Physique development is a delicate process, the careful manipulation of a host of variables in hopes of achieving just the right milieu of training stress, recovering, refueling, and repeating.
Coaches and trainees pay careful attention to managing the balance between training stress and recovery as it can pay big dividends, both in the gym and on the field. Get it right and you enjoy busted PR's and record-breaking performances; push just a little too far and the frustrating black hole of overtraining awaits.
However, strategic 'overtraining' or overreaching, as exercise scientists call it, followed by optimal recovery can cause a rebound effect that leads to greater size and strength.
There's a catch: the key to successfully overreaching is as much about optimizing your recovery as it is doing more volume and training at a higher intensity.
To that end, here are 7 strategies that you can use to successfully optimize your periods of strategic overreaching for maximum growth.
1 – Up the Creatine
A study from the University of Connecticut found that creatine helps with weight room performance during periods of overreaching by preventing the usual decreases in performance that are associated with increases in volume and intensity.
The timing of your creatine doesn't matter as much as what you take with your creatine. Insulin increases creatine uptake, and most of us get our biggest spike in insulin during our peri-workout nutrition, so that's the best time to take your creatine.
During periods of overreaching, up your creatine intake to 10 grams per day.
2 – Add Acetyl L-Carnitine
Known for its ability to increase androgen receptors on muscle surfaces, acetyl-L carnitine can also help reduce muscular damage due to training. 2 grams per day, separated into two doses, will top off your acetyl l-carnitine stores for maximum effect without renal spill over/excretion.
3 – Use Citrulline Malate
Citrulline, found in Plazma,™ is a precursor to arginine and malate as a TCA cycle intermediate. This dynamic duo will help you extend your overreaching training sessions by increasing blood flow to working muscle and clearing fatigue signaling metabolic waste. Research also shows that supplementing with citrulline malate leads to decreased soreness for up to 2 days following an intense training session.
4 – Supplement with BCAAs
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are the nutritional equivalent of Scooby snacks for working muscles. Newly published research in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition shows that supplementing with 10 grams of BCAA twice per day reduces training associated muscular damage – another way you can counter damage done by your overreaching training session.
A 2006 study published in Metabolism that looked at amino acid supplementation and overreaching concluded that, "It appears that amino acid supplementation is effective for attenuating muscle strength loss during initial high-volume stress, possibly by reducing muscle damage by maintaining an anabolic environment."
5 – Monitor Sleep
During periods of overreaching there's a good chance that you'll become sympathetic dominate. This means that the balance in your nervous system between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems will be tipped in favor of the sympathetic system (this can also happen during periods of intense dieting and fat loss).
For many people this translates into having trouble unwinding at night and falling asleep. The combination of ZMA® and Z-12™ is currently my goto stack to solve this problem. I've yet to find a client that it doesn't work for. You can also try having some slow digesting carbohydrates before bed to stimulate serotonin and aid in relaxation.
Furthermore, I recommend that you get an objective measure of your sleep and sleep quality through a device like the Zeo Sleep Manager or Lark. These devices won't just track sleep duration, but the quality of the sleep you're getting.
6 – Protect Your Immune System
Your period of overreaching shouldn't last beyond 10-14 days. Provided you're doing everything already outlined in this article, a brief period of overreaching should not be enough time to cause a decrease in immune function (a hallmark sign of chronic overtraining).
To be proactive while also optimizing your training sessions, it's critical to place an emphasis on proper pre-workout nutrition and not just post-workout nutrition.
Glycogen depletion has been associated with decreases in immune function. Having slow acting but functional carbohydrates (like those in Anaconda) pre-workout will give you a steady rise in blood sugar during your training session. Your body will use these carbohydrates to fuel the training session instead of harvesting muscle glycogen.
Along with protecting muscle glycogen, your pre-workout carbs (taken with amino acids/protein of course) will cause an increase in blood flow to your muscles and muscle protein synthesis. This is also an ideal time to have your acetyl L-carnitine, Citrulline malate, creatine, and BCAAs.
7 – Optimize Neurotransmitters
Decreases in neurotransmitter levels in your brain are a hallmark symptom of fatigue and overtraining. Overreaching can also lead to slight decreases in executive brain functions (i.e. reasoning, problem solving, etc.).
In the previous tips we've made efforts to balance your CNS, enhance recovery, reduce muscle damage and associated decreases in performance, and support an optimal immune function. Taking care of your brain is the final step.
Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) is a precursor to choline and can help optimize production of acetylcholine. DMAE can also scavenge free radicals and fight oxidation.
Vitamin B6 and L-theanine also affect serotonin levels, another neurotransmitter depleted during overreaching. Theanine is an amino acid found in your morning cup of green tea, and animal studies have shown that theanine increases both dopamine and serotonin levels.
DMAE and Vitamin B6 can be found in fatty fish, however, levels of DMAE in fish are minimal and not enough to give you the neurotransmitter replenishing effect you seek – supplementation is warranted. As mentioned above, tea is a great source of calm inducing L-theanine.
Rather than storm your local Vitamin World for all the above nutrients, Brain Candy™ is a convenient blend of DMAE, Vitamin B6, L-theanine, and other compounds designed to optimize neurotransmitters and brain function. Should you choose this no-stress approach to managing mental stress, one case will get you through your two weeks of overreaching training.
Push the Barriers!
Strategic overreaching can be a highly effective tool to bust through a plateau while setting you up to ride a glorious wave of supercompensation.
Put these 7 tips into action and while the other knuckleheads at the gym are just catabolizing themselves with overtraining, your physique and performance will leapfrog to the next level!