Overtraining is a common problem among athletes and weight lifters. Those who are affected manifest symptoms of prolonged fatigue and performance that have decreased or leveled off .
Fitness and regular exercise is a good thing…except when overtraining signs sneak in. Here are 13 silent signs you may be overtraining—and what to do about it.
Only about 1 in 5 people get the regular (recommended) amount of exercise every week (approximately 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, or 75-minutes of intense exercise)—and YOU are one of them.
Working out is like brushing your teeth (a regular part of your routine), and unlike other people who have to force themselves to go to the gym, you genuinely enjoy fitness—at least more than the average person.
However, as with most things in life, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing—especially when it comes to overtraining (i.e. doing TOO much in the gym).
The result? Lack of progress and fitness gains, and not feeling on top of your A-game!
The tricky thing? You may not always be aware that the signs of overtraining are actually related to your efforts to be “more fit.”
Are you overtraining?
13 SILENT SIGNS YOU MAY BE OVERTRAINING
1. Shortness of Breath
Altered respiratory function is a real sign of stress. While your heart rate and blood pressure can be completely “normal,” many over-trainees describe feeling like they have a “weight” in their chest or like their ability to breathe is constricted. This is typically due to the body’s internal “stress” response systems (“fight or flight”) and as your body’s cortisol levels are thwarted, so is your ability to breath normally (sort of as if you were to run from a bear).
When short or shallow breaths are taken one after the other, it becomes almost impossible to exhale completely, resulting in a buildup of carbon dioxide. This type of shortness of breath becomes cyclical, repeating itself, and is tied in to the release of norepinephrine and epinephrine (“adrenaline”) throughout the body. Adrenaline released when the body is under stress, and stimulate many organs in the body, including the lungs. The more advanced the stress, the more pronounced this can be.
2. Headaches or Brain Fog
A feeling of a cloud “looming” over your head is a completely normal and uncomfortable complaint of individuals in an overtrained state. Similar to the “adrenaline” response that happens when you have shortness of breath, the same thing happens (for your head) as the norepinephrine and epinephrine neurotransmitters are stimulated—more than other neurotransmitters—making you feel like you have a cloudy or foggy brain. Your body is unable to fire neurotransmitters (brain messengers) quite as fast.
3. General Feeling of Weakness
Fitness is supposed to build you up—not break you down…unless you do too much of it. Consequently, despite putting the time into the gym, you end up declining in strength or plateauing (not gaining). You may even feel lightheaded or dizzy when you stand up, or get out of bed in the morning. This is called orthostatic hypotension.
This occurs when a person’s blood pressure falls when suddenly standing up from a lying or sitting position. It is defined as a fall in systolic blood pressure (the top number on a blood pressure reading) by at least 20 mm Hg or a fall in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number on a blood pressure reading) of at least 10 mm Hg when a person assumes a standing position.
4. Apathy and/or Anxiety
You workout because it’s what you do, but a general mood of apathy or even low mood is present. Overtraining takes a toll on your hormones and your serotonin levels—often times suppressing the chemicals that make you feel good and happy. Since 95% of your serotonin (feel good brain chemicals) are produced in the gut, AND overtraining suppresses stomach acid, it makes total sense!
Anxiety is another common mood people experience as well. Can’t shake the nerves or thoughts in your head—no matter how much deep breathing or positive self talk you do? Feeling “wound up” or “wired” can be a sign of overtraining—wreaking havoc on your “balance.”
5. Low Libido
Speaking of low hormone levels, low libido or sex drive is another norm of overtraining. As cortisol levels impact your sex hormone balance and production, lovey dovey feelings are not on your radar.
6. Irregular/Lack of Periods OR “Horrible” PMS
Amenorrhea or “lack of period,” irregular periods and hormone imbalances go hand in hand with overtraining. The LAST thing your body wants to do when it is stressed is have a baby (i.e. menstruate), OR “chill out.” It can’t chill out (enter: crazy cravings for chocolate and abdominal cramps leaving you curled up in the fetal position).
7. Loss of Appetite
Low stomach acid from overtraining drives appetite and hunger cues DOWN. Cortisol also does the same. The (other) LAST thing your body wants to do when it is stressed is digest.
8. Constipation and/or Bloating
Without enough stomach acid, constipation and bloating are ALSO a given. In addition, elevated cortisol suppresses and slows the process of digestion. Since optimal digestion occurs in a “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) state, if you don’t allow proper recovery for your body, you can bet your bottom dollar that digestive difficulties are a side effect.
9. Eye & Muscle Twitching
Muscle twitching is a common side effect from electrolyte imbalances. For nerve impulses to fire properly, there must be an adequate amount of sodium outside your cells and an ample supply of potassium inside the cell. (Sodium and potassium work as opposites).
With overtraining, too much sodium can be lost and too much potassium is retained. Thus, nerve transmission becomes abnormal and sporadic. This can cause muscle spasms and twitches. It also can cause problems like heart palpitations.
10. “Low Blood Sugar” Symptoms or Feeling Hangry Before Meals
Blood sugar feel like it tanks within 2-3 hours of eating? Feel shaky or lightheaded if you go a little too long between meals? Need frequent snacks? Snacks and eating are NOT a bad thing, but if your energy and blood sugar levels are continually riding a roller coaster, then you will feel the symptoms. Since cortisol “craves” sugar and needs glucose to keep fueled, then shortly after meals as blood sugar goes back to normal (but cortisol or stress still remains elevated), then your body will speak (in the form of “hanger”).
11. Low Resting Heart Rate &/or Blood Pressure
A low heart rate or blood pressure are often praised in fitness world as “gold stars” of fitness. However, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. As overtraining persists, low blood pressure, at rest or related to posture becomes more prevalent. It’s important to note: unlike high blood pressure, low blood pressure is defined primarily by particular low blood pressure symptoms (not by a specific blood pressure number itself).
For instance, regular runners (who are NOT overtrained), can generally have low blood pressure and at the same time can be quite healthy and asymptomatic. Some individuals may have a blood pressure of 86/50 with no low blood pressure symptoms and thus do not have low blood pressure clinically. However, others may develop low blood pressure symptoms if their training is “too much” for the body to handle. Low blood pressure symptoms may include: dizziness (especially upon standing), brain fog, shortness of breath and even fainting episodes.
12. No muscle Soreness or Stringy Muscles
Simply put: Your muscles are in a “catabolic” (break down) state, and instead of “building up,” they are breaking down—unable to “build” muscle.
13. Catch Colds or Allergy “Attacks” Easily
80%+ of your immune system is produced in your gut. As overtraining suppresses stomach acid production and healthy digestion, it can also disturb the health and balance of your gut bacteria. Hello poor production of your immune fighting cells AND more susceptibility to colds and allergies.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: OVERTRAINING RECOVERY ACTION PLAN
Overtraining is not a cut and dry diagnosis. It typically includes a collection of signs and symptoms like those described above, in conjunction with assessing and evaluating how you’ve been spending your time in the gym and what you really have been doing.
The good news?
You CAN feel amazing, and not only get back to feeling like “yourself” again, but actually accelerate your fitness MORE when overtraining is addressed—head on.
Here are 5 simple action steps to get started with an overtraining recovery action plan.
1. Take a Time Out
As difficult and challenging as it may be to say “stop” to your usual routine, taking ONE day (at the very least) to press the “pause” button, and consider the training you’ve been doing—and how that may be impacting your health.
In order to get off the “hamster wheel,” this first step is crucial. Even more telling? Keeping an exercise or training log for one week, then assessing the facts. When you look at the break down, what comes to mind?
Also consider the nutrition and recovery factors present (or lack thereof). If you were to coach someone else on improving their own fitness—as if they were following your current plan— do you see any gaps or missing links?
2. Gain Vision
What are your goals any how? What is your “why” (why you train in the first place?!). While you’re at it (assessing your current training), check in with yourself: What are my training goals? And how do I best get there? (You often know the answers).
3. Optimize Nutrition.
It’s been guesstimated that “workout results are 80% nutrition” While there are no black and white rules solidifying this assertion, what you do OUTSIDE the gym, greatly affects what happens inside the gym (or trail, or road, etc.). That said, are you under-eating? If you’re not eating to support your level of training, you are only shooting yourself in the foot. A good way to assess if you’re eating enough as a baseline for your training is to take your bodyweight x 12-14, then add approximately 300-500 calories for the active lifestyle you lead.
This will give you a range of caloric intake. In addition, a balance of proteins, carbs and fats is also essential, and if you’re neglecting any one of these food groups, then your body can be eating but STILL STARVING (i.e. getting enough calories, but not enough nutrients). At each meal, aim to incorporate:
- Sustainable Protein Source (chicken, fish, beef/bison, eggs)
- Variety of Vegetables
- Starchy Tubers (approximately 1-3/day)
- Healthy Fats
Carbs and fats may very slightly in the amounts you eat (some people feel better on higher carb, whereas others feel best on higher fat), but generally speaking, a balance of all three macronutrients can boost nutrition.
Lastly, beyond calories and macros alone, take your nutrition to the next level with these nutrient-dense foods and a few key supplements (for better recovery):
Recovery Boosting Foods
- Bone Broth
- Organ Meats
- Grass-fed Beef/Bison
- Wild-Caught Fatty Fish
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Pastured Egg Yolks
- Fermented Full Fat Dairy
- Fermented Vegetables
- Coconut Oil/MCT Oil
- Grass-fed Butter/Ghee
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil/Avocado Oil
- Green Tipped Plantains (prebiotics)
- Cooked & Cooled Sweet Potatoes (prebiotics)
- Himalayan Sea Salt in water
Recovery Boosting Supplements
- Soil Based Probiotics (1-2/day)
- Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum 1/2-1 tsp/day)
- HPA Balance (1-2 doses/day)
- Cod Liver Oil (1 dose per day)
- CBD (Hemp) Oil (great for inflammation)
- Liposomal Curcumin (also an inflammation fighter)
- Liposomal Glutathione (enhances nutrient uptake, immunity and muscle recovery)
- Electrolyte Drops (boost electrolytes)
4. Dare Yourself
Dare yourself to “mix it up.” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So if something is not working for you, why not mix it up and try something different? Even if it simply means sleeping in in the mornings and hitting your workouts in the evenings instead—slight edge changes can make a big difference.
5. Practice the 11th Element of Fitness
Recovery—both active and passive recovery—does a body good. Instead of seeing recovery as meaning you have to be a bum on a log too, it can actually mean that you are getting better and stronger! Begin with one to two NEW tactics you can incorporate into a recovery routine for yourself to make “less be more.” Here are some ideas :
- Substitute one run for a walk or hike with a friend
- Incorporate yoga into your routine 1 or 2 times per week, in lieu of ANOTHER complete training day
- Get some “body work” (i.e. physical therapy/manual therapy) done
- Bio-feedback and mindfulness practice
- Carving out MORE time for people (in place of ANOTHER training time)
- Reading a good book
- Tai Chi, Qui Chong, or Martial Arts
- Meal prep and organization
- Hot-Cold Therapy (“fire and ice”)
- Time spent in fresh air outdoors
—Just to name a few. Honor your recovery days just as much as you do your training days for optimal wellbeing.