Athlete’s Guide To Self-Preservation

Burnout is part of being an athlete. But it doesn’t have to be. We outline what the three kinds of burnout athletes experience are, why they happen, and how you can prevent them. Read on to learn more.


What Is Athlete Burnout?

Burnout happens when athletes overtrain to the point becoming “broken.” In other words, their physiology, anatomy, and/or psychology no longer functions as they normally would. We explain what burnout looks like in each of these three systems.


Your energy systems, including your endocrine and adrenal systems, are impaired. You experience loss of appetite, decreased quality of sleep, decreased performance in training or your sport, and body weight changes. These symptoms represent classic signs of overtraining.


Physical impairment comes from overuse injuries in your joints, muscles, and tendons. Your overused anatomy can’t sustain your training. During this time, you’re more likely to get injured. Injury represents a common form of athlete burnout.


You experience a loss of purpose. Your long-term perspective becomes unhinged. You begin to think dysfunctionally and devalue yourself. You engage in unhealthy relationships, gym or team drama, and disengage from your social network and community.


Why Does Burnout Happen?

If you’ve experienced any of the aforementioned symptoms, you’ll want to know why you feel the way you do. You want to know where and when the figurative wheels came off, an important first step to preventing it from happening again.

Anatomic: Over-patterned Movements

Everyone has different levels of tolerance and recovery. Your levels depend on your training age, genetic age, genetics make-up, previous injuries, and the sport you participate in. We need to manage these factors independently.

Muscles are the first parts of your body to experience the negative effects of overuse. How your muscles respond to overtraining has a lot to do with how you recover from training sessions. If, for example, you squat during your training session on Tuesday, and then go running on Wednesday, your running’s eccentric impact would inhibit your body’s ability to recover from previous day’s squatting session. This kind of pattern, combined with inadequate rest and recovery, can cause muscle damage and lead to injury.


The state of an athlete’s structure and his/her range of motion can exacerbate the impact of loading on the athlete’s tendons. For example, if an athlete consistently overloads one side of the body, it creates a unilateral imbalance in the athlete’s legs. This imbalance pressures tendons on the side of the body the athlete overuses, weakens those tendons significantly, and eventually leads to injury.

Psyche: Lost Sense of Purpose

The most common symptom of mental fatigue that athlete experience is a lack of perspective. Without empirical data to define progress, athletes begin to think, “I am at stage A and I should be at stage Z.” Often this lack of perspective stems from a lack of long-term planning.

Once mental fatigue has taken root, athletes feel like they’ve lost their sense of direction. Certain factors can make this mental fatigue worse such as lifestyle, family, relationship and work problems.


Every person’s temperament need to be pushed and trained in a different ways. There are some people who need to be pushed and some people who need to be held back to preserve their mental and emotional state as an athlete.

Physiology: Depleted Energy Systems

Your energy systems become impacted when you go hard too often with enough rest.

Physiological burnout often comes from repercussions of a lack of proper sports-specific nutrition. For example, if an athlete doesn’t eating enough carbs to fuel training, his performance suffers. His ability to refill glycogen stores becomes blunted. Once the body’s glycogen stores run out, then the athlete bonks. Over a prolonged period of time, this pattern can cause adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue happens when the stress of training outweighs your body’s ability to recover. Your adrenaline and cortisol go through the roof. Because there’s an inverse relationship between melatonin (sleep hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone), the adrenal-fatigued athlete doesn’t sleep well and doesn’t have a healthy appetite in the morning.

Adrenal fatigue also reroutes HPA access, which fundamentally help our bodies create cortisol, and impacts other crucial hormone levels like testosterone and progesterone.


Hormones regulate our stress response. They allow us to increase strength, focus, and awareness. When we experience adrenal fatigue, this doesn’t happen. Instead, we may feel apathetic, anxious, and lack enthusiasm.

Our immune system weakens when our cortisol levels are unbalanced. If our cortisol levels increase, it inhibits body’s natural ability to deal with inflammation. If they decrease, our body’s immune system overreacts to pathogens and you experience chronic inflammation. These issues dealing with inflammation can go hand-and-hand with joint, muscle and tendon overuse, creating a potential painful situation.


How You Can Prevent Burnout

We’ve described what burnout is, and how it happens. Now, follow these seven steps to prevent it from happening to you.

Step #1.) Get individualized coaching that incorporates long-term program design. The combination of planning and coaching should ensure over-patterning doesn’t happen. It also should include sports-specific nutrition, which should match your program design and training.

Step #2.) Establish goals that are S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Your coach should help you do this.

Step #3.) Address your body’s structural imbalances, repattern your movements, and increase mobility.

Step #4.)Work on the nutrition that’s right for you and your sport. Don’t follow next-best diet fad.

Step #5.) Follow your design, which has peaks and valleys in your training program. Learn when to ramp up and when to back off. Your program will have cycles for three different energy systems--anaerobic training, lactic training, and aerobic training--and programmed recovery for each.

Step #6.) Establish a pre-season, in-season, and out-of-season time periods to allow for mental decompression, play, and healing. Prioritize self-care.

Step #7.) Learn the importance of rest. As athletes, we get stronger, faster, fitter by recovering from what we do, not by doing more. There’s a fine line between doing too much and not enough. Make rest a top priority so you can recover before your next training session.