You might gain weight if you work out too much: Working out too much, or overtraining, can lead to weight gain, CrossFit trainer Wendy Shafranski told Health Digest. And as you might have guessed, it’s all about hormones. On the one hand, exercising too much can cause the body to produce insufficient hormones to continue supporting an effective muscle-building workout. On the other hand, exercising too much can also lead to an overproduction of the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol plays an important role in helping the body adapt to stress. One way that it does that is by causing you to crave more energy (presumably for the purpose of coping with all the stress). And what is energy? Calories. So, when we overexercise, we are stressing our bodies. The increased stress raises cortisol levels. As a result, we may begin to crave high-calorie foods. Hello, stress eating and hello, weight gain!
Working out too much could hurt your brain
It is well-established that getting regular exercise is good for your brain — including your memory function and ability to learn. Regular exercise has even been associated with a reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But that’s a moderate exercise we’re talking about. Exercising too much, by contrast, can be harmful to brain function, including both memory and learning.
In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Physiological Sciences, scientists observed that rats who were subjected to “overtraining” exercise conditions suffered learning and memory impairment compared to rats subjected only to “moderate” exercise conditions.
But what about humans? In another 2019 study, this one published in the journal Current Biology, scientists induced overtraining in a group of endurance athletes and then tested their cognitive function while conducting fMRIs of their brains actually functioning. What the scientists found is that overtraining led to more impulsive decision-making, which they attributed to “cognitive fatigue” caused by overtraining.
You could experience mood swings if you work out too much
Overtraining, or to work out too much, can do a number on your emotional well-being, according to CrossFit trainer Wendy Shafranski. According to Shafranksi, hormones are to blame, in this case both cortisol and epinephrine. Epinephrine plays an important role in driving your “fight or flight” impulse, and that can make you feel on edge, to say the least.
The body’s production of both cortisol and epinephrine increase in response to stress. To work out so much and/or so intensely that you never give your body a chance to recover from the effort causes physical strain, which is to say: stress. In addition to causing cravings that can lead to weight gain, higher levels of cortisol can cause mood swings and irritability. Both cortisol and epinephrine can also lead to insomnia or restless sleep, either of which can exacerbate mood swings and irritability. Other emotional symptoms associated with overtraining include depression and a loss of motivation.
Working out too much could lead to body dysmorphia
Even if your habit of exercising too much is not actually causing you to gain weight or lose your hard-won results, it could cause you to think that you are, certified personal trainer and health consultant Michelle Houston told Health Digest. While virtually everyone is at least somewhat bothered by some physical imperfection (and let’s face it, we all have them), people who develop body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) become fixated on perceived flaws, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
This disorder can be caused by a number of factors, including biological, neurological, and environmental. That means that some people are more prone to BDD than others. Although working out is a healthy activity, those with BDD may begin working out excessively — and it can be debilitating. Those with BDD often take drastic measures to try to “fix” their imagined flaws by ramping up their exercise routine, dangerously restricting their eating, or repeatedly undergoing cosmetic surgeries.
Working out too much and eating disorders often go hand in hand
For anyone who has an underlying predisposition toward disordered eating, working out too much can act as the tipping point in terms of developing a full-blown eating disorder. “Continuously working towards some impossible physical ideal can lead some people to become increasingly dissatisfied with their appearance or exacerbate already-existing feelings of dissatisfaction,” certified personal trainer and health consultant Michelle Houston pointed out to Health Digest. “The resulting feelings of guilt and shame can lead to an urge to punish oneself.” And that self-punishment can take the form of extreme dieting, increasingly extreme exercising, or some combination of both. In addition, depression can go along with working out too much, and it’s often associated with eating disorders.