When you're off balance on the field or court, you give your opponent an advantage. But different opponents may be keeping you off balance away from sports, indirectly impacting both your academic and athletic performance. That three-headed monster is overtraining, oversleeping and overeating.
Myth: "More Is Better" Approach to Exercise, Sleep and Nutrition
The "more is better" mindset can sometimes be beneficial—e.g., devoting extra time to practicing sport-specific skills or spending more hours studying the piano can yield positive results. Unfortunately, believing "more is better" in all matters is counterproductive and can lead to negative results.
For instance, take the misguided notion that you must exercise at least an hour every day to get bigger and stronger. Or the misconception that the more hours you sleep at night, the more energetic you'll feel the next day. Or the erroneous conclusion that consuming greater amounts of protein every day promotes more muscle growth (extra protein consumption is stored as fat—yikes!). Obsessive/excessive weight room workouts, getting too much sleep and going overboard with daily calories can definitely take the edge off your game and in the classroom.
Below are tips for a more balanced approach to exercise, sleep and nutrition to help you regain a competitive edge and keep your opponents off balance!
Overdoing Good Things (Exercise, Sleep, Nutrition) Brings Bad Results
Strive for moderation in all good things. Regular exercise strengthens muscles, bones and joints to prevent injury; boosts endurance to promote heart health; and sharpens mental and physical performance. When exercise becomes irregular—when it becomes extreme on a daily basis—it is called "overtraining." Fatigue is one of the most recognizable effects of overtraining. Frequent high-intensity weight training will not make you bigger and stronger for your sport, and it may actually weaken you. Instead of making daily trips to the weight room, do high-intensity, full-body workouts on non-consecutive days to allow for optimal recovery, and do lower-intensity "active recovery" activities, such as brisk walking or jogging, on your non-lifting days. Limiting the volume of your off-season or in-season conditioning program can re-energize you. Beware of other signs of overtraining, including weight loss, anger, depression, mood swings, disturbed sleep, apathy, lower testosterone levels, decreased appetite, compromised immune system, dehydration, a higher resting heart rate and chronic muscle or joint soreness.
Tips for a Balanced Exercise Program
- Vary resistance training with free weights, resistance bands or med balls with bodyweight exercises. For example, perform free-weight exercises for one workout, then change up your program by performing only bodyweight exercises during your next weight room visit. Alternating your workouts with bodyweight exercises places less stress on your joints than lifting heavy weights every workout.
- Do fewer sets. Instead of doing five sets of each exercise, perform just two or three sets.
- Alternate low-rep sets using heavy or moderate resistance with high-rep sets using light resistance. Mixing heavy lifting sets with light lifting sets strengthens your muscles and gives your joints a break from repeated or continuous heavy resistance loads every set.
- Perform short high-intensity workouts to prevent muscle breakdown. Keep high-intensity workouts brief (30 to 45 minutes tops) for optimal release of natural anabolic hormones testosterone and growth hormone. Generally, training hard for an hour or longer releases the catabolic hormone cortisol, which causes muscle breakdown instead of growth.
Both athletes and non-athletes need a good night's sleep to optimally recover from sports, exercise, and the mental and physical demands of the classroom. Getting too much sleep, however, can be just as detrimental as not getting enough. On the website TeensHealth.org, Mary L. Gavin, M.D., says, "Most teens need between 8-1/2 to more than 9 hours of nightly sleep. If you get much more or less, you may wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed. People who sleep too long may also have trouble falling asleep, and they may wake up a lot during the night." Studies also show that getting too little sleep, as well as oversleeping, can contribute to obesity, anxiety, memory issues and lethargy the next day.
Tips for a Balanced Sleep Strategy
- Go to bed at the same time nightly. Athletes know the feeling of getting into a rhythm, when everything clicks on the field. Likewise, by making an effort to go to bed around the same time each night (yes, including weekends) and awakening at around the same time each morning establishes a quality sleep pattern, helping your body's sleep cycle so it's easier to fall asleep and not oversleep in the morning.
- Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and comfortably cool. Light and noise disrupt sleep, so keep your bedroom dark, tranquil and cool.
- Don't go to bed hungry or thirsty or full. Going to bed on a full stomach makes it harder to fall asleep and causes indigestion. You also don't want to be hungry or thirsty before hitting the sack. Have a bedtime snack—a small meal like whole grain cereal (e.g., oatmeal) with milk and chopped fruit about half an hour before you head to bed.
- You can't catch up on sleep. A popular sleep myth is that if you skimp on sleep on a few weeknights, you can make it up on the weekend. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Harvard Medical School researchers found that sleeping an additional 10 hours to compensate for averaging only six hours of sleep nightly for two weeks impaired reaction time and the ability to focus—showing that it is nearly impossible to "catch up on sleep" to improve performance.
- Check your mattress and pillow. An old mattress or pillow can cause you to toss and turn throughout the night. Rotating the mattress monthly or changing your pillow may resolve the issue.
Balanced nutrition and drinking ample amounts of water aids sports and exercise recovery, supports muscle growth, prevents dehydration, improves brain function, enhances energy and boosts immunity. When you consume too much of these good foods and beverages, however, the added calories (when not matched by an equal amount of energy expenditure) can cause weight gain and excess body fat.
According to Doug McGuff, M.D., and John Little, authors of Body by Science (McGraw-Hill, 2009): "Adequate—but not excessive—nutrition is another contributor to optimizing the body's response to the exercise stimulus. Excessive nutrition in the form of calories from food will only make you fat . . . A well-balanced diet, as opposed to supplementation, is important because it allows you to obtain the necessary nutritional components that aid the recovery of the body after a workout and that provide the elements to build additional muscle during the growth production that follows."
Registered Dietitian Erin Coleman, R.N., L.D., says teens require adequate daily calories to grow and develop at a healthy pace, but overeating can cause obesity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends teenage male athletes consume 2,000 to 5,000 calories per day. The USDA provides the following example of a 2,800-calorie meal plan:
- 10 oz. of grains
- 2-5 cups of fruits
- 3-5 cups of veggies
- 3 cups of dairy products
- 7 oz. of protein foods (e.g., meat, fish, poultry, tofu, eggs, nuts and seeds)
- 8 tsps. of oils
- 400 additional daily calories
Tips for a Balanced Nutrition Regimen
- Consume 5-6 small meals spaced 2-3 hours apart. Instead of eating the typical three large meals per day spaced four to five hours apart, have smaller, more frequent meals, comprising protein and carbohydrates, throughout the day. This will not only satisfy your hunger, it will prevent you from overeating since you won't be feeling starved after going too long without food.
- Resist going back for seconds.
- Put food on small plates or in small bowls.
- Understand Overtraining to Avoid Performance Declines
- Balance Your Workouts to Avoid Overtraining
- Are You Overtraining or Under-Recovering?
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