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.





Walking the Tightrope of Overtraining

Often athletes striving to become faster and better at their sport find themselves walking the tightrope of overtraining. During peak training times, most athletes feel fatigue, as their training plans are intended to create a similar fatigue that will be experienced on race day. Coaches do their best to create a perfect, personalized plan without overtraining or injury. Sometimes, even a perfectly planned training schedule can lead to overtraining, or athletes will push harder and go farther than the plan laid out for them in attempts to gain even more improvements.

There are several hypotheses behind why overtraining syndrome (OTS) occurs. This week, I decided to feature the research article “Overtraining Syndrome”. In the article, several possible causes for OTS were identified. I have summarized the main hypotheses as well as provided application below.

  1. Deficit glycogen levels in muscles – muscles use glycogen to perform; when there is a low level of glycogen in the muscles oxidation increases and branch chain amino acid (BCAAs) levels reduce resulting in fatigue and may cause OTS.

Practical Application: Ensure carbohydrates are a part of your daily intake. While there are general recommendations for carbs (40-60% of total intake) your bodies needs will be depended on the type of training you are participating in, event distance/time as well as personal metabolic rate. Sources include: fruit, grains, starchy vegetables, milk, yogurt, beans.

  1. Elevated serotonin levels – unbound tryptophan and BCAAs use the same door to be absorbed into the brain. As we are active, BCAAs are oxidized, which in turn allows tryptophan to enter into the brain and be converted to serotonin. Excessive exercise has been linked to higher levels of serotonin and its precursors which can result in higher levels of fatigue and depression. In a well-trained athlete, most of the time they are less sensitive to higher levels of serotonin, but in the case of OTS athletes seem to be more susceptible.

Practical Application: First off, follow your training plan from your coach and be open with them on how you are feeling. Talk to them about how recovery is going and if you think training level or intensity needs to be decreased for the week, listen to your body and address it with your coach. Second, it is important asses your ability to manage emotions. If it seems you are on an emotional roller-coaster, it may be due to OTS and you need to rest.  Third, sleep is incredibly important! Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep.

  1. Insufficient levels of glutamine – exercise bouts greater than 2 hours or reoccurring high-intensity training can lower the levels of glutamine. Low levels of glutamine may contribute higher susceptibility of upper respiratory tract infections.

Practical Application: Ensure your diet includes daily intake of glutamine. Sources can be found in plant and animal products: raw spinach and parsley, cabbage, beef, poultry, pork, dairy (milk, ricotta cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese).

  1. Oxidative Stress – A certain level of oxidative stress is expected and even desired for cellular repair. However, when oxidative stress is elevated above optimal levels, inflammation, muscle soreness and fatigue occur.

Practical Application: Elevated oxidative stress can have negative effects on performance. Unfortunately, the research in this area is limited and more research is needed.

  1. Autonomic Nervous System – The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the system responsible for functions that are unconsciously controlled such as breathing, digestion and heartbeat. This system is also the one that controls our fight-or-flight response. An imbalance of the ANS can result in fatigue, bradycardia, and depression or performance inhibition.

Practical Application: A week of rest may restore the imbalance in the ANS but research is not completely clear for this hypothesis.

  1. Hypothalamic Alteration – The hypothalamus helps regulate weight, body temperature, emotions, appetite, salt/water balance, sex drive, memory, sleep-wake cycle as well as our body clock. The pituitary gland is also controlled by the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland regulates the ovaries, testes, adrenal glands and the thyroid. Overtrained athletes may see/feel alterations in hormone levels such as cortisol, testosterone and adrenocorticotropic hormones. Adrenocorticotropic hormone is responsible for the production and release of cortisol. The level of negative impact OTS has on the hypothalamic function is individualized and may depend on exercise volume and other stressors in the athlete’s life.

Practical Application: Results from stress on the hypothalamus varies athlete by athlete. If overtrained, not only is performance impacted but sex drive/hormone production as well as ability to get pregnant may also be reduced. If you are noticing any changes in the functions listed above, get blood work done to see if hormones are out of normal range. Results may help you determine if you are suffering from OTS and take action and allow the hypothalamus to recover and function appropriately.

  1. Cytokine Hypothesis – Cytokines are proteins that assist with communications between cells in our body. There are both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. When an athlete is training, it is normal to have local acute microtrauma to the tissue as a result of muscle contraction and repetitive joint action. Adaptations occur from the microtrauma; tissues will naturally recover and strengthen with the help of cytokines over time and with adequate rest. If intense training occurs without the necessary recovery time, inflammatory responses from the microtrauma increase and the inflammation becomes local and chronic. Elevated levels of cytokines may impact the brain in overtrained athletes and as a result there may be mood changes and depression experienced.

Practical Application: Athletes will naturally have inflammation in their bodies due to training and volume. The body is capable of managing inflammation with cytokines as long as there is adequate rest and recovery time. If mood swings are occurring and you are finding it hard to manage your emotions, it may be due altered levels of cytokines and OTS.

Bottom Line: No single hypothesis discussed can be determined as the ONLY cause of OTS. More than likely, if an athlete is overtrained, it is due to a combination of causes. If you are having signs and symptoms of OTS, talk to your coach and maybe even see your physician for blood work, don’t just “suffer” through the pain and fatigue. It is always better to scale training back so that you can go into the season/event at your best rather than push through the fatigue and risk long term effects of OTS.



Too Much to Do & Not Enough Time

Under Training, Under Eating & Under Sleeping….a recipe for disaster. My body was as good as burnt toast last weekend!toast photo 

Today, I am going to share a true story from my training last week. First, I want to start off with saying….I am a Registered Dietitian and know better, but I am still human and succumb to putting my health on the back burner sometimes.

Last week, I kicked off a fundraising campaign to be named Woman of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I am competing against other women running for the title, “Woman of the Year” but we are all raising money for the same amazing cause; a cure for cancer. The goal my team is aiming to raise is $100,000 in the next 9 weeks. If you are interested in keeping up with the campaign, click HERE.

With that said, I have been investing a lot of time and effort into the campaign as well as working and training for a half ironman triathlon. Last week, I saw over 40 clients at work of whom I truly care about and make an effort to invest into every one of their lives. I also manage dietetic interns and student doctors who rotate through our company. On top of that, on May 20th, I will be competing at Tri Fort Worth 70.3 triathlon and have been making an effort to keep up with the intense training necessary to perform at my best.

Needless to say, last week, my training fell apart as I shifted my focus onto the campaign and kickoff events during the week. As a result, my sleep began to suffer; averaging 3-6 hours of sleep per night and I began to drop weight as I was skipping snacks and meals as I tried to just make it through the week. Now, I LOVE to eat and I know EATING is imperative to my intense training schedule. I do not remember the last time I skipped lunch, but unfortunately I did last week along with other snacks I usually look forward to. My hydration began to suffer too as I went from averaging 50-70 ounces of water during a work day to 20 ounces.

I was in bad shape, but it wasn’t until Friday and Saturday’s training that I truly experienced how poorly I had been treating my body. There had been no training in my life from Monday to Friday, so I felt that since the week was complete and all the events had been successful, it was time to get back to training. Friday, after work, I put my running clothes on and headed out for an evening run. For the most part it went ok and I could hold a decent pace. After the 11.5 mile run is when it hit me….my legs hurt so badly I could hardly stand. The pain was terrible and I wasn’t sure why. My quads were on fire and it felt like I had torn something. The inflammation in my body was so high, it felt like I had just completed a full Ironman. I hobbled into my car and to HEB to get some recovery chocolate Mootopia because I had not thought about bringing anything to drink for a recovery shake. Once I got home, I rolled out and iced my incredibly tender quads hoping they would feel amazing the next morning.

Unfortunately, Saturday morning I was still in quite a bit of pain. I needed to get a 3:30 hour bike ride in and a 30 minute run afterwards. With all the proper nutrition and hydration, I set out for the bike ride. As I started the ride, my quads were unhappy but they seemed to eventually warm up. The ride began to get more difficult and the fatigue set in…every hill felt like a mountain and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it up. Hills that I have ridden hundreds of times felt like mountains and the fatigue felt like when I first started riding back in 2014. Sixty miles later, I made it home somehow. I threw my running shoes on and headed out. The run was so slow and difficult, all I wanted to do was soak in a hot bathtub and not move. Everything hurt and was inflamed. With pure determination, the brick was finally complete but my body was screaming.

Lessons Learned

That day, I learned firsthand the importance of food, sleep, hydration and stress management. My body was a mess by the end of the week and due to poor food intake, inadequate sleep, lack of hydration and no stress management in sight, I was internally inflamed. It’s amazing I did not get sick after last week.

I write this, because often times we have no idea how amazing we can feel because we have never been there. We get used to feeling crummy, tired, sore, in a brain fog, and in pain. Normally, I feel amazing, look forward to working out and don’t let anyone get in the way of my snacks, meals and sleep. Not only do I love food, I also love sleep!

I am happy to say that my food, hydration, sleep and stress are getting back to normal. My weight has returned to its normal level and I am looking forward to training this week!

The take away from today’s blog is this: Make your health a priority. Take time to relax, eat, sleep, train and you only have one body. Treat it like it is a rare jewel because it is….it’s all you got!

Need for Speed

Most athlete who I consult one-on-one, are looking for nutrition education as well as a new edge in their sport. The new edge may be a new protein powder, electrolyte supplement, BCAAs or even antioxidant green drinks. The options are endless. When selecting a new supplement, key word supplement, it is important to ensure the products are free of banned substances. I like to use www.nsf.org or http://informed-choice.org/ to find safe products and look into personal reviews to get an idea of taste, flavor, bendability, etc. It is very important to remember that these products are not replacements for real food. Nutrient absorption and bioavailability will ALWAYS be better when consumed from real food. However, I do understand the desire to have some of these convenient products in your pantry at home.

Over the last few weeks, I have communicated with several companies who have sent me product to try and promote if I like them. This week I am going to review two products I tried out this last weekend. To give you a little background on my activity, I used these products, during my run on Saturday. First, I swam about 2300 meters and then ran for 1:20 hours.

Note: Typically, I recommend trying one new product at a time, just in case something does not sit well with you. This weekend, I did not listen to my own advice and tried two at once….thankfully all was swell!

BIOSTEEL High Performance Sports Mix

Flavors: Mixed Berry, Lemon-Lime and Orange

Description: This is an electrolyte supplement that is mixed in water. I used a 20 ounce water bottle for 1 packet of mix. The main ingredients include amino acids, electrolytes, B vitamins, sea salt and stevia. Each blend has slightly different ingredients for flavoring.

Review: The flavor is palatable and sweet. After shaking 30-60 seconds, it blended well in water; I did not have any chunks or chalkiness when drinking it. This was the first day running in afternoon Texas heat and did not have any issues with cramping or muscle fatigue.


Flavors: Cherry, Orange, Citrus, Raspberry, Apple, Espresso, Lemon Lime, Berry, Lemon Mint, Chocolate *some available in caffeine*

Description: The gel is recommended as an easy way to consume carbohydrate during activity. They are easily digested and do not need water to help wash down after consuming.

Review: About 15 minutes into my run, I consumed the gel after a hard effort to take back my QOM on a segment on Strava. (I got it back J) The gel was palatable and not too strong in flavor. Personally I like supplements to be a little more on the mild side of flavor; therefore I liked this gel and would recommend others to try.

Hopefully this review has helped your learn about other options that are safe of banned substances and appropriate for athletes to consume. I would love your feedback and opinions of your supplements.

What’s the big deal about the Triad and RED-S?

I am so excited that the winter Olympics has begun! It is always inspiring to see so many talented individuals excelling in the sport they love. With so much talk about the athlete’s performance and fueling, I thought it was appropriate to discuss the concepts of the Female Athlete Triad (Triad) and Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). As athletes training intensity and duration increases, they are at a higher risk of developing these conditions.

So what is the Traid? The Triad consists of three conditions, a low level of available energy, irregular menstrual cycle and bone loss. This condition is common in athletes where aesthetics and weight are extremely important for success. In extreme cases, when the Triad is experienced over a long period of time, female athletes can suffer from amenorrhea, infertility, stress fractures and develop osteoporosis. As you can tell, if an athlete is dealing with any of the symptoms of the Triad, their performance will suffer and they SHOULD reach out for help.

Further research assessed that the underlying factor that impact all aspects of the Triad begins with a low level of energy intake when compared to the energy expended. Obviously, this concept does not only affect women; men are also subject to low energy availability. After further assessment, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) termed the overall syndrome, which effects men and women, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). In the cited consensus statement, “RED-S refers to impaired physiological function including, but not limited to, metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, cardiovascular health caused by relative energy deficiency.”

So what is the big deal? Long term effects of RED-S could lead to nutrient deficiencies, mood changes, eating disorders, chronic fatigue and increased immune vulnerability. Medical and physiological damage can occur to the cardiovascular, endocrine, skeletal, renal, gastrointestinal, reproductive and central nervous systems. Basically, all our important systems in the body become at risk if we do nothing and continue to be in an unhealthy energy deficiency! Putting yourself into an extreme energy deficiency and maintaining a high level of training is very dangerous and will not give you the results you are looking for.

This is a HUGE deal!! I work with athletes all the time who want to drop weight and cut calories. On a weekly basis, I see individuals who have succumb to an extreme energy deficiency and are now having to deal with those consequences. Often times, they are extremely fatigued, testosterone is low, lacking a regular menstrual period, experiencing dizziness often, feeling like food is the enemy, struggling with recovery and are going down the path of disordered eating. None of those symptoms I just listed will help you achieve your goals.

Any athlete reading this should take a moment to assess how their energy intake has compared to energy expenditure. As training volume goes up, your needs go up. Therefore your energy consumption should change depending on goals and whether you are in season or off-season. If weight loss is your goal, I highly recommend you focus on that during off-season or during the very first part of your training when volume is lower. Adequate energy intake and a focus on nutrition are extremely important in order to train and perform at your best.

Remember, thin does not mean healthy no matter what sport you are in. Choosing to make healthy changes to your physique, if needed, with proper education is very important. Changes take time, so seek assistance and be patient. Don’t let urgency of weight loss or the pressure of fitting into a “perfect” physique ruin your athletic abilities, health or dreams!

Read Allie Kieffer and Adam Rippon stories to learn about their struggles with body image, proper fueling and performance. I hope this blog has hit home to yall and maybe helps you think a little more about your nutrition and performance!

Please feel free to leave comments or questions below regarding energy needs, nutrition for performance or any other nutrition related topic, I would be happy to help!

Consensus Statement


Fueling the Vegetarian Athlete

It’s all about planning! Athletes who choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle risk insufficient intake of calories and protein as well as certain vitamins and minerals. When planned correctly and proper nutrients are consumed daily, vegetarian or vegan athletes are at no additional risk than any other athlete for deficiency.

Common sources of nutrients that are seen insufficient in a Vegetarian or Vegan lifestyle include:


  • Daily Needs: 1.2-1.7g/kg (Convert pounds to kg: weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2)
  • Sources: soy, tofu, eggs, cheese, beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, protein powders


  • Daily Needs: Males 14mg; Females 33mg
  • Sources: dark leafy greens, dried fruit, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds


  • Daily Needs: 1,000-1,500 mg/d
  • Sources: calcium fortified milk and juice, dairy, broccoli, cabbage, dark leafy greens, almonds, lentils, nuts

Vitamin D

  • Daily Needs: 600 IU
  • Sources: Vitamin D fortified milk and juice, eggs, fatty fish, mushrooms, yogurt, sun light

Vitamin B12

  • Daily Needs: 2.4 mcg
  • Sources: nutritional yeast, dairy products, Vitamin B12 fortified cereal, milk and meat alternatives, eggs

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

  • Daily Needs: Males 1.6 g; Females 1.1g
  • Sources: nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil


  • Daily Needs: Males 11 mg; Females 8 mg
  • Sources: hard cheese, fortified cereal, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, meat alternatives, soy, nuts, seeds

Below are a few strategies when organizing a menu for the week.

  1. Focus on getting adequate protein and amino acids by varying protein sources in each meal.
  2. For improved oxygen transport and respiratory function, consume iron-rich foods daily.
  3. Include foods high in vitamin C for better iron absorption.
  4. Consume foods high in calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of stress fractures and improve bone strength.
  5. In a vegan lifestyle, it is recommended to consume fortified foods or a supplement of B12.

It is always recommended to have blood work prior to making significant changes to your dietary lifestyle. If you need help with labs or nutrition, please comment below or contact me.

Research: Scan
Image: Upsplash

Delicious Jambalaya

Delicious Jambalaya (Serves 8)


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stocks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 bell peppers ( I like to use green, yellow and red/orange), chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces chicken breast, skinless, cooked
1 pound venison sausage, sliced
3 cups chicken stock (I use unsalted)
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup white rice, uncooked (brown rice can be substituted, but will need to be cooked separately)
2 tablespoon cajun seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme, dried
¼ teaspoon cayenne


  1. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add celery, onion, bell peppers, jalapeno and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and cooked.
  2. Add precooked chicken, sausage, chicken stock, tomatoes, rice, Cajun seasoning, bay leaves, thyme and cayenne. Stir well. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir to ensure rice does not burn.
  3. Remove the bay leaves prior to serving as you should not eat these and serve.

Note:  I like to have a green salad with this meal.

Note: Using sausage will always increase the total fat and saturated fat content. If you choose to use a sausage, look at the label and try to select a sausage with the least amount of saturated fat if possible.

Variations: You can always just choose to use chicken or shrimp instead of sausage. Also, you can go meatless and ensure you select a vegetarian/vegan protein to accompany for a balanced meal.

Nutrition Facts: Calories 408, Total fat 14g, Saturated fat 11g, Cholesterol 123mg, Sodium  553mg, Potassium 372mg, Total Carbohydrate 29g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Protein 42g