Yes, there IS such a thing as too much exercise. There’s also such a thing as too little exercise but to overcome this, the average person should be getting around 150 minutes of activity every week. If you’re one of those people who like to work out often, who are always looking for ways to burn more calories and reduce food intake all in the name of ‘health’, you need to keep reading!
I love to exercise – I feel better and happier after I’ve done something physically active each day. Sometimes I even feel guilty when I see someone outside running, even though I just finished an intense interval workout! For many women, exercise gives them a ‘high’, making them feel energized and in control of their bodies.
And that’s totally okay – it’s important to feel great after you work out. It’s awesome if you feel like “yeah, that was great – I could do that again!” once a class is finished, too. This generally indicates that your exercise program is just right for your energy levels and body type.
But, what happens when you’re struggling to lose those last 10 pounds and no amount of extra exercise helps? Plus, you’ve been cutting back on snacks and STILL that weight won’t budge? What’s going on???
Why Too Much Exercise Is Not Good
Overtraining is a real concept. When you push yourself too hard, too fast and too much, your body tends to slam on the breaks to protect itself. Some symptoms of overtraining are feeling sluggish and fatigued, no ability to lift the heavy weights you used to, or, worse, pain and injury that puts you out of commission.
Overtraining is one of the more obvious problems with too much exercise. And, many women who want to lose those last 10 pounds push themselves into this dangerous zone.
It’s not their fault though. The fitness industry has ingrained in us this idea that to lose weight you simply need to work out more and eat less. Right? But, if it were really that simple, why are so many women struggling to lose those last 10 pounds?
Exercise and Stress
Too much exercise factors strongly into your body’s response to stress.
You see, exercise is itself a stressor. You push your muscles harder than they’re pushed on a typical day. Long endurance cardio or heavy weight strength training sessions push your limits.
And, when your body experiences stress in any form – good or bad – it releases your stress hormones to protect you and make you feel good. Cortisol spikes in an attempt to get stored glucose out into your bloodstream for the muscles to use up.
When you exercise within your body’s limits and your stress response, exercise is really good for you. That blood sugar is used up and cortisol quickly returns to normal once the workout is done.
However, when you push yourself hard too often, or for long periods at a time, cortisol stays high for much longer. Your muscles can only use up so much glucose so some of this excess glucose is shunted back to fat cells for storage.
The interesting part here is that cortisol pulls stored glucose from the liver and the muscles first, which is then stored as fat later. Got that? So, too much exercise can actually increase your fat storage supplies.
Lifestyle, Sleep and Other Factors
Like I mentioned, exercise is a stressor on your body. Combine that stressor with ALL the other stressors in your life. With too much exercise, you could be pushing your cortisol levels really high unintentionally by training every day. Or only doing really hard workouts each week.
Remember, all perceived and real stressors trigger cortisol release from your adrenals. Hitting the gym after work on a day your boss has yelled at you and your co-worker stole your draft proposal and claimed it as their own…that’s going to really spike that cortisol.
Pushing yourself to run a 10k after a poor night’s sleep is also going to spike cortisol to extremely high levels.
Too much exercise along with all the stressors of everyday life can quickly push your body into that dangerous overtraining zone.
What You Eat Matters
Let’s not forget about diet.
With too much exercise, you can very quickly deplete your body of important nutrients needed to recover.
And, remember how we’ve all been taught that to lose weight we need to eat less? There’s a limit to how little you can eat and, unfortunately, many diet plans provided by fitness ‘experts’ are way too low in calories.
Less food generally means less nutrients, too. Our bodies need adequate nutrients from all the macronutrients to stay healthy. Protein is super important to replenish resources used up from exercise. (You need approximately 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight you have; if you exercise a lot, 1.2 – 1.3 grams of protein for every kilogram is probably better for you.)
Too few calories will also cause your stress response to trigger. Your body will perceive this lack of food as starvation and will trigger cortisol to store fat for storage. This happens because your body thinks it’s in danger and it doesn’t know when it will be adequately fed again…so it tries to store up as much fat as possible in preparation for the next starvation period.
Too much exercise and too little food combined can and often will backfire on you. Instead of losing those last 10 pounds, you’re more likely to gain an additional 10-15 as your body tries its best to protect you.
How to Avoid Too Much Exercise
The best way to avoid too much exercise and the problems associated with this is to really listen to your body. Did you have a good night’s sleep? If not, don’t push yourself the next day at the gym. If yes, go for it and do what your body tells you its capable of.
Have a few options available on days when you’re not sure how you’ll be feeling. Add variety into your weekly workouts. Pick 1-2 days to do cardio-focused exercises and stick in some strength and resistance training on other days.
And, don’t feel bad if you just want to walk for 30 minutes or stretch because you’re just not feeling up for a long, hard workout! Your body will tell you what it’s ready for – you just have to listen.
If you start to feel especially sluggish, or your legs feel heavy and tired, take a few days off. Recovery days are equally important as workout days to ensure your body has time to replenish its resources.
Lose Those Last 10 Pounds Safely
If you’re struggling to lose those last 10 pounds, and too much exercise may be your downfall, try scaling your workouts back. Take an extra day off each week for a month and fill in the time with easy, restorative classes. Yoga, walks, or Pilates are still great workouts but they have the added benefit of regulating cortisol.
Make sure you eat enough food and avoid the bad stuff as much as possible. If you still eat sugar or high-carb treats daily, you’re probably going to have trouble ditching the extra weight. Inflammation causes cortisol to spike just as too much exercise does. Swap out refined sugar, wheat, dairy and even gluten-containing grains for now and see how you feel after about 4 weeks.
Eat enough calories to sustain your activity levels. A good rule of thumb is to eat at least your Basal Metabolic Rate. To figure this out, take your weight in pounds, and add a ‘0’ to the end. For example, if you’re 140 pounds, your BMR is 1400 so eat ate least 1400 calories each day. If you are very active, add another 350-500 calories per day to your diet.
Your diet should energize you – if you feel lightheaded, fatigued or rundown often, try increasing your caloric intake with healthy foods.
Too much exercise really can backfire on you. Without time to recover, your body thinks it’s in danger and starts to pack on the fat to protect itself. Avoid the effects of too much exercise by eating enough real, whole food. Dedicate 1-3 days each week to active recovery workouts. And, don’t ever feel guilty if your body tells you it just wants to sleep!