Exhausted After Working Out? Your Adrenals Could Be To Blame

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Every once in a while, a workout has the special power to kick our butts for the rest of the day. Typically, however, working out should leave you energized, upbeat, and ready to take on whatever comes your way.

If you’re continually feeling like you have to drag yourself out of the locker room, it could be a sign that bigger issues are at play.  

For years, I ran myself hard. Long days at the office, followed by intense workouts and heavy-handed happy hours were the norm for me and my friends. By my late 20s, I was finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and my usual HIIT classes were followed by crashing on the couch rather than rallying for the night ahead.

Turns out, my high-stress lifestyle had done a number on my adrenals. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, and while they’re small in size, they’re incredibly mighty in function.  

The adrenals are responsible for the production of a number of important hormones, most notably cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol gets a bad rap because it’s known as the stress hormone, but what many don’t know is that it’s also your body’s natural anti-inflammatory. Without cortisol, we’d die quickly.  

When we’re pushing ourselves to the brink and burning the candle at both ends, it’s cortisol that’s pumping through our veins to keep us going. But even this superstar has its limits.

When we’re asking our adrenals to over-produce cortisol because of a frantic schedule that includes hard, high-intensity workouts, they can get burnt out, until eventually, they can’t keep up with the demand. While this process is usually gradual, you should pay attention if you’re having any of these symptoms:

  • You’re hitting snooze repeatedly in the morning
  • You’re finding it harder to get through your day without coffee
  • Your anxiety is through the roof
  • You feel exhausted after a workout
  • It’s hard to fall asleep, even though you were tired all day
  • You get a headache after exercise
  • You can’t walk outside without sunglasses
  • You’re suddenly craving salty foods

Luckily, your adrenals can recuperate if you give them some loving attention by tapping the brakes in all areas of your life. This means getting adequate sleep, ditching toxic relationships and jobs, taking time for self-care practices such as  meditation or pouring yourself a cup of herbal tea to unwind at the end of the day.

For many of us, it also means taking a good look at our exercise habits and nixing the routines that leave us feeling crummy.

If you suspect you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue, skip the HIIT workouts like cycling, kickboxing, bootcamp, and other forms of music-thumping cardio. Instead, shift gears into lower intensity activities, including yoga, Pilates, and walking in nature.

While it’s important to keep your body moving, doing so with intention and purpose is more critical during recovery than breaking a steady sweat.

And don’t worry: over time, as your adrenals heal, you’ll be able to cycle HIIT workouts back into your routine, so this shift is only temporary. Consider it a time out for your body rather than an ejection from the game.  

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