Running shouldn't be such a bummer.
July 26, 2011 11:11 AM   Subscribe

How can I feel less fatigued (and depressed) after intense exercise?

I've been doing cardio 3x weekly for about a year now, which is great. But my results have plateaued, so lately I've been pushing myself to run/bike further/faster every time I work out.

I'm not having much trouble adjusting to the longer distances and higher speeds, except that after running I feel very fatigued (not sore, just exhausted), which has the odd effect of making me feel mentally depressed.

It always passes by the next day, but the intervening period is very unpleasant. I've never been particularly prone to depression. What's a good way (nutrition? routine changes?) to combat this?
posted by zvs to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What is your pre and post workout nutrition like? My trainer recommends 15-30 g of carbs for a pre-workout snack (within a half hour, something like half to a whole banana). Even more important - another snack with protein and carbs within 20 minutes afterward, something like a little chocolate milk.

If you don't have adequate pre-and-post run nutrition your body goes catabolic for a longer period - basically, your hormones indicate to your body that it should continue to break down muscle for energy - not what you want! The side effects of that are exhaustion, bad sleep, and grumpiness, and that sounds a lot like the problems you're experiencing. So are you eating within 20 minutes of the end of your run?
posted by ldthomps at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Try varying your exercise routine. Some days run longer and slower, other days faster and shorter. Running medium-fast for a long period is not the best way to train and I suspect that the intensity of your run coupled with the length is the problem (as you don't have this problem while biking, when you probably aren't working nearly as hard). Just pushing yourself harder every time is not an effective training strategy.

You may also want to consider interval training, depending on your goals and a more detailed (and varied) training plan. A heart rate monitor is a good way to keep track of the intensity of your exercise (a basic model is cheap).

In addition to the immediate effects, you also need to worry about overtraining in the longer term, so make sure you get on top of this.

It may be helpful if you post some more details here (how long your runs and bikes are, an estimate of the intensity, what your training goals are).
posted by ssg at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks. My workout-time nutrition is limited, I usually have a granola bar first, drink half a gatorade afterward and leave it at that.

At the moment I'm running about 2 miles on a track (18 or 19 mins), or biking 20 miles of rolling terrain (1 hr 15 or so). My goal is mostly just "general heart health" -- horrible family history of heart attacks. My doctor recommended 90 mins a week. Initially my goal was weight loss, but over the last year I lost about 15 pounds, which puts me at a dead-average BMI, so I've stopped thinking about that.

I actually do feel just as bad after a long bike ride.
posted by zvs at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2011

Previously, if you missed it.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2011

You might try some really short, high-intensity workouts - a bit of a warm-up then half a dozen 100-yard sprints, say, then call it a day. It's good for your heart as well, and it'd be worth seeing if it also had the same effect on your mood.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:09 PM on July 26, 2011

It's generally the case that, if you're exercising consistently and increasing your exercise at a sensible pace--which it certainly sounds like you are--your body will respond by becoming gradually stronger and more capable. Your body is not responding that way anymore. I've had that experience, of working sensibly and successfully to get more fit, but then reaching a point where exercise started making me feel worse instead of better. And it was just the type of worseness that you describe--exhausted and depressed, but not sore.

Thinking about this won't help your depression a bit (sorry!), but for me this was the beginning of a process of illness that led to chronic disability from an autoimmune disease. Part of it is an "abnormal vascular response to exercise." Fatigue and exercise intolerance are symptoms of a huge range of diseases, and they're often early symptoms that show up when you're otherwise apparently healthy. So what I'm saying is that this puzzling effect may be a signal of physical illness, rather than a result of your diet or choice of activities, or anything else within your control.

Unfortunately it's hard to get doctors to take a vague complaint like this seriously, but it's worth a try. In the meantime it might be good to accept the plateau for a while and see if things improve--maybe your body has been fighting a virus you don't even know you have.
posted by Corvid at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2011

I will second the importance of post-workout nutrition. Quick, simple carbs (rice, potatoes, or see this) and quick protein (whey is the gold standard, but fish and chicken do nicely as well). It really makes a difference as to the effectiveness of your workout and also how you feel.
posted by Wyatt at 12:21 PM on July 26, 2011

Thanks for the parallel thread link.

"Banana 30 mins before and eat protein/carbs promptly after" sounds like a promising approach. I will incorporate that into my routine and see if I feel better.


to Corvid's comment:

Not sure that describes me. I would say I'm still becoming "stronger and more capable", in the sense that I can run further and faster now than I could last month. When I said "plateaued" above, I really meant that my weight loss leveled off, while I remained a little doughy.

But for example when I started the longer routine a few weeks ago it took me 22 minutes, with breaks, to run 2 miles, and now it doesn't.
posted by zvs at 12:29 PM on July 26, 2011

I posted the previous question, and I've found that eating something about a half hour beforehand does help. The other thing that helps me a lot is having a gym buddy. While this isn't always possible, it really does tamp down the post-workout blues. Finally, a bowl of cereal when I get home is nice.
posted by k8lin at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2011

Think back to a workout when you got a little cold after you were done.

If you are like this guy:

After running or cycling when it's not all that warm outside the area around my kidneys (just above waistline, at the sides, towards the back) is particularly cold and stays cold for longer than the rest of my body. Is this normal?

I'd say your adrenal glands are exhausted after that much exercise. Note that I'm not saying you have adrenal exhaustion; you wouldn't be able to come close to the quite high level of endurance you have achieved if you did.

The problem that led to a previous question about "bike legs"-- excessive soreness the day after you ride-- could be explained by a relative dearth of another product of the adrenal glands, cortisol, which is your primary endogenous anti-inflammatory steroid, and that lack of cortisol would also explain the depression, in light of the new inflammatory theory of depression.

Try taking tyrosine, an amino acid which is a precursor of both norepinenephrine (noradrenalin) and adrenalin (epinephrine).
posted by jamjam at 12:59 PM on July 26, 2011

Interesting. (Although I should note that the 'bike legs' went away completely after a seat adjustment.) I do feel cold after most workouts, though.
posted by zvs at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2011

How's your sleep? You waking up once or twice in the middle of the night? Groggy in the morning?
posted by restless_nomad at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2011

I don't wake up at night, but I'm groggy maybe half the time.
posted by zvs at 1:16 PM on July 26, 2011

Consider taking some or all of the following steps:

a) take a week or two off of exercise.
b) cut out caffeine or any other stimulants
c) Get more and better sleep (the usual - dark, cool room, no electronics right before bed, 8ish hours, etc. The goal is to wake up without an alarm clock.)

If some sort of adrenal fatigue is contributing to the issue, the above are what I understand to be the standard first steps for dealing with it.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2011

I started feeling unbelievably fatigued after exercise. I seemed to have pretty good endurance, but I felt like a block of sad, sluggish lead. It came on really slowly and it took me at least a year to realize something was off.

Turns out I'm anemic. I'm still anemic, but just a week on an iron supplement made me feel so, so, so much better.

I'm not saying YOU are anemic - it's not like it's the only possible cause of your symptoms - but if you think it's possible you might want to get checked. Personally my other symptoms were having cold hands and feet all the time, feeling lightheaded a lot, feeling weak, craving ice all the time, and the FATIGUE.
posted by Cygnet at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2011

Seconding restless nomad on the take a week off exercise. What I usually do is train hard for five weeks, then take one full week off, doing nothing, maybe just stretches.

Also, try other stuff. Running is so damn boring sometimes. Do a week of no running and just calisthenics, like burpees, jumping jacks, lunges etc.

This NY Times article (DRM stripped so readable) is really good on the subject. Lots of tips on exercises you can do without a gym etc.
posted by teedee2000 at 3:43 PM on July 26, 2011

Yes, take tyrosine, per jamjam's suggestion! It's really amazing. See all about where I first learned about tyrosine, from my own 2006 AskMe.

Also, yes, make sure to eat a bit before and after. Take a shower with something minty or citrusy, is another idea.
posted by sweetkid at 6:42 PM on July 26, 2011

If you are concerned about overall fitness/health/feeling of well being, then I agree with others that fruits, veggies, and whole grains will help out. I know if I don't eat enough, my mood is WAY off and I feel tired/cranky. If you're maintaining/gaining weight and feeling depressed consistently, see your doctor?

If overall fitness and weight are major concerns, I cannot recommend enough: LIFT WEIGHTS. Weight training is great for your overall health (blood sugar) and weight control. Maybe work lifting into your routine 2x/week so you lift for 20 minutes and then do cardio for 20 minutes. Variety in workout will also improve your results much more easily than just pushing harder. So enjoy LIFTING! But also maybe some yoga! Kickboxing? Swimming?
posted by Kalmya at 7:40 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

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