Overtraining, Part 1: Understanding The Stress Response And Overtraining Risks
Welcome to a three-part presentation that walks you through every aspect of overtraining.
You will hear an overview of how the stress response occurs in the body, and how it affects it; as well as the ways that the nature and pacing of hectic, high stress modern life have resulted in a terrible disconnect from our human genetic expectations for health. You’ll also learn just how much our ruminating minds can actually contribute to burnout, just like stressful personal or work circumstances or overly-stressful training patterns. You’ll also hear about the state of “overreaching”—a precursor to overtraining where you are capable of peak performance, but running on borrowed time and headed straight for burnout.
In our athletic endeavors, it is easy to make both simple and complex mistakes that can set you back. [00:24]
If we think a negative or fearful thought, we can elicit a stress response in the body. Stimulus, perception, and response are the three aspects of stress. [01:27]
We don’t want to have a fight or flight response every single day. [03:28]
Our body always want to regulate itself. [07:19]
Too little stress is unhealthy and leads to boredom and malaise. [09:46]
Generally, our hunter gatherer ancestors lived a pretty sedate life compared to our modern hectic-paced life. [12:06]
Many people assume that they have balance in their life, however, trips to the gym for a hard workout is unable to diffuse the stress from your workday stresses. [15:04]
Be careful proudly pronouncing yourself as a Type A person. That expression originated with people with elevated heart disease risk. [18:11]
Fasting is extremely stressful. Cold plunge overdone or staying in sauna too long are dangerous. [20:10]
It has been cited that todays’ extreme elite athletes are working six times as hard as any type of ancestral experience causing many problems with digestive function and immune function. [25:34]
Fat is a clean burning fuel whereas carbohydrate is considered a dirty burning fuel. A chronically stressful lifestyle is directly associated with a carbohydrate dependency. [26:54]
What’s happening with burnout? It’s important to recognize that lifestyle itself causes some of the illness. [32:20]
Overreaching is that temporary high that’s afforded by the chronic overproduction of stress hormones in the bloodstream. [38:38]
- Brad Kearns.com
- Brad’s Shopping page
- Podcast with Dr. Bruce Lipton
- Biology of Belief
- Brad’s cold plunge video
- Primal Endurance
- Two Meals a Day
- One Running Shoe
- Running on Empty
- Paleo Thyroid Solution
Welcome to the Return of the Primal Endurance Podcast. This is your host, Brad Kearns, and we are going on a journey to a kinder, gentler, smarter, more fun, more effective Way to train for ambitious endurance goals. Visit primal endurance.fit to join the community and enroll in our free video Course.
Hi listeners. It’s time to talk about the somewhat unpleasant, but very important subject to understand, and that is over training. Yes, you are hearing from an expert in many ways. Hopefully, I can convey some important information to you and help you prevent some of the pitfalls and suffering that I endured in my career, particularly as a professional triathlete, pushing the very edges of peak performance and endurance training. And even today, trying to manage my athletic goals in my higher age groups and do the right thing and not make the mistakes both simple and complex that can happen and set you back and defeat the purpose of all your devotion to fitness, especially as we emerge from the very small segment of the population that’s interested in elite peak performance. And for the rest of us, we’re doing this for recreational purposes and promoting, hopefully promoting things like overall general health and longevity.
So I think a good starting point is a quick primer on the stress response in the body and the great work of Dr. Hans Selye, widely considered the father of modern stress research. His researched dates back probably a hundred years now. But he was the first to kind of quantify the stress response and to distinguish it or describe it in three stages. The stimulus from the outside environment or from the inside environment as your thoughts can most certainly provoke a stress response. My great show with Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of Biology of Belief in other transformative books, talks about the perception switches located on all of our cells. And if we think a negative or a fearful thought, we can elicit a stress response in the body. So the stimulus is the first step, and then we have a perception. So our body has to perceive this stressor and it perceives it in different ways, right?
Being called upon to speak in public is widely regarded as the number one fear of most people, but then some people relish it, and so it won’t, the perception of being called upon surprise to come up and speak in front of a thousand people, will have a different response. And that is the third stage. So we have stimulus perception and response, and the response is where we get the flooding of the bloodstream with stress hormones in the familiar example of the fight or flight response. And all this is controlled by something called the H P A access, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal access. That’s where we, uh, begin the process of manufacturing the hormones, neurotransmitters, chemicals that enter the bloodstream as part of the stress response. So what we have essentially on the H P A access is a feedback loop that’s responsible for the body’s reaction to environmental stimuli of all kinds.
It’s a very complex chain reaction. variety of genetic and hormonal switches are turning on and off and helping us respond appropriately or inappropriately, if we perceive that to be, uh, inappropriate, right? We don’t want to have a fight or flight response, uh, every single day turning every corner. And, uh, every little, uh, traffic altercation, uh, is perceived to be, uh, a life or death response, literally, uh, by the, the chemical reaction in the body. So, now we can try to, manage and optimize the stress response for the appropriate, uh, stressors in our everyday life. And we use the term stress widely. Use the term with a negative connotation. I had a stressful day. I’m stressed and we should actually be more accurate with our grammar. And the term stress, what it really refers to is stimulus and stimulus can be perceived as both positive or negative.
And so a stressor can be something that we widely regard as a positive event, or it can be, uh, a, a negative disappointing, upsetting event. Okay. So if you look at charts on the internet, ranking, the most stressful events in life, you often see things like, uh, marriage, uh, starting a new job, moving to a new town, ranking up there highly at the very top of the most stressful or replaced stressful with stimulatory events in life. Hopefully your wedding day is a happy occasion. Who knows sometimes when you’re, you have those premonitions, maybe it’s not a great day. Maybe it’s incredibly stressful, but you get my point here, especially with, uh, moving to a new town, starting an exciting new job heading off to college for the first time. Incredibly, extraordinarily stressful on the scale of routine everyday life happenings, but hopefully super positive, happy, and exciting.
But nevertheless, prompting a profound, uh, stress response because of the magnitude of the event. Okay? And so the stress response, a the H P A access is kicked into gear for all manner of, uh, everyday activity, starting with getting your ass outta bed and waking up in the morning. So indeed, we need to have a, uh, a chemical reaction to start firing the muscles and the brain cells. It is called upon when you want to do a focus on a peak cognitive task. Of course, when you wanna perform a workout, it’s very clear that as you warm up and raise your heart rate and your blood pressure and your respiration rate and your body temperature, uh, these are all stress response activities to the stimulus of calling upon your body to exercise. And then on the extreme example, we have a true life or death event where you have to run for your life, where you have to lift the car, uh, to save the person trapped underneath the wheel.
Or, kind of backing off a little bit, uh, watching a scary movie and being absolutely alarmed and, uh, triggering that chemical reaction in the body from the stimulus on the movie screen, your perception of that stimulus and the accordant response, right? So the movie makers and the, uh, creators of the amusement parks work really hard on their stimulus to trigger a, um, a, a strong perception and a strong response in the body. And you scream and yell, and you get back in line, and you want to go back on the roller coaster again. So the feedback loop also entails the hypothalamus downregulating, these fight or flight functions and returning these fight or flight chemicals and the, um, the hormones and neurotransmitters, everything that’s flooding the bloodstream when you’re under the fight or flight circumstances. It’s also responsible for returning back to baseline function.
We always have this very strong homeostatic drive. Our body wants to regulate, we wanna run around at 98.6 degree body temperature. If we have an infection and we trigger a fever response. The body’s fighting, fighting, fighting, uh, the infection, and then, uh, desperately wishing to return to 98.6. Same with finishing a workout, lifting a bunch of weight in the gym, uh, running a bunch of miles, uh, in the aftermath, in the recovery period all kinds of mechanisms kick in to help our body return to that, uh, calm homeostatic state. And the healthy balance in the autonomic nervous system between sympathetic and parasympathetic. And those are generally characterized. Sympathetic is characterized as fight or flight mechanisms, and parasympathetic is characterized as rest or digest mechanisms. And so neurotransmitters are classified as excitatory or inhibitory. And so when it’s time for bed and you want to be a healthy person aligned with your circadian rhythm and wind things down, you want the inhibitory neurotransmitters to predominate.
GABA is a prominent one, a relaxing neurotransmitter. And then same with the hormones such as melatonin. Uh, the process of D L M O, dim light melatonin onset is prompted by the darkening of your environment. Hopefully that’s the setting of the sun. But we now know today, that’s when you start toning the lights down, turning off the screens, and then facilitating dim light melatonin onset to help you rest and go to sleep with parasympathetic nervous system activity dominating. So that is the setup because, uh, the important thing here is how we manage this wonderful tool of the fight or flight response, and allows us to perform magnificent athletic feats and get through busy days and handle stresses and crises, and, uh, take final exams and operate on patients and argue the case in the courtroom and all these fantastic things.
This is what, uh, makes us go and makes us tick. And when you are sick, burnt out, exhausted, you realize when, uh, you’re not sharp, um, the fight or flight response is not working well and you feel pretty blah, you can’t focus, you can’t concentrate. You have no energy, you can’t exercise. And so the correct management of the fight or flight response is the essence of a healthy, uh, productive life.
Too little tress is extremely unhealthy and leads to boredom and malaise, and essentially an early death if your life lacks, meaning, purpose, and challenge. So that’s why we always wanna say stimulus rather than apply stress in a negative context. What you really want to strive for is this term, that Selye maybe coined it, I don’t know, but it’s called eustress E U S T R E S S.
And that’s an appropriate amount of stress and an appropriate balance between stressors and, uh, relaxation periods where a stress is minimized or stimulus is low, stimulus is high, stimulus is low, stimulus is high. And as we know from the ancestral health movement, the model of our hunter-gatherer ancestors lifestyle, uh, which was the default human experience throughout evolution was typically, uh, some people can dispute this. Uh, the evolutionary anthropologists will spout predictions or projections of how our ancestors lived. And it’s pretty accurate, but we can’t make a blanket statement. Um, maybe some people had too little stress and they just laid around all day and ate a bunch of fish, cuz they were easy to catch and they never, uh, really accomplished. Mutts and other ancestors were out there, uh, sharpening their tools and battling the wooly mammoth and finally figuring out how to take it down and passing that information onto their offspring and driving human evolution forward with epic lifestyles or conquering the new continent for the first time.
Right? Interestingly, you can learn more about this on the there’s a website, Oppenheimer’s human migration across the globe. It’s believed that at the time when humans first left East Africa, they have believed to have, ventured out around 60,000 years ago. There were only 5,000 humans on Earth at the time, and an estimated group of only 120 were the ones that left their environments there and, uh, set out to colonize the globe. So essentially, we all descend from only 120 of most likely the bravest, most badass humans, that ever lived, right? That said, Hey, let’s go somewhere else. Let’s, let’s check out this globe and continue to populate and spread out.
Okay, back to the hunter gatherer ancestry. Generally how they lived was a pretty sedate life compared to they6 hectic pace of today’s modern life. But of course, populated with incredibly, brutal circumstances and life or death experiences where they were getting chased by predators or starving and having to take down a predator to get their next dinner. So it was a tough life, but the nature of their stress was likely quite disparate from today’s chronic forms of stress, certainly not life or death in most cases but the fight or flight response being abused accordingly by calling upon these delicate hormonal mechanisms over and over and over every single day. And this is the case because again, any form of stimulus that is perceived to be stressful triggers that fight or flight response. That can be an argument, that can be a traffic jam, that can be running late to the airport, that can be doing an enjoyable , wonderful, pleasurable workout at the gym.
But you’re still kicking these chemicals into your bloodstream. And I make this point because, when I was a triathlete, I suffered from overt bouts of over training frequently, and it was a disaster and it was depressing. And I’d fly across the world and get my ass kicked in a race or have to drop out of the race cuz I was exhausted. And I didn’t know it until, until the race started. And, you scratch my head, go home and figure it out. And all that time, uh, I enjoyed my workouts. I generally performed quite well, uh, through these training blocks. But then the cumulative effect of the training load, uh, would break me down at a certain point because my body gave out and it was difficult to predict, but it wasn’t the burnout triggered b nasty, brutal business disputes with your business partner or going through acrimonious divorce or having, uh, contentions within, uh, family, friends and loved ones or, uh, dealing with chronic illness or any of those things.
It was pleasurable, enjoyable, hardcore athletic training where I was pushing my body and getting immediate instant gratification, rewards a lot of endorphins flowing in the bloodstream. Nevertheless, it was an abuse of the very delicate fight or flight response. So when we, uh, get our heads around this concept of understanding and preventing over-training and burnout, we have to realize, and we can take a time to close your eyes and envision the scales of justice, right? The blind lady with the balance scales. And there’s, uh, on each side are the strings and the little, uh, thing of the tray where you balance things. And if we’re talking about stressors in modern life, everything goes in that pile. So it’s workouts, it’s arguing, it’s watching a exciting movie. It’s compromising sleep to get up and catch an airplane and fly across time zones to do something fun, even a vacation, right?
Jet travel is extremely stressful and prompts a significant fight or flight response. It’s something that our human genes are entirely inexperienced with. And then over there, on the other side of the scale, are the things that provide us true rest, recovery and restoration. Uh, so that would be downtime, sitting on the porch, staring off into space, meditating perhaps a yoga class counts on there, uh, your good night’s sleep. And so we, um, we’re, we’re overloaded on the stress side because all kinds of different things are all count as stressors. And that’s a shift in consciousness here because I think a lot of people are running around thinking, yeah, I have a really stressful job. I’s difficult, it challenges me. It brings my emotions. And then I love getting to the gym afterward and burning off all that frustrated, pent up energy with a great workout.
So I live a healthy, balanced life because I balance workplace stress with these great workouts. That’s true in on many levels, but on this biochemical biological level, the stressful workday at the courtroom or at the office is on the same side of the scale as the enjoyable, fun, challenging workout. Now, that’s a pretty simple example to comprehend when we talk about a quote unquote stressful workday with a quote unquote stressful workout, but highly enjoyable workout. And then we also have to add on the psychological stress of existing in hectic modern life. Um, and this is from the Bruce Lipton show mentioned briefly that our thoughts also have an influence on cellular function at all times. And if the perception in your mind, quote, if the perception in your mind is reflected in the chemistry of your body, and if your nervous system reads and interprets the environment and then controls the blood’s chemistry, you can literally alter cellular function by altering your thoughts.
And so when you, uh, take your mind to a place of rumination, and my show with Dr. Ron Cena identifies that as a true medical condition that, uh, brings adverse medical consequences as revealed in blood work. And in many other ways, you can take your mind into a stressful state. And this is a, a widespread modern problem. When we stress obste, obsess, ruminate, complain, speak negatively, think negatively, we are manifesting cellular function and triggering a fight or flight response rather than a relaxation response, as is found when we emerge from that hour long yoga class and just feel like a sense of calmness or go down for a nap, a massage, a meditation session, things that bring us into a calm state of mind and thereby a calm state of physical being. So you can see how, especially when we’re talking to the fitness population at risk of over-training, we are generally dealing with a highly motivated, goal-oriented, driven, focused, hard driving person, type A as they’re known in the heart attack risk factor parlance.
That’s right. You know, what type A, the term type A comes from, it’s a category of elevated heart disease risk. So if you call yourself a type A proudly, let’s rethink, uh, the origination of that term not so pleasant. Okay? So when we’re driving and achieving and taking on the day and doing making the most of every day, we are a high-stressed creature. And this is in greatly disparate to the ancestral lifestyle and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which was a lot of walking around. If we know anything from modern day hunter gatherers, and they, of course provide a wonderful window into our ancestral past, they do a lot of walking around. They’re, they’re gathering, they’re, um, doing low, uh, physical demand tasks, but, very busy all day. And then once in a while, they have the, um, the true fight or flight life or death, uh, challenges.
Okay? So, um, we understand now that positive and negative, uh, experiences both count as stimulus or stress. And we’re striving for this state, this state of being, uh, described as eustress and eustress, the appropriate amount of daily stressors makes you stronger and more resilient for future stressors, and also gives meaning and purpose and significance to your life, right? So, going through college and staying up with all your classes and passing your final exams is no picnic. And it can be a difficult, challenging, overly stressful, right? When I say stressful, however, you emerge with a, a vast body of knowledge and experience that you can leverage and continue to progress and grow as a person. Same thing goes for doing your occasional sprint workout, lifting weights, performing a micro workout, and giving your body these appropriate stressors toward the goal of eustress and away from the goal of chronic stress or excessively stressful lifestyle.
So the key there is the brief nature of the extreme fight or fight stressors, that we undergo, ua sprint workout, um, fasting, right? I mean, fasting for 24 hours, by and large, if you’re capable of doing it, you’re gonna get a lot of health benefits. If you’re a badass like Brian Liver King Johnson, fasting for five days every quarter and bringing his wife, Barbara, along with the experience, and they’re very capable and competent, and they report all kinds of positive benefits, that can also be validated by blood work or any other measurement. But if you’re an, an amateur and you decide to fast for 14 days because you read a book about fasting and it said it’s really healthy, that’s gonna be a likely excessive amount of stress and perhaps put your, uh, immune system or other biological functions into distress and dysfunction accordingly, because the stressor was too difficult.
If you go into my cold plunge, you watch my wonderful YouTube video about how to do a chest freezer cold therapy protocol, and you decide that maybe I’ll do double what Brad does because I’ll show how tough I am, and you go in there for eight minutes or 15 minutes, you’re gonna have a vastly overstress experience that’s going to, uh, possibly cause an acute illness. I mean, you know, it is no funny business. Same with staying in the sauna for too long and sweating and sweating and sweating, and then your body temperature rises to an unsafe level. You refuse to get out. And all of a sudden, what was designed to be, uh, an appropriately stressful, uh, we call it a hormetic stressor, uh, delivering a net positive benefit was over the edge. And that’s what over-training is. It’s this wonderful fitness journey, performing workouts, challenging yourself, entering a race, um, increasing your output over time as you get fitter and fitter.
And then, uh, getting to the point where the body can’t handle it, and all the intended benefits are washed away. Due to over-training, over-stress your body’s inability to handle the level of stress that you’re giving it every day. And so we shouldn’t even talk about training in a vacuum because, uh, over-training occurs in the crucible of living the, uh, your daily life and all the other forms of stress that you have. Now, when I was back as a triathlete, I organized my life. So that training was by far the main stressor and the predominant source of stimulus in my life. So I did not have to rush off to work or commute or lift heavy sandbags for eight hours or build a brick wall or what have you. So I was able to exercise, perform the workouts, and then rest and recover and load up the other side of that balance scale in an attempt to absorb and benefit from all the training that I did.
And I still made those mistakes. So you can see how, um, exercise is a major, major stressor, and it has to be contemplated very carefully in order not to cross that line and drift into over training patterns. Okay? So the magic of the fight or fight response is it, uh, instantly elevates a variety of systems in your body to be functioning at the highest level. So you have elevated heart rate, blood pressure, elevated cognitive focus. You’re, you’re zoned in and you’re ready to fight for your life in the boxing ring. Or if you’re on the starting line, you’re gonna run six miles, and that’s your fight or flight experience, whatever it is, an argument and presentation at work, right? And so, behind the scenes, what’s going on is the basic routine. Bodily functions are put on hold. So your immune system kind of sits on the sideline while the stress hormones flood your bloodstream and allow you to perform magnificent feats.
Similarly, the digestive system is not interested in working much when you’re under fight or flight stimulation. That’s why they have the two disparate branches of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic fight or flight, and the parasympathetic rest and digest. So you have immune function on the sideline, you have digestive function on the sideline. That’s fine because we’re running six miles as fast as we can, or we’re in a boxing match, or we’re giving a presentation in the boardroom. Uh, however, because the nature of modern stressful life is a chronic type of daily fight or fight stimulation, and I’m not saying every little thing you do is akin to getting in the starting blocks for a hundred meters and running for your life and so forth. But we’re a little bit stressed by this, a little bit stressed by that.
We go, go, go. We have constant, uh, connectivity and distractability and all these things are stressful through the brain. We engage in rumination. We have, uh, anxiety about the future, depression, about the past. All this kind of stuff adds up to put us into this state of chronic stress. That means immune function is not top notch. Digestive function is not top notch. That’s a common complaint for people, uh, under chronic stress, especially endurance athletes. So when I was, uh, a triathlete and mixing with many of the other great athletes that were training at the highest level of any human ever, right? Few athletes train harder than a, uh, professional triathlete, maybe a tour de France cyclists, uh, some of the CrossFit games champions are working for hours and hours a day. And interestingly, this has never happened before in the history of humanity.
Yes, our immediate ancestors toiling in the factory for eight hours the distant ancestors, the hunter gatherers having a really difficult and challenging life and, uh, migrating across Europe during the ice age, that was tough. But as far as the physical caloric output, Dr. Tommy Wood, I believe, cited a stat that the modern extreme elite athlete is working somewhere six times as hard as any type of ancestral experience. And so, we’re really pushing the cutting edge. And that means problems with digestive function, immune function, and all these modern, wholey, modern conditions, such as chronic fatigue and hormonal adrenal problems, thyroid problems that are, uh, the humans just pushing the limits and behaving in a manner that’s, uh, extremely disparate to our genetic expectations for health. So, to repeat, and going back, why did I talk about our ancestors so much?
What does it matter? What their day was like? Is this is how we evolved. We evolved to thrive and survive brief extreme stressors, and then lots of downtime and gentle daily movement that’s not considered, uh, highly stressful or needing to stimulate the fight or flight response.
Other gnarly stuff happens under chronic stress. And that is an excess of oxidative stress caused by burning, uh, the dirty, burning fuel of glucose, rather than when you’re exercising and living in a nice stress balanced manner, you’re going to be preferential for fat burning. And the burning of fat utilizes mitochondria. Those are the energy producing powerhouses located in most cells throughout the body, and they help you burn fuel cleanly. So, take away, I don’t wanna get too scientific, and if you’re getting a little drifty here, remember that fat is a clean burning fuel where, uh, carbohydrate is considered a dirty burning fuel because it generates more oxidative stress because it’s able to be burned in the cell without the use of mitochondria.
It bypasses this beautiful creb cycle graph because it can be burned more quickly. Uh, so it’s a, it’s a quick and dirty fuel source. Imagine going to the gas station and filling up your old, you know, 73 Chevy that has the visible exhaust coming out of the pipe, versus your brand new electric car that doesn’t even need gas because it’s got that more elegant way to generate energy without any pollution, any oxidative stress. We have great graphs in the Primal Endurance book, and also in the Two Meals a Day book comparing the coal power plant where you’re shoveling coal into, the fire and the smoky flames are billowing out versus the solar energy plant. And that would be the difference between being a good fat burner and being a carbohydrate dependent modern human running around with a high stress lifestyle.
And yes, a chronically stressful lifestyle is directly associated with a carbohydrate dependency. So even if you try to clean up your diet and you say, I’m gonna fast longer in the morning, I’m gonna cut back on processed carbs, and do my best here to do what’s, described in the book, uh, about eat these foods and don’t eat these. If you’re running around, like crazy you’re gonna activate those fight or flight hormones. You’re gonna experience, cravings for sugar, especially sugar cravings for, for, for fuel, uh, because you are not in that rest and digest, or not in that healthy balance between fight or flight and rest and digest. So we have that oxidative stress, we have that immune suppression, we have that digestive suppression or digestive dysfunction due to the, uh, over presence of stress hormones.
And guess what? If you put those all together, that is the essence of accelerated aging and not taking good care of your cells and allowing cancerous cells to proliferate being, doing a poor job at cell repair, cell cleansing, things like that. And then you start developing these disease disease processes, especially if, um, like, like most people in the developed world, uh, you’re eating too much nutrient deficient food and starting to store it, and not your body, has a trouble dealing with it, handling it. And so all these different patterns are happening, rather than being a graceful fat burner with a stress balance lifestyle. So this is how to, uh, age faster and struggle and suffer and have an early demise rather than just managing this stress rest balance. And again, let’s go flip back to earlier in the discussion where guess what? Yes, it can be, it can still be enjoyable and be overly stressful.
There is some research that I heard about, uh, a workaholic type people that are just so devoted to their job, but they love it. They thrive, they’re highly productive, and by and large, they have good longevity and good health, uh, consequences. Even though, from the outside, it might seem, gee, you know, they work 12 hours a day, six days a week, and they’re still healthy. And so if you have a positive attitude and you love it, and you work really hard, or you have a passion for something that takes a lot of energy, it can, it can absolutely support your health. But what we’re talking about here is this common condition of an overly stressful career experience and an overly stressful athletic experience. I would contend that the overtrained athlete is probably not having as much fun as the athlete who is optimizing stress and rest balance.
And I can reference my triathlon experience where I was trying very hard to compete and do well and improve. And boy, when I got overtrained, it was a huge bummer because going out there and putting up slow times and getting your butt kicked in the race and then being fatigued, and having whatever symptoms of, uh, poor immunity or injuries, all those things are, you know, not part of the, not part of the dreamy package. So I’d love to meet and talk to that, uh, hard training athlete who loves to get overtrained and feel tired in the afternoon at their desk and deal with chronic injuries. I mean, come on, ridiculous. So, you know, checking yourself, realizing the destruction and damage you’re doing to your body and to your psychological wellbeing by, in inducing too many stressors in modern life.
Okay? So what’s happening with burnout is you’re going, going, going, you’re constantly stimulating fight or flight hormones and fight or flight mechanisms throughout the body. And then one day, and it actually can happen with the snap of the fingers, like surprisingly stunningly quickly, everything falls apart. And those articles that I referenced often that we’ll have in the show notes, One Running Shoe in the Grave, and another one called Running on Empty profiles, these elite endurance runners, ultramarathon runners who were setting world records and going for the 24-Hour World Championship, or the record on the a hundred mile grueling trail run. And then, uh, they just, you know, spin off the face of the earth, never to compete again in some cases and just can’t get it going and have a lot of times it’s associated with like a prolonged upper respiratory illness.
So you catch a little cold, you’ve been training like crazy, and it doesn’t go away, and it turns into pneumonia. And then after that, you get something else. And after that, you get something else. And there’s so many stories, especially from some of the leaders of the ancestral and the progressive health movement, people that have reclaimed their health after the pieces absolutely fell apart, and the stories are shocking and tragic. Elle Russ, my sidekick with Primal Blueprint, who hosted the Primal Blueprint Podcast for many years and wrote the book Paleo Thyroid Solution talks about how she was in the groove. She was in Hollywood. She was a writer. She was an actress. She was doing all kinds of, you know, exciting things with her life. She was taking long hikes and doing hot yoga several days a week and swimming laps several days a week, and being diligent with her primal aligned, primal paleo style diet.
But the stress of doing 105 degree yoga day after day after day with swimming laps, with taking long hikes, with fasting for hours, and all these things put together, um, her thyroid fell apart. And, it’s a great book, especially for people who have suffered with thyroid because, she was not served well by traditional medical experience and has all kinds of commentary about looking to different resources, especially the functional medicine world to heal her thyroid. Those are the kind of things that we see over and over and over. And interestingly, a lot of people that, uh, ha have been in this, uh, you know, this disastrous, breakdown burnout setting, uh, are, are, you know, shaking their head and they can’t believe this has happened.
And it’s such bad luck because they got diagnosed with this weird illness, and I don’t think there’s enough appreciation for the causes rather than obsessing about the symptoms. So what I’m saying is, you can feel like crap and get a chronic illness and just feel like not yourself for weeks and weeks, and go to the doctor and get a bunch of blood tests and take more supplements and do whatever. But until you recognize that it’s the lifestyle itself that’s causing all these problems and take some corrective course of action. It’s kind of a waste of energy. You’re mi missing the point or missing the essence of how to heal. And I’m also talking about myself cuz when I had these, these burnout occasions during my triathlon career, sure enough, I would head straight to, uh, the blood lab cuz my brother was there and he drew my blood many, many times over the years.
Quick and easy. I’d get the reports, I’d evaluate ’em, and then I’d go double down on my supplements. Uh, if I went to see a physician, by and large, they said, wow, you’re extremely healthy and everything looks great. But why can’t I get up in the morning before 10:00 AM because I’m exhausted? But it was of course all attributed to, uh, the extreme training and the jet travel and the racing schedule. So, that’s a little plug for don’t, don’t get too worked up about the diagnosis and the different opinions of the different doctors you go to. Just get more sleep, , cut out the junk food and quit training too hard. Okay? So burnout is when all the wheels fall off. And, oh, what’s happening here is that these very, very delicate fight or flight hormonal mechanisms and genetic switches have just collapsed and they can no longer produce even normal baseline levels of critically important stress hormones such as cortisol.
So we talk about cortisol in the negative context all the time. Too much cortisol, that’s the preeminent fight or flight hormone. That is the driver of gluco neo gluco neogenesis, gluco neogenesis. That is the conversion of amino acids into glucose. Typically what that entails in an overly stressful pattern is you’re stripping lean muscle mass into glucose so that you can burn this dirty fuel all day long due to your overly stressful lifestyle circumstances. So this excess of cortisol is when you’re wired, jittery, you’re not hungry cuz you’re dealing with a personal or family crisis for weeks on end. You’re going through, you know, traumatic periods and you can’t sleep that well yet you wake up wide awake in the morning and you jump into gear. And so this is this this artificial high driven by chronic overproduction of stress hormones in the bloodstream.
And then on the flip side, when you crash out from burnout, you’re not even producing the baseline healthy level of cortisol, which means without that driver of energy, alertness and metabolism, you have a difficult time waking up in the morning, , you eat a meal, and you’re bombed out with a exhaustion in, in the ensuing hours because you have a more difficult time, uh, regulating blood glucose, all kinds of symptoms. And we go into extreme detail in the Primal Fitness Coach Certification course that’s coming soon. I’ll tell you more about that if you’re interested in getting a deep education on all aspects of fitness. But we’ll also cover these in, uh, this two-part episode cuz we’re gonna run out of time on this one. But we’ll make a quick journey through the various symptoms of, uh, over-training.
But interestingly, this concept is rising to awareness in recent times, even with this new term that’s being banter about called overreaching. So overreaching is that temporary high that’s afforded by the chronic overproduction of stress hormones in the bloodstream. But while you’re in this artificial high, Boy, you are capable of magnificent athletic feats, and you feel great, you, you’re not sore, you wake up the next day, you can do it again. And so this temporary cloud nine is the wonderful, uh, performance enhancing effects of the cortisol shower. In fact, the final chapter of primal endurance is titled the Cortisol Shower Head. And I talk about this sort of confusing situation where you’re trying to notice your symptoms, check in with yourself, or rate your energy level on a one through 10 scale, and then go out there and perform an appropriate workout.
But because you’ve been pushing the envelope so far,, you are, you know, sort of, deluded by how you feel great every single day. And for example, I say you, you wake up, you’re not sore, you feel loose and supple. And that’s because, um, your muscle groups, um, are chronically inflamed. Chronic mild inflammation is gonna make you feel nice and snappy and flexible. Same with the alertness and high energy throughout the day. That’s because your metabolic function is upregulated. Perhaps the gluco neogenesis is kicking in to bring you that steady supply of glucose rather than what you feel when you’re slightly or significantly burned out, which is that difficulty maintaining energy, mood, cognitive function, and blood sugar levels. I contend that world records across the board in a variety of, especially the endurance sports where these chronic training patterns are so common.
World records are set by people in this temporary state of overreaching. I remember having a conversation with Olympic running legend, Frank Shorter, who won the gold in 72. The silver in 76 in the marathon was credited with helping to kick off the running boom. And, I was talking to him one time on airplane flight. He was a, he was a commentator on the triathlon circuit and, uh, this incredible streak of performances was happening right at that time in the early nineties from this New Zealand runner named John Campbell. And I think he still has the records if you look him up. When he was 43 years old, he was running at the elite level in the marathon, competing for the overall win in big races like New York and Boston. I think he got fourth in Boston at the age of like 43. And he was, you know, running all these records on road races like no one had ever seen a 40 plus endurance runner perform.
And I said, Frank, what about this guy, man, he’s incredible. And he says, here’s my prediction. He will disappear from the face of the earth pretty soon because there’s no way anyone can sustain that type of performance and the training required to turn in a 2:12 marathon. I believe that was his record. That was just mind boggling for a 40 plus guy to do. No one can sustain it. And so he’s borrowed time, he’s burning the candle, and sure enough, he was gone and stopped competing on the world stage soon after his amazing record binge. Hey, is that a necessary or a acceptable trade off? Probably so, right? I mean, it’s a world record. He’s not getting out there for the longevity gold medal of racing for 20 more years after a long career. But I think it’s for all of us in the, um, in the recreational realm who are trying to promote, uh, overall general health and especially longevity, we have to be very, very careful to not drift anywhere near, uh, the over-training patterns and the burnout symptoms.
And so you can take corrective action really nicely when you have a greater understanding and a greater awareness for what some of these symptoms are, especially the overreaching symptoms, right? So maybe you feel abnormally great after your two-week high altitude training camp where you, uh, snuck in the bunk and were up running at the crack of dawn. You’re away from your normal everyday life and your other responsibilities and you’re just pushing your body really, really hard and you, you still feel great when you get home. However you can reasonably and intuitively, uh, conclude that perhaps you were engaged in an unsustainable block of training and it would be really smart and sensible to back off, even though you feel great. And boy, that I contend is the ultimate level of sophistication, uh, of an athlete being able to govern their competitive instinct and even their, uh, day-to-day sensations with some reasonability and strategic critical thinking to say, well, I’ve been feeling great for so long, it’s time for a month off, that kind of thing.
And you don’t hear that come out of highly competitive, driven, goal-oriented people’s mouths very often, do you? Okay, so that is gonna be a nice part one of the over-training discussion and in part two, we’re gonna go down the list. Let’s see, I got 15 symptoms of impending doom. We could call that overreaching. And then I got 12 symptoms of true over-training and burnout. Uh, uh, pretty much these are all extremely obvious, right? However, um, the increased awareness is gonna be really helpful because I think we, uh, rationalize too frequently. We talk ourselves out of it. That competitive instinct kicks in again and again where maybe you went out the door with good intentions, like, I’m just gonna pedal my bicycle on the pedestrian trail today and get some blood flowing in, in my legs for recovery.
And then you’re out there dressed in your fancy, tight fitting lira on your, uh, expensive bike and some goof, uh, passes you on the left wearing sneakers, uh, on a cruiser bike or whatever. And of course, you can’t let that happen. Uh, there, there’s too much ego and pride involved with some goof passing you on the bike trail. So you give chase or pass by and then all of a sudden the pace of your intended recovery workout is increased into the zone of medium training session. And that kind of stuff can add up and, uh, you know, end up in, uh, chronic patterns when you have that unwillingness to back off.
All right, thank you for listening. Sharing your own comments, feedback question email@example.com. And I look forward to getting further into this matter in part two of this over-training show. Bye-bye, bum.
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