Overtraining is something that a lot of runners experience but very few actually know that it’s happening. You might be feeling overly sore or fatigued but you keep pushing through those tough …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster, and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 64 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, sports nutritionist personal trainer, health and fitness expert, and the weight loss coach for runners. And today, I’m talking about the warning signs and dangers of overtraining.
Now, overtraining is something that a lot of runners experience. But few runners actually know that it is happening. So you might be feeling overly sore, or overly fatigued, but you just keep pushing through those tough workouts because, hey, that’s what you do as a runner, right?
The problem is that if you keep this up, it can result in overtraining. And overtraining can lead to all sorts of health issues like poor performance, burnout, and even injury. So in this episode, I’m going to go over some of the warning signs of overtraining. And some of the dangers of overtraining and the things that you want to try to avoid. Okay.
And I’m gonna also offer some solid strategies for what you can do to avoid overtraining, we don’t want to do this, we don’t want to be overtraining. Okay, but first, please come check us out on Facebook, if you haven’t already, you can join the Running Lean podcast community. And all this month, the month of March is motivation month.
So all month long, I’m talking about motivation, how to get more motivation, how to maintain motivation, and how to get your motivation back when you’ve lost it. It is a fun group. It’s a bunch of positive runners who are all sharing their experiences, who ask great questions, support one another, and encourage one another.
And we’re all trying to hit certain health and fitness goals. And we all support each other in this group. So just come check us out search for Running Lean community on Facebook and join us. Also, just a quick announcement that the Running Lean monthly coaching group will be open again for enrollment very soon, just a couple of weeks here.
So the monthly coaching group is my membership program. And it is a community of runners who support each other working towards the same goals, who are trying to, you know, become fat-adapted, who want to lose weight, and who want to become the healthiest versions of themselves.
And there’s an entire library of online training materials that you get access to when you’re a member of this program as well. And then we do twice-monthly group coaching calls where we get on a Zoom together and you can ask questions and get help from me and other people in the group as well.
So if you’re looking to dial in your nutrition plan so that you can, you know, become fat-adapted, sleep better at night, have all-day energy, start losing weight, feel better, all that stuff, then you need to join this membership program. I’m in the group, I’m here to answer your questions. And it’s pretty effective.
So I only open the group once every few months, like once a quarter basically. And that opportunity is coming up very soon. So you don’t want to miss out on it if you want to get on the list. So you can be the first to know when I do open the doors. Just go to runningleancoaching.com/join.
Okay, and then here’s a quick five-star review of the Running Lean podcast. This is from BLS2003 and BLS2003 says, “Love the inspiration. I love this podcast. Listening to this podcast gives me the inspiration to keep moving forward toward my health goals.”
I love it. Share the love. If you enjoy this podcast, it would mean a lot to me if you could just take a moment and leave a quick review on Apple Podcasts. Okay, let’s get into this topic because I’m kind of excited about talking about this. I know I’m weird, right? The warning signs and dangers of overtraining fun. That’s just me.
So I just got back from a run. And I will tell you, I usually run in the mornings and I got up this morning and I was just feeling a little tired. We recently changed the clocks. You know we spring forward and that always messes me up for about a week and so I’m not sleeping really well. I’m a little bit like my circadian rhythm’s a little out of kilter.
And so I was a little too tired this morning, and it was pouring down rain as well. And so already, I’m just like not looking forward to going out and running five miles. But this is what I wanted to do. And I thought, okay, how am I feeling?
I really checked in with myself and was like, Am I in danger of overtraining if I go out there and try to smash this five-mile workout, and I had to really, you know, think about this and check in with my body and with my brain and just say, like, no, I think I’m okay. I’m definitely not overtraining, but I was feeling a little tired.
So I made a decision, I was gonna go out and go slow, and just take it really, really slow, like super low heart rate. And just, you know, I didn’t care about the time or how long it took, I just wanted to get out there and enjoy the outdoors in the pouring rain. And so as I set out to run, and with this intention of going really slow, which I did, but about five minutes into the run, it stopped raining.
And I was like, oh, this is cool. And then I got done with my run, took it nice and easy throughout the whole thing. Got done with my run, got upstairs into my apartment, and I heard this noise outside, I looked outside, it was pouring down rain again. So somehow, magically, I went out there and ran at the perfect time to avoid the rain, which was totally awesome.
But the other thing I want to say about that is that I was really cognizant about this idea of like pushing too hard when you’re tired or just not feeling it. And this is one of the reasons why I want to talk about this today, okay, because sometimes we just need to take it easy and slow down. Okay. So we’ll talk more about that in a minute.
But let’s get into like what it means to train right. So if we want to talk about overtraining, first, we want to know what normal training looks like. So in order to develop our muscles to get stronger, all skeletal muscle tissue has to be developed if you want to get stronger.
And there are three basic principles that underline all training progress. And these three principles are the principles of specificity, overload, and progression. The principle of specificity states that you must exercise the specific muscles you want to develop, right? I think we all know that if you want bigger biceps, you got to like, do some bicep curls.
You know, if you want to develop stronger legs, you got to do squats, right, if you want to become a faster runner, you got to run faster. Right? So specificity, you must follow specific exercise guidelines to produce the specific type of change that you desire, whether that’s muscle strength, muscle size, or muscle endurance. Okay?
The second principle is overload. So this is the principle that states that a muscle has to be overloaded in order to develop this is the principle of all training programs, right? Anything that you want to improve has to be overloaded or first forced to work harder than normal. The overload and this is the important part, the overload must be enough to stimulate improvement, but not enough to cause injury. That’s the important part.
And then the third principle is progression. So once a muscle has adapted to a given workload, so once you’ve overloaded a muscle, and you’ve done it enough times where you’re you’ve adapted to that workload, okay, your muscles are no longer overloaded, the workout must be increased progressively, as the muscles adapt to each new demand. Right? So the progression in the workload needs to be enough to continue to stimulate improvement. But again, not so much that it causes, you know, some sort of injury.
So, these three principles are the basis of all training. All right, so we want to do specific workouts specific exercises, and we want to overload our systems, and we want to progress. Alright, so this is all good. This is the way the system is supposed to work.
And when I say the system, I’m talking about your muscular system, your connective tissues, ligaments, tendons, your cardiovascular system, your nervous system, all of these things make up your, your whole body, basically your physiology, but all these things I’m just calling lumping them all together to talk about stressing the system.
But all these things work together to keep you running fast, running strong, and running further. Okay. But when we take these principles, and we don’t adhere to them properly, or we push ourselves beyond the limits, this can result in overtraining. And then there’s a host of issues that go along with that, a bunch of bad things that happen in our bodies when we overtrain.
So overtraining is basically putting your body under chronic stress, never letting your body recover and adapt. So you’re basically overstressing the system. stress on your body is good, right? We’re talking about overload, we’re stressing a muscle or stressing your cardiovascular system. But it has to be done in a way that is specific, and slowly progressive, or else you risk injury and burnout and all kinds of other things.
Okay, so stress is good. But it has to be done the right way. So there’s this thing I’ve talked about before called chronic cardio. And for a lot of runners, overtraining looks like this, it looks like chronic cardio. So here’s, here’s what I mean by chronic cardio. All of your runs are done pretty hard, like medium-fast, right, they’re not slow enough to be considered a true recovery run.
So recovery runs should be done well below your aerobic threshold, they should be done at a very low heart rate, something you could literally run all day at that pace. And that’s kind of what I did today, I chose today to be a recovery run, I did five miles at like a 10:45 pace. Normally, I would run about a 9:30, something like that.
And so I just purposely was like, I’m just gonna go super slow. And it felt great. I could have run all day at that pace, I was not burned out by the end of it. Slow. So chronic cardio is where all of your runs are done faster than that recovery run, but they’re not fast enough to be like true speed work.
So speed work is where you’re, you’re hitting close to that anaerobic zone. So you’re getting into those higher zones, those higher aerobic zones. And when we do fast speed work, we’re eliciting an overload response from the body, right, so you do sprints, I did a sprint workout on Tuesday.
And I did a quick little one-mile warmup, and then I did 6/32 all out sprints as fast as I could, with about a minute rest in between each. And that is really hard. And that is like an overload. I’m overloading my cardiovascular system, when I do that I’m getting super close or into that anaerobic zone, when you’re gonna hold anaerobic efforts for you know, 15-20 seconds, maybe because your anaerobic means without oxygen.
And when you’re in that anaerobic zone, you cannot do that for very long, I could feel the lactic acid building up very fast, and I had to stop, you know, so 30 seconds is about the limit for that kind of speed work. So really slow runs are great, really fast runs are great, and they both have a place.
But instead, what a lot of runners do is they just do all their runs at the same sort of medium-hard pace. And it’s always just kind of stressful on your system. So you’re chronically stressing your system, you never give your body a chance to fully recover. And then you go back and just do that same running effort again, and again. And again. And again, I see so many people just I did this for many years, I’m totally guilty of this. And this is why I want to talk about this today because you don’t need to do this. Learn from my mistakes.
But this kind of chronic cardio thing, can really start to degrade your performance. And you’ll start to not be able to run as fast or as far and it will degrade your body too. Right, you’re going to start to feel fatigued, and your training will suffer. Next thing you know you’re injured, you’re out for the season, that kind of stuff.
So we do not want to partake in chronic cardio, we want to mix it up, okay. But here’s a little bit more of what’s going on in your body because I want you to really understand what this kind of looks like from a physiological perspective.
So here’s an example of what is going on. And this is a very common scenario for a lot of runners. And you might be able to relate to this. So let’s say you start training for a marathon. So you go out there, and you’re doing all your runs at this medium-hard effort, like I mentioned, right?
So you’re not really doing much speed work. You’re not really doing recovery runs when you’re supposed to do recovery runs you’re still doing them at that same right medium-hard effort, right? I know what you’re doing. And things are probably okay for a while. So you might be getting a little bit faster, you might be able to increase your distance and you’re feeling pretty good.
You don’t know it, but your body is not recovering properly. Okay, your sympathetic nervous system, this is your fight or flight system is put on high alert, right? So you’re constantly engaging the sympathetic nervous system, which releases cortisol. So cortisol is the stress hormone. So cortisol is constantly elevated in your body.
So you’re under stress, mentally and physically. And elevated cortisol causes your body to increase blood glucose production. So you’re going to be producing more glucose because your body’s in this constant fight or flight mode. And it’s like, we need the energy to run away or fight. And so the increase in blood glucose causes an increase in insulin, right.
And now we’ve gotten to where insulin is a problem, right? We know this. Now, your body’s in this chronic fat storage mode. So you’re stressed out, you’re starting to like, store all this x as glucose, then maybe your diet isn’t helping with this either. So maybe you’re storing all this excess glucose as fat.
So you start gaining weight, even though you’re like, hey, I’ve been training for a marathon for like, eight weeks now. And I’m gaining weight, right? I know, I know exactly what that feels like, I know what this looks like, I hear this all the time from runners who are struggling with this, okay.
Part of it could be this chronic cardio, this chronic state of stress that you’re putting your body in, okay? The state of chronic stress also disrupts your sleep cycles, your circadian rhythm gets kind of messed up, right. So you have trouble falling asleep at night, or you’re no longer sleeping through the night, you’re restless all night long tossing and turning, that lack of sleep adds to the stress that your body is under. Okay?
So all these things are a very common scenario. And I’m not saying that, you know, if you go out there and train for a marathon, this is going to happen to you no matter what, like, this isn’t the case with everybody, but it’s pretty common. This is a pretty common scenario.
So your body is under stress. You’re not getting enough sleep, you know, everything’s just kind of thrown out of whack, but you keep on running. And it’s like this badge of honor for runners to get out there and do all their training runs, no matter what, no matter how terrible you feel like oh, I just gotta go crush this time. Even though I feel like crap, you know, and we never give ourselves a break.
Your body is not recovering properly or not, your body’s not rebuilding properly, and your body will begin to break down, and your cells will become damaged. Muscle tissues cannot repair themselves, you will become fatigued, your energy levels will keep dropping, your immune system becomes compromised, you might get sick, you might get injured.
And then you got to put your training on hold for weeks while you’re getting your body back to healthy back to homeostasis back to normal. This is not some fairy tale Adventure Land story. Okay, this is very, very common. This is my experience and the experience of many, many other runners.
I’ve overtrained so much you guys I’m like a professional over trainer. I’ve developed stress fractures from overtraining. Muscle tears from overtraining. Groin pulls. I even did this recently. Back in the fall of last year, I was lifting weights too much too soon, too fast, too heavy.
And I developed a shoulder injury I pulled or tore some sort of muscle in my shoulder. And it’s still bugging me. It’s taking a long time to heal. So I didn’t follow those principles of, you know, progression and overload and I didn’t do it the right way. So this is not something that is like super rare. This is very common. Overtraining is very very common, but you may not even know you’re doing it.
You may not even know that it’s an issue for you. Okay. So here are some warning signs. Here are some warning signs that you might be overtraining. So if you have lingering muscle soreness that just doesn’t ever go away. That might be a sign that you’re overtraining.
Now, sore muscles are normal. If you go out there and do some speed work. Your legs are going to be a little sore. I did a pretty heavy lifting session yesterday and my quads are sore today. And I’m like that’s normal and they’ll be fine by tomorrow, you know, or the next day for sure. Probably back to 100%. That’s normal to have a little bit of soreness.
But if you are chronically sore, this can be a sign that you’re overtraining, if you don’t seem to be recovering as fast as you used to this can be a sign, you’re overtraining. So you should be able to get out there and run the next day after a long workout, or a hard workout, you should be able to run or walk the next day, you shouldn’t have much soreness or stiffness like you should just you should, you know, your recovery.
You know, when you’re recovered, like when you’re feeling ready to go again, I have to tell you that since I changed my diet since I started eating more low carb and high fat, my recovery is much, much faster, much, much faster. And a lot of that just has to do with the reduced inflammation from not eating all the sugar and refined grains.
So those things can cause a lot of inflammation in your body. Now I’ll talk more about that I’m going to talk about some nutrition that we can do to help with all this stuff here. But if you’re not recovering, like used to this could be a sign that you’re overtraining. So if you’re feeling chronically fatigued, physically and mentally, so if you have zero energy for anything, you’re always tired, you’re always run down, this could be overtraining.
Or mentally, if you’re like, the brain is just burned out, you can’t focus, you can’t concentrate, you have that brain fog, this can be a sign of overtraining as well. If you have increased irritability or mood swings, this could be a sign of overtraining, like different from normal, if you’re already an irritable person, we’re talking like, different, you know, maybe it’s more than normal, okay.
Or if your running performance has plateaued, or is declining. So if you don’t see any improvement in your running, and you’re trying to improve, it’s like you’re not getting faster, even though you’re working on getting faster, or you just hit some plateau with your workouts and you just can’t seem to improve at all, this might be a sign of overtraining.
Again, if you can’t sleep well at night, if you can’t fall asleep, or you’re tossing and turning all night long or if you wake up off and you can’t get back to sleep, when you do wake up, this could be a sign of overtraining. Also, if your resting heart rate is higher than normal, this could be a sign that you’re overtraining, this is actually a pretty good indicator that you’re overtraining.
Now you would have to track your heart rate and your resting heart rate over a period of time, so you know what your baseline is, so you know what your normal is. But elevated resting heart rate, is a sign of chronic stress and could be a sign of overtraining. So those are some of the warning signs.
So what do we do about this? Like, what can we do to kind of prevent overtraining? Well, the first thing to do is to train smarter. So you want to stop it with the chronic cardio, stop doing all the medium, hard efforts, and slow it down every now and then. And then sometimes you need to speed up.
Variation is key, though, okay, so you want to do your recovery runs at a true recovery, pace, like really, really slow down. And then when you are, when you are doing speed work, really, really smash it, like, crank it up, okay? Variation is key.
Now it’s okay to do some of your runs that medium-hard pace, you know, some runs should be comfortably hard, especially if you’re doing like tempo runs and things like that. But every run shouldn’t be like that. Another thing you can do is to remember the training principles, specificity, overload, and progression.
And make sure that everything you’re doing all of your training, whether you’re doing, whether you’re lifting weights, doing a HIIT or some sort of cross-training, yoga, even any kind of like CrossFit or running all of your training all of your exercise, make sure you’re hitting the principles of specificity overload and progression properly and not overdoing it.
And the other thing you can do is to think in terms of training cycles. So here’s what I mean by that. Training cycles would be periodization. That’s one way of doing a training cycle. So breaking down your training into periods of stress and recovery. So some weeks you go hard, some weeks you go long, some weeks you go easy. Some weeks, you go short, right, some days you’re doing speed work, other days, you’re going really slow. This is periodization, right?
You can also think of training seasons, like think of your whole year, and then you can break it down into seasons. So like right now this is March and this is like marathon training season for most people who are doing a spring marathon. So we want to think in terms of seasons so that we’re not always in training mode the whole year-round.
It’s okay to have an offseason, let your body recover for a few weeks or a month or two, especially after a really hard event like a fast marathon or a long ultra-marathon. One of the most important things you can do to prevent and avoid overtraining is to get enough rest. And this seems like a no-brainer, right?
But I will tell you, people. I talk to runners who are notoriously not good at resting, like you need to take a rest day seriously. And then just like, rest, get horizontal. Especially like after a long run, it’s okay to kick your feet up.
Like I love Saturday afternoons, Netflix on the couch. This is my jam. Like I run I do my long runs on Saturday mornings. And then Saturday afternoons, I get horizontal, I’m on the couch, I’m you know, hydrating, I’m eating good food, and I’m watching some Netflix like I do let myself recover.
You know, you might want to work out every single day like you might want to like just, you know, make sure you’re getting some sort of exercise in every single day. And it’s okay if you do that. But you’ve got to take at least a day where you go a day or two where you go easy has to be a recovery day.
So usually for me, Fridays, and Sundays are my kind of rest days. So I don’t do any hard workouts on those two days, I usually take a walk, and I’ll go for a two or three-mile walk through the park. And listen to some podcasts, get outside, get a little walk in, it feels great.
But it’s definitely a recovery, those two days are recovery days. For me. Another thing you can do is to make sleep a priority. And this takes a while to get good at it takes you got to train your body, you got to train your body and your mind to get good at sleeping. But it’s so well worth it.
And most people should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night. This is what we need as human beings just to be healthy, right. And sleep is when the majority of our muscle and tissue repair happens this is when we recover when we sleep. So if we’re not getting good night’s sleep, we’re never recovering properly.
And then another thing you can do to help avoid overtraining is to just reduce stress and other ways in your life. So whether that’s doing something like meditation, taking long walks, yoga, reading, dancing, whatever works for you to kind of reduce stress. Do that in addition to your exercise, because it’s so important to keep your stress levels down.
Because again, overtraining is just overstressing your body. Now, I do want to talk about nutrition. And nutrition is a role in overtraining because I think it plays a role and can help you if you pay attention to what it is that you’re eating. So you know, you want to make sure that whatever nutrition regimen you’re on that it is support supporting your training and your recovery as well.
So, you may have heard this before, but you probably want to limit or eliminate sugar and refined grains, and other high glycemic foods. Also, processed foods, vegetable oils, and alcohol, these types of foods tend to create a lot of free radicals in your body that damage your cells. That makes it even more challenging for you to recover from these tough workouts. Okay.
Sugar and refined grains especially tend to spike your blood sugar, and then they cause blood sugar surges and then crashes. And these energy ups and downs can be very stressful on your body.
Also, you’re putting your body into a state of high inflammation when you’re consuming sugar, refined grains, processed foods, vegetable oils, alcohol, that inflammation can lead to your body not being able to recover properly, and not being able to build the tissues that it needs to recover and repair.
And so this can be very stressful on your body as well. So limit those things or just eliminate them just get rid of that stuff. You know, eating that stuff. Watch the calorie intake. So I don’t talk a lot about calories because I just don’t think it’s the one thing we need to be paying much attention to or you know, we should pay a little bit of attention to it.
But when it comes to overtraining or chronically stressing out your body things can have a problem or increase the problem with that which is you’re not eating enough so you’re in a calorie deficit all the time.
This can actually lead to actually being undernourished, you know, and again, putting your body in into a highly stressful state, and contribute to overtraining and all the stuff that goes along with it.
Eating too much can also be a problem. So you’re overloading your body with too many extra calories. This can also create a stress response, right? High blood sugar and insulin response. And you ended up storing a lot of that energy as fat. And especially if you’re not eating the right kinds of food, if you’re eating too much, then you’re, again, creating a stressful situation in your body.
So you just want to make sure you’re getting, you know the right amount of it. Also, you want to be getting the right amount of protein. Protein is key to repairing muscle and connective tissues. And most runners just don’t get enough protein. You know, most runners are a little, little low in the protein department, you know, most runners are, are good at getting enough carbs, and we love our carbs.
But when it comes to protein, we tend to not be getting enough. So you want to make sure you’re getting enough protein to initiate that muscle protein synthesis where your muscles can synthesize protein to help build and repair. So getting the right amount of protein will help you to recover faster, and you’ll be less sore. And it’ll help stave off overtraining, too.
So how much protein is the right amount of protein? People ask me this. And it’s hard to say, like for an individual, because it is kind of an individual thing. But I will just give you a couple of ballparks here and you can kind of see what you think about this. Adjust accordingly.
Obviously, this is not the same for every single person in the world. But it’s just some general information, right. So how much protein is the right amount? Somewhere between 25 and 30% of your daily caloric intake should be from protein. And we’re talking high-quality, nutrient-dense sources of protein.
For me, I’m 165 pounds, I eat around 2500 calories a day, roughly. And so that works out to about 150 grams of protein per day. And I’m actually eating probably more protein than that because I’m trying to build muscle right now. So I might be in the 161-165 range. And that’s normal. And that is a safe amount of protein for me.
So you need to kind of figure out what works best for you. Those are some guidelines you can use though. And then the last thing I’ll say about the nutrition piece here, and again, this should go without saying you guys but water, you got to hydrate, you got to be drinking enough water. Water is just so key to maintaining human health and fitness.
And most people just don’t drink enough water. Every single cell in our body uses water and is made up of water. Our bodies are made up of so much water, we have to be drinking enough water. So what is the right amount of water again, here’s a ballpark for you. Like take your body weight and cut it in half. And that’s how many ounces of water you should be drinking a day.
Again, for me, um 165 pounds, divide that by two, around 83 ounces of water a day. And that works out to about five pints of water a day. So I have this pint glass and I just fill it up like five times a day and I’m good to go. I know I’m good to go with that. Okay.
So, the bottom line here is, overtraining is a real issue for a lot of runners, right? It’s not just some fringe thing. This is a problem for a lot of people. So if you think you might be overtraining, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms I mentioned earlier, then you might be overtraining. So think about it, get off of that chronic cardio merry-go-round, start training, smarter training cycles, prioritize sleep, get your nutrition dialed in to make sure you’re supporting recovery and rebuilding of your system.
Okay, and then get enough rest. I mean it, you have to recover properly. You have my permission to kick your feet up every now and then and binge-watch some Netflix. That’s cool. I gotcha. All right, you guys, I hope you got something out of this episode. I hope you all have an amazing day as well. And as always, lots of love. Keep on Running Lean. Now talk to you soon.
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