Unbalanced Exercise in Athletes

Written by Riley Nickols, PhD Sport Psychological Resident, Therapist

The Fall season is upon us. As such, students and teachers are in the middle of the school semester and athletes are in the midst of their respective Fall sport. A change in seasons could be a helpful reminder to be aware of changes in exercise and/or nutrition that could characterize unbalanced exercise.  According to Powers and Thompson (2008), signs and symptoms of unbalanced exercise can include:

  • Exercise as the individual’s primary means of coping
  • Exercise continues to occur despite injury
  • Withdrawal effects (i.e., sleep and appetite disturbance, negative shift in mood, decreased concentration) occur when exercise is withheld
  • Overuse injuries
  • Stress fractures
  • Menstrual irregularity in women or a decrease in testosterone levels in men
  • Loss of bone density
  • Decreased immunity resulting in frequent colds and/or upper respiratory tract infections
  • Inflexibility of exercise schedule (i.e., unwillingness to alter schedule, decrease exercise duration, or abstain from exercise)
  • Decrease in sport or exercise performance
  • “Overtraining Syndrome” (Staleness)

Proper nutrition is also essential to meet the energy demands of exercise and sport. When the energy demands of exercise and sport exceed sufficient nutritional intake, prominent physiological (i.e., decrease in bone density, increase in overuse/stress fracture injuries, decrease in hormonal levels) and psychological (i.e., cognitive processing impairments/delays, emotional instability, concentration/focus difficulties) complications are likely to result that not only negatively impacts daily functioning, exercise/sport performance, and recovery between workouts, but should also warrant immediate treatment to address these areas of concern.    Unbalanced exercise is often a feature of eating disorders as exercise can be used to compensate for eating “too much” or as an attempt to offset the effects of feeling “too full” after eating. Similar to transforming an individual’s relationship with food and their body, staff at McCallum Place work collaboratively with individuals to help re-shape their relationship with exercise throughout treatment.

Learn more about The Victory Program at McCallum Place at 800-828-8158.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in sport psychology, Riley realized that he wanted to work with athletes’ clinical issues along with their sport performance. That led him to obtaining a Doctorate Degree in Counseling Psychology. Further, he became interested in athletes with eating disorders, so he sought out a doctoral internship at the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia in New York. Never losing his interest in athletes, his doctoral dissertation examined the relationship between self-confidence and anxiety among triathletes and runners before and after competition. His research also focused on the psychological experiences of athletes returning to competition after experiencing season-ending injuries. Riley now specializes in treating athletes with eating disorders and is sensitive to the unique demands of recovery in relation to training and competing in sport. In addition to competing in endurance sports for over 15 years, Riley is a running coach and a USA Triathlon coach.