Training too hard for too long can leave you feel flat and fatigued. Here’s how to turn things around

Keep fatigue at bay. Photo by Joby Sessions

Months of hard winter miles are behind you and you’re reaching the highest volume of training for this season’s big race. You should feel motivated, strong and ready to step it up a level. For some though, this phase of training can be mentally and physically draining.

It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit more tired than usual when your training volume is high, but if it carries on you could be heading for low immunity, long-term fatigue and missed races. Your enjoyment of your sport and other areas of your life could also suffer, as overtraining goes hand in hand with loss of motivation and low mood.

There are a number of reasons why high-volume training can leave you feeling anything but fit. If you’re exercising more without eating and drinking more, then low blood sugar could be to blame for both your tiredness and your poor mood. Stress hormones, which are released when you train hard or for long periods at a time, also wear down your immunity and leave you feeling shattered and depressed. Mentally, the strain of having to fit so much into your life can compound the problem.

You don’t want to waste all your hard work, so take a few simple steps as your training reaches its peak to ensure you get the performance benefits you’ve worked for.

1 Eat enough and eat right

High-volume training requires higher-volume eating. It’s not just about having enough energy to get you through each workout. Research has shown that athletes who consume carbs during intense exercise have better immunity than those who don’t; the stress hormones released when you need to burn fat (because your carb stores are low) have an impact on cells that fight off infections.

Your carbohydrate requirements differ depending on your size and intensity of training, but a good starting point is to aim for 60g carbs for every hour of training – that’s two 500ml bottles of isotonic sports drink, or two gels. Timing your meals and snacks is important too, and you’ll need to experiment with this to get it right – keep a food diary to make sure you learn from your trials. Go for small, low-GI meals at regular intervals to keep your blood sugar levels even, so you won’t have crashes in energy and mood.

2 Sleep enough 

The more you train, the more you need to sleep – which is a painful irony for many age-groupers who have to get up at 5am to fit in the extra miles. Aside from allowing your body time to adapt to the training you’ve done, sound sleep is important for keeping your mood level and your appetite even. Research has shown that lack of sleep (less than five hours a night) results in higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, meaning you’re more likely to reach for quick, sugary or fatty snacks – which isn’t a recipe for success.

Take a mental break

If you’re doing everything else right – training well, eating well and recovering well – then it could be that all you need is to give your mind a quick break. Being tied to a relentless training schedule can be draining and sap your enjoyment of triathlon. Build an easy week into your training schedule, during which you don’t measure your sessions or plan them – just do whatever you feel like each day. Use the extra time you have to reconnect with non-tri friends, spend extra time with your family or just relax. You’ll return to your training feeling refreshed and ready to go again.