How Overtraining Affects the Body and How to Overcome It

Author: Sara Wilson

Overtraining is something that a lot of athletes face and often don’t even know it. Overtraining occurs when you exceed your body’s ability to recover from exercise. Everyone wants to be the best at what they do and today people have mentalities like “no days off” or “no pain no gain”. They think that if they keep working and never stop it will help them with their athletic goals, but they almost always end up pushing themselves too far. That is something I experienced last year running cross country at the junior college level. I tried gradually increasing my mileage and started running every other day and eventually worked up to running 6 days a week. I was in the best shape of my life and was faster than I have ever been. Once the season started, my coaches were excited about my progress over the summer and ready to get the season started. Once we started having meets, we would go weeks without a day off. Having practice all week with a meet on Saturday and then long run-on Sunday and start the process all over again on Monday. My times started to plateau and eventually gradually decreased. I also felt tired even doing things that were easy before. My coaches told me to keep running and work my way backup. Doing this led to a tibial stress fracture which put me out for the rest of the season. I learned that in order to reach your goals rest is just as important as training and when you are feeling tired and regressing it may be time to take a step down.

For a lot of athletes, the goal is to be the best and to do that you have to put in the work, and for many, that means all work and no rest. This is a common reason why we have burnout and injuries with many athletes. Here are some symptoms that occur with excessive amounts of training. These include, decreased performance over a 7-10-day period, increased resting heart rate and blood pressure, losing weight, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and muscle soreness (Comana 2020). If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, chances are you are training too hard and likely need to slow down. Some things you may want to think about doing to reduce your symptoms are deloading (reducing training load), offloading (stop activity), or redirecting (cross-train). Doing any of these will help reduce the symptoms before an injury occurs and allow your body to properly recover. But in order to limit the symptoms of overtraining, you can better prioritize recovery to ensure the symptoms never start.

There are two types of recovery, short- and long-term recovery. Short-term recovery refers to hours or up to days after a workout. Making sure you cool-down properly, eat a meal to replenish energy stores as well as getting adequate sleep are all things you can do to improve short-term recovery. Long-term recovery refers to the recovery periods that are built into the training regime. This includes recovery days and/or weeks, also including cross-training days and modifying workouts whether that be changing the intensity or duration (Quinn 2020).

Overtraining does not only result from excess exercise; your diet is a key factor in the recovery process. When your body is stressed from exercise a hormone called cortisol is released from the adrenal glands, and when more cortisol is excreted the more nutrients your body needs, nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, and B. When cortisol is released for an extended period of time it can result in adrenal fatigue (Scott-Dalgleish 2014). Adrenal fatigue causes the adrenal glands on the kidneys to make and secrete lower amounts of cortisol. This can cause your body to no longer respond to stress properly. Also, a lack of antioxidants which we get from fruits and vegetables impacts the mitochondria’s ability to repair damage leading to low ATP production which is what causes fatigue. It is also crucial to get adequate amounts of carbohydrates that match the energy expended during exercise. As well as adequate amounts of protein in the diet which aids in muscle recovery. Getting enough water is another important aspect, water allows the body to metabolize food. For proper metabolism, a person should consume 100 mL of water in order to metabolize100 calories (Allen-Smith 2019). A diet lacking in proper caloric and fluid intake decreases the ability to endure training sessions. As well as the ability to replenish glycogen and fluid stores. Meeting these needs helps the body properly recover and allows the muscles to replenish, repair, and strengthen.

Sleep is another essential part of the recovery process. Sleep and recovery rely on two factors those are basal sleep and sleep debt. Basal sleep is the amount of sleep the body needs each night to recover. Sleep debt builds up as we don’t get our basal sleep each night (Comana 2020).As sleep debt builds up it raises your stress and cortisol levels which then impairs recovery. Lack of sleep can also result in reduced muscle glycogen repletion, decreased muscle repair, cognitive function alterations, and mental fatigue (Allen-Smith 2019). A lot of athletes don’t prioritize sleeplike they should and will only progress up to a certain point and will eventually taper off due to alack of recovery. This is why it is important to make sleep a priority and aim to get 8 hours of sleep per night.

Overtraining occurs in many athletes and a lot of the time they don’t even know it. By knowing the symptoms and the different ways to reduce them will help them decrease before they get worse. Also, by prioritizing nutrition, hydration, and sleep you can try to prevent the effects of overtraining from ever occurring. Many athletes think that the only important part of training is the actual work you put in during practice. Though that is important, the little things you do when you are not training are just as, if not more important to reach your goals, prevent burnout and injury.

Works Cited:

Allen-Smith, Kimberly. “Improving Recovery for Tactical Athletes.” National Strength and
Conditioning Association (NSCA), NSCA, 16 Sept. 2019,

Comana, Fabio. “Exploring the Science of Recovery.” NASM, 17 Mar. 2020,

Quinn, Elizabeth. “Why Athletes Need Rest and Recovery After Exercise.” Verywell Fit, 13 Feb.

Scott-Dalgleish, Jo. “Preventing and Recovery from Overtraining: How Good Nutrition Can
Help.” Eat Well, Be Healthy, Perform Better, 6 Oct. 2014,