Coaches Panel: How do I tell if I am overtraining?
A tired reader asks how to tell if he is overtrained.
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I’m having trouble completing my workouts. My legs just seem constantly fatigued. I am not able to complete even 30 minutes of tempo.
How do I tell if I am overtrained?
— Jose, Santa Monica
I certainly don’t have enough information to give you any definitive answers, but I will start off by saying that it is reasonably unlikely you are overtrained.
How can I say that? The classic definition of overtraining centers on a long-term decrement in performance that is often accompanied by chronic fatigue on and off the bike. Overtraining takes considerable time to overcome — usually months with no training whatsoever. And it’s actually quite hard to become truly overtrained.
What most people mean when they say overtrained is really underrecovered, which is a relatively common occurrence.
If you’re working with a coach, hopefully they are setting your training cycles and you’re getting appropriate rest weeks. But you should definitely coordinate with him or her and work together to identify the cause.
The first thing I would do is take a few days off the bike entirely. Assess your diet. Are you getting enough carbohydrates? I recently had an athlete with whom I just started working make a similar complaint to yours and when I probed on her diet I found she was not taking in adequate carbohydrates. Basically, a general guideline is to take in about 5-8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight.
During intense training (larger volumes and/or intensity), this may need to be more in the range of 8-10 grams per kilo of bodyweight. Once we corrected this deficiency, she immediately started feeling better and was back on track in a matter of a few days.
If your diet is not the issue and you don’t feel better after 3-5 days off the bike, then you should work with your coach and health professional to see if something else is the cause. There is no test to definitely conclude, “Yep, this athlete is overtrained” however bloodwork may reveal elevations in certain markers that may suggest overtraining. However, unless you did a baseline blood test when you began your base training, it may be difficult to see any elevation since there is no “norm” for comparative purposes.
— Eddie Monnier
Eddie Monnier is a USA Cycling licensed Elite Coach (Level 1, the highest certification achievable), a USA Cycling Certified Power Coach, a bike fitter, a category 2 road and track cyclist, and oversees the NOW-MS Society Elite U25 Development Team. Although he lives in Santa Monica, California, he coaches athletes from all over through his Velo-Fit, LLC coaching business. You may reach Eddie at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Any information or advice offered by the members of the Coaches’ Panel should not in any way be viewed as personal medical advice. The recommendations made in this column are offered as general information for healthy, physically fit amateur and professional athletes. None of the information provided by members of the Coaches’ Panel should be viewed as a replacement for personalized, professional medical treatment or to replace the advice or services of your physician. While some members of the Coaches’ Panel are Licensed Medical Doctors, Licensed healthcare professionals, and certified coaches, their advice in no way establishes a doctor-patient relationship between the writer and readers of this column. If you are beginning or resuming a vigorous exercise program, it is important to visit your health care provider for a complete physical examination in order to identify and treat any potential risks you might face.