The Endurance Dietitian: How to Prevent Your Body from Being Overtrained

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on November 10, 2014 , categorized in Endurance, Strength + Conditioning

Overtraining

Welcome to The Endurance Dietitian! If you’re like me, and define a large portion of your life with training plans, run clubs, “long-run-Sundays,” and chasing PRs, you’re in the right place. It seems daily we’re reading about the next best ingredient or trend we should be including into our running lifestyle. I’m here to share my passion for sports nutrition by breaking down the technical jargon of the current trends, weeding through the research and explaining what you need to know. Think of this as our runner girl talk (don’t worry—boys can still eavesdrop).

The training cycle is a funny one. Depending on your racing season you have probably been working towards one, two or even three+ races, and have likely been training for at least 12 weeks, if not more. Perhaps you went into training season with a high base mileage, meaning you really have been “training” for months on end.

Finally, race day is here. The day you’ve been working so hard for. The day where you see if all those speed workouts and tempo runs, hill repeats and LSDs actually paid off. You go out there and you give it your all. You leave it all out there. And you’re probably walking on cloud 9 for the next day, maybe two, after.

But then what?

Taking a break from high intensity training, and even running all together, is something really important for our bodies. But after you’ve literally followed a calendar that tells you exactly what and how long to work out for, for the past months, suddenly not having that calendar, and even bigger, not having a goal to work towards, can feel like a major letdown and hurdle to overcome in itself.

Earlier in the season I wrote about how us runners don’t like rest, but I’m back here today to tell you why you really should consider it. Especially after one or two big races.

Your Body, Overtrained.

The nutritional and physical demands of the athlete are specific to age and gender. When it comes to performance, success, and general health of the athlete, specific nutrition recommendations will vary. That said, one thing that is in common is giving the body adequate nutrients which allow it to repair and rebuild after periods of high stress.

Overtraining can develop into a more serious health complication for women, known as the  Female Athlete Triad, and it’s part of more of our fellow runners lives than many of us may realize. Some of us show signs of triad without realizing while others very openly battle it. It’s a tough thing to face,because ultimately it’s your body telling you you need to slow down (or stop doing) the one thing that likely makes you feel like you.

So what is the Female Athlete Triad? When energy intake (calories) does not meet energy expenditure, a deficit of critical nutrients and minerals occurs, influencing not only performance but bone health, menses and reproductive function. Female runners who operate on low percentage of body fat, lose their regular menstrual cycles, and increase incidence of stress fractures and low bone density.

If you identify with any of the above parameters, have missed your period for three months or more, or are just generally concerned about Female Athlete Triad seek your health practitioner or local registered dietitian for personalized information and support.

What Rest Offers Our Body

Often times rest is the best thing you can give your body. Especially for the female athlete.

When we rest, for an extended period of time, the goal is to allow our body to return to a homeostatic level for all nutrients. This means being conscious of levels of vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and vitamin D, continuing to eat a high fat diet, including foods such as avocado, raw nuts and coconut oil), and sleeping more.

I encourage following healthy dietary habits including a diet made up of whole, unprocessed foods, a carbohydrate-rich snack before light exercise to fuel brain and muscles, and protein and carbs to refuel after exercise, giving your body energy to repair and rebuild muscle. I also want to tell you that gaining a few pounds is not a bad thing, and actually normal and recommended, while your body reduces inflammation, reduces chronic stress hormones and rebuilds fat stores.

So swap your Sunday morning long run with a sleep in and some pancakes in PJs, try yoga midweek, take baths and go to bed early.  Be a little nicer to your body and frequently remind yourself the benefits of this time. Resting lets us physically get stronger and mentally psych us up to get out there for the next round stronger, faster, and  better. And who wouldn’t want that??

How do you prevent overtraining?

References
1. Benardot, D. (2012 )Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2nd ed.
2. Clark, N. (2008). Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Human Kinetics. 4th ed

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Kim McDevitt, MPH RD

Kim McDevitt works at Vega as a National Educator. A runner, cooking enthusiast, plant-focused flexitarian, Kim has passionately built her career in nutrition. Noticing that her running performances were closely tied to what she was eating, Kim decided to study nutrition and pursue advanced degrees in Dietetics and Public Health, to better understand the power of food in performance. Today, Kim specializes in sports nutrition to enhance athletic performance and focuses on realistic and approachable ways for improving health through educated dietary choices within an active lifestyle.

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