Not Recovering? Overtraining & Diet May Be The Culprit!

Overtraining can best be described as the state when an athlete undergoes a very stressful training regimen that he or she simply cannot recover from any longer. Learn more.

Overtraining can best be described as the state when an athlete undergoes a very stressful training regimen that he or she simply cannot recover from any longer. This usually occurs when an athlete fails to listen to his or her body and take some much needed rest. The athlete proceeds to train and make the condition even worse.

Individuals who are overtrained may not be able to perform at their best for up to 8 weeks due to staying in the condition of overtraining for long periods of time. The athlete must then undergo an extended "regeneration period" where he or she does not train hard so the body can fully recover from the previous stress.

The most common symptoms include decreased physical performance, fatigue, loss of motivation, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, elevated resting heart rate, increased amount of minor injuries such as sprains and strains and an increase in upper respiratory infections.

There are many factors that contribute to the state of overtraining including inadequate nutrition, excessive training volume and frequency and an insufficient amount of sleep (Saremi).

Importance Of Research ///

Research on the link between nutrition and overtraining is very important in the field of athletics as well as nutrition. It is actually very common to have an athlete suffer through this condition.

It has been reported that over 60 percent of distance runners, 50 percent of professional soccer players during a five month season, and 33 percent of basketball players in a six week training camp have shown signs and symptoms of the state of overtraining.

Not only is athletic performance impaired during this time, but the athlete has a much greater chance of experiencing an injury. Musculoskeletal injuries due to overuse are very common for overtrained individuals. These injuries include muscle strains, sprains, tears, bursitis and contusions among many others.

An athlete who is either injured or performing poorly is not going to do very well in the field of athletics, as the goal is to always better your athletic skills. Athletes who fall into overtraining simply cannot perform that task. Additional research on this topic can help athletes around the world better understand this condition and ultimately avoid it at all costs (Saremi).

Role Of Nutrition In Overtraining ///

Many athletes make the same nutritional mistakes that can lead to overtraining rather quickly. An important nutritional concern is consuming an adequate amount of calories. Many athletes underestimate how much food they need to eat to support their intense training regimen. This will lead to possible weight loss and decreased physical performance.

This is similar to requesting that your car travel 50 miles when you provide it enough gasoline to travel 20 miles. Some athletes seem to have a carbohydrate phobia due to false beliefs that carbohydrate is responsible for weight gain.

An athlete who does not consume much carbohydrate throughout the day will not have an optimal amount of stored glycogen in muscle tissue and liver. This might lead to impaired performance as well, since carbohydrate is the prime energy source of the human body.

Many athletes might also be lacking dietary fats due to the false belief that dietary fat immediately converts into adipose tissue. Dietary fats are very important in protection against heart disease, free radical damage (which is heavily caused by exercise) and cancer.

It can also help increase metabolic rate and fat burning, muscle mass and production of hormones such as testosterone. Another nutritional flaw includes not consuming an adequate protein and carbohydrate source after exercise. Glycogen resynthesis and muscle repair must be started as fast as possible to ensure optimal recovery.

After a period of intense exercise, the human body is in a catabolic state which is not a great place to be for an athlete. In order to quickly convert from a catabolic to anabolic state, proper post exercise nutrition including adequate carbohydrate and protein must take place (Ivy and Portman 131).

Other Important Factors ///

Proper nutrition plays an important role in preventing overtraining, but there are a few other factors as well. Sleep is very important for recovery as it is the time for your body to recuperate from strenuous training.

The optimal amount of sleep per night would be 8 hours or more. Many athletes also train too hard and long as this can be counterproductive (Halson).

Periodization training is an option that can be implemented by athletes. Periodization training involves alternating through periods of light, medium and hard training days. This is more suitable to help prevent the athlete from hitting a wall in terms of progress.

The training program of the athlete should also include set rest days to allow recovery. The volume and frequency of resistance training as well as sport specific training should be planned carefully.

Different athletes have different recovery abilities; if one gifted individual can get away with 4 hours of training per day, that does not necessarily mean everyone else on the team can as well. Program planning should definitely be individualized due to this (Mackinnon).

Mechanism Of Action ///

Overtraining syndrome is very complex as a single mechanism and is not responsible for all of the possible symptoms. It is known that intense training causes the elevation of stress hormones such as catecholamines and glucocorticoids.

A constant elevation of these hormones can lead to alterations in other hormones such as insulin and pituitary hormones. It can also lead to changes in muscle metabolism which would cause muscle to be used more readily for fuel instead of glycogen.

It is also possible that cytokines might be responsible for some aspects of overtraining syndrome. Cytokines are proteins released during periods of microtrauma that occurs with high volume exercise to joints, muscles and connective tissue.

The cytokines initiate a response in the human body that almost describes it as being in a state of sickness which would lead to suppressed immune function and mood changes (Mackinnon).

Have You Ever Gone Through A Period Of Overtraining?

Review Of Research ///

The American College of Sports Medicine conducted a study that compared overtrained and non-overtrained athletes.

There were a total of 33 volunteers with ages ranging from 12 to 48 years old from athletic clubs. The subjects were asked to complete questionnaires regarding their nutritional intake each training day, average time spent training per week and emotional stress.

The average number of hours spent training for the overtrained individuals was 17.5 hours versus 11.5 hours for non-overtrained.

So there was a significantly larger amount of time spent training for the overtrained group. There was also an increase in the amount of non-overtrained individuals who ate an adequate recovery meal versus the overtrained individuals at 41.6% to 27.27%.

There was also a significant difference in the total energy intake for protein and carbohydrates but not fat for non-overtrained athletes.

For the most part the overtrained athletes were not meeting their energy demands and did not consume enough calories. This caused them to be almost in a starvation mode which is not an optimal state for an athlete who would like to excel in a sport (Lexa).


Overtraining syndrome is a state during which a person can no longer fully recover from their training regimen. The common symptoms include decreased physical performance, fatigue, loss of motivation, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, elevated resting heart rate, increased amount of minor injuries such as sprains and strains and an increase in upper respiratory infections. If a few of these symptoms are felt, the athlete is probably suffering from overtraining syndrome.

Many athletes around the world suffer from this and do not realize it. Not only are athletes not performing as well as they can, but they are at much greater risk for musculoskeletal injuries.

The common nutritional mistakes that athletes may make include inadequate calorie, carbohydrate, dietary fat intake and lack of a post exercise recovery meal. Other important factors in helping prevent overtraining include adequate amount of sleep as well as proper exercise planning. This regards frequency and volume as well as individualization.

The condition of overtraining might be related ultimately to the increased production of stress hormones and cytokines which can cause the body to enter an almost ill state.

The American College of Sports Medicine has conducted a study that showed non-overtrained individuals generally train less hours per week and have a better overall diet than overtrained individuals.

It might be a smart idea to have your diet and training program critiqued by a credible person, because you will never be as harsh on yourself as an unbiased professional can be.