Working with athletes (and athletes at heart!) is one of the joys of being a personal trainer. They are the client that works hard from start to finish, shows up on time with a great attitude, always up for a new challenge, enjoys setting PRs, improving their endurance, participating in the toughest of races (willingly!), and hardly ever complain.
But even elite athletes and bodybuilders take measured rest periods after hard training seasons, and you should too. That doesn’t just apply to training, either. Long term goals, like “I would like to lose 50 lbs in one year,” require a long-term, well-thought out plan with measurable goals. And just like the example of our hard training athlete, your long-term plan should include a scheduled diet break.
How do you know for how long, and when? Some people need breaks every 6 weeks, some 12 weeks, and some can go a little longer. As with your training, the more aggressive the program may be, the more probable it is that you will need to take a break sooner. Either way, your body will likely protest if you’ve been doing the same thing for too long. Your progress stalls, your strength or endurance may possibly decrease, you hit a plateau, the scale doesn’t budge, and you no longer feel the same level of motivation. And staying motivated is important when you’re committed to better health in the long run.
A full diet and training break can last anywhere from 5-14 days. I learned the hard way that I don’t recover as well as I used to, and for me the symptoms of overtraining hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt constantly fatigued, my strength was down (as evidenced in my training log), and even my blood work showed declining levels of thyroid hormones. I recovered by taking 2 weeks off of heavy training, and eating well. The payoff was returning to the gym stronger, and with renewed love for what I do best.
So whether your main fitness goals center around achieving big weight loss goals, or being the strongest man or woman in the gym, plan to give yourself mini (or not so mini!) breaks. It gives you something to look forward to, and makes your long-term plan far more doable. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that nothing will happen by taking some good time off; you won’t need to go shopping for a new wardrobe or have to start from square one at the gym. Ask yourself: is it time for some rest?
–Sumi Singh is a Personal Trainer in Austin, TX and an online diet coach. Her website is www.shailafitness.com