7 Best Tips to Fight Fatigue Symptoms in Active Individuals
Do you long for that afternoon nap each day? Do your eyes start to close 30 minutes after breakfast? Do you ever feel like a slug on certain training days and can’t explain why? I understand because I’ve been there before!
Your coach blames it on overtraining. Your doctor blames it on growth spurts (for adolescents) or aging (for adults). Your family blames it on sleep. While all of these are possibilities, there is a pretty good chance the fatigue symptoms you are experiencing is related to your diet! Through My own struggles, I’ve learned how to correct these symptoms and feel like a champ again. So, I’m going to show you sometimes and tricks so you get to feeling good again yourself.
7 Ways to Fight Fatigue For Consistent Energy
1. It All Starts With Meal Timing
Sporadic meal timing is never a good idea for an athlete, let alone some who may have symptoms of fatigue or sluggishness! There are two major major reasons for why sporadic meals can contribute to fatigue in athletes:
1) Eating inconsistently can lead to blood sugar irregularity. After you eat, your blood sugar rises. At the same time, your body releases insulin, a hormone that helps bring your blood sugar back to normal. However, if you skip meals or snacks, then have a large meal later in the day, excess insulin is produced to tackle that meal. The end result? The excess insulin causes your blood sugar to come crashing down and now you are suddenly fatigued. Not to mention, insulin is a fat storage hormone so if meal skipping is a habit of yours, don’t be surprised when you start to notice excess belly fat!
2) It is nearly impossible to consume all of the nutrition your body needs in order to support your sport’s training demands if you are not eating every 3-4 hours! Plus, if you skip meals or snacks during the day and consume an extra large load of food close to bedtime, this can actually decrease the quality of your sleep! Our bodies prefer to focus on digestion, THEN sleep!
2. Don’t Forget to Include Quality Plant Based Fat
Contrary to popular belief, eating good quality fat does not make you fat! In fact, if combined with a well-balanced diet low in added sugar, it will help lower your overall body fat as well as help an athlete fight fatigue.
Including quality fat at each meal can help stabilize blood sugar and provide your body with a steady source of energy, allowing you to feel full for longer while avoiding that post-meal crash in energy. Additionally, good quality fat is necessary for a healthy metabolism, hormone production, immunity, cell signaling and the absorption of many nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K! It’s time to start adding avocados, nut/seed butters, and olive oil to your grocery list.
3. Avoid Added Sugar
Easier said than done, but removing items sweetened with sugar (as well as artificial sweeteners!) can make a world of difference when it comes to energy. This includes but is not limited to soda, juice, certain sports drinks, candy, cakes, and even sugar-sweetened yogurt and granola bars!
It is important to remember that insulin, a hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar, takes the food you eat and plugs it back into your cells in order to lower blood sugar in a timely fashion. That rise in insulin is even higher after you eat a meal, snack or drink a beverage that is mostly comprised of sugar. However, the higher the rise, the lower the fall. The lower the fall, the more fatigue you will experience. Furthermore, this fatigue may lead you to crave more sugar or unnecessary food to raise your energy levels back up. The end result? Unwanted weight gain, extra belly fat, and a further worsening of the “eat and nap” cycle. If you’re an athlete and want to fight fatigue, keeping your blood sugar level throughout the day will make a major difference.
4. Limit Caffeine
Yes. It’s true! If you want to experience greater energy throughout the day, consider limiting or even removing all forms of caffeine from your diet.
It sounds counterintuitive but think of it this way, you chug that cup of coffee, energy shot or energy drink and then you need to use the restroom shortly thereafter. When you use the restroom (#1 AND #2), your body loses water. When your body loses water, your blood actually thickens, resulting in slower blood flow throughout our body. Slower blood flow means less oxygen for us to use. Less oxygen = fatigue = “I need more caffeine to stay awake!!” The vicious cycle repeats and you are now trapped in the cage of chronic fatigue.
So many athletes do not consume enough fluids each day. It is especially important for those of you training in the heat, higher altitudes, and those of you taking additional supplementation. As little as 3% loss of body weight due to dehydration can lead to a significant decline in energy, memory, cognition and overall athletic performance! When you lose fluid, your body experiences a drop in blood volume. This forces your heart to work harder to pump oxygen and nutrients into the bloodstream to your brain and muscles.
6. Keep a Food Journal
Alright, so the last thing you probably feel like doing is keeping a food journal. However, it is the most effective and affordable way to detect a food sensitivity, allergy or intolerance. One of the most common symptoms of a food sensitivity (simply an undesirable symptom, different from an allergy) is fatigue.
Here is your challenge: For two weeks, journal every bite of food and every sip of beverage. Make note of any symptoms that you experience. Be sure to track the days you felt especially great as well as the days you felt extra tired. Prefer not to write? Check out mySymptoms, an app that helps you track and organize your intake as well as related symptoms. After two weeks, you should start to notice patterns with specific foods or food families. If you still have trouble connecting the dots, bring your journal or mySymptoms information to your sports dietitian to evaluate.
7. Eat Real Food
Processed food is a major culprit for daily fatigue. Unfortunately, our food industry is using more chemicals, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners than ever before. While it is so easy to judge a food product by its calories instead of its ingredients, that is not the best approach.
ALWAYS look at the ingredient list before you ever glance at the nutrition facts panel.
If your food is a box of chemicals, it no longer matters how much protein or how many calories it contains. Most processed foods contain virtually zero nutritional benefits and there is not much our body can do with this type of food. Think of it as swallowing a clump of wasted space! Our bodies are in constant need of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients in order to function at the highest level each day. High-quality food is the #1 way your body receives energy each day. When you choose processed foods over whole, fresh foods, our body doesn’t have the power it needs to operate efficiently, thus leading to constant fatigue.
There are a number of reasons fatigue symptoms can creep into the life of an athlete. Sometimes it is a simple fix such as hydration or meal timing while other situations are more complex in nature such as mold or toxin exposure. If you’ve tried these 7 strategies to fight fatigue and experienced minimal success, we encourage you to see sports dietitian or functional medicine specialist for further testing.