during marathon training, so I won’t rehash it.
But want to ensure it’s highlighted here and a symptom that you may need a day or week off to recoup before it leads to overtraining.Wondering if what you're feeling during training is normal or signs you're doing too much? Check these 7 symptoms Click To Tweet
6. Your Heart Rate is Abnormal
Both an elevated or reduced heart rate can indicate exercised-related stress. If your heart rate exceeds five to 10 beats per minute in either direction, then it could be time to take a rest.
Knowing your regular resting and maximum heart rate helps with recovery, performance, and reduces the risk of overtraining. If your heart rate is above normal in the morning, then take that as a sign to resist a tough workout that day.
An elevated heart rate means that your body is releasing more oxygen to the brain and muscles as a result of stress hormones sending the body into fight or flight mode.
The best way to get to know your regular resting heart rate is by taking it first thing in the morning every day using a heart rate monitor. Checking for heart rate variability is another indicator to know whether you are overtraining.
This is different than those who run with a high heart rate all the time. That’s something to watch, but if it’s not abnormal is not a sign of overtraining.
7. You’re Experiencing Mood Swings and Irritability
As I mentioned above, your stress hormone levels can be affected by overtraining, which may result in moodiness, decreased motivation, agitation, and even depression.
This in turn can cause other health issues due to decreased immunity. If you’ve been experiencing increased occurrences of illness and other health issues such as high blood pressure, it’s a sign that you’re overtraining.
It’s important to always address health issues right away, so if you’re experiencing any of these make sure to visit your doctor.
See how exercise impacts cortisol, it’s a good reminder that your body can’t differentiate the stress of life from the stress of training. So when both are high, it’s much easier to overtrain.
8. You’ve Noticed Changes in Weight or Appetite
Running and working out typically result in a healthy appetite. However, exercising too much can lead to a hormonal imbalance that affects hunger and satiety.
Your testosterone levels can fall as your cortisol levels rise, causing a multitude of issues with protein metabolism, insulin resistance, hunger, and more.
Feeling a loss of appetite, experiencing sudden, unplanned weight loss, along with gastrointestinal issues like runner’s diarrhea may be a symptom you’re overtraining.
Getting the right nutrition, including the necessary micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals is essential for adequate recovery. Without this, you can further exacerbate your symptoms.
So make sure you’re getting enough calories and nutrients. Your daily caloric intake should meet your body’s requirements for training and muscle recovery.
Get a ton more details in this Runner Nutrition Course >>
9. You’ve Stopped Getting Your Period
This is a serious sign of the Female Athlete Triad, a fairly common symptom among women that often goes ignored. The syndrome presents with three symptoms: low energy, amenorrhea (irregular periods), and low bone mineral density.
One of the first signs of the Female Athlete Triad (now known as RED-S) is loss of your period. This happens as a result of insufficient fuel consumption to sustain the level of activity.
When the period disappears, it affects bone health. Low bone mineral density increases risk of injury and can have long lasting and irreversible consequences if not treated right away.
This is not a normal occurrence for women and should be managed immediately.
Understanding How Rest Days Can Prevent Overtraining
Now that you understand what overtraining is, and what the symptoms are, I’m sure you want to know how to prevent it.
The answer is, first and foremost, understanding rest days. You hear that rest days are part of training, but I still think it often takes a swing of feeling BAD to let it sink in.
If the elite athletes know that rest days and easy running are important…why do we think we can skip it? Curious, isn’t it.
Elites spend 80% of their time running easy and optimize recovery time with naps, massages, lots of sleep, and high-quality food.
But not us. No, no, we’re busy. We don’t run 100 miles, so we probably don’t need as much rest…and that’s why we get injured.
It’s incredibly important to understand rest days, and I know you have a lot of questions on your mind. So here are the answers to some commonly asked rest-day questions that can help you learn how to avoid getting to the point of overtraining in the first place.
How Often Do You Need a Rest Day?
That largely depends on the intensity of your training, your nutrition, your sleep and your current lifestyle. We break this down more in rest vs active recovery days for running.
What Happens If You Don’t Take a Rest Day?
The list above highlighted some common symptoms of overtraining. Many signs occur in combination with others. A body cannot perform at its best if it is under too much stress and your running will suffer if you keep at it.
What Happens To Your Body If You Overtrain?
As you read in the symptoms above, it throws everything out of whack. Your hormone levels are off, you may start to hold on to body fat due to increased cortisol, and the progress you were seeing starts to go backwards.
How Often Do I Need a Break from Running?
Elite runners often take a full month off training after a marathon.
Would that be wise for most of us? Probably. The toll that running all out for 26.2 takes on the body is tremendous, but we’re so afraid of losing fitness that we jump right back in and often end up injured.
- A great rule of thumb is at least 2 weeks after a marathon for experienced runners of no running (you can be doing plenty of other easy activities) and possibly more for newer runners.
- At least a week minimum after a hard half marathon for experienced runners.
- A full month off if you’ve been training year round and are starting to feel burned out – again this could be a great time for walks with friends, core work and less strenuous workouts.
How to Prevent and Recover from Overtraining
Here are the top three ways you can not only recover from overtraining but also prevent it in the first place.
Getting Adequate Rest
We’ve gone over the importance of rest days, and I’ve added it back here to emphasize just about important it is. It’s the first step to not only recovery but also prevention.
Getting Enough Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for most American adults. These requirements could be greater following a hard workout or training session, or when a runner is recovering from overtraining.
Developing healthy sleeping habits starts with deciding when you want to go to sleep and when you want to wake up and then keeping to those times on a consistent basis, including on the weekends.
Getting the Right Nutrition
Changes in hormone levels due to an increase in cortisol can lead to loss of appetite when overtraining. To be able to recover from it, it’s important to focus on nutrition and a proper runner’s diet.
Nutrition for runners is a complex topic with so many different opportunities for mistakes that I’ve compiled a complete guide to help you find the resources, tips, and tricks to recover fully from overtraining.
It’s also incredibly important for runners to understand to prevent overtraining in the first place.
How Long Does Overtraining Syndrome Last?
The truth is it depends on how big of a hole you’ve dug for yourself. If you’ve pushed all the way to adrenal fatigue, it could be months of backing off all workouts to help your body stabilize.
However, most runners who take note of the symptoms above and back off, find that a few months of changes will get them back to training.
Other ways to combat overtraining include:
- easy yoga – check out some free online yoga workouts
- walks, instead of intense workouts (yes that means running)
- CBD oil to help reduce cortisol levels
- Turmeric to help the body fight inflammation
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