Burnout, also known as overtraining syndrome, is a condition in which an athlete feels fatigued and performs poorly in sports while maintaining or increasing training. Overtraining can cause mood swings, decreased motivation, injuries, and even infections. The physical and emotional stress of training is thought to cause burnout.
A new study conducted by the UAB with road cyclists and published in the journal PeerJ sheds light on the importance of monitoring training session load with heart rate variability measuring tools to promote assimilation and prevent injuries, as well as comparing training intensity with mood states the next morning.
Overtraining syndrome occurs when an athlete fails to effectively recuperate from training and competition. The symptoms are caused by a mix of hormonal changes, immune system suppression (which reduces the athlete’s ability to fight infection), physical exhaustion, and psychological changes. Specializing in a single sport, abrupt increases in training, participation in endurance sports, low self-esteem, and parental and coaching pressure to perform are all risk factors.
The goal of the study was to investigate the relationship between three factors: training, heart rate variability, and mood. We wanted to know when an athlete needed to recover because their system was saturated, and when an athlete could exercise with more or less intensity because their body was ready to assimilate the training load.Carla Alfonso
Athletes must apply stress to the body in order to build fitness, and then the body adjusts and is able to accept higher stress in the next round of training. Maintaining reasonable amounts of stress and promoting recovery is essential to ameliorate the performance of athletes, as well as to prevent injuries and problems associated with overtraining.
Researchers from the UAB’s Laboratory of Sport Psychology and Sport Research Institute investigated the effects of training intensity on road cyclists’ mood states and capability to adapt to larger training loads, as measured by heart rate variability (HRV).
The study, which was published in the journal PeerJ, involved a six-week review of the responses of five amateur road cyclists to questions about the physical stress they faced while training. Following completion, the riders submitted surveys about how they experienced the physical exertion of their training. They tested their HRV and recorded their mood status the next morning.
The researchers argue that a change in mood and/or HRV in athletes the day after training, as measured by the HFnu (normalised high frequency band) parameter, could serve as an indicator of training intensity, signaling whether the training was adequate or too intense for the athlete’s physical state. The study discovered that the more severe the training, the worse the mood the next day, as well as the HRV. High HFnu, on the other hand, was connected with an improvement in athletes’ mood, indicating that there is a link between HRV and mood states.
“The goal of the study was to investigate the relationship between three factors: training, heart rate variability, and mood,” explains Carla Alfonso, a researcher at the University of Alabama in Birmingham’s Department of Basic Psychology. “We wanted to know when an athlete needed to recover because their system was saturated, and when an athlete could exercise with more or less intensity because their body was ready to assimilate the training load.”
The results obtained are a first step in “setting up a monitoring system which takes into account both internal and external training loads, in addition to mood state and heart rate variability of the athlete, with the aim of helping them adapt to their training and prevent injuries that may come with overtraining,” concludes Professor Lluís Capdevila of the UAB Department of Basic, Developmental and Educational Psychology, and co-author of the study.
Making training enjoyable and engaging – through age-appropriate games and workouts – can aid in the prevention of burnout. The training schedule should be flexible, with one to two days off per week and longer vacations every few months to allow for total recovery. Parents and coaches should create a supportive environment and teach the athlete to recognize physical cues that indicate a need to slow down or adjust the training program.