Too Much of a Good Thing - Page 2
Monitoring morning heart rate can be a sound way to stay ahead of the overtraining curve, as heart-rate data can predict a tired body well before overtraining symptoms appear.
First, find your baseline pulse (beats per minute) when you know you are well rested and healthy. Over the next two weeks, check your pulse with a heart-rate monitor every morning right after waking before getting out of bed. This average will be your base number.
At least once a week, compare your morning heart rate to your base number. Whenever it shows a five or six beat variance (above or below) the base number, your nervous system is having trouble keeping up with the stress placed up it. If your heart rate continues to show this variation for more than a few consecutive days, take some time off and let your body recover.
A similar test is to take the in-bed reading, then stand and take your pulse again after 20 seconds. (Wearing a heart-rate monitor for the standing count can be helpful.) The difference between these two readings will be the baseline, and the same five- or six-beat-variance rule applies.
SNEAKY STAGE ONE
In its earliest stage, overtraining may be easily ignored, especially when the weather is perfect and your motivation to run is high. Mild fatigue, not being able to perform at previous levels, sugar cravings and an elevated resting heart rate are common warning signs. Your body may be asking for a few rest days, then a reduced running volume for a week or two. However, it’s important to slowly work back up to your typical mileage. Starting out too fast may shock the recovering system and send you back to the couch for more rest. It’s an evil cycle that is best avoided.
The more serious, middle level of overtraining is much harder to brush under the rug and best dealt with as soon as possible. Symptoms may include those from the earliest stage but felt more intensely.
Exercise physiologist and nutritionist Pam Vagnieres, MS, CNT, CSCS, of Boulder, Colorado’s Nutri-Physique says, “Ironically, people striving to be healthy with vigorous exercise regimens can end up with these difficult-to-treat conditions if they don’t balance their exercise with adequate rest.”
Healing times vary from person to person, but taking a considerable break from any aerobic exercise (two weeks to two months) followed by a slow and deliberate rebuilding cycle should be expected. Unfortunately, many runners continue to push themselves while overtrained at this middle level for months, not knowing they’re prolonging their recovery and inching closer to a full-on meltdown.
OVER THE TOP
If no steps to address these symptoms are taken, hormone levels become even more imbalanced, resting heart rates drop to abnormally low levels, as the sympathetic nervous system is too impaired to provide proper cardiac function, depression is palpable and you’ll lack motivation. And when you attempt to run, your performance is at an all-time low. Runners who push themselves to this place are looking at a long recovery of a year or more. This means very limited aerobic activity. At the very least kiss the current season goodbye. You may need to seek professional help to regain full health.
“It’s important to realize that untreated overtraining may significantly affect your long-term health,” says Vagnieres. “When adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction and/or hormonal dysregulation are present, health issues such as recurrent infections, allergies, asthma, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, hypoglycemia, autoimmune disorders, and even diabetes, heart disease and cancer can occur.”
Thankfully, when it comes to overtraining, simple prevention is the best medicine. Immediately address the signs and symptoms of a struggling recovery mechanism. Monitoring waking heart rate can also be an effective way to catch overtraining in its earliest form (see sidebar).
Keeping the engine well fueled and energized with a nutritious, well-balanced diet is vital for maintaining health during periods of high-mileage running. And make sure to eat enough. Attempting to meet the demands of running and day-to-day living in a calorie-depleted state is big trouble, and at the least hinders performance.
Adds Vagnieres, “Eliminate processed foods and instead include protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats in every meal. And consider taking supplemental nutrients such as B vitamins, D-ribose, CoQ10, antioxidants, l-carnitine, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil. These nutrients protect the overworked mitochondria, or the powerhouse of the muscle cell, which is crucial for recovery and long term well-being.”
Ultimately, despite your goals or racing schedule, you trail run for personal enjoyment. So simply understand the symptoms of overtraining, get plenty of quality rest, eat and drink your fill, throw in an extra rest day occasionally, and you’ll virtually guarantee your running will always feel great.
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Dave Sheldon is a freelance writer and Rolfing practitioner living in Boulder, Colorado.