Written by Guest Blogger: Dr. Angela Hanlon, B.Sc. (nutrition), ND
Overtraining syndrome has also been called maladaptive syndrome. Overreaching may also be a term you come across, which is described as a milder or earlier version of overtraining. Overreaching is often used as part of a structured training program to encourage resilience during recovery times. If it’s done properly, recovery requires just a few days.1 Overreaching is described as a short term decrease in performance without signs of maladaptation as a consequence of intensive training.
Nonfunctional overreaching is a term used to describe overreaching that occurs unintentionally. This has also been called under-recovery. Daily life demands or unexpected circumstances can contribute to this.1
Overtraining Syndrome (General Adaptation Syndrome)
Overtraining syndrome (O.S.) requires weeks to months of rest combined with restorative dietary and movement-based activities.1 For the purpose of this article O.S will be described as a state of general adaptation syndrome, which is a dysfunction that has been thoroughly researched and documented. Specifically, O.S. will be described in the context of the resistance phase of general adaptation syndrome.2
In O.S., the nervous system is in a state of sympathetic dominance, meaning that pain sensitization is likely to be heightened and everyday problems may seem more overwhelming than usual. Our neuroendocrine hormones become depleted.1, 2
The cardiovascular system is affected by the state of the nervous system. Blood pressure and resting heart rate increase, and palpitations can occur.1, 2 Postural declines in blood pressure is a measure that health care providers use to assess for a dysfunction called orthostatic hypotension.
The endocrine system is a combination of glandular systems that includes the adrenal, thyroid, male/female, and pancreatic systems. Cortisol, which is a catabolic substance, elevates. This contributes to the stress response in the nervous system. Testosterone, which is an anabolic substance, declines (this is relevant for females as well). This inhibits muscle recovery, performance, and libido. Insulin increases, which makes us more susceptible to low blood sugar episodes. Female hormones decline, which affects menstrual periods, libido, and fertility. Thyroid hormones are thought to decline, though lab values of TSH, T3, and T4 often stay within range.1, 2
In addition to the immune system being less able to fend off viruses and bacteria, it is thought to be more susceptible to autoimmunity.2
The 24 Hour Cortisol Curve: Cortisol should be at its highest in the morning. It should not be elevated in the evening, but tends to be with overtraining syndrome.2 There are techniques and natural health products that can be used to correct dysfunctions in the cortisol curve.
Parasympathetic Overtraining (Burnout):
Not enough is known about parasympathetic overtraining just yet. However, based on what is written about it, it seems to parallel the exhaustion phase of general adaptation syndrome.1
In this state all endocrine hormones are depleted including cortisol. Immunity is weak. Simply, this is a state of exhaustion. Resting heart rate declines in this state. It also declines (normalizes) in the recovery state.1 Don’t let this fool you.
Recovery is not a static state, it requires mild-moderate exercise.2 Examples of restorative movement techniques include yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Walking is also a restorative technique and, depending on the individual, light jogging may also be restorative. Stretching is very restorative, and should be the focus during recovery.
Dietary techniques to encourage restoration should not be prescriptive, but should instead be individualized. Restoration of the cortisol curve should also be addressed on an individual basis.
*Stay tuned for more on overtraining syndrome. Part 3 will discuss some realities of overtraining, and the role it can play in anxiety and depression
1 Kellmann M, Bertollo M, Bosquet L, et al. Recovery and Performance in Sport: Consensus Statement. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. November 2017:1-6. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2017-0759.
2 Friedman MCAB. Fundamentals of naturopathic endocrinology: complementary and alternative medicine guide. Toronto, ON: CCNM Press; 2005.
Dr. Angela Hanlon, ND
Holistic Healing Arts Centre
274 King George Road, Brantford, Ontario