Training

Dear Coach: Is It Fatigue or Burnout?

Learning to spot the difference between tiredness and burnout can help you rest at the right time.

Your ability to set big goals—and commit to them—is admirable. Executing a training plan that supports your goals can help to develop your tenacity, determination, perseverance, passion, and confidence. These are traits that breed success—in triathlon and in life—but too much of a good thing can backfire. This is especially something to pay attention to right now as many triathletes dive into the training they can do to cope during the coronavirus pandemic. If you are unaware of the symptoms of burnout, or if you ignore them due to your relentless determination, your health and relationships can suffer.

If your training exhibits any of the five symptoms of burnout described here, you may need to make adjustments to your goals or reduce training volume and intensity. Although your chimp brain wants to tough it out, don’t. Take control early in order to gain long-term performance, health, and life harmony.

5 Symptoms of Burnout

1. You are not recovering during your workouts.

If you are not able to hit the prescribed power or pace that you usually do, or if you are unable to recover from hard intervals during a workout you’ve done in the past, you may need to pull the plug on the workout and add more easy days or rest days to your training plan. If the addition of recovery time is still not helping, it’s time to adjust your overall plan, or at least your goals.

2. Your training has become a burden or a source of guilt.

You probably have become a natural at the give-and-take of one priority over another in your full schedule. Most of the time, you manage this well. But if your training is controlling your life, such that you feel irresponsible or guilty for deprioritizing your other commitments, it may be time to readjust your training.

3. Your appetite is out of control, even on a light workout schedule.

Do you have an insatiable appetite for potato chips and baked goods? Even on light workout days? Salty and sweet cravings are perfectly natural after long workouts, as these cravings signal you to replenish nutrients and minerals that you depleted during your hard session. But when these cravings persist even on a light training schedule, this could signal that your hunger hormones are being hijacked by cortisol, a stress hormone. If stress-eating has become commonplace for you, your training needs an adjustment.

4. Your relationships are suffering.

How often are you reminded by your spouse or significant other about your responsibilities around the house? Are you nervous to drop the bomb about your training plans this weekend, for fear of backlash? Is this an on-going source of tension? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you may need to readjust some of your training goals to accommodate the needs of others in your life. You love to train, and it’s even more awesome when you can do this in a way that doesn’t make everyone you care about hate you. 

5. You have “been in a funk” for longer than usual.

Despite all of the fancy recovery gadgets and data, research suggests that the strongest indicator of recovery is our mood. Ups and downs in life are normal—especially right now as we deal with this pandemic—but when you realize that you’ve had more down-days than up-days in a prolonged period, you need to evaluate everything in your life that is over-stretching you. You don’t need to be experiencing clinical depression or anxiety to wave the white flag. A negative attitude, brain fog, or lack of enthusiasm for life can be an indication that your training needs to be readjusted or reprioritized in your life. Again, this can be a little tricky right now as our lives are adjusted for the pandemic. One thing you can do is be honest with yourself: Is the training you’re doing enhancing your mood or bringing you down?

Cortney Jacobsen is the owner of Northwest Energy Lab and is a USAT Level 1 Coach and Precision Nutrition Coach. She is also a tech entrepreneur and the co-founder of GritLink.net.