Q&A: PERILS OF OVERTRAINING
Q: I have just begun studying and with the increased free time I decided to up my training. This wasn’t too bad in itself but I started doing silly things like not paying attention to my coach. He’d give me a one-hour recovery ride and I’d do 90 minutes.
I also wasn’t eating enough, as due to my poor insulin response I don’t eat sugar. This culminated in me bonking on cold rides, and I blacked out a few times. My body fat was one per cent. My cholesterol is very high, my testosterone very low and my thyroid not functioning.
A: The increased ‘stress’ of overtraining syndrome causes endocrine (hormonal) dysfunction, causing disturbances in thyroid function, as well as reproductive function.
High levels of stress hormones (predominantly cortisol), together with insufficient carbohydrate, protein and fat consumption, can lead to the body being in a constant ‘catabolic’ or breakdown state, leading to a loss of lean tissue. Cortisol largely controls carbohydrate/sugar and fat metabolism, and some ‘overtrained’ athletes gain body fat as they lose lean tissue.
The major goal with any training programme is to become stronger and fitter, which results from ‘intelligent’ graded training, together with enough rest and fuel for the continuous process of breakdown and regeneration. More is not always better! A high cortisol level in cases of overtraining is invariably the underlying cause of sleep disturbances, and sometimes feelings of agitation.
To keep stress hormone levels in check, ensure you are eating enough total calories to fuel training. Eat wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa, or Soba noodles, with plenty of
veg and fruit. Ensuring an adequate intake of protein and essential fats is also vital for
tissue regeneration and the production of hormones. Proper nourishment of the adrenal glands also needs consideration. The adrenal glands rely on a good supply of vitamin C, B vitamins, sodium, magnesium and other minerals.
Lucy Ann-Prideaux is the director of her own nutrition consultancy, www.simply-nutrition.co.uk.