On the Verge of Burnout

Preventing Overtraining Through Nutrition & Lifestyle

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) can be detrimental to your training and success at an athlete. Last week, I discussed several hypotheses that can contribute to OTS. Today, I want to discuss several tips that can help prevent OTS.


Research has shown that 7-9 hours of sleep a night is the best for our bodies for proper recovery. When an athlete gets 6 hour or less of sleep on a regular basis, they are more prone to a weakened immune system, slowed recovery, impaired glycogen repletion, pain, altered mental health and impaired cognitive function. All of the repercussions of 6 hours or less ultimately impact performance in a negative way and could lead to OTS over time. Therefore, athletes should aim for 7 or more hours of sleep to help reduce the risk of OTS.


You can never cure a problem with a problem…meaning, training more will not help you get faster or stronger when you are suffering from OTS. Resting for most athletes is extremely difficult. They fear losing progress, endurance and strength. The truth is, if you are suffering from OTS and continue to train, you will ultimately lose progress, strength and endurance anyways. So calm down and rest. Give your body time to chemically and physically reach homeostasis through rest, only then you will be able to improve performance.


The first priority is total calorie intake. Working with athletes, as a dietitian, I often see athletes undereating for their training load. Most athletes have a difficult time knowing how many calories they need on a daily basis and how to adjust with training load. Once daily intake needs are determined, the distribution of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) is determined.

There are varying thoughts on how macros should be distributed. One thought is high carb, moderate protein and low fat. Others feel a lower carb, moderate protein and high fat is better. Ultimately, it depends on the individual athlete, sport participated in and performance results. In my opinion one size does not fit all. There is supportive evidence for both differing methods. Needs should ALWAYS be determined on an individual basis.

Professionally, I have seen the majority of my long distance athletes (in racing season) perform better on a moderate to high level of carbs, moderate protein and low to moderate fat intake. This general breakdown seems to provide adequate satiety, sufficient levels of glycogen for performance, necessary protein for muscle preservation/building and maintains sex hormone production and drive. When my long distance athletes are out of season and focusing on strength/agility rather than distance, I usually tweak their percentage of macros to assist with the alteration in training and goals. My strength focused athletes seem to perform better with a higher level of protein, lower to moderate level of fat and carb. They are more successful in developing the desired physique and strength goals.

Ultimately, you will be able to find research supporting many different nutrition thoughts. It is my opinion that there are general recommendations you can find for your sport but you will always have to follow a nutrition plan and change depending on your own performance/recovery.

Stress Management

Each one of us has a certain level of stress in life. Intuitively, as athletes training volume increases so does their training stress. When an athlete allows other stress in their lives to elevate, inflammatory properties increase, they feel more sensitive and emotionally unstable as well as experience a reduction in performance and sleep quality.

When thinking about the word “stress” we often think of negative stressors, but sometimes good things can also inflict stress, such as training, relationships, friends, etc. While we cannot get away from stress, it is imperative we have ways to de-stress and learn how to manage it.  If training causes stress, which it does, then obviously we need a REST day in our weekly training plan. Remember, a REST day is not a day to mow the lawn and deep clean the house. It is a day to literally rest; that way when the next training session comes, you are rejuvenated and able to take on the stress of training. As daily stresses from other factors begin to increase, athletes need to be aware of how training is being impacted and whether changes are necessary to prevent OTS.

In Summary

It is imperative for athletes to be mindful of their health and wellness. Laying a sound foundation of health by managing their sleep, stress and food, overall performance will fall into place and improve.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments.





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