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Overtraining: When it Comes to Running, How Much is Too Much?

The simple definition of overtraining is not allowing enough recovery time between hard workouts to allow your body to recover.  Simply put, the harder the workout, the more glycogen your muscles burn.  

If you don’t allow your body to rebuild those glycogen stores between workouts, it can lead to fatigue and poor athletic performance.  It is not uncommon for runners from novice to professional to experience overtraining at some point during the training cycle.

Here are some ways to avoid overtraining and stay on the path to meeting your running goals safely:

  1. Don’t increase mileage too rapidly (adding no more than 10% of your current mileage per week is a good rule of thumb).
  2. Avoid combining different types of workouts into one workout, such as long distance runs with challenging hill work or tempo runs with speed work.
  3. Make sure that you are allowing time for appropriate rest and easier workouts between high intensity training days. 
  4. Monitor your diet. You should ensure that you are eating right and properly refueling your body immediately after an intense workout. The first 15 minutes after a hard workout is the best time to refuel with a liquid mixture of carbohydrates and protein, such as fat free chocolate milk or one of the multiple commercial products on the market. 
  5. Hydrate adequately before, after and sometimes during a run.

Typical symptoms of overtraining include fatigue, persistent muscle soreness, elevated resting heart rate upon waking, mood changes and decreased immune response (which increases your susceptibility to viral illnesses). The most important way to recover from overtraining is to rest.  Allow 2 full days of rest, then do easy workouts for the next 3 days.  Focus on good nutritional choices, hydration and make sure to get plenty of sleep.  After the 5 day layoff, work yourself back into your training program and you should notice that most of the symptoms have resolved.  If they haven’t, you may need to repeat the 5 day layoff again.  If you continue to experience symptoms you should see your primary care physician to ensure that you don’t have any other contributing medical issues. 

Tony Connot, PA-C, is a Physician Assistant in OrthoCarolina’s Pineville office, a runner and also provides orthopedic services for South Mecklenburg High School and Fort Mill High School. 

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