Last week I left you with a personal story reflecting my current state of training. This hasn’t been the first time I overtrained but it’s the first time that I pinpointed the issue and resolved it. Until now I had given up and called it a failure while learning nothing from it. Going around a problem is no way to become a winner, ask Martin Rooney. I have been reading his book “Train to Win” and I can’t wait to give you my raving review about it. My diet may be on the fritz and I’m not working out but I am eager to jump back in. After taking two weeks off I feel ready and have a whole new game plan. I have actually slept like a normal human being for that past week or so. I have a 5k obstacle course to run tomorrow and the next KFX cycle officially launches on Monday. I am SO excited!
After some of my research I want to go over a few signs and symptoms of overtraining with you. From there we’re going to examine a few of the hypotheses around the cause of these symptoms. The symptoms listed below are directly from Men’s Fitness magazine but are common symptoms you’ll read about from article to article.
- Altered Heart Rate
- Insatiable Thirst
- Muscle Soreness
- Personality Changes
- Lower Immunity
- Loss of Concentration
- Decreased motivation
- Lower self esteem
- Halted progress
Some people become so overtrained it takes weeks, months, or even years to recoup. In another article, listed in the resources, one gentleman had been so over trained it took him years to recover. Diet and rest are major factors of course; without the proper diet your body does not have the nutrients it needs to repair. Fortunately I am not at this point and I am happy to report that I’m sleeping again.
What happens to your body at the molecular level when you overtrain? Holding a biochemistry degree I owe it to myself and to my readers to help demystify this. Simply put, there is still no true answer to this. There are, however, several hypotheses that I can share with you. From my reading I found seven hypotheses. I’ll examine one today and we can move on through the weeks.
The Glycogen Hypothesis
Glycogen? What the hell is that? Ever heard of glucose? I hope so…
Glucose is a sugar. Glycogen is just a polymer of glucose which, in common terms, means that it is a larger conglomerate of several glucose molecules all combined. Our body stores glycogen reserves in the liver and in skeletal muscle tissue. By storing the sugars in this way, our bodies have a reserve to pull from when extra energy is needed. Short intense bursts of exercise and weight lifting utilize this stored energy.
Imagine you heat your home with a wood stove. Your fuel for the stove is chopped wood. Earlier today you chopped some wood (ate carbs/sugars) but have just run out. You find you need more fuel to keep the fire going. If you have some logs outside all you need to do is chop them up and you have more fuel.
When you work out your body performs glycogenolysis; this is the process of breaking glucose-1-phosphate from glycogen (think of chopping wood). Once we use it up we need some time to repair our muscles and replenish our storage (restock your wood shed). If you keep burning your fuel without giving your body enough time to repair you run out of energy. Imagine burning wood and each day your wood shed has less and less available. You can keep chopping but once the shed is empty your fire will inevitably burn out. When you are training in short intense bursts you deplete your muscles of the glycogen storage. Train too much, too hard, too often and your own fire fizzles.
Lower muscle glycogen is linked to lower performance…suddenly you can’t lift as much weight. You’re not weaker, you’re burnt out. Your muscles don’t have what they need to do what you’re asking of them. This decrease results in lower levels of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). As a result you ultimately feel fatigued.
This is one hypothesis behind why we become overtrained. Our bodies are much more complex and there are several things going on besides glycogenolysis. Next week I will move into the central fatigue hypothesis. For more reading please see my references below.