How to recover from overtraining? Read on to find out my top 5 hacks that helped this wellness warrior come back stronger, happier and healthier after a huge setback from overtraining.
Training Gone Wrong
I used to hear the word “overtraining” and think “Psh! There’s such thing…except for ultra-marathoners or pro or collegiate athletes!”
Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing…working out included.
When we don’t take time off, our body makes time off!
In fact, overtraining is associated with at least a two-fold increase in leaky gut syndrome and functional gut disorders—like bloating, IBS, constipation and reflux.
After several years of treating my body like a robot—working out multiple times per day, under-eating nutrients, and under-sleeping—my body said “no more!”
It happened the day after an intense workout with my usual CrossFit crew.
Although I had been CrossFitting for about 10 years, along with all sorts of other fitness activities (weights, spin, yoga, dance, HIIT, etc.), for whatever reason, this workout hit me hard.
We hit the local Mt. Bonnell trail on a Saturday morning to run up and down the mountain and mix up our usual training routine. Even though the training session only lasted about an hour, I was only running on about 5 hours of sleep and by the end of the workout, my legs were shaking.
Fast forward 24 hours later: Intense fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pains, diarrhea, and a Hashimoto’s autoimmune flare hit me like a ton of bricks… and lasted for about 4 weeks.
I finally got the message: Lauryn, please stop! You need to recover!
…And maybe you do too.
How Overtraining Happens
You and I are not machines. But sometimes we treat our bodies like they are. There are 3 primary ways overtraining can happen:
#1. Working out too long or too frequently.
Spending too many hours in the gym or working out multiple times per day/week
#2. Working out too intensely
Not sleeping enough or eating appropriately to support
Everyone has a unique training threshold dependent on factors like your fitness level, genetics, and other stressors in your daily life.
Signs & Symptoms of Overtraining
The symptoms of overtraining vary and may include:
- Chronic ongoing gut problems (overtraining exacerbates leaky gut and dysbiosis)
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Joint pain
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Irritability or mood swings
- Hormone imbalances
- Plateaus in performance
- Feeling apathetic about training
Many of these overtraining symptoms can linger for months—if not years and get brushed aside, until one day, like me, your body shouts “no more!”
If you suspect you may be overtraining, the good news is, you can feel wayyyy better than you do right now. The key is to finding the just-right work-rest ratio in order to actually benefit from exercise.
How to Recover from Overtraining: 5 Hacks
While it may sound absurd: less is more when it comes to working out.
This was a tough pill for me to swallow (since I love working out!).
I had to continually remind myself to practice the “smart athlete” mindset—and make recovery. Just like Michael Phelps, Stephen Curry and the top ranking CrossFit athletes prioritize sleep, mobility, eating enough fuel and other recovery tactics (like deep tissue work, mental focus, not overcommitting their schedules, infrared sauna, etc.), I realized the 22-23 hours I spent outside the gym were just as important.
That said, in order to recover from overtraining, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to give up working out completely. Although some people may need to take a complete rest week off (or several) in order to stop the vicious cycle, others can continue to exercise at a reduced capacity during the initial recovery period.
Ultimately, listen to your body (because distance—time away—can make the heart grow fonder too).
Here are my top 5 hacks that helped me recover (and hopefully these steps on how to recover from overtraining can help you too).
Recovery Hack #1: Give Yourself Permission
First and most crucial step: Give yourself permission to recover. No matter how much “noise” or chatter is going on in the back of your mind (telling you things like ‘you’ll get fat’ or ‘you’re so lazy’ or ‘you’re weak’). Tune it out.
Creating a mantra for myself helped me combat those times when I got stuck in my head. Remind yourself, “I am strong,” “I am healing,” “I am being made new,” “Health and wholeness.” Choose a mantra that speaks to you.
Recovery Hack #2: Practice the “Smart Athlete” Mindset
Athletes work hard and often push their body to the limit, but the good ones also know how to honor their body by prioritizing their recovery methods. In my overtraining days, I used to workout 3 times per day for about 60 to 90 minutes each time in order to “check it off” my list or “earn my food”—not necessarily with a purpose for improving my fitness. In fact, often times I worked the same exact muscles multiple days in a row.
However, when I looked to athletes training schedules, many workout 1 to 2 times per day and follow a purpose-filled training routine, aimed at becoming a better athlete. In addition, athletes are really great at “doing whatever it takes” to become a better athlete—regular acupuncture or chiropractic and deep tissue appointments, meditation and sports psychology, eating certain nutrients and enough calories to improve their fitness, foam rolling while watching TV, practicing skills—not just “hitting it hard”, taking recovery and rest days (and loving them), etc.
When I began to adopt a “smart athlete” mindset, it allowed me to give myself “grace” for the days I didn’t “push it” in the gym, vary up my workouts and incorporate recovery tactics outside the gym to feel better. Some of my faves? Infrared sauna, hot showers, monthly “active release therapy” appointments with my favorite chiropractor, and hikes in nature.
Recovery Hack #3: Trick Your Body
Used to working out multiple times per day, or at the very least, every single day? This schedule typically won’t work if your goal is to recover from overtraining.
However, just because you’re recovering doesn’t mean you need to sit on the couch for hours on end eating Bon Bons.
Maintain one workout per day and stick to about 50 to 60% or less intensity for several weeks if not months. Many people find they can still move and recover. As for the other times of day when you used to workout, trick your body (and mind) by replacing your old overtraining habits with healthier alternatives—like doing yoga, going on a walk, engaging in a social activity or getting creative (hack #4).
Remind yourself that, by not overtraining, you have more time in your life back to do other amazing things!
Recovery Hack #4: Explore New Things
Speaking of new things…now with more time on your hands, pick a hobby, skill or activity to try! During my overtraining recovery, I signed up for acting classes, started dancing again, wrote two books and got creative in the kitchen—trying new recipes.
Recovery Hack #5: Guard Sleep & Nutrients with Your Life
The two biggest “game changers” for recovering from overtraining syndrome are sleep and eating nutrient-dense foods. Sleep 7 to 8 hours per night became non-negotiable along with increasing the variety in my diet.
I am a creature of habit and have a tendency to eat the same exact foods without getting bored. While this makes food prep really easy (turkey burger, sweet potato, avocado, kale, repeat), the body suffers—hungry for nutrients beyond these three foods. Bring on the bison burgers, pastured chicken thighs, kombocha squash, rainbow carrots, chard, bok choy and assortment of other things.
As a result, my body came back stronger and actually began desiring other nutrient-dense foods too (a sign of microbiome diversity).
Individual recovery times will vary.
If you significantly reduce your training load or even take a complete break off, you can expect to see improvements after 2 weeks. However, it may take up to 3 months before you’re fully healed.
Don’t Go it Alone
If you suspect you’re overtraining, but don’t know how to “stop” or how to recover, don’t go it alone. Reach out to make a functional medicine, nutrition and coaching appointment today with a healthcare practitioner who “gets it”.
I love nothing more than supporting fitness enthusiasts who genuinely want to feel better and develop a healthier relationship with fitness.
Trust me, despite the fears you may have “giving training up”, sometimes all we ever wanted is on the other side of fear…(and I think life is way better on the other side—no longer treating my body like a machine).
Want to learn how to recover from overtraining or have any questions? Contact our virtual clinic today to make an appointment with Dr. Lauryn and get help now.