Contributed by reader, Jennifer Tyler
Is Fatigue Getting in the Way of Your Training?
If you aren’t seeing results from your training and are finding that fatigue is an issue, it is vital to understand why you are feeling so tired. This won’t just benefit your performance, but in doing so you will protect your health, as even though often you just need to adjust your lifestyle to give you an energy boost, there may be a more serious explanation for your low energy levels. Here we take a look at five possible reasons for exercise-induced fatigue.
You haven’t got the right balance of carbs
When your aim is to increase your muscle mass, it is all too easy to focus on your protein intake and neglect the carbohydrate component of your diet. However, if you don’t consume sufficient carbohydrate this is detrimental to your training. The NCSA Sports Nutrition Education Program recommends that for strength training carbs should provide 55-60% of your energy needs, as this helps to keep your muscle glycogen stores topped up, which are needed to fuel your activities. This works out at around 2 to 3g of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight daily and most of this should come from whole grains, fruit and vegetables. These foods generally have a lower glycemic index, giving you a sustained release of energy, but straight after exercise consuming higher gycemic index carbs, such as white bread or sports drinks, will replenish your glycogen stores more effectively.
You aren’t getting enough dietary iron
If fatigue isn’t your only symptom and you also find that you feel weak, dizzy, short of breath, suffer chest pain or palpitations, and that you are mentally slower, you may have iron deficiency anemia. As the Mayo Clinic points out, these signs often start off mild, but increase in severity if anemia goes undiagnosed. While anemia is most commonly down to not consuming enough iron rich foods, it is always important to seek medical advice as sometimes an underlying health problem may cause you to become anemic. As the CDC (2011) highlights, men require 8mg of iron daily, while women of childbearing age need 18mg each day due to monthly blood losses, so women have to work that bit harder to get sufficient dietary iron. Even though red meat and organ meats are rich in iron, seafood, pulses, seeds, green leafy vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals make good alternatives. However, to help your body absorb non-meat iron, you need to make sure you include a source of vitamin C with each meal, while holding on the tea and coffee near mealtimes.
You aren’t meeting your fluid needs
Without a good supply of fluid your muscles can’t function to their full potential and you struggle to control your body temperature. You are also likely to feel less alert and find it harder to concentrate, so when you take all of these together it is no wonder that you feel physically and mentally tired. Montana State University advises that for optimal performance you should drink 1 to 1.5ml of fluid for each calorie burned over the day. However, as this is difficult to work out, making sure you are well hydrated before, during and after exercise is the key. You can ensure this by drinking around 16oz of fluid within two hours of training, start drinking soon after commencing exercise and do so regularly, choosing chilled and flavored liquids if this encourages you to drink. If you are working out for longer than an hour, it is important to replace the electrolytes you lose through sweat, so choose a drink with added sodium, potassium and magnesium. When it comes to fully re hydrating afterwards, if you weigh yourself before and after training, aim to drink a pint for every pound you lose.
You are trying to do too much
Although it is easy to get carried away once you have your sights set on a particular training goal, it is important that you don’t overdo things, as this can risk your physical and mental health if you develop over training syndrome. As Project Know points out, signs that you are over-exercising include fatigue, poor concentration, low mood, muscle soreness and wasting, and injuries to your joints and soft tissues, which can all contribute to reduced performance during training. The best treatment for over-training is to factor in enough rest and reduce the volume and frequency of workouts, though as this can come as a shock to the system, the University of New Mexico suggests including various forms of lower intensity exercise can help to combat this. However, making sure that you are following an all-round healthy lifestyle and managing stress in other areas of your life can aid your recovery and prevent recurrence of burnout.
You aren’t getting enough quality sleep
Even if you aren’t pushing yourself too hard and getting enough rest, poor sleep habits can also take their toll on your energy levels. Daily exercise is a great way to lower levels of stress hormones that can otherwise make it difficult to sleep, but according to the Cleveland Clinic if you workout within three hours of bedtime this can cause sleep problems. Eating too close to bedtime is also best avoided, but if you do want something in the two hours before bed, a glass of milk may help you to sleep. Similarly, you should stay away from caffeine, alcohol and tobacco in the evening. Unwinding before bed is also a good idea, so stop work, turn off any screen devices and relax in plenty of time.