Effects of Detraining
Have you ever taken a week, two weeks, or even longer off from training? Do you find your first few days back to be the hardest; feel like you lost all your “gains?” Most of us need to take a break from the gym from time to time whether it is due to illness, injury or life just gets in the way. When this happens, it is very common to see a decline in our level of aerobic capacity, muscular strength, flexibility, speed, and endurance – referred to as detraining or deconditioning. This concept is dependent on several key factors such as age, level of fitness, how long you have been exercising, and how long of a break you take. Like most skills, you need to use it or you lose it. It is important, however, to keep in mind that detraining is not the same as recovery. Recovery is often a planned and intentional short break from training, especially if you have been training with a high level of intensity. It is an essential for allowing your body the time to adapt to the training. As previously stated, deconditioning or detraining will bode different results depending on the level of fitness an athlete has developed.
Deconditioning in fit athletes, as you would imagine, does not happen as quickly or drastically as it does with beginner athletes. Fit athletes typically have many years of training under their belt which means these athletes have a very strong foundation of strength and aerobic fitness. Taking a few weeks off from the gym will have very little to no effect on fit athletes. In beginner athletes, however, taking time off from the gym can be detrimental to their progress since these athletes have yet to establish a strong foundation to allow their bodies to adapt to consistent training. Once training has resumed, beginner athletes may notice their fitness has decreased quite a bit with endurance being the most noticeably impacted.
When endurance training is halted there is a decrease of your blood volume, thus, you start to lose training adaption. You may even notice an increase in your heart rate when exercising at the same intensity after detraining – even a short break. Although endurance is quick to decline, muscle takes a bit longer to start to decrease. You may notice a gradual decrease in muscle and strength after a few weeks of detraining. Of course, all detraining adaptions are dependent on how long you are out of the game. Not to fear, though, because it will come back quickly if you resume training consistently and with the same or more intensity. How do we maintain or minimize the adverse effects detraining can have on our physical, emotional, and mental health?
As a nutrition and health coach, I would be remised if I didn’t recommend a diet primarily consisting of whole, minimally processed foods. Eating whole foods will not only help your body function optimally but will also keep your potential weight gain in check as you are burning less calories during detraining. Adding good sources of protein into your diet such as lean, hormone-free chicken will help maintain the muscle you have as long as you incorporate as much physical activity into your daily routine as possible during any lengthy period of detraining. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, try parking in the furthest parking spot from the door when shopping, acquire a standing desk or sit on an exercise ball while working, or spend a few minutes during your lunch break taking a walk. The key here is to minimize weight loss and maximize calories burned as much as possible during these down periods.
In conclusion, while detraining or deconditioning happens from time to time because of things that come up in our lives, it is important to make the proper adjustments with your diet and the types of physical activity you are able to incorporate into your daily routine. It is not uncommon to see some weight gain during detraining because more often than not making those necessary adjustments are overlooked. Don’t fall into that trap. Be more intentional with your movement and diet during periods of detraining and the setbacks you will experience will be less detrimental when your training resumes.