Common sense suggests the harder we work at the gym, the bigger and better our results. But it turns out overtraining could be doing yourself a disservice.
A new study published in the journal Current Biology put 37 elite endurance athletes through several weeks of training, half worked out at normal intensity and half increased their weekly training by 40 per cent. Researchers found that the overtrained athletes were less likely to resist temptation, choosing immediate gratification over long-term rewards in a series of tests.
“For example, they were asked whether they preferred $10 now or $50 in six months,” said study author Bastien Blain, a research associate at University College London. “And those who overtrained were more likely to choose the immediate reward, which is interesting.”
Brain scans on the athletes also showed decreased activity in the area involved in decision-making during the study.
“Cognitive control in this situation is the capacity to maintain exercise despite things like muscle pain,” Blain explained. “And what we found is there is an intellectual component involved in exercising and it has a finite capacity. You cannot use it forever.”
The findings could also explain why some elite athletes see their performance decline when they’re working their hardest – a phenomenon known as overtraining syndrome.
It’s not the first time science has pointed out the problems with overtraining – researchers out of the University of North Carolina found that frequent and high intensity exercise is linked to a lower libido. In the study of 1,077 active men who ran, walked, biked, swam, or lifted, those who said they trained at the lowest intensities were nearly 7 times as likely to report a normal or high libido than those who trained at the highest levels of intensity.