Every die-hard fitness fanatic cheers the benefits of eating right and exercising: Reduced risk of disease! Increased energy! A better sense of mental, physical, emotional self!
But there is a caveat to all that rah-rah: You can overdo it. While that won’t necessarily negate what you’re doing, it can make your lifestyle less effective than you might think.
To help you stop, we asked a couple of experts for specifics on how too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Megan Lyons recently opened a health-coaching company in Dallas. Kathy Dieringer is a board member of the Dallas-based National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
WORKING OUT HARD EVERY DAY
The reason: “Our bodies need rest,” Lyons says, “and performing high-intensity exercise every single day does not allow adequate time for muscle repair and recovery.”
Adds Dieringer: “Rest between exercising is just as important as the exercise itself. If you don’t allow your body to rest and recover between bouts, it will break down eventually.”
The solution: If you must do something every day, make sure it’s lower intensity, like a non-power walk or stretching, Lyons says.
Vary the intensity of your workouts, says Dieringer, owner of D&D Sports Med in Denton, Sanger and Aubrey, Texas. Take a few days off if you show such signs of overtraining as insomnia, restlessness, continued soreness, burnout or irritability. If you’re injured, take time to heal.
“Moderation is tough, especially in those individuals who are high achievers and believe they must work out every day,” Dieringer says. “I’d encourage everyone to keep a training log so they can look back on what they’ve been doing and objectively analyze their workout regimen.”
SWEARING BY ONLY ONE EXERCISE OR ROUTINE
The reason: In addition to the boredom factor, doing the same workout over and over increases your risk of overuse injury, Lyons says.
Additionally, “you’ll neglect other muscles. This often leads to muscle imbalances, which can cause or exacerbate injuries.”
The solution: Try a new class, or exercise with a friend who does a workout you don’t.
BELIEVING THAT PAIN EQUALS GAIN
The reason: Being sore is one thing; pain is another. Pain often signals an injury, which means you’ll have to stop working out for a while.
The solution: Your body lets you know when it’s time to rest and time to move, Dieringer says, so listen to it.
“Pushing through soreness is OK, as long as we’re sure that’s what it is, but you should not try to push through pain,” she says. “Any type of soreness or discomfort that doesn’t go away with rest and proper care after a few days should not be pushed through.”
At that point, seek professional help, she says.
LOADING UP ON SPORTS DRINKS AND ENERGY BARS
The reason: You probably don’t need these, which are geared for athletes exercising “under intense conditions for prolonged time periods,” Lyons says. They contain excess sugar that can quickly add up and even counteract the workout.
In other words, you may be eating more than you’re burning off.
The solution: Refuel with carb-heavy gels and drinks only when your workout lasts longer than an hour, or 30 minutes “in incredibly hot conditions,” she says.
Your best bet for a beverage? Water.
THINKING GLUTEN-FREE IS A PANACEA
The reason: Gluten-free items are trendy but fall prey to what Lyons calls the “halo effect.” That is, “causing us to assume anything labeled gluten-free is automatically healthy.”
In many instances, they have “fewer nutrients, more calories and more sugar than the real thing,” she says.
The solution: Unless your body has a true intolerance for gluten, you’re better off choosing whole grains and whole-grain products without that gluten-free label, she says.
OVERDOING DIET PRODUCTS
The reason: Many are overly processed and contain additives and preservatives our bodies don’t recognize as food, Lyons says.
“Even when a product is marketed as healthy or diet, the calories still add up,” she says. Unfortunately, many of us think of these as “free food.”
The solution: Choose a whole-food option such as a piece of fruit or a vegetable-based salad, she says.
STICKING WITH THE TRIED-AND-TRUE
The reason: Doing what we’ve always done or what we were taught as young athletes isn’t necessarily valid, Dieringer says.
The solution: Do your research; seek advice from experts, not from fads.