Does the combination of seventy-five degrees, race season and seventeen hours of daylight per day conjure up visions of more training time than you’ve had all year? How will you know if you are doing too much of a good thing?
Triathletes are especially susceptible to overtraining syndrome (OTS), a condition that affects up to 30% of non-elite swimmers, cyclists and runners. A complex condition involving multiple body systems, OTS is not easily identified by predictable physical symptoms such as muscle pain or fatigue. Here are three common signs to keep in mind as you log more minutes and miles this summer:
- Changes in mood: Psychological symptoms are numerous and common in athletes suffering from OTS. Lack of motivation, anxiety, depression and irritability are just a few of the commonly reported signs. Characteristics of clinical depression overlap with those of overtraining syndrome, including biochemical markers such as decreased blood cortisol levels. Just as stressful life events can lead to depression, stress is linked to increased rates of OTS. If you ramp up your training and experience a psychological backlash, consider reevaluating the frequency, intensity and recovery time of your workouts.
- Changes in sleep patterns. While aerobic exercise is generally associated with improved sleep, an unexpected sign overtraining is disturbed sleep. If you experience difficulty falling asleep, resulting in later and later bedtimes, or notice more nightly sleep interruptions, you could be training too much. OTS is also linked to a reduction in both REM sleep and total hours of sleep. So, before you blame your lack of sleep on the kids, work stress or getting old, take a look at recent changes in your training schedule and consider the possibility of OTS.
- Comfort food cravings. As in, your comfort food. From caffeine to sugar to salty snacks, cravings of seemingly uncontrollable proportions have been reported by athletes experiencing OTS. Abnormal hunger and cravings are one of the body’s responses to exhaustion, so if your thoughts about food start to resemble those of a starved castaway, think OTS.
Questions about your summer training program? Call the OPT clinic near you: www.outpatientpt.com. (7 convenient locations including Covington, Kent, Maple Valley, Auburn and Puyallup)