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A cautionary tale of overtraining and setbacks…

So, apparently people still read this blog! I am surpised as I haven't updated it in forever. I suppose I'll do that now. I must warn you, however, it is not all good news. 

Well, after my show last year (in which I won my class and placed 3rd in masters)... I began another bulk that was intended to last for 7 months. I was training hard and often, 4-5 days per week with weights. I wasn't just training heavy... I was also training with high volume (lots of exercises, sets, and reps). I even continued to do cardio. I saw some progress but I was starting to feel burned out. By October I was REALLY burned out. I took a week off and when I started back I cut out all cardio and I cut my weights back to 4 days/wk. Unfortunately, my training continued to be high volume. I was still doing too much. I still felt fatigued but I pushed through it.

Through the end of November I continued to bulk, gain, and make progress. I had put on 18lbs (from 135 to 152) but still looked fairly lean. I felt good about my progress... but I was still having overtraining symptoms (persistant muscle soreness, fatigue, insomnia, elevated resting heart rate, irritability, and depression). It was at this point the myriad of mutiple infections started. I could not stay well. Every 3-4 weeks I was sick... colds, flu, strep throat, etc. I knew I needed a break but I was stubborn. I didn't listen to my body. I pressed on...

December through February were rough. My symptoms increased and the infections kept coming. I also started noticing something weird going on with my body. While I was getting stronger in the gym... I didn't look as muscular. I had started to lose muscle and put on body fat. My weight did not change... I just got fatter. I kept telling myself that I was crazy and that I wasn't really losing muscle mass... but others started to notice it too. My weight didn't change but suddenly I just looked FAT!

We took a trip to Disney during Mardi Gras week. If you've ever been to Disney you know it's go go GO. You get up early. You stay up late. You walk all day. By the end of the week I was miserably sick. I had a horrid sinus infection AND a bladder infection. I couldn't breath, I had fever, and my lower back throbbed constantly. It was the last straw. As soon as I got home I made an appointment to see a sports medicine doctor. 

I went in and described my symptoms. The NP (nurse practitioner) agreed with my self diagnosis that I had been overtraining. She ran bloodwork. The results were shocking. I had NO testosterone, progesterone, or DHEA left in my system. My body had been working overtime to deal with the stress of training and in doing so it had ramped up my production of cortisol. Eventually my adrenal glands could no longer keep up with the high demand for cortisol so my body started converting my other hormones into cortisol to keep up. I was diagnosed with "adrenal fatigue." I was devastated. My NP put me on all kinds of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and some hormone creams to supplement me in my depleted state. The most upsetting part of my "treatment" ... no training. :(

Recovery has been (and continues to be) challenging. The hardest part was no gym time... at all. I took 8 weeks off completely. At the end of that 8 weeks I was retested and my hormones had rebounded back into "acceptable" levels (this was with supplementation). I started training again at that point. I did only 3 days/wk... push/pull/legs split. No cardio. I kept my workouts no longer than 1 hour. Over time I got brave and started to add cardio back in. This did not go well. My overtraining symptoms began to resurface and I got a nasty infection. It was my 6th time being on antibiotics in less than 6 months. Needless to say, I cut out the cardio again.

So, there is some light at the end of this tunnel. It took about 10 weeks back in the gym (on my new lower-volume training program) to re-gain the muscle and strength I had lost. I've even gone on to hit new PR's! Woot Woot. I am looking and feeling better. I have gained and am now up to 155. I am still doing only 3 days/wk and no cardio... and will continue with this for a while longer. I have read that it can take quite a while (a year or two) to fully recover from adrenal fatigue. I still feel like my body is struggling to recover at times... but now I've learned to LISTEN TO IT! 

As for dieting... I don't. I make sure to always get enough protein but beyond that... I eat whatever I want. When I'm hungry, I eat. My goal right now is to build my body back up. A calorie deficit is just not a good idea right now. I'd rather eat at maintenance or even a surplus. I'm not lean right now... but I'm ok with that. At least I'm lifting regularly... after all I've been through I'm happy with that! 

Here is a recent pic at 155lbs...

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