Are you underperforming?

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A lot of athletes may be underperforming without really knowing. Dealing with large numbers of young athletes in a number of sports is great for noticing trends. Many athletes underperform without ever really examining or noticing the cause. There are many reasons why one might underperform and many ways to spot it. A common issue which this article will focus on is the combination of under eating and over using high intensity training.

It may seem like an obvious problem but it can very easily occur in many athletes. Generally young athletes serve two masters. The first is their appearance. Young athletes want to look in shape and the media has had its fair influence on expectations of appearance and how to achieve it. In addition athletes want to get picked for their team and move on to higher levels of competition. The mix of the two creates an usual issue which leads to a number of problems down the road.

When athletes become concerned with appearance, an obsession with diet and their image becomes a big part of their lifestyle. The first thing that happens is they can become very concerned with eating too much and specifically start becoming concerned with carbohydrate intake. They also start worrying about body fat levels on a constant basis. Slight fluctuations in weight make them very concerned. Quite often their bodyweight and bodyfat levels may genuinely be higher than optimal. From a coaching perspective diet logs become the first point of reference. That’s the first giveaway. The athletes more often than not, are eating significantly less than expected and too little to perform well, yet they have less than optimal body composition.

When team selection draws near, athletes will look for an edge to get ahead of their peers. Often this involves adding training sessions outside of their training program. These sessions are commonly of quite high high intensity, most likely due to the massive media attention on the benefits of high intensity training on body composition and conditioning levels. Athletes also feel their sessions are more beneficial if they feel completely exhausted after. The implications of extra, high intensity work should be fairly obvious as the recovery demands are increased massively. Endurance athletes may also train out of their training zones. Designated intensity for a session will be ignored in an effort to work harder and hopefully reap the rewards.

In real life the combination of the above factors can be hard to spot but tends be quite recognizable once you put the clues together. Athletes will generally start with a stagnation in performance measures. Usually modest enough to not cause concern. Alarm bells usually ring when performance drops but not nearly as much when performance remains stable even with little or no improvements. The athlete tends to be irritable, somewhat fatigued but not to the point of raising any attention to how they feel. Usually it can only be noticed on casual questioning. In some cases the athlete will show slightly elevated bodyfat and possibly even bodyweight in comparison to norms. They are also usually pretty conscious of this and claim to be making dietary changes to manage it responsibly.

At face value nothing is extreme to cause major alarm. That’s possibly why the issue goes unnoticed. Two things need to happen in order to correct the situation. The first relates to training. It is massively important for the athlete to manage their training. They must stick to designated zones and avoid additional work. This takes out some of the recovery demands. The program should have a decent volume of low intensity work and a nice balance with the higher effort work. Additionally lower intensity work will improve fat utilization and body composition, something which may not occur if Glycolysis is the main energy system in use.


The second strategy is a little more dependent on the level of severity. If an athlete drastically under eats, they must immediately address this by increasing energy and or macronutrient intake as needed. In some cases changes can be slow as alterations in training may be enough to re-establish an adequate balance. These changes can be enough to release the brakes on their progress. It can often be met with apprehension by the individual. Training less and eating more is counterintuitive to most, but can be a simple fix.

Many of the above seem obvious and logical. It is perhaps the most common occurrence with skilled athletes who have taken a dip in form. Combine these issues with any sort of emotional stress and an over trained athlete will rapidly ensue. As a coach or an athlete it is important to think critically and logically when dealing with performance. Issues are often hidden in plain sight but ignored. Mentally tough athletes are often the hardest to manage as they suppress concerns which are quite genuine. Mature athletes are often ones who make mistakes and learn from them. They learn to recognize clues before issues occur. It is important to really learn to read the signs an individual displays. This is a skill in itself. Often a training log can be the best tool in managing your own individual performance or that of an athlete you work with. Taking time to evaluate things objectively can be more beneficial than any sort of training or dietary intervention.


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