Why Can Exercise Make You Irritable?

Female hiker leaning against tree
A pensive woman is taking a break from her hike. (Image: Picturenet/Blend Images/Getty Images)

You've probably heard that exercise can have a positive effect on your mood. Exercise can help stimulate the release of endorphins, which are the "feel-good hormones" that supposedly give you a feeling of elation after you've finished sweating it out. But when exercise actually makes you feel moody and irritable, it might be the result of something above and beyond a simple distaste for exercise. Understanding some of the reasons that exercise can make you feel irritable and cranky can help you rectify the problem.


When you push your body too hard during exercise, you could experience several symptoms of overexertion. The nausea, dizziness and fatigue that often accompanies overexertion can put a damper on your workout so you leave the gym feeling cranky and tired. Overexertion is a combination of a variety of components, including dehydration, muscle fatigue and low blood sugar. Each contribute to a less-than positive feeling after exercise. By always warming up before each workout and progressing slowly, you can listen to your body to identify signs that you're exercising too hard to reduce your intensity for a better experience.


Continuing to exercise when you feel pain can create negative feelings toward your workout. While you might think that a strained muscle here or a popped joint there are all part of the process, they can both be the signs of exercise-related injuries and even chronic problems. You should not be in immediate pain after a workout. While delayed onset muscle soreness is common the next day, it should never be so severe as to prohibit you from exercising again. If you feel constant pain while exercising, talk to your doctor about the location, severity and risk factors for your pain to remedy the issue.

Hunger and Dehydration

Exercising on an empty stomach or without adequate hydration can subject you to the various symptoms of dehydration and low blood sugar. Unlike overexertion, these symptoms will not be reduced by simply reducing the intensity of your exercise. Instead, you need to drink at least 7 to 10 oz. of water for every 10 to 20 minutes you exercise to stay properly hydrated and avoid the symptoms of dehydration, such as fatigue, dizziness, nausea and even irritability. Having a small but nutritious snack -- a granola bar, peanut butter and fruit or a protein shake -- before exercise can help you avoid hunger during your workout.


Exercise should be a positive experience, but if you don't enjoy working out, your daily routine can make you dread exercise and feel irritable afterward. Before you write off exercise completely, consider the type of exercise you typically participate in. If you usually go to the gym and spend time on a treadmill, perhaps you'll enjoy a kickboxing class instead. Rather than exercising by yourself, enlist a friend to come with you. Or, swap traditional exercise for sports-based workouts or a daily run. Experiment with different routines until you find one that makes exercise enjoyable for you.

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