We're always told that exercise makes you feel good and gives you extra energy. For most people that's true, but others may have negative reactions to working out. Most often it's related to doing too much or to lifestyle factors such as nutrition, hydration and sleep.
The reasons you might be exercising and eating healthy but feeling worse include not getting enough rest, doing too much and inadequate nutrition and hydration.
You're Doing Too Much
Most people don't do enough exercise, but for those who love to work out, overdoing it can be just as much of a risk. If exercise usually makes you feel good, you should take a look at whether your program has changed.
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Have you increased your frequency, duration, intensity or volume? If you haven't also increased your rest time, then you may not be allowing your body enough time to recover between exercise sessions. This leads to the classic overreaching or overtraining syndrome.
According to an article in the March-April 2015 edition of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, there are more than 125 symptoms of doing too much. The most common signs include:
- Persistent stiff, sore and heavy muscles
- Persistent fatigue and feeling washed out
- Decreased exercise performance
- More frequent infections, colds and headaches
- Chronic injuries
- Disturbed sleep
- Restlessness and decreased mental focus
- Increased irritability
- Bowel movement changes
If you have any of those symptoms, take a brief break from exercise to let your body rest. When you resume exercise, listen to your body and take extra recovery time when you need it. The authors of the ACSM article recommend following the 10 percent rule and not increasing your volume or intensity by more than 10 percent at a time.
Additionally, getting adequate sleep helps your body recover more quickly from the stress of exercise. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Active people need more sleep than sedentary people. Not getting enough sleep can also be the reason you don't feel well when working out.
Read more: The Dangers of Working Out Too Much
Your Nutrition Is Off
Your body needs calories and nutrients from food to power your exercise sessions and recover afterward. If you're not eating enough and not eating the right foods, that can affect the way exercise makes you feel.
It's important to consume enough calories. People who exercise to lose weight may think that by working out a lot and lowering their calories, they'll lose more weight. In fact, this can actually slow down your metabolism, according to a research review published in Perspective on Psychological Science in September 2017. It can also make it hard to put on muscle and even cause you to lose muscle, if your body is burning lean body mass for energy.
In addition to calories, make sure you're getting enough protein, carbohydrates and other key nutrients. Active people need more protein than sedentary people for proper recovery, according to an article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in June 2017.
The current recommendation for the general population is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, although the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends athletes should consume between 1.2 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, depending on their physical demands.
You may also need more carbohydrates than the average person, especially if you engage in endurance exercise. Carbs are your body's primary source of energy, explains the National Institutes of Health, and not getting enough can cause you to feel tired and decrease your performance during workouts. The USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbs, depending on your activity level.
Read more: The Best Healthy Carbs You Should Be Eating More Of
Getting your macronutrients from healthy, nutrient-packed foods ensures you get all the micronutrients that help support activity. B vitamins play a crucial role in energy production, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as does iron, explains the National Institutes of Health. Not getting enough of these and other nutrients is sure to affect how you feel during and after exercise.
Lastly, hydration is huge when it comes to feeling good when exercising. Being dehydrated can make you feel fatigued and dizzy, reports the Mayo Clinic. In addition to not drinking enough, sweating a lot during exercise can contribute to dehydration.
Prevent dehydration by drinking enough fluids throughout the day and during exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, women need at least 11.5 cups of fluids each day and men need at least 15.5 cups. If you sweat a lot or exercise or work outside in the heat, you may need more than that.
If you're getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating healthier and not overdoing it but still feeling worse during and after exercise, it may be caused by something else. Make an appointment with your doctor to rule out an underlying health condition.
- ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: "Overreaching/Overtraining"
- National Sleep Foundation: "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?"
- Perspective on Psychological Science: "Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on Protein and Exercise"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Protein and the Athlete — How Much Do You Need?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Important Nutrients to Know: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats"
- USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "B Vitamins"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iron"
- The Mayo Clinic: "Dehydration"
- The Mayo Clinic: "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.