So as you've probably gathered by now, I love conducting experiments on myself. It's fascinating to discover the effects of various foods, nutrient timing, exercise, and combinations of all of the above. After all, achieving our own personal wellness is a matter of trial and error, and finding what works for each of us individually. With that said, of course, a diet of chips and cookies will not work for anyone, so save yourself the trouble of that experiment.
However, recently I unknowingly conducted an experiment on myself that yielded painful results, and it took me a good 3 days to figure out what was going on! Once I did, I channeled my NY Jewish Grandmother (bless her heart) and shook a finger at myself in the mirror, as I had been ignoring some key guidelines I tell my clients to follow every day.
First, the symptoms: I woke up over the weekend after a full, restful nights sleep with extreme fatigue! Every muscle in my body just felt weak. I drank my usual morning cup of coffee (just one), hoping this would help wake me up, which of course it did not, but instead contributed to an overall feeling of dehydration. My generally easy bike commute to work felt endless, and this terrible feeling of 'BLEH' continued to increase as the day progressed. For the next couple of days, more of the same...it even felt like a chore to lift up my water bottle! Plenty of sleep, nutritious and regular meals throughout the day, no more stress than normal, and my usual workout frequency, and BAM! I was baffled.
Then I realized (and of course as with the results of any experiment of this nature, this is all speculation): I had burnt myself out to a point I had never experienced before. Was I overtraining? I didn't think so, but it is important to remember that overtraining is relative to the other things going on in our lives. Given these factors, yes, I absolutely was. I had gone and done a few very important things I tell my clients NOT to do every day, and didn't even realize I was doing (or not doing) it. The combination of moderate to heavy work-related stress, mild dehydration, and not enough rest days in between workouts had left my poor adrenal glands, central nervous system (CNS) and muscles overworked and tired.
What IS overtraining? Overtraining, as mentioned above, can mean something different depending on the individual at different times. With this said, however, is it an accumulation of stressors, combined with inadequate rest between workouts, which leads to varying symptoms to varying degrees. Possible symptoms include fatigue, decreased immunity, decreased performance when doing your usual workout, decreased motivation, irritation, depression, and insomnia. A big problem with overtraining (that I have been rudely woken up to recently) is that it can be very difficult to recognize in ourselves, as we don't understand why all of a sudden our usual workload which never seemed to cause problems before is now, suddenly, impossible to carry out. When we are overtrained, it can be a combination of the muscles themselves being fatigued, our adrenal glands being unable to produce enough cortisol, and our central nervous system being overtaxed by an increased demand for electrical impulses to the muscles. To ensure the above does not occur, it is absolutely essential to take adequate rest in between workouts. After all, the growth we are aiming for when weight training occurs during recovery, so if we want to see results from our hard work, we must allow recovery time. The amount of recovery depends on the intensity of our workouts, but allow at least a day between working similar muscle groups. And always listen to your body! If you are particularly sore, keep resting, or do some light cardiovascular activity.
Decreased adrenal function had more than likely aided in my exhaustion, as well. While I have helped multiple clients recognize and support their own symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it was remarkably hard for me to recognize these symptoms in myself. Personal Trainers are sometimes the first ones to push their bodies when they should be resting. As I've written about before, adrenal fatigue occurs on a spectrum, and hopefully we catch it before it has progressed to the point of needing months of recovery time and a (possibly) complex supplemental protocol (this point known as adrenal exhaustion). According to Dr. James L. Wilson, N.D., Ph.D. in his book Adrenal Fatigue,
"often the causes of adrenal fatigue are not obvious because the combined stresses look so different. Our bodies may not even tell us when we are under stress. In one study, hospital workers in a pediatric nursing care unit...were totally unaware of being under stress, but their cortisol levels were elevated by 200-300%...the number of stresses, whether or not you recognize them as stresses, the intensity of each stress and the frequency with which it occurs, plus the length of time it is present, all combine to form your total stress load...it is when the body becomes unable to make the appropriate changes to these stresses that adrenal fatigue begins."
REST!!! Is the most important thing at this point. The good news is, if we listen to our bodies and catch these signs and symptoms early on, usually a few days rest will solve the problem. Depending on the degree of fatigue from all of the above listed factors, we may need more. Again, it is essential that we pay attention, and if our body tells us to rest, listen! This is a lesson I have recently learned the hard way. Keep in mind, if we do not give ourselves adequate rest, this fatigue will worsen, potentially leading to having to take way more time off from our normal workouts and daily activities, illness, injury, and more.
And lastly, PLEASE REMEMBER (because I didn't) to drink tons of water, don't overdo it with the caffeine (1 morning cup of coffee per day is more than enough), and engage in enjoyable, relaxing activities...whatever that means to you. This could be just 10 minutes a day of deep belly breathing, meditation, yoga, walking outdoors, and focusing on exercise that you enjoy, as well. If you hate running, do something else! Trust me, its worth it.