Exercising is one of the best things we can do for our bodies and overall health. It helps us manage weight, boosts brain health, strengthens bones and muscles and reduces our risk of disease. But it is possible to overdo it, and when it comes to physical activity, pushing yourself too hard can actually be quite harmful, affecting you physically, mentally and hormonally. High intensity training can be super stressful on your hormones, leading to a number of tricky symptoms. Take a look at what causes overtraining, important things to know about overtraining and your hormones, and how you can recover.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining occurs when an athlete performs more training than their body can recover from, to the point where performance often declines. It can also result in fatigue and potential injury. Repetitive, intense training without sufficient recovery can hinder your progress and negatively impact how you feel and perform.
Athletes are constantly trying to improve their performance and sometimes they push themselves to do more work than they can physically tolerate. When overtraining happens, their bodies can’t recover from the standard 2 to 3 days of rest. Although overtraining commonly affects athletes, it can affect anyone who exercises on a regular basis.
What Causes Overtraining?
The main cause of overtraining is repetitive, strenuous training without adequate recovery. It can also happen after doing too much in one training session or ignoring the signs of overreaching (muscle soreness beyond what you typically experience) and continuing to train. Too many intense speed workouts can also cause overtraining, as can poor sleep and irregular eating.
You’re also at a higher risk of overtraining during a hormone transition, such as perimenopause, menopause or postpartum. Hormone changes already cause stress to the body, so added physical stress from working out can lead to harmful symptoms.
15 Signs of Overtraining
1. Decline or plateau in workout performance or progress
2. Excessive sweating or overheating during workouts
3. Unusual feelings of heaviness, stiffness or soreness in muscles
4. Recurrent injuries, such as muscle sprains, tendonitis, stress fractures and chronic joint pain
5. Prolonged fatigue, exhaustion and low energy
6. Increased heart rate, or in some cases, very low heart rate
7. Poor quality sleep
8. Inability to relax
9. Irregular periods
10. A lack of enjoyment in hobbies and interests
11. Problems with concentration or performance at work or school
12. Digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation or increased thirst
13. Unplanned/undesired weight loss or weight gain
14. Lack of energy, decreased motivation, moodiness
15. More colds, sore throats, and infections
Overtraining and Your Hormones: 4 Things Women Should Know
1. Menstrual Cycle Changes
When the body is over-taxed, as it is with overtraining, you will likely see changes in your menstrual cycle, from complete absence of menstruation to a change in cycle length. You also may experience more extreme PMS due to a drop in progesterone, our calming, soothing hormone. If you’re in perimenopause or menopause, your symptoms may also be exaggerated.
2. Cortisol Depletion
Overtraining can lead to cortisol depletion, leaving you in a chronically stressed state and can create feelings of anxiety and fatigue. When our bodies become stressed, not only is cortisol production increased, our bodies pump out androgens, which can interfere with ovulation and menstrual cycles.
3. Interference with Sex-Hormone Production
Overtraining interferes in sex-hormone production. When you exercise too much or at a high intensity, sex hormone production takes a back seat to cortisol, with progesterone taking the biggest hit. Because of this, you may notice worsened PMS symptoms, more irritability, elevated testosterone symptoms and acne, as well as anxiety, low moods and weight gain.
4. Low Estrogen
Low estrogen is another hormone imbalance that can happen due to overtraining. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, fat cells and adrenal glands. When a woman’s body fat falls below 19%, she’s at an increased risk of low estrogen and may stop menstruating for a period in time.
4 Ways to Recover From Overtraining
1. Rest and Sleep
If you want to properly recover from overtraining, rest is a non negotiable. You may need to temporarily stop or cut back on your training in order to recover properly and it’s important you do so. Getting adequate sleep is also crucial. Create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
2. Proper Nutrition
Overtraining and under eating can often go hand in hand. Your body needs calories and nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals, especially if you’re going to be doing high-intensity training workouts. Consider working with a nutritionist, who can help you create an eating plan that will provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to heal. You should focus on eating a balanced diet with protein, carbs and healthy fats.
3. Mental Health
Speaking to a mental health professional can help you emotionally navigate taking time off from training, as well as help you to start making healthy choices. It can be emotionally challenging to take a break from training, and they can help you feel less discouraged about taking time off. Mental skills training like mindfulness and visualization can also be taught and used during the break to help you return to training once you’ve recovered.
4. Work with a Personal Trainer
A personal trainer can help you properly understand how to optimally exercise the body. They’ll create a program that’s tailored to your needs and will guide you and let you know what’s healthy and what’s not in terms of frequency of exercise.
When to See a Doctor
See your doctor if you have injuries that worsen overtime or don’t heal. You should also get in contact with your healthcare professional if you regularly have muscle soreness that lasts more than 24 hours or joint and ligament pain. If overtraining burnout is affecting other areas of your life, it’s important you get help coming up with a training program that balances training with recovery to help you reach your fitness goals. They can also help you come up with personalized guidelines for your recovery.
If you suspect you’ve been overtraining or think you’re at risk of overtraining, make sure to talk to your coach, personal trainer or healthcare provider to get back on a balanced and healthy training track.
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