From The Transition Times
Over Training Tale.....Beware
I'm on a week, mabye two weeks, of no training per doctor's orders.
It turns out that I'm overtraned...but WAIT!! How can that be? I only
train 1/3 the amount of the time some of our elite team athletes do.
On a great week, I might put in only 8 hours...if you figure that I'm
doing a 3 hour ride and an hour run on the weekend...that means I'm
only exercising 4 hours during the week...doesn't sound like much
training and it's half of what I used to do a few years ago...but,
there's more to overtraining than exercise time...read on...
Late last year my body just fell apart! My season ended in June and I
took the second half of the year off. New job, SF Tri Club
responsibilites, wedding planning and marriage, studying for CFA
Level III exam, and training all took it's toll. I was burnt. My
back went out, my hip started hurting,...I was just falling apart.
I spoke with my doctor, he asked me about a day in my life and I went
through it with him. Basically, I told him my new company took 12
hours per day, I was President of a Triathlon Club which took another
3 hours per day, I was training an hour or more per day, and of
course had obligations in my new marriage, I was getting maybe 6
hours sleep per night while waking up 5 to 6 times per night. I
wasn't eating well...my various responsibilities made my eating
schedule sporadic (this was key and I'll come back to it) sometimes
I'd eat dinner at 9:30pm...sometimes skipping lunch due to
meetings...sometimes skipping dinner due to club activities...
sometimes having lunch at 9am because I started work at 4am...
His advice was to cut back on responsibilites. I didn't want to take
his advice to cut back on things and didn't for a few months, but was
forced to change my schedule around a little earlier this year and
put myself on a stricter schedule...I had to spend less time working,
training and less time with club (the worst part!). However, I felt
better, a lot better, when I reduced my obligations and stopped
training for a while. When I resumed training, I was 8lbs heavier
than when I stopped...so I started restricting my diet in certain
ways...I wasn't really dropping my caloric intake that much, and I
was careful not to skip meals like last year, but I was doing more of
a "The Zone" mixed with "Atkins" type of thing...I know I need carbs
but I found myself eating more and more protein and fat, and less
carbs. I wasn't eating pasta, potato, rice, etc...because they were
so caloric, how was I going to take the weight off. Well, I started
to notice something, which wasn't alarming at first, but is now
problem. During workouts, I was smelling a very very strong ammonia
smell. Funny, the same thing happened to me last year before my body
fell apart. Sometimes the smell was so strong, I had to stop
exercising because it was making me sick to my stomach. I had no
idea what it was, and didn't mention it to my doctor last year
because I convinced myself I was imagining things...when I stopped
exercising last June, the smell of course disappeared. However, last
week I started noticing it again and during the San Jose race, the
entire bike and run was like running with smelling salts under my
nose. I came home and googled "ammonia smell exercise" and a ton of
links popped up regarding liver disease or failure! holy s---! I went
on and read that an ammonia smell in one's sweat might be a symptom
of liver not functioning. This was scary stuff, so I made an appt
with my doctor yesterday and went in for a bunch of blood tests -
results on Monday. In the meantime, I called UC Davis Medical Center
and talked with their cycling experts and they weren't as concerned
which made me feel better. Here is what they said is "likely" going
on....I'm canibalizing myself! Yikes...that's better? They said (and
who knew this) that if you smell ammonia in your sweat while cycling
(or exercising in general) it's a "common" sign of overtraining. I
told them that I only train 8 hours per week. They said overtraining
had very LITTLE to do with how much you train...it's how your
training BALANCES with diet, sleep, stress, rest and recovery,
etc...you can train 18 hours per week and not be overtraining...you
can train 5 hours per week and be overtraining.
The ammonia smell? They said it was because I was glycogen-depleted,
and destroying muscle tissue as a source of fuel when I exercise.
From what I can understand, (they talked about catabolic this and
that?) Muscle is made of proteins which is made of amino acids...when
you burn amino acids, I guess one of the byproducts is ammonia! I
was releived to hear that it might not be liver related (and I'm
assuming, as an optimist, that the blood tests will come back fine).
Why was I burning muscle? Well, mostly diet related. Last year, I
was skipping meals (due to stress, anxieties, workloads) which
lowered carbs thus depleting Glycogen stored within muscles. This
year, I just skipped the carbs in favor of more protein as a way to
lower weight. Also, often I wouldn't eat during the "carb window"
after exercising. I'd get off the bike, relax a little,
stretch...take a shower...and head out the door to do somethign with
my wife...I'd eat maybe an hour to two after exercise. So, all this
poor eating mixed with hard exercise (I especially noticed the smell
during lactate threshold or maximum effort workouts like intervals
and races) meant I was literally eating my muscle for fuel...yuck!
As I'm taking the entire week off from exercise (Golf doesn't count,
Roger!) I thought I'd pass thoughts on to those of you on over-
training. I mean, I've been exercising all my life and doing this
tough sport for 6 years and had never even heard of the ammonia
thing, have any of you? I suspect that many of us are overtrained
and don't realize it. I'm hearing more and more about friends in the
club feeling burned out...maybe you need a rest too...
How could I have avoided over-training:
1) Make sure you're getting enough carbs to fuel your
training...you're demanding a lot of your body and need carbs. Don't
skip meals, make sure you are getting plenty of complex carbs and
don't do one of these protein heavy diets...it might be good for the
lazy person to lose weight, but for the endurance athlete it's a bad
road to take.
2) Eat within 30 minutes of exercise completion. Make sure it's high
on carbs with "some" protein which will help with carb absorption (or
so I've read). You'll recover quicker and be using those carbs next
time you workout as opposed to your muscle tissue.
3)lose weight early in the season during your base period. You see,
if I were to have cut my calories during LOW intensity base training,
I'd likely have burned fat instead of muscle. I at like a pig during
base training, didn't lose any weight, and then restricted my
calories during my build and peak phases. The high intensity
training (intervals, speed work, etc...) mixed with restrictive diet
will probably lead down the road I traveled...bye bye muscle, hello
4) REST!!! HARD REST is important as HARD WORK. We don't rest
enough as triathletes. If you can't take a nap during the day (who
can?) you have to get plenty of sleep at night. Go "Guilt-
producingly slow" on your recovery days. Don't get sucked into
riding/running hard because someone passes you. I do this all the
time and I must stop. I'll do hard intervals on Tuesday and plan to
rest on Wed and do a slow spin...someone passes me on Camino Alto and
the next thing I know I'm racing them...and burning muscle in the
process! Don't give into your competitive urges.
5)Reduce stress in your life which might interfere with the balance
you need between your training, eating and resting. We all lead
stressful lifes it seems. Find time for meditation or reduce the
outside obligations. Stress can effect appetite, sleep, etc...the
things you need for recovery.
6) Check your morning HR (like Becky Gibbs said at our meeting) and
if it's higher than normal...don't workout hard...take an easy day.
7) Wear your HR monitor on your easy rides. I've only worn mine on
hard rides so I can record my progress...but now I'll wear it on all
rides to use as a tool to prevent me from riding/running too hard!
If I get above 65% max heart rate on easy day, I'm slowing down.
8)Drink plenty of water. Being hydrated is crucial to recovery and I
don't think I was drinking enough fluid.
9) Take a week off of hard training every few months might help.
Many top athletes will train 3 to 4 weeks hard and then take a SUPER
easy week to recharge.
10) Constantly ask yourself if your life feels balanced, pay
attention to your moods, pay attention to funny smells that you think
you're imagining but might mean something more serious. (-:
I'm crossing my fingers that my liver is ok and that a week (or two)
off training and a little more wisdom will have me seeing all of you
out there again soon.
Lex Grecu is President of the San Franciso Triathlon Club and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
From The Transition Times