We all know that exercise and healthy eating are good for us. However, as with anything, moderation is important and too much of a good thing can actually be bad. Ollie Frost, personal trainer and sports nutrition specialist at Reach Fitness, explains more…..

Ever found yourself pushing yourself to your physical limits week in week out, following a super strict low carb, low sugar, low calorie diet, but still the scales are just not moving? You might be putting your health at risk by overtraining and undereating – a vicious cycle.

Overtraining is defined by the National Academy of Science and Medicine as ‘an accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in long-term decrease in performance capacity.’ In plain English, if you are consistently working to your maximum for long periods without scheduling recovery periods or failing to fuel yourself properly then all the blood, sweat and tears shed in the gym are actually causing more harm than good.

Overtraining, also known as overreaching, is a condition that tends to gets worse over time as the body doesn’t have time to recover. Many find themselves immersed in the fitness bubble and don’t realise that they are actually adversely affecting their health. And those effects can be both physical and psychological – it isn’t as straight forward as just feeling tired.

The physical effects of overtraining include fatigue, muscle damage, hormonal disturbances, infections, illness, injury and weight plateau. For women, one of the most serious physical consequences of the overtraining-undereating cycle is amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods) which can lead to long term fertility issues. Hormonal disturbances can also lead to increased risk of osteoporosis, a disease where by bones become brittle and weak and increase the risk of injury. The psychological effects of overtraining include depression and a lack of concentration. An obsession with training can also affect your relationships (ever find yourself putting the gym before your friends?).

Our bodies need energy, especially when exercising but also for sleeping, walking and digestion. Fuel for exercise is created from the calories we ingest and without enough of these our bodies will not perform optimally. Not eating enough tends to go hand-in-hand with overtraining. But not eating enough has its own problems:

Fat Gain
Ever heard of ‘skinny fat’?  As you under-eat your body will use muscle for energy and spare fat as it fights to survive when calories are too low. The result is a body which looks shapeless with a high percentage of body fat – who wants that?

Strength Decreases
If you push your body by running for longer and lifting heavier weight in the gym, it will eventually run out of fuel leaving you feeling weak and tired. And a tired, weak body isn’t going to get you too far.

Muscle Decreases
That sacred muscle you worked so hard for is lost as your body becomes desperate for energy –  fat is gained as the body sheds muscle because it can burn more calories at rest than fat.

Breaking the Cycle
If you can spot the symptoms, you can protect your health by following the five guidelines below.

You won’t lose body fat when you are in a state of starvation or stressed from overtraining. Slowly increase your daily calories by 100-150 calories each week until your reserves have been restored and you are starting to train with some serious energy again (say goodbye to feeling like a bus has hit you for days after every gym session!). To calculate your correct energy intake, use an online calculator or seek advice from a fitness professional.

It isn’t easy to just stop, but it is important. Try to take 1 or 2 weeks off, focus on the basics – good eating habits and sleeping for 7 hours plus each night. Overtraining alters your body’s hormonal balance affecting your adrenal glands and your body’s ability to fall into deep sleep cycles. Use this rest period to restore your body and mind before training again.

This sounds like a fancy word, but it simply means scheduling in rest periods throughout your training regime. As important as making time for exercise, block out days in the week that are rest days and use the time to mentally and physically recover from training.

Your food should be as colorful as the rainbow! Do not avoid particular food groups and base your daily eating on single ingredient foods that are high in anti-oxidants and enough energy to fuel your workouts and your life. Pay particular attention to the inclusion of protein at every meal as this will help build and repair lean muscle tissue, along with carbohydrates (yes, carbohydrates!) to fuel your workouts – the zero carb diet is dead.

Once you have taken the steps above, your physical and mental health will begin to be restored. Trust the process – ignore the bathroom scales (the number on the scale does not take into consideration factors such as body fat percentage) and track your progress by asking yourself how healthy you truly feel?

Words by Ollie Frost – www.olliefrost.com

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