Critical in understanding for those of us who maintain combat fitness. Wednesday April 22 7:06 PM EDT Understanding "Overtraining Syndrome" By E.J. Mundell NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Athletes who push themselves too hard can impair both their performance and their immune systems, researchers report. "The most obvious symptom would be a plateau in your performance levels," explained Erin Lehmer, a graduate biology student in the laboratory of Dr. Shere Byrd at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. The researcher added that many athletes suffering from the condition may also experience psychological symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, or depression. Lehmer helped conduct a study focusing on physiological changes in a group of highly motivated amateur athletes. These "athletes were training at about 10 to 12 hours per week for 2 years prior to the onset of the study," she told Reuters, and then increased that regimen by 30% over the 4-week study period. Performance testing at the end of those 4 weeks revealed an average 7% decrease in the athletes' anaerobic power compared with previous levels, suggesting a noticeable decline in athletic ability despite their increased training schedule. And Lehmer says that blood tests taken at the same time revealed an 11% decrease in blood concentrations of the amino acid glutamine, along with a concurrent 8% decrease in levels of leukocytes -- the white blood cells that play a vital role in fighting infection. "Glutamine is the amino acid that's used for leukocyte secretion," she explained, "and so if you stop building white blood cells, you don't have immunity." Recurrent sickness is another common hallmark of overtraining syndrome. According to Lehmer, the exact mechanisms behind the condition are still poorly understood, and scientists still have no explanation as to how strenuous exercise might trigger a decline in glutamine production. Lehmer notes that the syndrome "manifests itself differently in everyone," a phenomenon that poses a real dilemma for coaches. For example, she points out that "if you've got a team of cross-country runners that are running on a team and you've got 10 athletes that are doing the same program, three of them could be increasing their levels of performance while three of them could be developing overtraining syndrome." Lehmer presented the study findings Wednesday at the Experimental Biology '98 conference in San Francisco, California.
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