The term overtraining was introduced by Hatfield (1988) to describe a range of symptoms caused by an altered relationship between training and recovery.
Overtraining is a fairly frequent condition, a rather complex syndrome whose causes are in several triggering factors, but the question we will try to answer in this short article is the following:
Does Overtraining Cause Muscle Loss?
Let’s observe the scheme shown in the figure: the results, understood as the improvement in athletic performance, depend essentially, on:
- training: it causes stress to the body and stimulates it to adapt by improving its performance;
- nutrition: it ensures the energy substrates during training and recovery;
- rest or recovery: a set of modifications and physiological adjustments that allow the body to restore the psycho-physical balance that a stressful situation (training) has altered.
As we can see by observing the different figures, it is enough that only one of these three elements is altered to negatively influence the results. If these deficiencies persist over time one can enter the aforementioned overtraining phase, with stagnation or even involution of performance.
Does Overtraining Cause Muscle Loss?
Causes of Overtraining
- excessive and inappropriate training for your lifestyle
- overly standardised training
- insufficient sleep
- too stressful lifestyle
- too frequent competitions
- health problems
- inadequate and/or unbalanced feeding
- food poisoning from an excess of certain supplements
- psychological problems (relational, family, social, work, etc.).
How To Recognise Overtraining?
Overtraining can manifest itself through one of the following symptoms:
- fast resting heartbeat
- Excessive fatigue during training even at low to medium heartbeats; difficulty in getting your heart rate up during training; difficulty in getting your heart rate down to normal values during recovery
- apathy, insomnia, irritability, depression
- amenorrhoea (in women)
- excessive weight loss
- loss of appetite, uncontrollable desire for sweets
- recurrent infections, lowering of immune defences
- hormonal variations: excess cortisol, ACTH, and prolactin
- chronic muscle soreness, tendinitis and joint problems
- If you recognise some of these symptoms, rest for at least a week or two, consuming a slightly higher than normal amount of nutrients.
The prevention of super-workout is very important because it is very easy to get into this condition and very difficult to get out of it. Strategies to prevent it includes.
ADJUSTABLE REST: allow yourself a fairly long period of rest between workouts; sleep at least 7-8 hours a night; improve the quality of sleep (controlled temperature and humidity, suitable mattress, etc.); encourage recovery with massages, creams or salt and hot water baths.
POSITIVE MENTAL APPROACH: accepting one’s own limits, facing them with the conviction that with commitment and willpower one can overcome them.
DO NOT TRAIN FOR EXTRA TIME: Cortisol levels start to increase significantly after 40-50 minutes from the start of the exercise, and testosterone levels decrease.
PERIODICALLY CONTROL OUR HEMATIC VALUES: and in particular haematocrit, haemoglobin, testosterone, cortisol, ACTH, prolactin, lymphocytes; if you notice a decrease in haematocrit and haemoglobin and/or a decrease in the testosterone/cortisol ratio and/or an increase in neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils, you have probably entered a super-workout phase.
FOLLOW AN EQUILIBRATED DIET: take the various nutrients in the right proportions (varying from sport to sport); if you follow a high-protein diet, allow yourself days in which to reduce protein intake and increase glucose intake; do not demonise fats, but take them in the right proportions; allow yourself days in which to take high quantities of calories.
ASSUMING INTEGRATORS WITHOUT ABUSARNE: the use of supplements can be useful in case of reduced dietary intake or excessive consumption during physical activity; for this purpose multivitamin and mineral supplements, glutamine, BCAA, antioxidants, iron and folic acid, malto dextrin and mineral salts can be used during training. Many other products fall into this category, what matters is that their intake is not causal but linked to a proven deficiency.
ADAPTING TRAINING TO YOUR LIFE STYLE: Obviously, those who lead a stressful lifestyle, full of commitments and stressful activities from both a physical and mental point of view, cannot expect to train like those who work a few hours a day sitting behind a desk.
GIVING PERIODS OF PERIODIC RIGENERATION: as part of your training programme, plan a week of unloading at the end of each mesocycle; at the end of each micro-cycle suspend the main activity for a few weeks and allow yourself a period of rest characterised by the practice of playful activities.
Overtraining and Body Building
Bodybuilding is probably the sport with the highest risk of overtraining.
Most times, after encouraging initial progress, muscle development stops and performance remains virtually unchanged over the years.
The causes of this phenomenon are in overtraining. Body building is a very expensive activity for our body, just think that every additional kilo of muscle mass increases daily calorie consumption by about 50 kcal. For our body, used since ancient times to save as much energy as possible to survive periods of famine, this increased energy expenditure is a serious problem.
By continuing to train, ignoring the correct recovery times (which are much longer than is commonly thought), we gradually build up a hormonal profile that makes it difficult for us to purchase any further muscle mass.
With the due differences between the various athletes (easy gainer, hard gainer) progress inevitably passes through nutrition and recovery; the more and better you eat, the sooner you recover; the training is less important: whether you achieve muscle exhaustion with a few heavy series or with medium low loads and short recovery periods, with superset or stripping, with heavy duty or with other advanced techniques, what really matters is recovering the stress of training. How?
Eating every two to three hours (5-6 meals a day), getting enough but not too much sleep because during prolonged sleep there is excessive muscle catabolism, training with rationality and abandoning the concept “the more I do the better”.
Do you really think you can make up for the heavy Friday night workout, spending the night in some discotheque between alcohol and cigarette smoke? Either you train intensively and dedicate the same commitment to nutrition and rest, or it is better to drastically reduce the volume and intensity of your workouts.