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The Informed Parent

The Over-Trained Athlete

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Apr. 05, 2005

How does a parent know when their young athlete is “over-training”? How does it start? What can parents do?

In medical literature the word “over-training” can mean working hard for a few days followed by short-term fatigue. It is an essential part of all athletes’ training. The homeostasis of the body needs to be displaced by intensive training stimuli so that the athlete’s performance capacity can be improved. Several days of intentionally heavy training are followed by some days of less intense training and rest, to achieve peak performance.

If these balances are not recognized the athlete may develop an over-training syndrome. Mild symptoms may include anger, fatigue, tension, disturbed sleep, and loss of appetite. Severe forms may include depression, severe long-term insomnia, and long-term muscle soreness.

The athlete’s tolerance for stress is determined by his or her adapting capacity, coping strategies, and physiologic properties. Additional stressors for the athlete’s body could be jet lag, strong environmental conditions such as altitude, or hot or cold weather that would increase vulnerability to the over-training state.

Your child’s doctor may be able to help determine whether your child is over-training in his or her sport. Diseases such as anemia, other nutritional deficiencies, Addison’s disease, asthma and allergies, cardiac problems, diabetes, thyroid problems, infections or muscle disease can all mimic over-training.

The best way to avoid over-training is to prevent it. Speak to your child and to your child’s coach if you are concerned about this issue. The best indicator of a young over-trained athlete is the athlete himself or herself. Effective treatment usually includes rest and avoiding sport activities for about two weeks.

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