Differences Between Running Fatigue and Overtraining

Running, a popular form of exercise, appeals to many for its simplicity, accessibility, and numerous physical and mental health benefits. According to Better Health Channel, runners often revel in the sense of freedom, the endorphin rush, and the opportunity to connect with nature or explore new places.

However, a 2020 study published by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) shows that some people abandon running due to factors like boredom, injury, or lack of motivation. In addition to age and gender, participants said that running context and frequency are a few reasons behind quitting.

Running fatigue and overtraining can contribute to these decisions, as pushing the body too hard may lead to burnout, decreased performance, and even long-term health issues. In this article, We will discuss the difference between running fatigue and overtraining.

What is Running Fatigue?

Running fatigue, a common phenomenon among runners, refers to the overwhelming sense of tiredness and weakness experienced during a run. According to Marathon Handbook, characterized by heavy limbs, labored breathing, and depleted energy, it serves as a reminder for athletes to prioritize rest, hydration, and proper nutrition. 

A 2022 study published by NCBI highlights that running fatigue can produce adverse effects on your performance by reducing strength, energy, power, stamina, and speed. You may also experience problems in other aspects of your life, such as changes in your mood and appetite. 


What is Overtraining from Running?

Research shows that overtraining, also known as underperformance syndrome, is a persistent decrease in your performance even after you take sufficient rest and consume a balanced diet. 

In other words, you find it challenging to recover from the intense fatigue and experience various problems, making you vulnerable to underperformance syndrome. You may also feel discomfort, tiredness, and achy during and after your running sessions. 

If you think overtraining is just tiredness after a workout, you are wrong because extreme fatigue can cause long-term problems, preventing you from optimal recovery or rehabilitation. 

So if you feel burnout, decreased performance or motivation, frequent injuries or illness, it means you are suffering from overtraining. Let me now discuss the causes of running fatigue.


Causes of Running Fatigue

Fatigue usually results from an intense workout, and when you feel tired after running, you are overstepping your boundaries and losing energy. Thus, this causes your body to use the anaerobic mechanism to produce energy. It occurs when your body does not use oxygen to generate energy. 

The primary cause of this process is overtraining and imbalanced or inadequate nutrition. We advise proper rest, diet, and training increase your endurance and reduce the risk of tiredness after your running workout. 

Using Your Anaerobic System

Your body’s muscles focus on aerobic or anaerobic respiration/metabolism to produce energy. Aerobic respiration takes place when your body uses oxygen to synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Oxygen plays a crucial role in breaking down sugar molecules, allowing your cells/tissues to produce energy. 

Remember, this process also leads to the production of carbon dioxide and water. Aerobic respiration or metabolism is important for runners, particularly long distance runners, because it allows your muscles to work for an extended period without experiencing fatigue. 

According to Live Strong, taking breaks between your running sessions can reduce the intensity and prevent you from overtraining. At the same time, it strengthens your muscles and gives them enough time to interact with oxygen and carry out essential reactions. 


Imbalance in Nutrition

Carbohydrates are essential for runners, whether beginners or professional athletes, because they can help you overcome long-term fatigue by providing your body with energy. Energy generated by your cells after processing carbohydrates enables you to perform vigorous exercise. 

However, when you consume carbohydrates but fail to focus on proteins, you will experience various issues, including ineffective cellular rebuilding and repairing. Running long distances can deplete glycogen stores. 

When you do not consume enough carbohydrates during your running session or replace glycogen stores with carbohydrates after the session, you may not have optimal energy levels for your next workout. 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 30g to 60g of carbohydrates every hour during your running sessions. 30-60g of carbohydrates are 120-240 calories per hour. We suggest consuming dried fruits, honey packets, bananas, pretzels, energy gels/chews, or sports beverages. 

A research study published by the Journal of Physiology recommends 0.6-1.0 g/kg carbohydrates for refueling your body after running. However, you must consume this quantity within 30 minutes and again every two hours for the following four to six hours. 

Moreover, consuming an optimal quantity of proteins is essential for your performance and preventing fatigue. Otherwise, you will experience tiredness that will impact your performance and prevent you from achieving your goals. 

ACSM reports that runners must consume 1.2g to 2g of proteins per kg of body weight daily. For instance, if you weigh 70 kg or 154 pounds, you must consume proteins between 84g and 140g to meet your body’s nutritional requirements. 

Vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and iron are micronutrients required by your body to streamline metabolism and produce and maintain optimal energy levels. Not consuming food with these nutrients can impact cell turnover and cause problems like ineffective oxygen transport and nerve function. 


Anemia and Low Iron

Low iron levels are a sign of anemia, a condition that can cause running fatigue and affect your energy production and retention. Iron deficiency is common among runners who consume a vegetarian or vegan diet. Plant-based food does not contain heme iron, preventing your body from carrying out optimal metabolism. 

Keep in mind that heme iron is a more bioavailable and absorbable form of iron that comes from animal proteins. So, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are more vulnerable to heme iron deficiency. 

While you can eat lentils and spinach to get iron, this is not heme iron. Your body does not have proper mechanisms for absorbing iron, increasing the risk of anemia. On the other hand, your body has an adequate metabolism infrastructure for absorbing heme iron. 

A study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) shows that a vegan diet does not affect your exercise capacity if you consume optimal calories. However, this diet is not sufficient for maintaining metabolic and homeostatic processes. Thus, you become vulnerable to losing red blood cells and may experience anemia. The problem is more common among female runners during menstruation. 


Causes of Overtraining From Running


Overtraining from running pushes your body beyond its limits without providing enough time for recovery. There are several causes of overtraining or overrunning, such as: 


Running Addiction

When you develop a compulsive obsession with running, you develop addictive tendencies. For example, when you prepare for a competition and want to win a run or marathon, you run for a long distance without considering your body limits. 

But this is extremely dangerous for your body, affecting your metabolism, homeostasis, and musculoskeletal structures. Strains, sprains, discomfort, and inflammation may occur and increase the risk of injuries. 

Running addiction, also called “runner’s high”, can result from your body’s hormones, such as endorphins. Your body releases these hormones during a running session, elevating the risk of addiction, especially if you run for a long distance or extended period. 

A study published by MDPI concluded that obsessively passionate runners experience performance problems. These runners are more vulnerable to suffering from a running injury. On the other hand, the study shows that “harmoniously passionate” runners are less likely to experience injuries.


Ineffective Running Plans

While runners train to increase endurance and stamina and improve performance, this is not possible without increasing training loads. However, a study published by PubMed shows that runners can tolerate increased loads through training periodization, which is interspersed periods of rest and recovery. 

In addition, overreaching is an accumulation of training loads, leading to decreased performance. At the same time, requiring from overreaching requires days or weeks. The bottom line is that ineffective running plans can prevent you from improving your performance and achieving your goals. 

An inadequate running plan is due to a lack of balance, unrealistic goals, and improper recovery. When you don’t create and follow a realistic and achieving plan, you become prone to overtraining and focus too much on long runs and highintensity workouts. Your imbalanced approach makes your body struggle when coping with constant stress.  


Lack of Variation in Workouts

Preparing for a race or marathon does not mean increasing your training volume. When you do this, you will over train and experience problems, affecting your performance in the race. Increasing the intensity of your runs will cause your body to struggle and prevent it from adapting to a sudden increase in the workout. 

Overtraining is also due to focusing on one type of workout or training regimen. For example, when you perform high-intensity workouts or long runs without adding variety, your body will contribute to overtraining. 

In that case, you may strengthen some of your muscles but fail to maintain optimal metabolic, energy, and stamina levels. That’s why we always suggest runners develop a well-rounded training regimen with different workouts to prevent burnout and promote fitness. Moreover, this is an excellent way to avoid persistent fatigue and reduce the risk of injuries. 


How to Overcome Running Fatigue?

As a runner, when you notice that you are getting slower despite improved running times, it is a clear sign that you don’t provide your body with enough recovery time between sessions. 

Running fatigue occurs when your body does too much on too little, shutting down essential processes and declining performance. So how do you overcome running fatigue? Here is what we suggest based on evidence. 


Focus on Recovery

Once you have completed a run for a long distance, you must take your time and rest. Follow the rules of recovery before going to bed to kickstart the process and prepare your body for tomorrow’s session. For example, you can do the following to streamline the process: 

• Rehydrate and replenish 

• Restore glycogen levels by eating carbs 

• Stretch your body 

• Consume a high-protein meal 

• Sleep more and better 

In addition, a 2018 German Study shows that immersing your body in cold water or massaging it after running is more effective than rest. So, we encourage taking an ice bath before doing any of the above. The purpose is to release stress and ease out your sore muscles. You can also leverage foam rolling to comfort your quads, calves, and hips. 


Consume Protein

Although carbohydrates are a healthy diet and increase your energy levels, you must consume proteins to repair and rebuild your muscles after an intense workout. Consuming proteins is a good way to reduce the risk of chronic fatigue. 

We recommend consuming protein shakes because they are a simple method to provide your body with essential amino acids and reducer running-induced muscle damage. Research highlights that proteins reduce cortisol response and act as a replacement for glycogen.


How to Avoid or Overcome Overtraining from Running?

According to Sports Medicine, running too many miles and not allowing your body to recover won’t make you fitter and faster. Instead, it will cause burnout and make you prone to developing injuries that require a lot of time to heal.  


Follow the 90% Rule

Research has shown several benefits of following the 90% rule for runners. Whether you perform tempo runs, hill repeats, long runs, or intervals, you must push your body to increase your performance, but the 90% rule says that you must not consume all of your energy. 

So you must not push yourself to the maximum effort. Although you will feel tired after finishing your running session, if you feel like “I could have run more,” this is what can prevent you from overtraining, fatigue, discomfort, muscle soreness, inflammation, and injuries.  

Perform Cross Training

Cross-training is a reliable way to avoid overtraining because it balances your muscle groups and strengthens musculoskeletal structures you don’t frequently use during running. Because running focuses less on your upper body, you can select cross-training exercises that support this part of your body. 

A study published by Sage Page shows that cross-training helps you improve and maintain your cardiovascular fitness and balances your weaker and stronger muscles, reducing the risk of acute and chronic injuries. 

As a runner, you should participate in low-impact exercises, such as water running or swimming, to reduce stress on your muscles and joints and prevent the risk of soreness, swelling, and inflammation. 

Remember, your physical and mental strength will determine the cross-training you should do to avoid overtraining. For example, if you are a recreational runner, you can divide a week into 3-4 days for running and 2-3 days for cross-training. 

On the other hand, if you are a competitive runner and run for 4-6 days a week, make sure you perform low-intensity cross-training exercises instead of easy runs or resting. We recommend 1-2 days of cross-training for competitive runners. 

Listen to Your Body and Follow a Plan

Focus on how you feel during your running session. Once you have completed the session, compare how you felt during and after the run. So you are overtraining if you experience soreness, excessive fatigue, or decreased performance after a running session. In that case, you should listen to your body and modify your plan. 

Otherwise, you will suffer from the adverse effects of overtraining, which may take a massive toll on your body in the long run. In addition, track your resting heart rate to identify the early signs of overtraining and adjust your training regimen accordingly. 

For instance, if you have an increased resting heart rate, it is a sign that your body has not recovered after a running session. In addition to monitoring your resting heart rate, you must consume enough electrolytes before, during, and after a running session to maintain hydration and support your muscle function. 

Do not neglect to warm up and cool down before and after running. We have already discussed how you can cool down after completing your running session – that is, foam rolling and gentle stretching to streamline recovery. 

Incorporate these essential things into your training plan along with a mix of easy, moderate, and hard runs. Do not forget to include cross-training and rest days in your plan. That way, you can avoid overtraining and achieve optimal progress. 

A Final Recap

Running fatigue and overtraining from running present distinct differences in duration, onset, symptoms, recovery, and prevention. Running fatigue typically resolves quickly with proper rest and nutrition, while overtraining demands a more comprehensive approach to recovery. 

Ignoring the signs of either condition risks compromising athletic performance, physical health, and mental wellbeing. By adhering to the tips and tricks in this post, you can strike a balance between pushing your limits and preserving your body, ensuring you conquer challenges with vigor and maintain a positive relationship with the sport.

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