I finally got my act together and started exercising regularly. Why am I so damn tired, and when will it stop?
April 10, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

After far too long of insufficient physical activity, I had a come to Flying Spaghetti Monster moment and realized I had to start again and find a pace that would keep me going for the rest of my life. I'm used to feeling better after exercising, but right now I've been solidly exhausted since the second week. When will I stop being so tired?

This is my 7th week of exercising 4x a week. Two days I do 30 minutes of the elliptical machine and 20 minutes of weights. one day I do 45 minutes of cardio, either elliptical and bike or just bike. One day I do 45 minutes of cardio and a full upper and lower body weight circuit. I add a day or two of 15-20 mins of yoga (which I need for sanity/stretching) and would like to add a full 90 mins of yoga when I get stronger.

This is a sustainable, realistic program for me. I enjoy it but am challenged. I am gaining strength and stamina. I am 100% committed to continuing this because if not I will get ill, gain weight, and just won't have the energy to do the things I love. I am honestly just terrified of the decline and need to stop it. (I am in my mid40s.) It also helped with my stress which helped with my chronic headaches. All of this is good.

What's the problem? I'm exhausted. ALL THE TIME. The first week I had that great adrenaline but now I'm just tired non-stop. I had more energy before I started working out. When will this change? This has never happened before (except one time, see below). Usually when I exercise regularly I have energy, adrenaline, etc. I am sleeping better, have color in my face, etc. and other positive effects, but the exhaustion is bumming me out and starting to take over my life.

(The only time I experienced something similar is when I did 30 days in a row of Bikram Yoga about 5 years ago, but I expected to be tired with something so strenuous.)

I work out in the morning before work. (I have to do this. It takes more energy to get my pulse rate up but if I wait until after work, I just won't go.) I get up between 5:45 and 6am. I am getting at least 6 hours of sleep, I am trying to get more, but it's tough. But it's as much as I got before I started this working out.

I've always eaten pretty healthily, my biggest problem is portion control, working out helps in curbing appetite and solves that problem. I don't each much red meat or processed foods, I don't drink soda, I drink a lot of water. I drink one cup of coffee a day at the most.

I know, you're not my doctor, but my doctor said "Increase your physical activity, you need to exercise" so before I go to her with "why am I so tired" I want to know if I'm doing something obviously wrong.
posted by micawber to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I would bet it's a sleep thing. For some people, it doesn't matter how many hours you're getting, it matters when those hours are.

I recently started training for a half-marathon, and would LOVE to be able to work out early in the morning. I just can't do it; I completely crash midday if I overexert in the morning.

"I just won't go" isn't a very persuasive argument for not moving your routine to the early evening.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:42 PM on April 10, 2010

Do you think you're eating enough, or enough of the right things? When I am really devoted to my exercise schedule, I find I need to be much more careful about ensuring I'm getting enough protein and whole grains during the day, and that I need to be eating them at certain times--a snack in the afternoon is absolutely key for me if I've gone running in the morning.

Keeping a food diary for a while helped me figure out what exactly works best for me, and I used Fitday.com so I could track the nutrition content while tracking the foods I was eating. I prefer not to obsess over calories, but a month or so of tracking what I ate, how much I exercised, and how I felt was plenty of time to figure out my patterns and to help me be more mindful. I still return to tracking for a while if it seems like I'm feeling less than great, to try and identify why.
posted by padraigin at 8:48 PM on April 10, 2010

Eat more and get more sleep. If you're light on the red meat due to exercise, don't worry about that. If it's due to your weight, know that you'll gain a bit of weight as you get into shape before going back down (based on your program). You have to get enough muscle up to burn the fat, which takes calories, and there's going to be an overlap between gaining muscle and losing fat, causing you to gain weight in the short-term.
posted by rhizome at 8:53 PM on April 10, 2010

seconding roomthreeseventeen's recommendation to change when you work out. i used to wake up early to do a pretty intense workout routine, and i never got over the hump of feeling exhausted afterwards. eventually i switched to different hours, and it worked out much better.
posted by ajarbaday at 9:11 PM on April 10, 2010

I know it's anecdotal, but I used to be the same way. I hated exercising because it made me so damn tired all the time. Then I found Crossfit. Believe it or not, despite how intense and insane crossfit is, I don't ever get tired. I go to bed at 10:30pm and get up at 4:30pm. I go to the gym at 5:30 every morning M-F, and again in the afternoons on T, W, Th. Each session is non-stop 1 hour of crossfit exercises, and it's different every day and every week.

I think my limitless energy is a diet factor more than anything (and I used to thrive on 9 hours of sleep a night!). My trainer recommends the "Paleo" diet, which is meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds. I'm not supposed to eat grains, legumes, dairy, potatoes, or added salt or sugar. Of course processed foods are out, too. I generally stick to this during my workout days, and fudge a very little on the weekends (primarily because I'm going out to eat with friends). Huge, multicolor salads are a big winner... very nutrient dense.

Another factor could be that you are not doing "whole body" type exercises. It sounds from your description that you are using machines. Bodyweight exercises mixed with some barbell and dumbell exercises are best. The things you do in regular life don't use just 1 or 2 muscles, so why use machines that isolate them? It's a waste of time. Learn to do squats, deadlifts, bench presses, push presses, etc with free weights and bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, burpees, situps, etc. Short sprints and 300-500 jumps with a jump rope are good cardio. Machines are a gimmick unless you are injured and going through physical therapy.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 9:17 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since I started exercising regularly I have needed at least 8 hours a night. I feel like crap if I don't get it, especially the night before a good workout. I also eat more often, including lots of protein foods.
posted by serazin at 9:18 PM on April 10, 2010

Assuming you've no medical issues I think you're overtraining.

I'm guessing the key is, like me, you're in your 40's. You'll get to where you want to be but it's just going to take a little longer. In your 20's you can overdo it a bit. At our age err on the side of rest days.

Try taking every second day off for a bit. If you feel you have to do something try mediation, Tai Chi, or Yin Yoga.

The hardest part for me about 40 was accepting my slowing metabolism. Cutting my meal portions by half was hell. Resting every second day was equally tough. In my head I'm still 24...such is life.

Our patience will achieve more than our force.
- Edmund Burke
posted by larry_darrell at 9:36 PM on April 10, 2010

"I just won't do it" means I don't exercise. I'd rather be exhausted for the rest of my life than continue to be out of shape because it is impossible to go to the gym after work, proven by the 46 years i haven't been able to make myself go after work.

I don't weigh myself. This isn't about dieting. If I lose weight or inches that's awesome. But I'm doing it for every other reason besides losing weight. I know that muscle weighs more than fat but since I don't climb on the scale ever (when I do at the doctors office I tell them not to tell me) it's not a motivator.

The sleep advice and the more small protein meals make sense. I'm craving vegetables like crazy (and I was already a big fruit and veg eater) so I'm eating a ton of salads and throwing in chickpeas and grilled chicken but maybe it's just not enough. Plus maybe I need to break it up more and make sure I have a day of rest inbetween.
posted by micawber at 10:31 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have other health problems? Have you had a recent physical? Constant fatigue might be symptomatic of larger undiagnosed health problems. I know you're just starting again, but 50 minutes a day of exercise really isn't that much. You should be working out with some pretty good intensity to be so exhausted all the time from 50 minutes of workout. Then again, maybe you're just not adapted to it yet and should give it some more time.

Congratulations on getting back into it; it's a good decision.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 11:34 PM on April 10, 2010

If you were getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night and were still constantly exhausted, then we'd be suggesting that you look closely at your diet, and possibly consult a doctor for a basic checkup and some bloodwork. On six hours of sleep, though, yeah - you're probably going to be tired a lot. Listen to your body, start getting more sleep, and there's a damn good chance that you'll feel much better.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:44 AM on April 11, 2010

Just regarding diet... you say that exercise helps curb appetite, but if you've severely increased your burn rate (which it sounds like you have) - then you need more food. Exercise should not reduce hunger, it should increase it.

It's quite possible that you feel tired and wiped out all the time because you really don't have any energy left - maybe talk to a nutricionist?
posted by TravellingDen at 9:06 AM on April 11, 2010

Sleep! And possibly dial it back a bit. E.g. break up your weight training into chest-shoulders-triceps day and back-biceps-legs day. And don't forget to eat soon after exercising.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:43 AM on April 11, 2010

micawber, I feel similarly about weight - losing it is not a motivator for exercise. I make sure to have snacks in my car - bags of nuts or trail mix, fruit, Mojo bars (which I learned about from a Mefite). Or if I can go home after working out I eat an apple with peanut butter or carrots and hummos or something like that.
posted by serazin at 10:27 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing more sleep. You might also ask your doctor about getting your iron and vitamin D levels checked — supplementing those two things has made a big difference for me in my energy level. (Still need a solid 8 hours of sleep, though.)
posted by Lexica at 10:57 AM on April 11, 2010

It's probably diet-related. I doubt you're overtraining on the routine you've outlined. It's pretty difficult for a novice to truly overtrain, and even if he did the effects would not last very long. The overtraining article on wikipedia is very poor. You say that you're gaining strength and stamina. Have your recent feelings of exhaustion been accompanied by a loss of performance? Have you reduced your training load in response? The American College of Sports Medicine and the US Olympic Committee define over-training as a loss of performance that requires no less than two weeks to recover from. In Practical Programming for Strength Training, Mark Rippetoe points out that this definition doesn't take a trainee's level of advancement into account, and offers this definition: "Overtraining occurs specifically when performance does not recover within one reduced-load training cycle."

If you've ruled out diet, you reduce your training load for one period and then step it back up again and see if you've recovered.

But it's probably diet. You need to make sure you're getting adequate protein (1g per pound of bodyweight is a good goal for muscle-building) and adequate overall calories as well as micronutrients.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:29 AM on April 11, 2010

I always tell "women of a certain age" to be sure and get their thyroids checked out. Thyroid problems are very common in women, and usually quite easily resolved (I take Synthroid and it works a treat).

Make sure you are getting lots of protein and avoiding refined carbs. Exercising often ups the body's demands for protein. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are your friends!

Also, are you drinking enough water? If you're dehydrated, you'll feel crummy and dragged-out. Be sure and drink lots of water, and if you sweat, sports drinks.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:38 PM on April 11, 2010

« Older It turns out I had unexplored realms of geekiness.   |   Is this a timeshare scam? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.