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Overreaching & Overtraining

Endurance athletes love to train, race, repeat. Spending hours slowly burning through calories and endorphins can be addicting. Interval laps on a track become insanely sadistic. After finishing one interval, getting nauseous, dry heaving, and experiencing tunnel vision you’re back on the line. Ready for another lap.

We push our bodies to the limits. Often, teetering between overreaching and overtraining. It’s a line that we love to test. One that brings a great sense of failure when we reach too far, and a greater sense of joy when we get it just right. It’s getting it just right that keeps the endorphins flowing- keeps us coming back and ready for more. How do we appropriately overreach, but not overtrain? The rest of this article provides a general overview of overreaching and overtraining.

Overreaching and overtraining are terms used to describe different stages of the same phenomenon - when the balance between training load and recovery is disrupted, leading to a decrease in performance and increased risk of injury and illness. Let's start by defining these terms.

Overreaching, is a state of temporary decline in performance due to an increase in training load without adequate recovery (Le Meur et al., 2013). Overreaching can be planned or unplanned. Planned overreaching, or functional overreaching, is considered a normal part of the training process and can be used to effectively enhance performance in the long term. Often, the intent of a training block is to overreach to the point where an athlete has been appropriately stimulated but that they can still adequately recover. Afterall, the goal of overreaching is to develop more fitness overtime. The illustration below demonstrates how a runner may successfully overreach to the point of being in a state of low energy availability for short periods of time while they recover.

In nonfunctional overreaching the athlete is overreaching without a plan, purpose, or pattern. If overreaching is not properly managed and the athlete does not allow for sufficient recovery, they can progress to a state of constant low energy availability. If an athlete tries to maintain hard workouts in a state of low energy availability the body loses it's ability to adequately stabilize metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis and cardiovascular health (De Souza MJ, 2014). In these conditions an athlete can acquire a medical diagnosis called overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome is a more severe and long-term condition that occurs when an athlete fails to recover adequately from training stimulus, leading to a prolonged and persistent decrease in performance and other physiological and psychological symptoms (Cadegiani and Kater, 2013).

Overtraining syndrome can have detrimental effects on an athlete's health, performance, and overall well-being. The syndrome comes on overtime and often an athlete will not subjectively feel like they have overreached until they are well into the red zone of low energy availability. This is a condition that is difficult to treat, it’s a condition that can lead to lifelong health consequences like osteopenia and dysmenorrhea, and it’s a condition that often takes years with a multifactorial approach to adequately address.

At Golden Endurance, we believe in coaching with a focus on keeping athletes appropriately trained. By being aware of the signs and symptoms of overtraining, monitoring your training load, incorporating adequate rest and recovery, listening to your body, and managing stress, you can prevent and effectively manage these issues. If you're interested in learning more about overtraining, chronic injuries, and how to address these concerns, don't miss our upcoming webinar series starting on May 3rd. Join us to optimize your athletic performance and well-being! Click here to learn more and register.

Le Meur, Y., Pichon, A., Schaal, K., Schmitt, L., Louis, J., Gueneron, J., Vidal, P.P., & Hausswirth, C. (2013). Assessing Overreaching with Heart-Rate Recovery: What is the Minimal Exercise Intensity Required? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(4), 403-412.

De Souza MJ, Nattiv A, Joy E, Misra M, Williams NI, Mallinson RJ, Gibbs JC, Olmsted M, Goolsby M, Matheson G, Expert Panel. 2014 Female Athlete Triad Coalition Consensus Statement on Treatment and Return to Play of the Female Athlete Triad. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2014 Jul-Aug;13(4):219-32. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000077. PMID: 25014387.

Cadegiani, F.A., & Kater, C.E. (2017). Basal Hormones and Biochemical Markers as Predictors of Overtraining Syndrome in Male Athletes: The EROS-BASAL Study. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 16(2), 278-287.

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