Learning if you’re feeling tired or fatigued can help you excel at your runs

The terms fatigue and tiredness are often used interchangeably, but there are several key differences between them. And these distinctions could affect both how well you train, and how quickly you recover from your workouts.

Similarities and differences between tiredness and fatigue symptoms

Exercise-induced fatigue is an involuntary decrease in the muscles’ ability to produce force or produce a powerful contraction, according to Lindsey Wyatt, DPT, doctor of physical therapy at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in California.

She says World of runners that fatigue is more lifestyle-based and can be influenced by factors such as sleep disruption, poor diet, dehydration, stress, and general fitness level.

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Mental fatigue can also play a role in your running. For example, a studio in International journal of sport physiology and performance suggests that too many cognitively demanding activities can have a significant effect on the way you train.

Both tiredness and exercise-induced fatigue are distinct from the type of fatigue seen with specific medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, depression, cancer, lupus, or congestive heart failure, explains Sandra Hunter, Ph.D. , director of the Athletic and Human Performance Research Center at Marquette University. In these cases, fatigue is considered chronic and can be debilitating to the point that an individual has difficulty with daily activities.

Besides the general lack of energy, a big similarity here is that each of these forms of tiredness and fatigue can degrade your performance, but the degree to which they impact your workouts boils down to timing, says Hunter. World of runners. Exercise-induced fatigue is often of the shortest duration, and depending on your level of resistance to fatigue, you may see a recovery with just a few minutes of recovery.

Fatigue is also usually temporary, but can last longer, such as a full day or more. This is especially true if you haven’t addressed the source of your tiredness—for example, if you consistently sleep less than five hours a night—research suggests your tiredness will likely continue until you prioritize more rest. As for running-related fatigue, Hunter says it might feel like a little tired for a day or two after a race, for example.

Condition-related fatigue involves ongoing exhaustion and lethargy, according to Mount Sinai, and can be aggravated by physical activity or mental stress. Also, unlike fatigue from overtraining, you’re likely to experience additional symptoms specific to your health issue, such as nausea, joint pain, and shortness of breath.

Both tiredness and fatigue can have similar effects when it comes to motivation, running efficiency, progress toward goals and injury risk, says Hunter. In short: These forms of feeling blah don’t help you go miles vigorously.

Tips to reduce tiredness

You can address fatigue by working to improve the quality of your sleep, as well as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and managing life’s stresses, says Wyatt.

Proper nutrition before, during and after runs is also a big factor when dealing with fatigue, she adds. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for our body and should be the priority for your pre-ride meals.

During long rides, it’s important to keep fueled with fast-acting carbohydrates to continue delivering fuel to working muscles, and this can have an effect on both tiredness and fatigue, according to Wyatt.

Post-run meals should include a combination of carbohydrates and protein, she adds. The carbohydrates will help replenish energy and the protein aids in muscle repair.

Addressing other potential lifestyle factors is also key, particularly stress. When there is sustained activation of the stress response, to the point where it becomes chronic, usually defined as at least several weeks, according to the National Library of Medicine, a condition called stress-related exhaustion disorder, sometimes called syndrome, can develop. from exhaustion. This can lead to numerous health effects, including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, skin problems, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems.

Even before that point, the stress can be enough to cause bouts of fatigue that make exercise difficult, Hunter says.

Another potential factor in fatigue is overtraining. According to the study in Frontiers in physiology, poor sleep and overtraining can go both ways: if you have several nights of broken sleep, it could negatively affect your training. Or, if you’re consistently overtraining, you can start to develop sleep problems. Regardless of where to start, the researchers are clear that both will get worse if nothing changes. The best method to begin addressing overtraining is often to spend more time recovering from exercise, suggests Hunter, and see if that improves your sleep quality.

Playing with different variables like sleep, nutrition, stress, and exercise frequency and duration can often have a noticeable effect on fatigue, says Wyatt. If fatigue is a challenge for you, she suggests keeping a workout log to track your energy levels each day, along with strategies you’re trying to combat any lack of energy you’re feeling. With this information, you can start seeing patterns in terms of what works best for you.


The bottom line for dealing with fatigue: Pay attention to your lifestyle habits, including diet, stress management, and (of course!) sleep.


Strategies to combat fatigue

If it seems like exercise-induced fatigue is the culprit—say, if you have to stop long runs early or are struggling to finish the last few rounds of your interval workouts—there are several strategies for increasing your resistance to fatigue.

For runners, Hunter says it involves both low-intensity endurance sessions, like easy runs done at about 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, and high-intensity workouts like HIIT workouts at the gym or sprint intervals.

You need both types of training to build your resistance to fatigue, because doing so will improve both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, adds Hunter. Strength training and incorporating rest days into your mix are also significant ways to build muscle strength and endurance, which reduce fatigue.

How do you know if it works? Try paying attention to how much is in your tank later in a race or long ride, suggests Hunter. If you suffer from fatigue in general, you can usually still accelerate thanks to an adrenaline rush, like seeing the finish line in the distance, for example, but if you suffer from exercise-induced fatigue, you tend not to have that ability to pick up the pace because Your muscles will no longer have any reserves.

Another indication of tiredness or fatigue symptoms is how you feel when you’re not running, particularly on an off day, she adds. If you suffer from daytime sleepiness, lack of motivation to carry out daily activities and generally feel dull, chances are you are not recovering effectively and may be entering your next training session with an energy deficit rather than fully rested.

This information can tell you what type of workout you might be focusing on more often, but Hunter adds that addressing both tiredness and fatigue at the same time can be helpful. For example, adding more tempo runs to your schedule to build resistance to fatigue, but also make sleep a priority.

One last important note: If you tend to feel tired often, even when you haven’t been exercising, be sure to check with your doctor, as tiredness can indicate something more serious is going on with your health.


The bottom line on coping with exercise-induced fatigue: Make sure you allow yourself enough time to recover between workouts and build strategies into your training program that increase fatigue resistance.


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Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer covering health, wellness, fitness and food.

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