Although proper nutrition can optimize recovery, even active people who eat well can become chronically fatigued for a variety of reasons, including excessive training, inadequate rest, or too little sleep. If you have a strenuous and prolonged training schedule in addition to other commitments and responsibilities, you may find yourself with too little time for proper eating, sleeping, and self-care.
Overtraining symptoms can vary. Some physical symptoms include loss of appetite, losing weight (without trying), insomnia, frequent colds or respiratory infections, and muscle or joint pains that seem to have no cause (Sherman and Maglischo 1991). Mental symptoms included irritability and anxiety, either of which may be accompanied by depression. Unusually poor performance in training or competition and lack of improvement even when you're maintaining diligent training can also indicate overtraining. If you are experiencing two or more of any of these symptoms, be aware that your training could be doing more harm than good.
Rather than overtrain to the point of chronic fatigue, you should take steps to prevent it. Eat a proper sports diet that provides adequate carbohydrate and protein, allow recovery time between bouts of intense exercise, and plan your schedule so that you get enough sleep at night. You should also try to minimize stress in your life and curtail disruptive activities that might drain your physical and mental energy reserves.
Rest days with little or no exercise are an important part of your training program. Yet, some people feel guilty if they don't train every day. They fear becoming unfit, fat, and lazy if they miss a day of training. That scenario is unlikely. These compulsive exercisers overlook the important physiological fact that rest is essential for top performance. Rest enhances the recovery process, reduces risk of injury, and invests in future performance. To replace depleted glycogen stores completely, the muscles may need up to two days of rest with no exercise and a high-carbohydrate diet. True athletes plan days with no exercise. Compulsive exercisers, in comparison, push themselves relentlessly and often pay the price of poorer performance and overuse injuries.
The same athletes who avoid rest after an event also tend to overtrain while preparing for an event. Many athletes train for two or three hours per day, thinking that such a regimen will help them improve. That sort of training program, however, is unlikely to enhance performance. Research has shown that swimmers performed just as well after one
90-minute training session per day as they did with double workouts of two 90-minute sessions (Costili et al. 1991). Quality training is better than quantity training. Do not underestimate the power of rest.
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