Why do I get so tired after working out?
February 21, 2010 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I get extremely tired after workouts. I run and lift free weights. Then I come home and crash for an hour or two. This sucks up too much time.

How can I recover more quickly, or at least not feel like I want to sleep for the next six years after a hard workout?

Do I have to eat something immediately after a workout? If so, what? I usually try to drink a protein shake after the gym, but the problem is my gym is a 30 minute subway ride from my apartment. Between showering, dressing, heading to the subway, and getting back to my apartment, a good hour can pass before I can drink a protein shake.

I'm fairly certain I'm adequately hydrated. I drink about three liters of water a day. (Three liters including water from coffee, fruits and vegetables, and all the other foods that have water in them. I'd estimate 2/3 of my daily water intake is straight water from the bottle.)

My diet consists of a lot of fruits and vegetables and protein. Not too much carbs. My only carbs are my morning bagel, which I'd like to cut out of my diet entirely.

I'm not sure if I'm providing enough information here for anyone to give me a good answer, so if you need more info, let me know what you need to know.

posted by dfriedman to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Carbs within half an hour of a workout is pretty standard advice - can you bring a banana or something with you?
posted by restless_nomad at 6:51 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, you should eat something within an hour of working out. Oddly enough I have been told that the perfect postworkout snack is a Fig Newton. (You need a little something carby.) You need to replace the glycogen in your muscles.

Try it and see if you don't feel better.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:51 PM on February 21, 2010

How long are your workouts? Also, how much time do you spend doing each thing, and when do you stop?
posted by wondermouse at 6:53 PM on February 21, 2010

My workouts are about an hour long.

I typically run for 10 minutes (a slow mile at 6mph) and then lift for 45 to 50 minutes.

I will try eating carbs immediately after the workout. The good thing is they sell bananas at the gym so I don't have to bring any with me....
posted by dfriedman at 7:01 PM on February 21, 2010

Is everything else OK? I know someone who had this problem and it turned out to be iron-deficiency anemia.
posted by availablelight at 7:05 PM on February 21, 2010

Coffee. Stop drinking it.

Sugar. Stop ingesting it.
posted by koeselitz at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got into the habit of mixing up a protein shake in a thermos earlier in the day to drink immediately post workout. Easy to tote around and stay's plenty cold. If it's going to be some time try throwing some frozen blueberries into the thermos to help keep it cold.
posted by Octoparrot at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2010

Are you sleeping enough? Everybody's different, but I need at least 8 hours of sleep per day when I'm doing a lot of weight lifting or I'm whipped.
posted by nowoutside at 7:07 PM on February 21, 2010

Would it be so hard to carry a Clif bar or some other bar with you? Why are you so not into carbs? Are you trying to lose weight? Carbs are kinda necessary.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to sleep after a hard workout. I do it after bike rides all the time.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2010

Sorry, that's sort of hard-core, but honestly: in the modern human life, two things, more than any other thing by far, govern whether we're away and whether we feel lethargic: sugar and caffeine. Frequent intake of these two things often causes analogously frequent down-times, during which we feel tired and even exhausted. Since those down-times are usually a few hours after we ingest the sugar, and maybe a few more hours after we ingest the caffeine, we usually don't realize the cause there.

In fact, I would say that, if you're a healthy person who exercises and eats right, the only common reason you might have those sorts of swings - good energy during a workout followed by a big crash - is because of excessive or improperly-timed intake of sugar or caffeine. Everyone's body is different. I can't actually have those things at all or I'll get a lot of energy followed by a massive crash.
posted by koeselitz at 7:11 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try some chocolate milk after your workout. It's got a good balance of carbs and different proteins.
posted by Diplodocus at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one more thing:

You include "water from coffee" in your three liters of water every day. But because of the dehydrating effects of coffee, "water from coffee" is almost like anti-water; the more coffee you drink, the more water you'll need. So don't include "water from coffee" in the water you have every day.
posted by koeselitz at 7:13 PM on February 21, 2010

No doubt carbs are necessary.

I'd just rather replace my daily bagel with something healthier. I'm not opposed to carbs in general. I'm just opposed to unhealthy carbs, of which a bagel is the most common example.

As for sleep: I average 8 hours a night.

As for sugar: I don't eat it, other than the sugar in the aforementioned bagel.

Interesting point about coffee. I may try to cut it out of my diet.
posted by dfriedman at 7:14 PM on February 21, 2010

You need carbs, nutritionally speaking. Not a lot, not nearly as much as the average American eats, and certainly not all from simple sugars. But you will make your body feel a lot better if you stop trying to completely avoid carbs. Try some after a workout (chocolate milk is a good idea).
posted by asciident at 7:17 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I disagree with koesekitz on the caffeine/coffee front; my workouts and recovery always went great with two cups a half-hour before, around 5 pm, for what it's worth.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:30 PM on February 21, 2010

Is there any reason you can't bring your protein shake to the gym? Buy a BlenderBottle, put your whey protein in at home, then add water and shake at the gym.
posted by ewiar at 7:33 PM on February 21, 2010

Carbs make most people sleepy. But everyone needs a little-- so you should stay with a bagel every other day, or replace it with better carbs, like those in rice, or kasha, or traditional style oven-baked dark Eastern European bread, etc.

You didn't mention how many times a week you work out. This could be an issue. Maybe you're working the same muscle groups too often & don't give them enough time to recuperate.

Also, maybe you are over-straining yourself during the workouts, doing too much weight and/or too many reps. Recommended: A weight you can do 8-10 reps with comfortably while challenging yourself a little (not madly over-exerting yourself).

Other possible culprits--
Something in your diet you are/ are not getting.
Possible undetected medical condition-- if looking into none of the above helps, you could try getting a thorough barrage of medical tests (within reason) to see if there's any underlying issue.

This is incidental-- but do you stretch at all? If you don't, and keep working out, your muscles and bones will start breaking down as you get older (that is, much faster than if you do stretch regularly). Good stretching routine ideas-- yoga, or chi gong. Good to stretch before (or, for some people, after) workouts 3x a week.
posted by cotesdurhone at 7:54 PM on February 21, 2010

Optimus Chyme: “I disagree with koesekitz on the caffeine/coffee front; my workouts and recovery always went great with two cups a half-hour before, around 5 pm, for what it's worth.”

Yeah, to strengthen my caveat a little more: I think the effect of caffeine on a body really, really depends on the person. In fact, it depends on other things, too; I used to drink about a pot of coffee every morning. Now a drop puts me on a roller-coaster. Whereas I've known people who, their whole lives through, could drink 5-10 cups a day and never blink. It may or may not be a factor, but it's a good thing to experiment a little with if you're worried about lethargy, anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 8:03 PM on February 21, 2010

In fact, that's probably a good suggestion all round. At the point of fineness you're at, I think, the best thing to do is to get some ideas and then proceed to experiment.
posted by koeselitz at 8:05 PM on February 21, 2010

@koeselitz: Actually, there's very little research indicating that caffeinated beverages have any more diuretic effect than water: this NYT article from 2008 summarizes the state of research.

A lot of the advice here is focused on aerobic exercise. If you're doing a lot of aerobic exercise you need carbohydrates. Glycogen, from carbohydrates, and glucose, in your bloodstream and produced by your liver, are your main sources of energy from aerobic exercise lasting 60 minutes or less. (If you want the gory details, see Tim Noakes, Lore of Running; Noakes's chapters on exercise physiology are great even if your main form of aerobic exercise is not running.)

Of course, the fruits and vegetables you're eating have a lot of carbohydrates in them: a typical medium apple, for instance, has maybe 100 calories, 95 of which come from carbohydrates and 5 of which come from fat. Most of your carbohydrates from fruit come in the form of sugars, by the way, so the carbs in your fruit are not necessarily healthier, per se, than the carbs in your bagel. Your fruit, on the other hand, has lots more vitamins and fiber than your bagels.

But on reviewing your response, when you note that you do 10 minutes of aerobic exercise and then focus on weight training, it seems like your problem might have another source. 10 minutes of aerobic exercise should have little to no effect on your glycogen and glucose reserves. I can bike for two or three hours before I need to start replenishing those. Insofar as I can diagnose a complete stranger's problem based on a MeFi post, I'd guess that you're overdoing it. How often do you exercise? Do you train the same muscle groups on successive days? Do you exercise to failure, or do you try to gradually build up your fitness? You might want to review your exercise routine to make sure that you don't exercise the same muscle groups two days in a row and that you take some time off now and then to promote recovery.

So: since your workouts are basically non-aerobic strength training, the key additional info that we need to know to provide anonymous advice over the Internet is: (1) how often do you work out, (2) what muscle groups do you work during each workout, and (3) how much rest time do you allow each muscle group between workouts that affect it?
posted by brianogilvie at 8:06 PM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

This is incidental-- but do you stretch at all? If you don't, and keep working out, your muscles and bones will start breaking down as you get older (that is, much faster than if you do stretch regularly).

Do you have a citation for this fascinating factoid?
posted by ludwig_van at 8:07 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

(1) how often do you work out,

I work out every other day

(2) what muscle groups do you work during each workout,

My workout routine consists of: the aforementioned ten minute run, bench press, biceps curls, triceps extensions, trapezius, pull ups, and squats. I typically do 8 to 10 reps of each with a two or three minute break between sets. I do two sets of each exercise.

(3) how much rest time do you allow each muscle group between workouts that affect it?

A full day's rest. I worked out today, so I won't be at the gym until Tuesday.
posted by dfriedman at 8:21 PM on February 21, 2010

This is not an overall carb intake throughout the day issue, this is a carbs NOW issue. After you eat those carbs, they get stored - that morning bagel is no longer bloodstream carb when you are running in the afternoon. There is some discussion about whether or not you can store carbs in bloodstream by conditioning your body with excessive carb intake (read about carb loading) but you arent eating enough carb to fall into that category. (I hope not anyway)

That being said, there is no way a 1 hour workout should be completely killing you. 2 hours or more should be ok for the average person with appropriate conditioning and nutrition. You just need more carb during workout. Body runs out of free carb in 20-40 minutes depending on Heart Rate. If you keep doing high rep exercises or keep up your HR in your lifting scheme (like a circuit workout or something) you are essentially still running. You need food.

Gatorade w/ calories after the run, or half a gu gel should do it. (20 minutes in is perfect for me) bananas work too, but I would eat earlier, and you don't get that immediate feel good in 5 minutes like you do with Gu Gel, or Clif shot, or whatever. I'd eat a half because you are ostensibly lowering HR after the run, and you just need to keep going for a little. Remember, when trying to time your food interval, if you start feeling tired, you have already waited too long, and you are at the bottom of the tank, and totally boned.

Another option is drinking cytomax, accelerade, or some other complex carb electrolyte to keep up energy during the run, esp. if you consider gels expensive. (They're about a buck apiece if you buy in bulk) Good luck! PS: Citrus Cytomax tastes the best.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:27 PM on February 21, 2010

Echoing the calls to get some carbs in within the half hour to forty five minutes after your workout. You might also want to change up your workouts, maybe I missed it but it sounds like you do pretty much the same thing each time. Your body gets used to routines. Not saying this is why you crash out afterwards, just saying that mixing up what you're doing is a good idea.

Also, it sounds like you could stand to do more cardio as ten minutes at a slow pace 3-4 times a week isn't near enough to get any aerobic benefit, right now its pretty much a warm up. Maybe you could add a cardio day once a week and do no weight training at all, just cardio.
posted by fenriq at 11:07 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Try some chocolate milk after your workout. It's got a good balance of carbs and different proteins.

posted by iviken at 1:52 AM on February 22, 2010

Why do I get so tired after working out?

You're on a low-carb diet. Low energy levels is common for that type of diet.

Proper post-workout nutrition was unheard of before eighteen or so years ago, except for "Oh man, I'm really hungry from training - PASTA OM NOM NOM!" People are under the assumption that it is ever so important to replenish your lost glycogen stores from intense workouts, and that's true to an extent. Gatorade definitely has been making that case since the the mid-'80's or so, although it was actually created to keep athletes hydrated. It's just not as important as people think it is, and is not the reason for a good post workout meal. As has been mentioned, you have to do some serious training to hit the wall for real glycogen depletion. Anyway, so what happened in 1992? The Olympics, and the debut of Creatine. Creatine was and still is the hugest breakthrough in sport supplementation. It didn't take coaches long to figure out the best way to try to get that stuff into muscles, they did it the same way Gatorade shuttles nutrients into muscles - Insulin. When about the timing though? Sure you could take that stuff anytime, but why not do it when your body is really ready to suck it down? Sure enough the idea of spiking your sugar levels, and in turn spiking your insulin levels, after a workout quickly became common practice. It was only a small period of time for protein shake manufacturers to think "hey...wait a minute...", aaannnd yeah magically that just happens to be the perfect time to glug down good bio-available protein. Something else happened in the mid-'90's that had a huge impact in the fitness community, or at least the bodybuilding community (which those two are somehow representative of each other these days thanks to marketing by magazines) - Insulin. I mean actual Insulin this time. If you take a look through bodybuilding pics or actual weight averages of competitors over the years, you could probably chart when new drugs are introduced into the scene. When they first started using Insulin they were dosing throughout the day at mealtimes. Then a certain lifting coach thought of the idea of just dosing post-workout, and voilĂ  those guys were doubling what the other guys were gaining from Insulin. So that's the biggest reason for a post workout meal, Insulin spike.
Anywho, yeah, a good post workout shake would probably do wonders for you. As a matter of fact, the newish fad is peri-workout nutrion. Basically you sip when you begin and then throughout until about half your shake is gone, and gulp down the rest at the end.
By the way, I'm not sure where people got the idea that chocolate milk is great for an after workout "meal". It's not. I'm not saying that milk is a bad choice for extra calories, and Casein is a great slow digesting protein, but if it's anything it's a snack. I mean if you're on the cheap, I guess you do what you can but if you're serious about your body and your training then you should be eating and supplementing properly. Oh, and Whey is generally preferred post workout because it digests rather quickly and thus available sooner to the muscles.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:06 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

And yes, I stand by what I said about chocolate milk. It sucks compared to most any reputable* protein shake or meal replacement out there.

posted by P.o.B. at 3:10 AM on February 22, 2010

I'm not sure where people got the idea that chocolate milk is great for an after workout "meal".

FWIW, chocolate milk has that magical 4:1 carb:protein ratio, the same ratio people pay a lot of money for in Cytomax and other such products.

Not saying it's any better or worse, but that's probably where the idea came from.
posted by fore at 5:17 AM on February 22, 2010

The one thing that I haven't seen mentioned is whether or not this is a new habit or if you've been working out at this level for quite some time. Did you just start working out from a relatively sedentary lifestyle or maybe drastically changed your workout? If so it just may take a month or so for your body to get used to the new normal. I have the same problem when I start working out (combined with a dramatic increase in appetite that negates any of the weight loss benefit) and it tends to level out after awhile.
posted by kaybdc at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2010

I find that I get much more tired if I haven't been fueling adequately before and after intense workouts. I mostly do endurance sports anymore, and here's what I do:

About an hour before an intense workout (speedwork or long run), I eat a small handful of almonds or other nuts, and a bit of dried fruit. (Nuts for the protein and fat, and dried fruit for some carbs). Don't eat too much or you'll feel gross. If I'm going to be running for more than an hour and a half, I bring something carby and eat it about 30 minutes in (if you like Gu or Shot Blocks, you could take one then). (Remember that your glycogen stores will get depleted on the long run after about 1.5-2 hours, assuming that you are taking the long run @ LSD pace, but that it's going to take about an hour for the carbs you eat to make it to your musculature -- this is why the 30 minute timepoint works for me.) I bring a little box or bottle of chocolate milk and drink it immediately after the run -- I like chocolate milk because it doesn't make me feel sick like protein shakes do, it's got a good carb: protein ratio for post-endurance activity, and because it's cheap and I'm poor.

P.o.B.'s advice is bang-on for weight lifting. You would be wise to take it.

Also, I did a lot of lifting when I was really overfat and couldn't really run without hurting myself. At that time, I ate a lower-carb diet than I do now (about 30% calories from carbs, so not exactly low-carb anyway.) This worked great for me until I dropped about 50 pounds and got more interested in aerobic endurance activities, at which point I was a) completely exhausted and b) constantly craving Saltine crackers. I put two and two together, upped my carbohydrate budget to 50% daily caloric intake, and feel much better now (and yes, I am still losing fat, although my fat loss has slowed somewhat). So if you're running a lot more than in the past, or if you've burnt off a lot of your energy stores, you might need to tweak your overall diet. Low-carb diets might be a really good way to quickly burn off fat, but I prefer to eat a diet that doesn't leave me exhausted.
posted by kataclysm at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2010

I felt this way when my workouts were longer. I made them shorter (more like 30-45 mins) with lifting that was more compound movements. I get better results than before and am not tired like I used to be.
I also felt this way when my blood pressure was low. That could be an explanation if you haven't checked it.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 6:34 PM on February 22, 2010

FWIW, chocolate milk has that magical 4:1 carb:protein ratio, the same ratio people pay a lot of money for in Cytomax and other such products.

But do you know why 4:1 is so "magical"? I've read different studies on this and from what I've gathered the formula is actually closer to 2:1 for strength training. What you're actually trying to do is increase glycogen stores, increase protein synthesis, and decrease protein breakdown. Point being, you want to make sure you are getting enough protein but not over do it and still elicit the insulin spike.
But beyond all that, throwing some HFCS and milk together still doesn't constitute quality just because it falls under a ratio. Like I mentioned before the products of some "reputable" companies are highly suspect, but there are some companies that do sell quality and that's what you should seek out. Not HFCS laden snacks.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:21 AM on February 23, 2010

P.o.B. -- Not that I am postulating that lowfat chocolate milk is an ideal post-strength-training snack, because it isn't, but not all lowfat chocolate milk is HFCS-laden. Not even all widely-available commercial chocolate milk contains HFCS; for example, Horizon brand chocolate milk is sweetened with sugar, and they sell it at Target. It actually compares pretty favorably with commercially-available sports drinks in terms of both its ingredients and its macronutrient profile.

I think that the OP would be well-served to listen to your advice in terms of fueling for strength training, which is his primary exercise.

I think most of the contention in this thread about the usefulness (or lack thereof) of chocolate milk -- or any other post-recovery meal choice -- is due to confusion about the differing nutritional requirements to support training for strength vs. training for endurance. In general, endurance athletes need more carbs and less protein than athletes who focus on strength, and this holds true for recovery after exercise as well. If you've been biking or running for 1 hours, you will need more carbs (because when you run a marathon, unlike when you lift weights, your glycogen stores actually DO get depleted, that's what bonking is) and less protein for recovery than if you've been lifting for 1 hour; in fact, it's not even certain whether or not protein is an essential component for a post-endurance exercise recovery food. I think that's why the magical 4:1 ratio is bandied about so freely in the pages of running and cycling magazines: there are enough carbs in that drink so that you'll get your 1.2 g(CHO)/kg bodyweight/hr, and a little bit of protein which may or may not be helpful, but probably does no harm.

To the O.P. -- Listen to P.o.B. and brianoglivie, because their advice is most closely tailored to your actual exercise program. If you ever end up doing a lot of endurance sports, then come drink our Kool-Aid (or chocolate milk, or whatever).
posted by kataclysm at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2010

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