Written By Guest Blogger: Dr. Angela Hanlon, B.Sc. (nutrition), ND
Much of the research on the fundamentals of overtraining syndrome was done in the 1990s. Despite this, OS is still a foreign concept to many of us.
Honour the circadian rhythm (cortisol curve)
Cortisol is commonly called a stress hormone. Though it is produced during times of stress, it’s also produced during times of performance. This includes competitions, workouts, public speaking engagements, and completing assignments. Excessive performance leads to excessive cortisol production, leading to a stress response in the body and eventual burnout. However, some cortisol production is good.
According to the natural circadian rhythm, cortisol should be highest at 8am and taper as the day goes on. By bedtime, cortisol levels should be low and melatonin levels should be increasing. If cortisol remains elevated through the day or rises in the evening, we’ll have a hard time falling or staying asleep. In addition, the quality of our sleep will not be optimal. We’ll wake up groggy and unrested. Throughout the day, hunger cues will be thrown out of balance which can lead to blood sugar fluctuations.
Keep Blood Sugar Levels Steady
Blood sugar fluctuations can inhibit both performance and recovery. Think of elevated blood sugar as something that affects the performance of your vehicle (your body). The more concentrated the sugar, the more performance and recovery is affected. Soft drinks and slush drinks are at the top of this list. Other primary offenders include candy, energy drinks, and chocolate bars. There is, of course, a place for concentrated sources of carbohydrates. Use them strategically and intelligently. Do some extra reading about a body process called reactive hypoglycemia.
Blood sugar fluctuations can also affect the circadian rhythm. If you’ve ever had a big meal in the evening, you’ll know that the next morning you don’t wake refreshed. Your stomach may feel a little off and you may be not be in a good mood. People who break the habit of eating a lot in the evening usually notice their sleep more restful and their mornings much more pleasant.
There are a number of ways to avoid blood sugar fluctuations, and the approach does not have to be complicated.
Take Rest Days, But Have Fun With Them
Our workout is part of our day. It’s the time we use to regain perspective, sort of like a re-set button. Rest Day needs differ from person to person, and each of us should use our own discretion to do what feels right. You may want to walk. You may want to sink into the couch in front of the TV. You may prefer a 10-15 minute jog (not run, not sprint. Jog). You may prefer yoga.
Restorative Yoga: Very Efficient
Autonomic and neuroendocrine imbalances are thought to be the underlying cause of overtraining syndrome2. Restorative yoga is a form of yoga that is thought to act on these body systems4.
In my opinion, the sequential flexion and extension of muscle groups during yoga helps to prevent injuries and promote recovery. In addition, I think that the effect of yoga on our neuroendocrine hormones (including cortisol) has a lot to do with the movement and positioning of the spine while we’re resting in a yoga pose. The positions used in yoga cause the breath to create different body movements that wouldn’t likely happen during other activities. This creates subtle changes in spinal cord movement that would, by logic, benefit nerve function within the spinal cord. The spinal cord has a big influence on the state of our nervous system, helping to dictate how wound up or wound down we are.
The more effectively we can get ourselves into wound down mode, the more efficient our recovery. The enhanced blood and lymphatic circulation that occurs in muscles during a prolonged body stretch provides added benefit.
Sudden increases in training load should be avoided. Aim for a steady increase of 5% per week. Monotonous training should be avoided. Intensive exercise with short rests coupled with frequent competition increases the risk of developing overtraining syndrome3. Training should be reduced during times of stress or overwork, such as exam time for students or tax time for accountants. Be self-aware during times of unexpected stressors such as family conflict, starting a new job, or times of grieving.
A 1990 article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said it best: “Cases need to be assessed individually, and it is often difficult to persuade athletes that they need to rest. However, this seems to be the basis of treatment since an improvement in performance has been shown after 3-5 weeks rest, despite the fact that these athletes must become detrained in this time. The buildup to full training may take up to three further months. It is thought important to avoid competition, although individuals may produce personal best performances ‘out of the blue’ before apparent complete recovery. Our own anecdotal observation suggests that recovery takes three to eight weeks. However, there is a danger of relapse at around 3 months. We advise reduced training and competition stress for up to 4 months.”1
1 Budgett R. Overtraining syndrome. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 1990;24(4):231-236. doi:10.1136/bjsm.24.4.231.
2 Lehmann M, Foster C, Dickhuth H-H, Gastmann U. Autonomic imbalance hypothesis and overtraining syndrome. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1998;30(7):1140-1145. doi:10.1097/00005768-199807000-00019.
3 Kenttä G, Hassmén P. Overtraining and Recovery. Sports Medicine. 1998;26(1):1-16. doi:10.2165/00007256-199826010-00001.
4 Corey SM, Epel E, Schembri M, et al. Effect of restorative yoga vs. stretching on diurnal cortisol dynamics and psychosocial outcomes in individuals with the metabolic syndrome: The PRYSMS randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014;49:260-271. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.07.012.
5 Sullivan MB, Erb M, Schmalzl L, Moonaz S, Taylor JN, Porges SW. Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2018;12. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00067.
Dr. Angela Hanlon, ND
Holistic Healing Arts Centre
274 King George Road, Brantford, Ontario