Simple fitness that works, from pregnancy to seasoned athlete.

Overtrained and Undernourished: Find Balance in Your Routine

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

When it comes to exercise and nutrition, it can be hard to find the balance that works for you. Typically, we talk about how to optimize your nutrition or add minutes to your movement. However, it is possible to take it too far leading to overtraining your body or not fueling enough—this leads to negative physical and physiologic impacts. We are going to take a closer look at the effect these behaviors can have on your body and why it is important to find the balance that works for you.

Too Much Exercise

The CDC, WHO, American Heart Association, and many more recommend getting at least 150 minutes of activity each week to lower your risk for health problems. This can include things like walking, biking, weightlifting, barre, or anything that gets your heart rate up. This can look like doing something three times a week for 50-minutes each, or 25 minutes six days a week. The key here is that you find something that works with your schedule and can ebb-and-flow as your life ebbs-and-flows.

When you get into the habit of working out most days a week, or completing really intense workout on the regular, it is important to know that overtraining can be a real issue if you aren’t allowing you body to recover. Some signs of overtraining include:

  • Inability to finish a workout you can normally complete
  • Decreased performance during a workout
  • Atypical muscle soreness or overuse injuries
  • Depleted energy — feeling completely wiped out, or even irritable, after exercise
  • Vulnerable immune system leaving you more likely to get sick

Of course, it is great to be motivated. But if you notice any of these things are happening with you, then it is highly likely you are overtraining.

This is the physical aspect of exercise, but there is also the mental aspect that goes along with exercise. In an ideal world you find a routine that fits your schedule, can ramp up when you’re just really feeling it that week, or can backed off when you have a lot going on or just need a break. However, there can be an unhealthy relationship with exercise when you have feelings of guilt, worry, or stress when you cannot get your workout in or are not following the plan exactly. When the workout is not fun or you put it above everything are also signs that you’re lacking balance.

If you are experiencing any of these things, I strongly encourage you to take a little time off, reassess what your goals are, and is living this way helping you achieve those goals? If you are getting injured, feeling stressed, or finding it hard to balance life with your workouts, it is time to reevaluate. Don’t worry, taking a few days off isn’t going to wreck your progress—it may even improve it.

But aren’t you the dietitian? Right, and you may be wondering why I’m talking about exercise, but it actually goes hand in hand with the way we eat. If you are suffering from signs of overtraining, the way you eat can really help in your recovery. The biggest thing is to be sure you are fueling your body. By getting enough to eat and meeting your fluid requirements, you are allowing your body to recover. You also want to be eating in a way that your nutrition compliments your fitness routine. This means timing your meals around your workouts, refueling with the right amount of protein and carbs, and hydrating so you get the most out of your workout.

Undernourishing Your Body

As with exercise, too much of a good thing can cover your food too. This means trying to eat too clean, scrutinizing everything you put in your body, or limiting your intake because you have a list of rules. In a clinical sense, this is referred to as orthorexia or the extreme fixation on food for its health benefit. Some common signs of orthorexia include:

  • Tying your self-worth to your ability to stick to restrictions
  • Obsession with defining and maintaining the perfect diet rather that the health benefits or a healthy weight
  • Consuming few foods due to fear over things such as artificial colors, preservatives, GMOs, salt, fat, or sugar

However, there is a big difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating, but both involve unhealthy relationships with foods that can go to extremes. If you are seeing any of these signs in your behaviors reach out to your doctor or therapist for a referral to a specialist.

Finding the Balance

If you are in that sweet spot with a workout routine, you love and food you can enjoy then—high 5! Keep it up! But if you are feeling maxed out by the routine or stressed because there is so much nutrition information out there, do a little self-reflection. Where are areas you could loosen up? How can you balance your physical health with your mental health? What one thing could you give up that could make you happier?