Workouts are meant to work your body harder than it’s accustomed to. Without the challenge that exercise offers, your muscles wouldn’t grow or become stronger and your cardiovascular system wouldn’t become more efficient and you wouldn’t develop greater endurance. However, even workouts early in the day can bring on fatigue. While some people feel energized, especially after a light workout, an intense workout can leave you with a lingering feeling of tiredness. However, there are ways to reduce fatigue after a workout. Here are some you should know about.
Hydrate Before, During, and After Your Workouts
Studies show that even mild dehydration, to the point that you don’t feel thirsty yet, can cause fatigue. Other symptoms you might experience when you’re mildly dehydrated include headache, lack of motivation, and brain fog.
As you know, exercise, especially in a warm environment, can cause dehydration since you’re losing fluid and electrolytes through sweating. All too often, people get back to work after a workout without replacing the fluids they lost. If you’re feeling tired after a sweat session, the culprit may not be exercise but the fluid you lost.
To reduce fatigue due to fluid loss:
- Prepare your body for a workout beforehand by drinking 16 ounces of fluid 30 minutes beforehand.
- During exercise, consume 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes.
- Check your urine color after a workout. If it’s darker than light yellow, drink more water. If you exercised for 90 minutes or more or longer than 60 minutes in a hot environment, drink an electrolyte-rich beverage instead.
Get Your Nutrition Right
Some people exercise in a fasted state in hopes of shifting energy mobilization to fat, but if you’re doing a high-intensity workout, it’s better to have a snack that contains carbs to protein in a 3 to 1 ratio. Whether you exercise in a fasted or fed state, grab some nutrition after your workout. Again, a ratio of 3 to 1 carbohydrate to protein works well. Your muscles need the protein for repair and recovery, and you need the carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen stores. Eating carbohydrates after a workout also helps lower cortisol, a stress hormone that causes muscle and bone loss and suppresses the immune system.
Do an Active Recovery
After doing an active cooldown, spend at least fifteen minutes doing an active recovery. Doing this will help your muscles recover, and that can help with post-workout fatigue. Do some static stretching to lengthen the muscles you just worked. If your muscles are tight after a workout, you’ll feel less energetic.
Massage or Foam Rolling
Two other ways to reduce post-workout fatigue are massage and foam rolling. Of the two, there’s more evidence to support massage as a fatigue reducer over foam rolling. A study in Frontiers of Physiology found that of several recovery modalities they tested, including water immersion, massage, or wearing compression garments, massage was the most effective for relieving after-exercise fatigue. However, foam rolling after a workout helps reduce muscle tension and increase circulation to your muscles, and that can help your muscle feel less fatigued.
A Cold Shower after a Workout
It might be a shock to your system, but a cold shower or bath can wake up tired muscles and give your brain a jolt too. The previously mentioned study from Frontiers of Physiology found cryotherapy, immersing yourself in or applying cold, helps combat post-workout fatigue, although not as well as massage, and the cold helps flush out metabolic waste products from the muscle and reduce inflammation. However, based on the study, cold was the best for reducing inflammation. Other studies looking at whether cryotherapy reduces exercise fatigue are mixed. What’s the proper temperature? Between 50 and 59 degrees, F. is enough to offer benefits. It may take some getting used to though!
Be Smart with Your Training
You’ll feel less fatigued after a workout if you keep your training balanced. Doing high-intensity interval training every workout will increase the fatigue you feel after an exercise session. Doing vigorous workouts too often can also raise levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, that have a negative effect on your health and well-being. Alternate intense workouts with lighter ones and don’t do intense workouts more than two or three times per week. Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep each night for recovery and to keep cortisol in check. Sleep quality matters too, so avoid devices that emit blue light within two hours of bedtime.
You’ll get the best results from your workouts if you keep them balanced. Your body adapts to training by becoming stronger and more resilient, but push it too far, and it puts your nervous system into sympathetic overdrive and raises cortisol. Monitor for signs that you’re overreaching such as:
- Increased heart rate when you wake up in the morning
- Excessive fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or staying motivated
- Elevated blood pressure
- Insomnia and poor-quality sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive anxiety or feelings of depression
These are signs that your body isn’t getting enough recovery time or you’re pushing too hard. Use them as a warning sign to allow your body more time to recover between sessions.
Inadequate balance between workout and rest: too much or too intense load going beyond the recovery capacity of your body. Doing this can interfere with your gains and cause other issues such as decreased immunity and mental health issues. Keep your training balanced!
The Bottom Line
Exercise can be exhausting, but you don’t have to feel exhausted afterward. Take these steps to reduce the fatigue you feel afterward. Small changes like adequate hydration and nutrition can have a major impact on how you feel for the rest of the day. Most importantly, don’t exceed your body’s ability to adapt to the stress you place on it. Take recovery as seriously as you do your workouts, and you’ll enjoy them more and maximize your fitness too.
- “Dehydration and Its Effects on Performance” Asker Jeukenrup and Micheal Gleeson
- Front Physiol. 2018; 9: 403.Published online 2018 Apr 26. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00403.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2008 May;22(3):1015-24. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816eb518.
- edu. “Tips for Avoiding Muscle Fatigue When Exercising”