person wearing sneakers rests their feet on blue wallIt is quite easy to become overzealous in your dieting and training once you have committed to a goal to lose weight, get in shape, or enter a contest. No matter what your level of fitness, we are all at risk of overtraining. It is often due to the “Terrible Too’s”: Too much, Too soon, Too often.

Your training should always make gradual increases in intensity, volume, and work. Crash dieting and over-exercising can be similarly detrimental to your health. It’s like taking 10 steps forward and 11 steps back; an inefficient way to walk backward. We should look at attaining goals with a gradual process of 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

Why can’t we just keep moving 1 step forward you might ask? I would say that our bodies respond to change with adaptation if we give them a chance to recover from the new “shock” to the system. When trying to attain a goal we should anticipate obstacles and downtime. Being prepared for this allows us to move forward. For instance, new exercises can make your muscles sore. We must rest and recover with protein and antioxidant nutrition (from veggies) to heal our now stronger muscles.

When we fail to recognize the need to rest and recover with adequate nutrition our physical and mental stress accumulates and can lead to catastrophic consequences. One form of over-training that is well recognized is the “Female Athlete Triad”. This is a phenomenon that is characterized by:

  1. Disordered eating
  2. Amenorrhea
  3. Lower bone density

The essential problem is energy expenditure exceeding energy intake because of either exercising too much, eating too little, or a combination thereof. When our energy output exceeds intake, our bodies end up in a “catabolic” state where stress hormones are elevated and disrupt our “anabolic” hormones like estrogen and testosterone. This leads to metabolic dysfunction and thus menstrual cycle irregularities, sexual dysfunction, and loss of lean mass. The result is a higher risk of illness, injury, and psychological distress.

Some scientists have suggested that we move away from the term “Female Athlete Triad” and refer to it as Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome in Sport (RED-S) since the triad often oversimplifies the complexity of the problem and leaves men out. This is a triad of:

  1. Low micro- and macro-nutrient availability
  2. Hormonal imbalance
  3. Diminished lean body mass

It is important to note that once the hormonal imbalance and loss of lean mass occurs, the horse is already out of the barn. Now it’s time to play catch up while losing precious training time. Hopefully, you have recognized your over-training and lack of recovery before this occurs. Data on women collegiate athletes shows that effective nutritional interventions are needed to improve dietary intake and eating behaviors. As an example in a study, it was found that 91% of collegiate female athletes failed to consume enough calories to support their training, 36% consumed less than 5 meals per day, and the majority of participants failed to eat a regular breakfast or monitor their hydration status.

To recover, nutrient intake must exceed the nutrient minimum for balancing energy output and input. No matter the level of activity, if energy output exceeds energy input the body goes into starvation survival mode. Switching to “survival mode” causes slowed dysfunctional metabolism that can take months to years to recover from. Here are some tips for overcoming overtraining and getting out of the RED-S:

  1. Make sure that calories consumed are more than calories burned. Protein calories do not easily become fat, try adding whey isolates to meet the calorie need.
  2. Decrease your intensity and density in the gym. Less often, less weight, less speed, less sets, etc.
  3. Try recreational, non-goal-driven, stress-relieving activities. Hiking, golf, massage, meditation, etc.
  4. Reassess your goals and your goal timeline.
  5. Add protein supplements, antioxidants, fish oil, and multivitamins for nutrient support of recovery.

When you struggle to figure this out, please call us at Prisk Orthopaedics and Wellness to get in for an appointment. We can assess your diet, hormones, and general health. We will perform a history and physical examination, and likely order you laboratory studies of your metabolism and hormones. Call us at 412-525-7692 or book an appointment at the link above. Check out The G.A.I.N. Plan by Dr. Prisk for more details. Available in office or at