Prone to Overtraining? Try these Prevention Strategies
I vividly remember the first time I ever saw a teammate fall victim to overtraining syndrome. A few of our track relays had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina to compete at the national level right after my junior year. This particular teammate was a hard worker and incredibly talented. She could kick butt in every event from the 400 meters to the farthest races.
We continued training after the state meet and even after school had ended in preparation. As our season got longer, this teammate’s performance started to slip. I watched her labor through interval sessions that had been standard just a few months before. Things weren’t any better when it came time for the meet.
To be fair, none of us ran particularly well at nationals. I just remember being especially surprised to see our usual clutch athlete struggle as much as she did. I’ve had some of my own bouts with overtraining, but nothing nearly as extreme.
If you’ve ever found yourself dealing with overtraining syndrome, you know how frustrating it is. The good news is you can prevent it from happening in the first place. You just have to know how.
5 Strategies to Prevent Overtraining
There are likely more things that can help prevent overtraining syndrome, but we’ll need to wait for more research and recommendations. Experts often point out it’s tough to diagnose in the first place. That said, these strategies can help.
1. Incorporate enough recovery time
Recovery is the best medicine for treating overtraining syndrome. It also happens to be one of the best preventive measures you can take. A review composed by the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine identified adequate recovery as one of the most important factors for preventing overtraining. The authors recommend athletes allow themselves at least one rest day per week.
You should also make sure to allow yourself easier workouts that enable your body to recover. Trying to stuff too many hard efforts into a week is going to lead to problems even with a weekly rest day.
2. Prioritize sleep
Some might categorize recovery and sleep as the same thing, but I think it’s important to separate the two. The same review from above even singles out adequate sleep as an important way to avoid overtraining. I’m also a firm believer that getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to prevent running injuries. If catching some more Zs can help you avoid both overtraining and getting hurt, why wouldn’t you make it a priority?
As for the exact amount of sleep, it depends. I aim for 7 hours per night, but you may be different. Sleep needs vary based on a variety of factors, but 7 to 9 hours is pretty standard for adults.
3. Eat enough carbohydrates
Good news for runners who are pasta fans: eating enough carbohydrates is essential. Most experts recommend consuming a mix of carbohydrates and protein after a run to help prime your body for the repair process. Carbs are also essential for preventing overtraining.
One study found runners who consumed a higher carbohydrate diet were able to maintain performance and avoid the effects of overtraining better than a control group with a lower carbohydrate intake. Just keep things under control. You still need a well-balanced diet with plenty of produce and protein.
Related: Does Carb Loading Actually Work?
4. Vary your training
I’ve been a huge proponent of cross training for years. It’s one of the best ways to avoid running-related injuries. But even if you don’t opt for regular cross-training, consider adding some more variety to your typical running schedule. You’ll avoid straining the same muscles repeatedly, and it can also be a nice break for your brain. Perhaps this is why varied training is often recommended as a good way to prevent overtraining.
5. Proactively manage stress
I alluded to this earlier, but overtraining syndrome is somewhat of a mystery to those who’ve studied it. It’s hard to define, which also makes it difficult to diagnose, treat, and prevent. One thing many researchers do agree on, though, is that there seems to be a correlation between psychological stress and overtraining syndrome.
Some research suggests effective stress management can help individuals recover from overtraining syndrome. There’s reason to believe the same strategy could work for prevention as well. If you don’t already have some go-to stress management techniques, now is the time to figure out what works for you.
If you think you may already be dealing with overtraining syndrome, getting some rest is really the best thing you can do. Listen to your body and give it the break it needs.