Training load is one of the key factors affecting performance. In preparation for a specific competition is common for endurance athletes to increase training load. The difficult part is determining the appropriate training load for each athlete.
This “loading” period conduits to functional overreaching. It was described in 2006 by the European College of Sport Science as a temporary decrement in performance resulting from a short period of overload training that may lead to a super-compensation effect following a recovery period of days or a few weeks.
But there is also a non-functional overreaching, known as overtraining syndrome, when there is a decrease of performance that may last for weeks or months.
Everything would be determined by an equilibrium between fitness and fatigue. Although some athletes respond to short-term periods of increased training positively with super-compensation, others may show diminished performance for much longer periods.
Are overreaching periods necessary?
Recently some studies have shown that functional overreaching is linked to negative cardiovascular, metabolic and hormonal effects, and a decrease in performance.
Consequently, the question that arises is if non-overreached athletes could perform similarly, or even outperform, athletes following a training protocol with an overreaching period.
A recent review of available literature has found confusing data, with some studies showing performance improvements with overreaching strategies whilst others showed the opposite effect.
Additionally, it wasn´t found clear evidence demonstrating the reason why some athletes respond optimally to increases in training volume whilst others display signs and symptoms of fatigue and overreaching.
Behind this lack of evidence is a big inter-individual variability and the absence of studies involving elite athletes, that usually don´t want to train using experimental protocols that could potentially affect their season results.
Strategies to mitigate overtraining
- Periods of increased training load should be matched with increased energy intake.
- Although carbohydrates may alleviate some symptoms, they may not be able to do so with all the physiological and immunological disturbances. Increasing protein intake could also contribute to alleviate these alterations.
- Additionally, it has been proposed to improve sleep quality and quantity.
Be cautious with your training load, especially if you have fatigue symptoms for long periods. Sometimes training less could mean more for your performance.
Functional Overreaching in Endurance Athletes: A Necessity or Cause for Concern? Bellinger P. Sports Medicine (2020) 50:1059–1073