What is over-training? Why do we need recovery? And what is ‘fatigue’?
Exercise or time spent in the gym is really just a stimulus for change. The stimulus will only ever give you results if you recover between the repeated stimuli. The faster and more efficiently you recover, the sooner you can apply another stimulus.
When someone doesn’t adequately recover, performance and health can suffer. Some people have heard runners describe it as “hitting the wall,” it’s also known as “over-training.”
The causes of fatigue fall into 2 categories:
1. Central Nervous System (neuromuscular fatigue)
2. Local Muscle (peripheral fatigue)
Precision Nutrition explains this brilliantly through a car analogy:
“Our central nervous system (CNS) acts like a car engine regulator. If the engine on a car revs too high for too long, it shuts down. Our brain attempts to protect our muscles the same way. It will reduce the rate of nerve impulses.
Conversely, local fatigue is related to energy system depletion and/or metabolic byproduct accumulation. Using our car analogy, this is sort of like running out of gas or rusting.”
“If we “lift the hood” we might see:
• Poor lubrication: Our connective tissues are creaky and frayed.
• Radiator overheating: More inflammation.
• Battery drained: Feel-good brain chemicals and anabolic (building-up) hormones have gone down.
• Rust: Catabolic (breaking-down) hormones such as cortisol have gone up.”
Stressors to the CNS can be multi-factorial:
– Exercise stress
– Financial stress
– Relationship stress
– Work stress
– Basically anything you perceive to be stressful will trigger a CNS stress response, often now referred to as a “fight or flight” response.
Our Central Nervous System controls everything. Therefore, if it is constantly loaded with handling stress, then our local system (our muscles, connective tissue and joints) will lack ability to handle even more exercise stress. In other words, the more stress you are under, the longer you will take to recover.
So what are the signs?
– Low mood/ irritable
– Sleep disruptions (sleeping too much or not enough)
– Changes in appetite
– Carbohydrate cravings
– Altered sex hormone activity (yes, lowered libido, erectile dysfunction and irregular periods can all be affected)
– Lack of results (weight loss plateaus, muscle gain plateaus)
– Decreased performance
What can you do about it?
Removing all stressors from life, while this might be appealing, just isn’t going to happen. The key to managing stress is to balance the stressful activities with relaxing and energizing activities. Any activity that makes you feel relaxed/ recharged/ rejuvenated, whatever you want to call it, will help to switch your nervous system from a “fight or flight” (Sympathetic nervous system) response to a “rest and digest” response (Parasympathetic nervous system). It’s this branch of the nervous system that you recover from.
The following activities have shown to increase parasympathetic nervous system:
• Tai chi
• Spa treatments
• Meaningful relationships/discussions
• Jacuzzi time
• Relaxing hobbies
• Drinking tea
• Warm baths
Remember, one activity isn’t necessarily better than another; it’s more about what the specific activity does for you. Remember, the immune system is working overtime between exercise bouts as it tries to bring things back into balance. The least you can do is nudge it along. Prioritizing 30 minutes of parasympathetic activity each day is essential for productive recovery.
Other Useful Tips:
– Eat real food – minimal processing, with herbs and spices (these aid in recovery).
– Eat high quality protein and fat with every meal.
– Eat antioxidant rich foods to help repair muscle damage and reduce inflammation (blueberries, pomegranate, kiwifruit and pineapple are all excellent sources).
– Stay hydrated.
– Sleep – most humans need somewhere between 7-9 hours a night for optimal recovery.
– Take a zinc supplement – it increases glutathione which accelerates removal of waste produced during training and stress.
– Magnesium, Taurine and Curcumin – all help with muscular recovery and sleep.
– Have 1 Brazil nut everyday – this is all it takes to reach adequate levels of Selenium. Selenium reduces oxidative stress.
– Get adequate Vitamin D – supports hormonal balance for recovery.
– Take Omega 3 fish oils post workout – been shown to enhance recovery and reduce cortisol.
– Avoid sugar – it affects cortisol levels and inhibits estrogen metabolism.
– Engage in adequate warm ups, mobility work, cool down and work on flexibility.
– If the very idea of training makes you feel tired, chances are you need the rest. Alternatively, go for a leisurely walk or partake in a recreational activity instead.
– Get a massage. It increases drainage of waste products from cells and may speed recovery.
– Warm up specifically to the muscles you are going to train. This activates the CNS and pre-conditions the muscles to reduce muscle soreness post-workout.
– Listen to pleasurable music post-workout. It has been shown to help calm the nervous system.