September 10

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Always Tired and Fatigued? Causes & Cures for Low Energy in Athletes

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Are you struggling to get out of bed in the morning because you're still tired when you wake up? How about when you feel you've no energy to head to the gym or can't make it through your workouts? Well if you're always feeling tired and fatigued, there could be a few things going on. Let's look at some causes (and the cures) for tiredness and fatigue in athletes and active people.

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I'm sure most of us have experienced the afternoon slump. You know, that point in the day you wish you could just close your eyes and have a nap.

Some people may believe that feeling tired is just part of training properly. Go hard or go home, right?

While that's true to some extent, tiredness and fatigue shouldn't be a chronic condition.

If you're always feeling flat, unmotivated, tired and fatigued you may have to examine your lifestyle and exercise and dietary habits.

That way, we can understand how our choices affect our total energy levels. Additionally, we'll be able to hopefully fix what can be improved.

How's your sleep?

Perhaps the obvious first step is to look at your sleep patterns and habits.

Sometimes there just isn't any way to avoid the fact that to combat tiredness, you need to have a good sleep.

Individuals vary as to how much sleep they require to function properly. It's fair to say that if you struggle with low energy levels, trying to get more sleep would be a good first step.

Generally speaking, somewhere between 7 and 9 hours each night is an optimal amount of sleep for a fit & healthy, active adult.

If you regularly receive only less than 5 hours per night, your metabolism and performance will suffer.

the cure

Get between 7 and 9 hours quality sleep each night.

How's your diet?

To function normally during our day-to-day activities, our body has specific nutritional needs. If you aren't getting the right energy or nutrients from your diet, you'll feel the consequences.

Likewise, your macronutrient profile and/or meal timing may be off. The food you eat might not allow your body to perform optimally in the demands you're asking from it.

Using food effectively is your body's main way of maintaining sufficient energy levels. A healthy diet should prevent you feeling excessively tired and fatigued.

Fast food, junk food, and highly processed items don't provide much in the way of nutrition or sustenance. Furthermore, you may not be eating enough altogether.

If your calorie intake is too low for your lifestyle, exercise, and training needs, you simply won't have the energy to perform.

the cure

Ensure you have a well-structured balanced diet

Controlling blood glucose levels to help combat tiredness and fatigue

Again, highly processed and refined foods are the enemy here. Eating lots of food with high levels of sugar will do your blood glucose levels no favours. You'll find it spikes fairly high, and then crashes as your body battles to keep levels under control.

Similarly, regularly going for long periods of time between meals can cause blood sugar levels to drop.

So, if your blood sugar levels resemble a rollercoaster swinging high and low, it's no wonder your energy levels suffer.

In the same vain, we want to make sure we have fuelled up properly for any exercise sessions we have planned. Working out hard with nothing in the tank is a recipe for energy-level disaster.

Staying consistent with the types of food, portion sizes and frequency of meals is one of the best tactics to keep blood sugar levels relatively stable throughout the day.

For example, we want to avoid spikes and dips.

the cure

Make sure you follow a consistent, balanced approach to food that supports your gym training

Look at how much and how often you are training

If you're covering all your bases up to this point and are still feeling tired and fatigued, it might be that you're just not eating enough food.

Food intake should be balanced against energy expenditure.

That is to say calories in versus calories out should be matched to your activities and goals.

Put simply, if your training volume or intensity increases, you need more food.

On the other hand, if you're feeling tired and almost lethargic when you're not training, you probably need to get up and move. You might just need to get the heart pumping, muscles working and blood flowing to feel better again.

the cure

Adjust your food intake in line with your energy requirements specific to your training activities and program

How hydration levels affect you feeling tired and fatigued

Sometimes, we can mistake feeling fatigued for being dehydrated. The symptoms are similar.

Losing just 2% of your body weight in fluid can majorly impact your performance and how you feel.

Think about that for a second. For someone who's 70kg, that's less than 1.5 litres they'd need to lose before they'll be suffering.

Replacing lost fluids is essential if you want to stay on top of your game.

If you're regularly training in hot or humid conditions, you may be constantly dehydrated. Sometimes, we might think we need more food to get some more energy. The reality is sometimes we just need to drink more water.

the cure

Ensure you maintain optimum hydration levels by drinking enough water appropriate to your needs.

Iron levels and their contribution to feeling tired and fatigued

When feelings of fatigue linger on, and you aren't just having an off day, you may want to look at your iron levels.

Iron is the main component of haemoglobin. That's the protein in your blood that transports oxygen to your muscles and brain. If you want your brain and body to function effectively, you'll want it to get oxygen.

While it's difficult to know whether you have low iron without a blood test, your GP should be able to help you.

They may advise a supplement to help boost your iron levels should they turn out to be sub-optimal.

Alternatively, a healthy balanced diet may be enough to get your iron levels back up to where they need to be.

the cure

Discuss your concerns with your GP or dietitian

Allergies and intolerances may be a factor

In some cases, your digestive system might not be processing your food efficiently.

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, your gut might be struggling. All the energy you think you are getting might not be making its way to your bloodstream where it's needed.

Concerns with food allergies and intolerances are best raised with your primary care physician. If you regularly experience stomach problems, digestive issues, bloating, and discomfort, it's worth getting them checked out.

Seek professional advice and don't consult Dr. Google. Self-diagnosis is rarely effective. Leave it in the hands of your GP or dietitian.

the cure

Seek out professional advice if you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance

How hormone levels can leave you lacking energy and feeling tired and fatigued

In women, their monthly cycle has a big impact on how energetic they feel. Fluctuating hormone levels can cause energy slumps at times. Men too can feel the effects of low hormone levels. This is particularly true if overtraining and/or lack of sleep is an issue.

the cure

Rule out overtraining and ensure optimal sleep. Consult with your GP if you still have concerns.

Paul Stokes Perth Personal Trainer Sports Nutritionist Group Fitness Instructor Massage Therapist

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs. He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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