Why does going to the gym make you feel so exhausted? That’s a good question, because the truth is: it shouldn’t.
Working out generally gives people a jolt of energy and mental clarity that lasts long into the day. Yeah, you might feel some muscle aches and stiffness, but you shouldn’t feel beat down and listless for hours after you get home.
I’ve never really had that problem – until I started a new diet. Now, instead of coming home from workouts high as a kite, I was ready to fall into bed.
After some research, I realized my mistake. I’d recently started banning carbs. Like restricting all carbs – not just bread and rice and the obvious picks. Barring some other medical condition, this was likely my problem.
As it turns out, this came with some very good news. At certain times of day and with a little help from our friend The Gym, turns out that Me and Carbs can get along just fine.
Why Carbs Are Not The Antichrist
First off, Mother Nature sweetens her fruits with fructose, which is very different from the added sugars that Big Corporations put in candy. Fruit also contains antioxidants like phenols and can actually speed up your glucose metabolism by triggering insulin release. Insulin tells our bodies to use sugar for energy rather than send it to our hips to become fat. This in turn helps replenish the ready-to-use energy stores in our muscles and liver, which means we’re in tip top shape for a nice, long workout.
If you’re looking to lose weight, 40 to 50% of your daily intake should still be from carbs. That includes sugars, starches and fiber. As a rule, you want to go with “whole carbs” versus “refined sugar.”
- Whole carbs are found in things like fruit, veggies, legumes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and milk. Basically, if it looks like it came right from the farm, it’s good for you.
- Refined carbohydrates are anything that require a manufacturing process in order to become edible. That can include (non-whole) grains, wheat, rice, cereals, pastas, bread and artificial sweeteners.
Before You Workout
It’s generally recommended that you have a carb-friendly meal about 1-2 hours before you workout. If you’re preparing to run 20 miles or complete some other feat of athletic prowess, you’re free to “carbo load” over a big bowl of pasta. If you’re just going to take a 10 minute jog on the treadmill, don’t go nuts.
Some ideas: For one, I’m literally obsessed with frozen bananas. Seriously, when I’m not eating frozen bananas, I’m thinking about when I can eat frozen bananas next. They also happen to be great before a workout because they fill you up with potassium, which you’ll deplete when sweating. Other ideas: hard boiled eggs, deli chicken, or fresh veggies and hummus. Things like oatmeal and nuts will take longer to digest, so you’ll be energized for longer.
During the Workout
When you work out, your body is so focused on your ‘fight or flight’ response, it doesn’t have time for complicated metabolic choices. Luckily, you now have a ready store of energy already built up that it can work with. Drink water every ten minutes to keep your metabolic machines well-lubricated.
After the Workout
Even after you stop, your body keeps going – rebuilding muscle, rebalancing fluids, and replenishing chemical building blocks. In order to do that, it needs power and materials – respectively, glycogen and protein. Your post-workout meal is one of the most important of the day, so take in a hearty balance carbs and proteins right away. One simple idea is a homemade smoothie with frozen fruit and protein powder. Or, plan your workouts so you can eat lunch or dinner right after.
Another Possible Culprit: Adrenal Fatigue
There’s one other reason you might be fatiguing after a workout, and it has nothing to do with what you eat. It could be that you are exercising too much. Yep, it’s true, too much of a good thing is in fact bad. Primarily, it’s because you’re not giving your body enough time to repair muscle and replenish stock. Many people describe the condition as adrenal fatigue because your body throws out stress (fight or flight) hormones during an intense workout. Once you’re no longer being threatened by burpees and barbells, your adrenal glands need time to make more hormones. If you dive right back into danger, you’ll never fully recharge your battery. If food is fuel, adrenaline is the ignition. So take a break between workout days. Rotate cardio with strength training with some completely off-days in between.
So in conclusion… there are times when eating sugar and being lazy will actually improve your overall fitness! You’re very welcome. Now, I’m off to eat some frozen bananas.
- WebMD: What to eat before, during and after exercise.
- Fitness Magazine: Best Workout Foods
- Do Low Carb Diets Affect Exercise Fatigue?
- Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs: What Are You Eating?
- Exercise and Carbs: A Game Changer – Arnold Schwartzenegger.com
- Carbs Before a Workout and Protein After – Livestrong.com
- Fruit Sugar vs. Table Sugar