Intense exercise is exhausting, and if you fatigue too soon, it limits your performance. If you can reduce the performance-limiting fatigue you feel, you can accomplish more when you train and perform better when you play sports or take part in other physical activities.
Exercise fatigue can be peripheral fatigue, such as muscle exhaustion, or it can be central, because of a tired brain or nervous system. If you’re trying to fight workout fatigue, here are five strategies that can help.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids are amino acids that play a key role in muscle protein synthesis, the process of building new muscle tissue. In fact, branched-chain amino acid supplements are popular with bodybuilders because they supply the building blocks for building new muscle. But research also shows branched-chain amino acids reduce exercise fatigue. How do they do this? They act on a brain chemical called tryptophan.
Tryptophan is a neurotransmitter that contributes to fatigue: When tryptophan builds up in the brain, you feel tired. However, when you increase the availability of branched-chain amino acids, less tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier into the brain, and you feel less fatigued. You can get branched-chain amino acids by taking a branched-chain amino acid supplement. Also available are protein supplements and protein shakes rich in branched-chain amino acids.
Caffeine increases alertness, and you could even get the jitters if you drink too much of it. After drinking a few cups of caffeinated coffee, the last thing you feel like doing is sleeping. Therefore, it’s not surprising that caffeine helps you fight fatigue, including exercise fatigue. Studies show caffeine boosts performance during moderate-intensity exercise by reducing the perception of how hard you’re working.
With caffeine on board, a moderate-intensity workout is easier, and you feel less fatigued. Studies also show caffeine delays the time to fatigue. In one study involving cyclists, those who consumed caffeine improved their time to exhaustion by 12%.
The ideal amount of caffeine for reducing exercise fatigue is around 250 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of drinking 2.5 cups of brewed coffee. According to the Mayo Clinic, consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for most adults. The quantity of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies. Light roast coffee is higher in caffeine than dark roast. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, stick to no more than 200 milligrams daily. The best time to consume caffeine to reduce workout fatigue is 45 minutes before exercise.
To get the full benefits of caffeine, don’t drink it every day. The receptors in your brain that bind to caffeine adapt over time, and you won’t get the same anti-fatigue benefits when you drink it. Give yourself a couple of days off caffeine every week to preserve caffeine sensitivity.
While still unproven, some research suggests taking a supplement called L-carnitine can reduce exercise fatigue and even help exercise performance. L-carnitine is an amino acid that carries fatty acids into the mitochondria so it can convert them to energy to fuel exercise. With that job, it makes sense that l-carnitine could improve exercise performance and fight fatigue.
The best natural source of L-carnitine is red meat, although you can get lesser amounts from dairy, poultry, and fish. Plant-based sources include legumes and avocado, although plants have far less. However, it’s difficult to get enough L-carnitine to make a difference in exercise fatigue through diet alone. Also available are supplements. If you take a supplement, the best time to take it is at least 30 minutes before a workout.
Lack of adequate hydration is a major contributor to fatigue. In fact, dehydration causes fatigue even when your hydration status is only down by 1 to 2% before you feel the first signs of thirst. Plus, dehydration reduces blood flow to exercising muscles and places added strain on the heart. Consuming enough fluid during exercise is critical to performance and health. An hour or two before a workout, drink at least 15 ounces of water, followed by another 8 ounces 20 minutes before a workout. Carry a stainless-steel water bottle and sip water throughout your workout.
One way to monitor your fluid status is to weigh before and after a workout. For every pound you’re down, drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid. Check your urine color too. If it’s darker than pale yellow, you’re not hydrating aggressively enough.
Carbohydrates are the dietary component your body preferentially uses during intense exercise. If you don’t have enough stored carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen, in your muscles, you’ll feel tired faster or you may not be able to exercise at the same intensity due to a lack of readily available fuel. Low glucose availability also contributes to central or neurological fatigue, caused by changes in neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
What’s the solution? Eat a pre-workout snack consisting of carbohydrates and protein before a workout. The protein helps with muscle recovery and repair. Most sports nutritionists suggest a ratio of 3 to 1 carbohydrate to protein. Some trainers recommend exercising in a fasted state if you’re trying to lose weight, as doing so increases fat utilization. But if you’re doing an intense workout, your performance may suffer since muscle cells mainly use carbohydrates as fuel during intense exercise.
The Bottom Line
Now you have some idea of how to reduce fatigue during exercise, but don’t forget about the basics. Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, and have an effective way to manage stress. It all matters for your health and fitness!
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