Cycling is a physical activity that has been found to benefit both mental and physical health. Cycling is also enjoyable; there’s nothing quite like feeling the wind go by as you explore new neighborhoods and pathways. If you cycle a lot, you may wonder how much cycling is too much.
You know you’re cycling too much if you experience overtraining syndrome. The condition involves muscle and joint pain, extreme fatigue, anger, and irritability. Each individual has a different limit to how much they can cycle; your body will tell you if you’re pushing it past its limit.
This article will explore the facts around overtraining syndrome, explaining why and how it happens and the symptoms that it causes. If you are constantly experiencing these symptoms after cycling, you are likely cycling too much.
Why Does Cycling Too Much Lead to Overtraining Syndrome?
Cycling too much can lead to overtraining syndrome, which occurs naturally when an individual continuously exerts their body without adequate rest. The condition can affect an individual in several ways, including causing fatigue, depression, changes in heart rate, and insomnia.
Let’s explore some of the most common symptoms of overtraining syndrome in people who are cycling too much.
Loss of Motivation and Depression
Cycling too much may result in a loss of motivation. You may become less inclined to go for a ride and become demotivated in various spheres like work and social occasions. Loss of motivation may also escalate to depression, where you have a sense of despair and find it challenging to engage in daily activities.
According to researchers Jeffrey Kreher and Jennifer Schwartz (2012), depression after extreme exercise is caused by enhanced brain sensitivity to serotonin. When you cycle, your brain typically releases serotonin, a hormone that elevates the mood. And if you cycle too much, your production of serotonin may be more than your brain can process, resulting in imbalances and mood swings.
While cycling can increase your energy levels, cycling too much can cause fatigue. Fatigue may present in various ways, including excessive sleepiness, an inability to be active throughout the day, or an unfocused mind.
Fatigue is caused by overexertion of your body, which can happen if you are cycling too much.
Ironically, along with fatigue, another telling symptom of overtraining is insomnia or the inability to fall asleep. There are several reasons you may have insomnia if you cycle too much:
- Increased levels of adrenaline. When you cycle, adrenaline levels in the body go up, causing the body to become more active and energetic. Depending on the intensity you have been cycling at, your body may take a long time to process and use adrenaline.
- Chronically elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. It is released when the body is at a heightened state of alertness. The body often shifts into this state during exercise. If you don’t give your body enough time to recover after the exercise, you may find it difficult to relax and sleep.
- Dehydration. Your body uses up water and other hydrating fluids when you exercise. If you are cycling excessively and not replenishing the fluid in your body, you will be dehydrated when you try to sleep. If your body is not adequately hydrated, it can’t reach a comfortable core temperature when it’s resting, making it difficult for you to sleep.
Changes in Heart Rate
When cycling or conducting any exercise, it is natural that your heart rate will increase while and immediately after doing it. However, an excessive increase or decrease in your heart rate may be a symptom of overtraining.
Monitor your heart rate as you cycle, identifying the rate when you feel like you are performing at a comfortable pace. If your heart rate drops or increases significantly from this baseline, you may be overtraining.
Weakened Immune System
One study found that one of the most telling biomarkers of overtraining is a compromised immune system. Cycling typically suppresses the immune system immediately after you stop cycling but then enhances it in the long run.
However, if you have been over-exercising, the immune system does not recover, and you may find that you are more vulnerable to colds, coughs, and other illnesses. You will also find that you are getting injured more often. Injuries can be significant, like bone breaks, fractures, and muscle tears, as well as minor cuts, scrapes, and sprains.
While cycling is great exercise, it targets a particular set of muscles and builds on the strength of the lower body muscles, including the legs and the bottom core. As a result, the rest of your muscles may not be as well developed, creating imbalances and potential injuries within your body.
How to Ensure You Are Not Overtraining
To enjoy cycling and promote your body and mind’s health, you must not push your body past its limit. You can prevent this from happening by monitoring your cycling habits, taking recovery days, warming up and down, and seeking medical advice.
1. Monitor the Amount of Time You Spend Cycling
As cycling is such an exciting activity, it may be easy to lose track of how much time you spend cycling. That is especially true if you are an intermediate or advanced cyclist. Unless you’re training for a marathon or muscle endurance, avoid cycling for more than an hour at a time.
Even if you are training for a marathon, ensure you are building up to a longer cycling time gradually.
2. Set Aside Essential Recovery Days
Rest and recovery days are an essential part of your cycling routine. Almost all cycling experts and enthusiasts recommend recovery days. Recovery days are essential for a variety of reasons:
- Help muscles repair themselves. When you cycle, your muscle fibers will break down due to the strain placed on them. A recovery day gives your muscles enough time to repair themselves and become stronger in the process.
- Build up glycogen. Glycogen is a source of energy in our cells and gets depleted when we engage in activities like cycling. A recovery day allows time for the glycogen levels to build, so you have the energy to tackle your next bicycle ride.
Recovery days can go a long way in preventing symptoms of overtraining and burnout. You can do several things to make sure you make the most of your recovery day, including fueling up, stretching, compression, and massages. These are explored further below:
Even if you are cycling to lose weight, you must eat well to replace your depleted glycogen stores. Some excellent foods for cyclists include:
- Carbohydrates. Opt for complex carbs like sweet potatoes, oats, and whole-grain rice. Complex carbohydrates will be broken down into nutrients and vitamins and help replenish energy easier and faster.
- Fats. Look for good, healthy fats found in avocados, olives, nuts, peanut butter, and soy. Fats are a source of energy and help keep skin, hair, and nails healthy.
- Proteins. Proteins from lean meats are essential to repair, build and strengthen muscles.
It would be best if you aimed to stretch before and after cycling and recovery days. Stretching can build on flexibility, ensure that muscles are being developed, and contribute to healing muscles and muscle fibers.
Experts recommend using compression socks or stockings during recovery to improve circulation and increase the elimination of toxins. Compression stockings can be worn immediately after cycling but also on recovery days.
One pair of compression socks that I would highly recommend is the Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks from Amazon.com. These socks have been designed for both men and women and promote both stamina and recovery.
Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks
3. Perform Warm Up and Down Exercises Before Training
Before cycling, it is essential to warm up, and after cycling, it is essential to warm down. This protects your muscles, ensures that you have better endurance, and prevents you from being vulnerable to overtraining.
When you warm up before your ride, it is vital to warm up the muscles you will be using while cycling. Targeted warming up may include specific stretches or a gentle ride on your bike before you amp up the pace.
To cool down, you should stretch as soon as possible after you stop cycling. However, a cool-down should also include drinking a hydrating drink and having a warm bath or shower with recovery salts.
4. Get a Blood Test
Pro and competitive cyclists often take blood tests to ensure their hormone levels are regulated and not approaching burnout. However, you can take a test even as a beginner or amateur cyclist.
Blood tests can indicate potential overtraining in a variety of ways:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D3
- Cortisol levels
Getting a blood test is a great way to analyze how healthy your current hormone levels are, so you know when your body has reached its limit.
5. Seek Medical Advice
If you want to increase your endurance and the distance you cycle but are noticing some of the symptoms of overtraining, you should seek medical advice. A doctor will run tests and advise you on the safest way to improve your cycling capacity.
Each individual has a different cycling endurance. What is too much for one cyclist may not be enough. To know whether you are cycling too much, you should monitor your body and your moods to ensure you are not suffering from symptoms of overtraining.
More so, to prevent yourself from being vulnerable to overtraining, you can adopt a variety of measures. Being conscious of and responsive to your capacity will help you become a better cyclist!