Recovery is the most overlooked element of training, yet one of the most critical for better performance and training. More often than not, we are consumed with the thought that loading the barbell with more plates, lifting heavier loads, and smashing out more reps is the only way to achieve performance goals. Wrong… sorta. Hard workouts are great don’t get me wrong but without optimizing your recovery with proper rehab and recovery techniques, nutrition, and supplementation you’re going to find yourself struggling to compete with other athletes and your most important competitor – yourself. If you can recover faster and more effectively you can improve training sessions, and ultimately surpass performance potentials.
Fatigue. That big, bold, and annoying elephant that places itself in your workout right when you don’t want it. Not only then, but you notice it’s harder to get up in the morning and get going, simple workouts seem heavy and overdrawn. It goes on for days, then weeks, then even months. So how do you deal with chronic post-exercise fatigue? It comes down to four things: adequate rest, recovery/rehab techniques, nutrition, and supplementation. You’ve made it this far without it – now imagine the possibilities if you dial in all four of these mechanisms and how much better your athletic performance will be.
What Is Exercise Fatigue
Exercise fatigue is the barrier that stands between you and your athletic potential. If you could defer fatigue and reduce the consequences of it, it's a no-brainer that you’d wake up feeling better, perform better, and reap better results from the work you put in each day. Right? Right. Unfortunately, we will never be able to rid our bodies of fatigue as it is the natural way of our minds telling our bodies to slow down to incite recovery strategies. By raising your exercise fatigue threshold you can ultimately reduce chronic exercise fatigue.
Traditional exercise fatigue that you may experience after an intense set of reps, is much different than chronic or extreme exercise Fatigue. Exercise fatigue refers to a serious drop in power and performance over time, often resulting in burnout. This is also known as overreaching. Factors such as overheating and dehydration throughout workouts, inadequate rest and recovery, suboptimal nutrition, and lack of proper supplement protocol are all potential factors, which can accumulate and attribute to extreme exercise fatigue.
How Does Exercise Fatigue Occur?
Increased System Acidity
Accumulating hydrogen ions in the blood and fluids surrounding muscle cells leads to the eventual increase in the body’s acidity and is a direct cause of fatigue during short, high-intensity workouts. This can be felt with heavy, labored breathing and burning sensations in the exhausted muscles. This form of fatigue can be managed by training near or slightly above the body’s anabolic threshold. In order to gauge this threshold based on your own personal athletic ability, it is recommended to complete a 30-minute time trial at max effort. The last 20 minutes will be the average closest to your anabolic threshold.
Carnosyn Beta-Alanine is the only proven sports supplement that can buffer hydrogen ions, reducing system acidity, subsequently counteracting lactic acid buildup, thus delaying exercise fatigue. By efficiently reducing the time to exhaustion and fatigue during your workout, you directly influence performance and increase workout volume.
Reduced Levels of Glycogen and Glucose
Glycogen is the carbohydrate form of fuel stored in working muscles. Early on in your endurance/functional fitness workouts, glycogen and fat are the primary sources used as fuel for energy generation. In order for this to work, carbohydrates must be present in the muscles. As glycogen stores start to deplete after exercise performed over time and over 70% max VO2, the body then looks to the carbohydrates in the bloodstream, called glucose.
Glucose is sourced from the blood which is pumped out from the liver. When the supply of glycogen and glucose is used from both the muscles and the liver, insert fatigue. The crash. The burn. The dreaded wall. The party is over and you’re not ready to go home yet. Every individual’s supply of glycogen is different meaning levels of fatigue vary from athlete to athlete.
The only way to prolong or avoid this type of fatigue is to accurately replace carbohydrate storage by taking in fuel before, during, and after exercise. This can be via liquid or solid form and should be gauged based on the needs of the individual athlete. Carb loading is often a strategy used by endurance athletes to ensure ample levels and quantities of glycogen, come race time. Carbs are equally as important post-workout to ensure proper recovery and to reduce exercise fatigue.
Swolverine’s Clean Carbs was made to address exercise fatigue and provide long-lasting sustained energy and optimal recovery for athletes. Made with four complex carbohydrate superfoods sweet potatoes, yams, oats, and blueberries, Clean carbs is one of the only complex carbohydrate supplements made from real food. Other carbohydrate supplements are made with maltodextrin, dextrose, and cyclic dextrin sourced from modified and refined sugar, providing quick bursts of energy, and hard crashes.
Neuromuscular Junction Failure
The nervous system transmits electrochemical impulses from the spinal cord to the muscle fiber. The point at which the nerve axon meets the muscle fiber is where the muscle innervation occurs. When this type of failure/fatigue onsets, the athlete is unable to fully stimulate and contract a muscle or muscle group. This is not only a form of fatigue but also leads to those uncomfortable and painful muscle cramps.
Avoiding neuromuscular junction failure is hard to pinpoint but some tips include drinking adequate levels of fluids throughout the day, consuming appropriate levels of electrolytes, and balancing training in preparation for competition so that the output matches the input
Increased of Tryptophan in the Brain
This type of fatigue is probably one of the least understood factors when it comes to fatigue, unfortunately. Typically speaking, during long events (3+ hours), there are changes that take place in the blood amino acid levels leading to chemical reactions in the brain that cause you to feel sleepy, yawny, and depressed energy. Simply finishing a WOD may become an extremely hard task and is not actually recommended in order to prevent injury.
During exercise or competition days that require an extremely high level of output over long durations of time, certain types of tryptophan and the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) enter a competition with each other as a race to the brain on the same blood ‘carrier’ – albumin. More often than not BCAAs will the race and are able to reach the brain in larger quantities and faster uptakes than tryptophan. But as the BCAAs are depleted, the tryptophan levels increase where it is then converted into a chemical widely known as serotonin. You may think that increased levels of serotonin through this process will lead to a happier mood, increased social behavior, appetite, and memory, but in this case, serotonin contributes to sleep, function, and digestion. Not something you want to experience if you’re in the middle of an intense training session.
Supplementing BCAAs helps support endurance, better recovery, and delays mental and physical fatigue. BCAA dosage varies by the athlete and can be taken prior to, during, or post-workout depending on personal preference.
Decreased Glutamine Stores
Another hypothesis for why exercise fatigue may occur is depleted glutamine stores. Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning that in times of increased physical stress or trauma, glutamine may be completely depleted, and must be replenished through diet or supplementation. Glutamine helps the body rebuild muscle tissue, through directing nitrogen atoms. Glutamine reduces exercise-induced muscle mass breakdown and exercises soreness. Glutamine also helps improve immune system health. Studies indicate that lower glutamine levels, may increase susceptibility to infection and chances of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes during and after high-intensity training [R].
RELATED ARTICLE Why L-Glutamine Is The Best Supplement For Recovery And Soreness
Supplementing with 5g of L-Glutamine on training days can help improve immune health, by increasing recovery times. Therefore, reducing exercise fatigue and improving overall performance.
Going Beyond Fatigue – Overtraining & Overreaching
Effective training is so much more than just brutal workouts day in and day out. Effective training is an adequate balance between stress and rest at a steady rate and increase. When this balance is appropriately achieved fitness and health levels are able to be increased at a stable rate. When rest exceeds stress, the body quickly achieves an intense level of preparedness to compete – this is called tapering.
When stress greatly exceeds rest, for prolonged periods of time, athletes begin to experience merciless levels of fatigue and exhaustion. Adaptability is compromised and the body’s natural defense mechanisms intended to actually prevent death (homeostatic reaction) are initiated. This is called overtraining.
It is important to understand that although overtraining may occur from too much exercise and not enough rest it might be related to the other factors that affect our daily lives. This includes work, school, relationships, finances, nutrition, etc. Even if you have a near-perfect fitness balance between physiological expenditure and rest if these other dimensions of your life are out of whack, chances are your fitness is going to be severely impacted as well. Sometimes this is called ‘over-living’ in comparison to ‘over-training’. Regardless of what it is called the body reacts the same way.
Regularly reassessing and realigning your priorities and goals with not only fitness, nutrition, and supplementation but the other dimensions of your overall health will help mitigate fatigue and improve recovery times. By paying close attention to the elements of recovery, especially rest, nutrition, and proper supplementation, you can actually avoid overtraining all together and improve your fatigue threshold and athletic potential.
Unless you are an elite-level athlete, you’ll most likely never truly experience overtraining. Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is a clinical diagnosis with very arbitrary definitions, with limited clinical research. Increased performance can only occur, when training loads are increased, by intensity and or duration. However, when performance suffers due to a lack of recovery and an increase in exercise fatigue, overreaching can occur. With adequate rest and recovery, you can reduce exercise fatigue and increase performance.
Athletes become so accustomed to the extreme fatigue and stress they place on their body, that extreme chronic fatigue isn’t even a second thought. Extreme exercise fatigue happens to be a condition that is unique to each individual’s circumstances and regimens. Although certain characteristics are common, there is no one-size-fits-all way of defining it. Two major symptoms to note though are decreased performance regardless of the input of training as well as chronic, and often seriously high levels, of fatigue.
How to Overcome Exercise Fatigue
The first step in overcoming exercise fatigue is nutrition. Proper post-workout nutrition is vital to ensure adequate levels of macro and micronutrients, in order to initiate muscle protein synthesis and glycogenesis, to rebuild muscle mass and reduce exercise fatigue.
RELATED ARTICLE Post Workout Nutrition: What You Should Eat After Your Workout
Why Carbohydrates Are Important
Glycogen stores vary, yet most competitive athletes store up to 2,000 calories of glycogen within the muscle tissue, with smaller amounts in the liver and blood (glucose). Compared to the availability of energy sourced from fat and protein, glycogen and glucose are rather limited, making up only about 1 to 2 percent of the body’s complete energy storage. Although storage is low, we must not underestimate the importance of this energy source for these types of athletic demands.
As carbohydrate storage is depleted, the body no longer encompasses the ability to use fat as an energy source (the most abundant source) and turns to use protein. Using protein as the main energy source comes at a time when the body is facing large levels of fatigue. Because of the body’s inability to maintain an adequate use of glycogen and glucose stores ultimately leads to poor performance and overtraining. The last thing you want to do when strength and endurance training is forcing your body to use the muscle you’ve worked so hard to gain. Talk about a training season no-no.
Why Fats Are Important
You may have noticed when looking into various types of eating habits and diets that there is a conflict between what people believe about including fats and carbohydrates. We’ve all heard claims but what are we to believe? There’s plenty of research supporting positive results with a nutrition program that is somewhat higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates than is typically recommended. The real focus should give light to recovery tactics such as BCAAs, Nitric Oxide (see Citrulline Malate), Krill Oil, and Whey Isolate Protein Powder.
In fact, a higher-fat diet proves to be beneficial because the body becomes more efficient at burning fat (refer to glycogen and glucose section above) for fuel while actually sparing glycogen. This type of nutrition plan's benefits is reciprocated when an athlete performs long, slow endurance training in the base period(s) of a program. Keep in mind though, as the intensity of training increases in the building period of a program, the athlete will require more carbohydrates to prevent the catabolic effects of high-intensity training (as seen in both functional fitness and CrossFit) to restock the significantly depleted glycogen stores in the muscles.
Finding an adequate balance between fats and carbohydrates during different periods of your training regimens will greatly assist you in reaching and surpassing your athletic goals and potentials. While also keeping protein intakes relatively consistent you will set yourself up for avoiding overtraining, extreme fatigue, and burnout.
Why Protein Is Important
Post-workout recovery is essential for avoiding overtraining altogether. If nutritional and supplemental action is not taken after training sessions, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure from the get-go. You’ll notice a gradual decline in performance and can lead directly to overtraining in as little as one week. We stand by the belief that protein source, even post-workout, should come from food first. The reason for this is simple – it’s the most natural and nutritious source of protein.
Ensuring adequate protein intake throughout the day is the next step you can take to elevate your performance and reduce exercise fatigue. Protein is necessary to repair exercise-induced muscle breakdown, maintain immune system function, and build more muscle mass.
Some examples of inadequate dietary protein symptoms (and similar to those of overreaching) are:
- Cessation of menstrual periods
- Frequent colds and sore throats
- Sugar cravings
- Reduced and prolonged recovery times
- Lack of and poor mental focus
- Chronic exercise fatigue
- Slow results regardless of high training level input
An easy and convenient way to get more protein throughout the day, is to supplement using a whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolate helps flood the body with amino acids, which help rebuild muscle mass and improve recovery. Swolverine's whey protein isolate contains 26g of grass-fed protein per serving. If you're a vegan or need a plant-based option, check out our plant protein made with 5 plant superfoods.
Micronutrients and Exercise Fatigue
Micronutrients are often overlooked when it comes to recovery. Yet including optimal levels of vitamins, in order for proper biological function, is critical to avoid extreme fatigue. Low micronutrient and inadequate micronutrient intake is seen in all levels of athletes and is compounded by normal losses during periods of increased training. These types of deficiencies lead to decreased performance, fatigue, weakness, weakened immune response, overtraining, anemia, and many others. But more often than not, you won’t realize you’re deficient until it’s too late.
All of this once again underscores the importance of eating a healthy diet that is rich in micronutrients which all help recovery from your chosen exercises. Just as eating an inadequate diet can set you up for overtraining, relying on supplements only instead of a balance between the two sets you up for failure. The best training regimen starts with the basics: a training program, a healthful nutritional program, and supplementation. A few great staple nutrients to incorporate into your training and recovery programs are a Multivitamin, Krill Oil, CoQ10, Turmeric, Vitamin D3, B-Complex, and/or a Probiotic to start. Micronutrient supplements should always actively compliment your macronutrient profiles. If you’re not sure of what micronutrients you need, consult your healthcare provider and have a lab test done. Often times, vitamin deficiencies, such as Vitamin D, or B can be the main culprit in extreme or chronic fatigue.
Exercise Fatigue: Takeaway
Understanding the balance between training and rest, much like the balance between nutrition and nutritional supplementation, is a completely personalized approach. Unfortunately, with extreme exercise fatigue, the progression is so gradual that you may not recognize the impending doom that is lingering around your training. By the time you realize what has happened, overreaching and exercise fatigue has become completely onset and your only recourse is reversing your progression and losing your hard-earned gains by reducing training, investing in recovery techniques, and increasing rest.
Take your recovery seriously.
Periodization with your training is crucial to your success and performance outcomes. Often times, exercise fatigue is created by progressing and pushing yourself to hard, without ensuring proper recovery.
Your training plan should always include a nutrition and supplementation program and fit your unique demands as an athlete (meaning your sport, age, illness, injury, recovery, and goals). Additionally, take the time to incorporate recovery modalities such as chiropractic, foam rolling, and active recovery methods. And don’t forget how the other aspects of your life affect your training. Health and wellness have multiple dimensions that require nourishment and attention. Own your recovery, take pride in your training, and see the results. But don’t forget…. Good things take time.
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