Why does exercise make me feel bad the next day?
March 18, 2006 2:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I avoid exercise hangovers?

I exercise every other day, about half an hour of really vigorous swimming (plus stretching and all the rest) usually around lunchtime. I've been doing this on and off for about six months, very regularly for the last few months. I eat breakfast (protein-y fiber-y twiggy cereal, fruit, lowfat milk, coffee), swim and have lunch, go about my day. The next day at about mid-day I often just sort of feel bad. I have sore muscles sometimes which I figure is normal, but this is just grouchiness, clumsiness, ootchiness, loaginess, etc. I have heard people referring to an exercise hangover, but I don't know if this is what this is, I just know I don't like it and if it's related to exercising and/or food I'd like to stop it. Swimming every day is pretty hard on my schedule, so I'm not looking for that sort of advice, mostly trying to eat better and/or get at what's behind this.

I've never been someone who exercised regularly, just sort of ate right and ran around and everything was in balance. Now that I'm more sedentary and live in a place with real winter, I exercise. However I don't know much about eating for exercising. I watch what I eat, though I don't diet, so I usually stay away from energy bar type food. I drink enough water and I think I take in enough salts and sugars but I don't know for sure. If anyone has had this happen, or knows more about sports nutrition or could point me someplace where I could read more about conquering this, I'd be really grateful.
posted by jessamyn to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I had the same thing.

Speaking personally, it took my metabolism (or something, I don't really know) a long time to get used to regular exercise. A few months, maybe a year. After that, it got much easier and had less of an impact on my system. I also had a lot more energy and was generally feeling a lot better.

The drawback of course is that you depend on the exercise and if you stop you feel it acutely. Not such a bad thing, I suppose, but that's that.
posted by milinar at 2:24 PM on March 18, 2006

This sounds like some sort of nutrient or mineral deficiency. Lack of sodium or potassium can lead to this sort of tired, unfocused, crankiness.
posted by nixerman at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2006

I got that a day after doing Bikram (hot) yoga. For me, though, it felt like my body was craving the exercise high or the raised body heat, so when I got that I'd just go to class even if I hadn't been planning to. I wonder if it would help to do fifteen minutes of stretching or take a walk before lunch on your off days.
posted by salvia at 3:00 PM on March 18, 2006

Also: remember to adapt your eating habits.

You are depleting a lot more fuel than you're used to. You have to eat and drink more to compensate, even if your stomach isn't telling you so.
posted by milinar at 3:13 PM on March 18, 2006

Are you getting enough carbs? Sounds to me like you could be skimping on those and the bottom line is the more active you are, the more carbs you need. Carbs are fuel. You particularly need them if you do constant-burn exercise like running, swimming, cycling etc.

The recent low-carb fad carries some bad, bad notions, especially for those who are active.
posted by Decani at 3:13 PM on March 18, 2006

Can you have a wee bite of something right before you swim?

And don't forget to hydrate.

(you'll hate this but I used to eat a bowl of Kashi Golean AND a poptart before going to work out. Like rocket fuel, it was. And I lost weight.)
posted by konolia at 3:23 PM on March 18, 2006

I get this too and it seems to be related to the intensity of the cardio exercise I did the prior day. Thinking in terms of heartrate - if I stay pretty consistently in the fat burn or lower cardio zones (say 60%-75% of my max heartrate) I generally feel fine or even great the next day. If I push into the anaerobic zone (85%+), I'm much likelier to suffer an exercise hangover.

I've found 4 things that help avoid a hangover even after an intense workout:

1) Drink a ton of water, way more than you may think you need. I drink 1 to 1.5 liters after 45 minutes of cardio.
2) Eat small, balanced meals for the rest of the day. Don't go to bed hungry.
3) Get lots of sleep. An extra hour of sleep seems to help a lot, as a big part of the exercise hangover feels like tiredness to me. Also, a nap will often cure a hanover in progress (naps aren't really practical at work though).
4) Do some light exercise the next morning before you go to work. Even a few sun salutations or a 15-minute walk will help.
posted by rhiannon at 3:32 PM on March 18, 2006

i suspect it's a salt thing. when you swim, you sweat, even though it doesn't really feel like it. when you do other kinds of exercise you sweat but you notice it, and so people tend to be better about staying hydrated. make sure you're getting a quart of water or so for every 30-40 minutes you exercise.

when you sweat you lose a LOT of salt and other minerals (after a long bike ride, my clothes used to turn white and get almost-crunchy from all the deposited salt that was left behind when the sweat evaporated).

i don't know how much salt you normally eat, but if you exercise and sweat you need more salt. sodium is a major neurotransmitter and a lack of it (potassium, too) can seriously interfere with your nervous system. this'll lead to clumsiness, grouchies etc.

try adding a little more salt to what you eat afterwards, and have a banana or other potassium-rich foods. i always thought gatorade was kind of icky until i drank some after a long, hard hike -- it's basically just water, sugar, and salts -- and it was exactly what i needed.

could also be low blood sugar, but that usually happens during a long workout, not the day after. best cure for this is hard-to-digest complex carbohydrates like whole grains (NOT simple sugars, though in small amounts they can tide you over in the middle of a long workout).

this just comes about because your body cannot keep up with the energy demands you're placing on it. (google:bonk exercise for more info - can range from weakness and the blahs, to actually passing out).

overall i'd say salt + water are probably your best bets, particularly with swimming, where you don't realize how much you're sweating.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 3:46 PM on March 18, 2006

Sip some water regularly throughout your workout and eat some carbs within twenty minutes of finishing.

We were given this advice during a dance safety course some years back, so it might be considered outdated now, but it certainly seems to work.
posted by Tarrama at 4:29 PM on March 18, 2006

You could be drinking too much water or just too much too quickly to rehydrate.

To check on the water, weigh yourself before swimming. Weigh yourself after, and hydrate only until you reach the same weight you were before exercising (replacing the water weight you sweated out). You'll then have a gauge of how much you need to be drinking. Overhydrating can have similar symptoms to underhydrating.

You could also be waiting too long to eat after exercise.
posted by Airhen at 4:39 PM on March 18, 2006

When I started working out last year, I experienced the same thing. It was aleviated when I started walking on my non workout days. A brisk walk for about a mile or so.

Now that you have been working out regularly your body is probably kicking up it's production of endorphines on your workout days and noticeably depleting on off days. A brisk walk on off days should help.
posted by snsranch at 5:43 PM on March 18, 2006

Are you getting enough sleep? Perhaps you are just worn out and not well rested.
posted by MrZero at 5:54 PM on March 18, 2006

Blood sugar imbalance, perhaps?
posted by drstein at 6:27 PM on March 18, 2006

Thanks everyone. I've been doing pretty good at eating carbs pretty soon after exercising [I've heard carbs and protein before, and then carbs and sugars afterwards, salt too I guess] and the water is definitely at acceptable levels but I have been concerned about salt intake. I freaking HATE Gatorade but I'll try to see if I can find anything with potassium in a simlar fashion and up my general mobility on my days off.
posted by jessamyn at 7:23 PM on March 18, 2006

Hmmm... I can say that back when I worked out quite vigorously (maybe 10 hours a week, a few days a week, both weights and cardio) I also had the luxury of a weekly one-hour Swedish massage. In those days I never had any pain or soreness. When my massage therapist moved away and the massages stopped -- what a noticeable difference. I think a weekly massage (even if only 30min/week or 60min/2x per month) could help your situation. If you have health insurance, you can check your coverage to see if there are any discounts/coverage. Aetna offers us discounted rates on massage therapy through practitioners willing to give it to Aetna members -- no insurance billing or annoying paperwork required.
posted by mojabunni at 8:34 PM on March 18, 2006

For me, water was the solution to this. Drink more.
posted by knave at 9:29 PM on March 18, 2006

Got (chocolate) milk?
posted by paulsc at 9:44 PM on March 18, 2006

This is getting a little off topic here, but I'd like to say I do not think it is a sodium issue. In October of '02 I did Bally's 30-day "Rapid Results" challenge, where you take a before and after picture, trying to create the biggest dramatic difference to win money. I got a personal trainer who put me on this pretty extreme diet -- NO SALT AT ALL. She wouldn't let me (well, told me not to) consume tomatoes or onions, either -- too naturally high in sodium. Why? Sodium intake = water retention. Only once or twice did I feel at all like I was low on the electrolyte balance (feeling weak/worn and like my stamina was reduced), and I think I remedied it with a pinch of salt or Gatorade or something, then it was no big deal.

We really don't need a lot of sodium... I remember in '04 when I took microbiology, our professor spoke about a recent study mentioned in the news, if I recall correctly, discovered we don't need as much salt as the recommended daily intake suggests (as in, discovering a much smaller optimum daily intake amount), and it cited that most Americans consume 1,100 times more than we actually need in a day. That might be off, but the RDA is about 1 tsp of salt a day, maximum. It's recommended to consume less than that. Many people have argued that RDA's are misleading because they're kind of the bare minimum to stay alive, developed in response to an era of deficiency diseases like scurvy or rickets. Some people argue in favor of changing it to a maximum (not minimum) daily allowance...etc. Just trying to illustrate why I don't think it's poor sodium :) Unless you never consume onions, soda, tomatoes, anything processed, etc.. You are probably good on the sodium intake. If you feel unsure, you can always use something like Diet Analysis software. Or this looks pretty cool, and is free.
posted by mojabunni at 9:48 PM on March 18, 2006

Assuming you're eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water, this is a classic case of overtraining. Overtraining peripheral muscles is merely a nuisance, in the case of cardio it can be dangerous if taken to the extreme.

1) Back off on the intensity and frequency immediately. NOW.

2) Get a Heart Rate Monitor, figure out the heart-rate zones that apply to you. A book like the High Performance Heart explains things pretty well.

3) From now on, excercise only in the "moderate" zone for the bulk of the time, and in the "high" zone infrequently such as during sprint-intervals.

4) After building a solid cardio base for six months to a year, you can kick it up a notch again. But not beyond the heart rate limits for your age group.

Excercise science is complex, but it basically boils down to this: you push your body near its limits, allow it time to adapt, and you are stronger. Rinse, repeat. If you compress the cycle to a certain degree, your body cannot adapt quickly enough to the stress, and you have an overtraining situation. The only solution is rest.
posted by randomstriker at 9:56 PM on March 18, 2006

The next day at about mid-day I often just sort of feel bad. I have sore muscles sometimes which I figure is normal, but this is just grouchiness, clumsiness, ootchiness, loaginess, etc.

I'm not reallllly sure I understand what happens and I'm sure I've never seen those last 2 words ever heh.

30mins swimming/exercise every other day is pretty low key on the scale. You sound like you eat generally well.

Are mood and coordination 'changes' the main things? And you are sure there's a relationship to exercise or food? (rhetorical questions).

I know it's cliche to suggest it but let's say that if you were my sister, I would encourage you to get a checkup +/- some blood tests. Why? Just because I would want to make sure that there isn't something else going on (I have no idea, but the vagueness of description and the fact that it's regular and the fact that you sense something's up mean a trip to a Doc is warranted)

Otherwise you might like to recraft your description of symptoms and send it to AskAlice +/- the other sites that I know that you know.
posted by peacay at 3:59 AM on March 19, 2006

I'm familiar with the sensation. Eat more (especially right before and after exercise). Drink more water. You may also want to try a multivitamin.

For both alcohol and "exercise" hangovers, ibuprofen can seriously improve one's sense of well-being.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:38 AM on March 19, 2006

I used to get sore the day after working out & don't anymore; not exactly sure what changed, may have just got used to it. But I do recommend gatorade right after a work out - as nasty as it tastes when you haven't worked up a sweat, it really seems to hit the spot when you have (which is kinda in keeping with the above about lacking salt). I have also increased protein & "good fat" consumption over the last couple years - just started craving more eggs, avocados, coconut, etc., but I think it's been beneficial.
posted by mdn at 7:23 AM on March 19, 2006

Tarrama: Dance Safety Course?
posted by small_ruminant at 10:16 AM on March 19, 2006

Jessamyn, have you tried Smart Water before? It has basically the same ingredients as Gatorade, but without the gross chemical taste. I've bought it at my local Whole Foods after some non-exercise hangovers, and it seems to work every time.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:37 AM on March 19, 2006

Grapes work well as a Gatorade substitute.
posted by Airhen at 12:12 PM on March 19, 2006

Try milk. A glass of milk after working out will help hydrate, as well as giving you protein and carbs, a little bit of sodium, and of course that marvelous calcium and vitamin d. Maybe this doesn't help, and you really do need gatorade or some other sports drink, but I think it would be good to try out milk first.
posted by ch1x0r at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2006

This happens to me also, except sooner - I'm crotchety, tired, ootchy and loaginy in the evening, after a noonhour workout.

What has really helped for me was shortening the cardio (I was doing 40-45 minutes on an elliptical machine) and adding a weight training session. I'm not sure why this helps, however, it leaves me energized and ready to go in the evenings now.

Apparently the advise is to weight train first, then cardio, but I do the opposite. In your case, you're swimming so changing outfits to do some weight training might not be practical, but hopefully you'll get an idea.
posted by Brando_T. at 1:39 PM on March 20, 2006

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