I want my fitness groove back.
September 12, 2011 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Feeling like my fitness gains have stalled. I'm really frustrated. What am I doing wrong?

Female here, 5'2, 145 pounds. I've been attending a 1.25 hour bootcamp-style class 4x a week for the last 5 months. We do a combination of HIIT- style cardio interspersed with jogging and strength training. It's different every day. Actually, the past 6 weeks it's more like 3x plus 1 spin class. 3 months in, I was feeling like my performance in these classes was awesome. I felt like I was getting stronger every day and that it was easier to get through the cardio. Then, a relative came to visit and I was away from the gym for 10 days. I haven't been able to get ny groove back since then - essentially, for the last 2 months, I feel like I've sucked in practically every workout. How am I measuring this? Not scientifically. But I seem to lose heart much faster than I did in the first 3 months. My stamina seems poor, especially when it comes to the cardio, and my mind is going "Ugh, this sucks, I want to stop...". I've been telling myself to just keep at it and that things will get better eventually, but it hasn't happened yet and so now I'm seeking some help.

Here's a breakdown of the culprits I can think of:

  • It's a mental block. Could this be a mind thing?
  • I had a chest infection toward the very start of this 2 month-period. I had problems getting enough air and started using a puffer. I'm a smoker. I've felt, though, that my lungs are a whole lot better.
  • Diet. Thing is, when I was awesome I was eating a very strict low carb diet, and that's supposedly not a great strategy for fitness improvements. I'm still eating lots of protein (maybe 70 - 90 grams a day), but now, I'm eating more carbs, and bad ones at that. I thought, however, that this would only give my muscles more glucose and would improve my stamina. Am I dead wrong?
  • Burn out? But how can this be when I'm only at 4 days/week and I had some a long break only 2 months ago?
  • I changed medications from an SSRI to an MAOI about 2.5 months ago. Could this affect fitness?
  • Body's adapted to the same old, same old. But how can this be when every day is different and even has different instructors And given that I've added spin?

    I want my fitness to keep improving. This really sucks. What should I be doing differently?
  • posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
    How's your sleep? Stress? Those would be the first things I looked at; problems with either or both of these can really hamper your progress.

    Also, when are you eating? Are you getting pre-workout fuel with some good carbs and protein before every workout, and are you getting some quick-absorb carbs plus lots of protein immediately after? If not, I think the advice here and here could make a big difference for you.

    Other than that, IMHO a low-carb diet can support the level of exercise you're doing. If supplementing doesn't help, you might try cutting down on carbs again (at least the bad ones!) and see if that makes a difference, as the brain-fog/out-of-gas feeling ("ugh, this sucks, I want to stop...") thing can be caused by an insulin spike/crash. More glucose doesn't always translate to more stamina.
    posted by vorfeed at 2:14 PM on September 12, 2011

    All of the above?

    I found that after about five-six months of Crossfit, I was much harder on myself. I no longer thought of myself as a beginner or gave myself permission to slow down and focus on just getting through the workout. I also started comparing my performance with the more serious people, rather than the other more casual attendees and newbies. Which, of course, was going to end badly because many of them have been training for several years (or their whole lives) and work out 2+ hours daily.

    The 3-6 month period is also when newbie gains begin to peter out. No one will ever gain skills and strength as quickly as they will in those first few months of a new program. Now is when you work on settling in - make this a lifestyle and a real habit. Focus on staying happy, balanced, uninjured and well rested, so that you can continue on this path for the foreseeable future.

    I never used to believe in food quality as a primary driver of health, but last month I specifically cut out some bad carbs/foods in an attempt to increase my running times by losing a couple of pounds... I didn't lose any weight but I got very significantly and noticeably leaner (hai abs!). So instead of thinking of it as carbs vs. low-carb, try to shift over to good carbs like sweet potatoes and other vegetables.
    posted by pekala at 2:28 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

    The answers are already in your question:

    It could be a mental thing.

    You recently had a chest infection (can take a long time to completely recover from these, I know from experience), and more importantly, you're a smoker. Not even going to touch that except for my stern <em> tag.

    You are eating worse than before! Just because you're taking in more carbs doesn't mean your body is going to perform better. You admit yourself that you're eating junky food.

    I wouldn't say burned out, but I do recommend a break every month or two. Like seven weeks on, one week off. You need a prolonged break (more than one day in a row) every so often, and the breaks you take out of necessity when ill or injured don't count.
    posted by telegraph at 2:36 PM on September 12, 2011

    Anecdotally, it took about 2 months for me to feel fully recovered from a bout of flu followed by bronchitis this spring, and I am not a smoker. The second month I wasn't coughing at all, but my stamina was just crap.
    posted by deludingmyself at 2:38 PM on September 12, 2011

    How long were you low carbing, and to what degree - were you in ketosis? If so, for how long? What did you find to be your daily carb tolerance before experiencing any feelings of sluggishness? Did you include carb-ups for repletion of glycogen?

    Coming off keto requires a period of readjustment, and you're likely much more insulin-sensitive than you were before the diet, leading to aforementioned crashes. Moderate your carb intake (replacing lost calories with fat) and see how your energy levels fare.

    Also, don't rule out that it's simply all in your head. Unless you're logging your workout performance, you have no way of knowing if it really has degraded, or improved for that matter. You absolutely need some way of applying a metric to your athletic output besides your subjective perception of it.
    posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 3:54 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

    I recommend wearing a heart-rate monitor. I use this one and have been very happy with it.

    It was useful for me because I had a hard time telling the difference between I hate exercising; this sucks; enter shame spiral feelings and My heart rate is 185 thus I can't breathe feelings. It also gives you a calories burned total at the end of every workout. (I'm sure they're not accurate, but they are useful for comparing one workout to another.)

    Also, both a 10-day break and a chest infection can have long-term effects in terms of fitness. It always takes me about twice as long to recover from any kind of respiratory problem as I think it will.

    Good luck, and keep going to class!
    posted by purpleclover at 4:22 PM on September 12, 2011

    I think any and all of those could be the issue. Make the changes you can make, and then see where you are.

    The first thing to do is improve the quality of your carbs--whole grains and fruits rather than white flour and corn syrup. Part of the problem may be that your blood sugar is dipping during your workout.

    Secondly, try a different workout to shake up your mindset. Do something completely different, for which you have no mental benchmarks. Maybe you are plateauing, or maybe it just feels like you're plateauing. So try swimming or something for a month or so, then go back to your old workout.

    Third, do something about the smoking. Quit, reduce, whatever works for you.

    I also once took a (seemingly unreasonably) long time to come back from a respiratory infection, but if you've been back to a regular workout for a month, it's probably not your primary problem.
    posted by thinkingwoman at 4:43 PM on September 12, 2011

    Can anyone answer this: if I put a few tablespoons of cooked steel-cut oats in my breakfast smoothie - I have this about an hour before the workout - will this prevent my blood sugar from dropping during the workout?

    (Thanks for these fantastic answers, everybody. I guess there's just no easy answer to these things.)
    posted by kitcat at 4:56 PM on September 12, 2011

    I don't think a good handful of oats can hurt, but if I were you I'd be just as concerned about protein in your pre-workout shake, if not more so.

    What's usually in your smoothie?
    posted by vorfeed at 5:21 PM on September 12, 2011

    My smoothie has plenty of protein :) I think it likely needs more carb.

    - 1 scoop protein powder
    - 1 egg
    - tbsp peanut butter
    - 3/4 cup frozen berries
    posted by kitcat at 7:27 PM on September 12, 2011

    Hmmmm - as for sleep, baby started waking up at least once a night about 2 months ago. Interesting. I still get 8 hours, but it's interrupted.
    posted by kitcat at 7:30 PM on September 12, 2011

    Worrying about carbs during one's workout is for people who work out for hours or are spending that hour squatting 600lbs or something ridiculous. That is, people overestimate the demands their workouts are putting on their body. However, having those oats AFTER your workout with protein powder would be a great post-workout boost.

    It is probably a mix of everything you mentioned. Once you have been working out for a while and that magical beginner period is over, it can be hard to keep going as you simply aren't going to see the same results as you did in the beginning. Especially if you aren't following some kind of planned programming.

    Food quality can greatly affect workout performance. Those bad carbs are likely hurting you and your recovery. You're not Michael Phelps or a 250lbs strongman--there's no need for stacks of pancakes or whatever to fuel your muscle growth. You'd be a lot better off by increasing your protein intake. 70-90g is not a lot at all--more than the 60g RDA, but the 60g RDA is like, a minimum of what you need to live and will not support serious improvements in athletic performance. You should try aiming for at least 1g/lbs bodyweight, double what you're getting.

    Finally, doing different things every day doesn't mean your body will remain in a constant state of adaptation where it will constantly improve forever. The stuff you're doing may involve different movements, but in terms of the metabolic and physical demands on your body it's all hitting the same pathways. When first starting a workout program pretty much anything you do is going to result in improvement simply from your body getting moving. By about the 4-6 month mark, if you want to start improving you have to figure out where your weaknesses are and involve a little more focus to your programming. Waving intensity, maybe going on a six-week strength training program, basically involving some structure with focused goals is going to get you a lot farther than doing a bunch of random stuff three days a week.
    posted by schroedinger at 7:47 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

    Baby wakeups! No other explanation needed, then. (But I still think it's all of the above.) My baby also started wakeups in the 8-10 month range after being a through the night sleeper since 3 weeks old. Instant major decline in stamina and recovery, despite a total decent amount of sleep and not feeling particularly run down otherwise.
    posted by pekala at 9:37 PM on September 12, 2011

    I'm going to do the following, aside from the ongoing attempts to change baby's nighttime habits:

    Stop eating the bad carbs altogether (except once a week cheat meal) and add in very small amounts of low glycemic carb, some before and definitely some after the workouts.

    Wear my heart rate watch and check in with my heart rate frequently. Yeah, I don't trust the calorie feature at all; it once told me I burned about 500 calories over an hour at rest...

    Throw an extra scoop of protein into my smoothie.

    Maybe cut out one class during the week and replace with two strength training sessions in the gym.

    Maybe take those swimming lessons I've been thinking about, set some swimming goals replace another day with swimming.

    Looking forward to this. Thanks!
    posted by kitcat at 8:20 AM on September 13, 2011

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