Why Does CrossFit Make Me So Tired – Adrenal Fatigue Explained

CrossFit is one of the most intense training regimes out there. Endorsed by Navy Seals – participants give everything they’ve got in a brutal 1-hour workout that leaves nothing in the tank. It’s no wonder you feel exhausted after a week’s worth of classes!

But, there’s a difference between being a good level of tired; where you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, and a bad kind of tired, where even after a full 8-hours sleep you still feel exhausted. If this sounds like you, then you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue.

The Good Kind of Tired

It comes as little surprise that there is a link between positive mental effects and working out. A boost to mood is usually noticeable after just five minutes of a moderately intense workout.

You can think of healthy exercise as good-pain – an experience both challenging and satisfying.

And even though the temporary boost of feel-good chemicals is short-lived, exercise has been linked to lower levels of depression in the long-run.

The Bad Kind of Tired

Experiencing a bit of burn after a good workout is normal. Some fatigue is normal after intense cardio, for instance, and is not necessarily considered good or bad in terms of health. However, pain from muscle injury caused by over-extending a muscle group is a severe type of pain. This type of pain is best not to ignore.

Similarly, experiencing increased, intense, and prolonged tiredness after exercise could be a cause for concern. For instance, do you feel fatigue right when you wake up and frequently crash throughout the day no matter how much caffeine you consume or how much sleep you get? This may be a sign of adrenal fatigue.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue isn’t a medical diagnosis but rather a general term referring to a set of general symptoms. Ultimately, adrenal fatigue refers to the overworking and depletion of the adrenal glands. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Body aches
  • Brain fog
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Digestive problems
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Depression

The largest part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal cortex, is responsible for producing vital hormones including:

  • 1.    Cortisol
  • 2.    Androgens/Estrogens
  • 3.    Aldosterone
  • 4.    Catecholamines
CortisolAndrogens/EstrogensAldosteroneCatecholamines
A hormone responsible for the body’s sugar balance.The hormones that control sex.A hormone that controls the balance of salt in the blood.Adrenaline hormones including epinephrine and norepinephrine are responsible for the fight or flight reflex.

While adrenal insufficiency is a medical condition diagnosed through blood work, adrenal fatigue is simply felt, or experienced. The adrenal gland releases a higher amount of cortisol as a response to stress. Adrenal fatigue happens when too much cortisol is released over time.

A test to diagnose adrenal fatigue does not exist because it’s not widely accepted as a medical condition. However, the symptoms many of us experience are nevertheless very real. So, what’s going on?

Some argue adrenal fatigue is a milder version of adrenal insufficiency. But unlike adrenal insufficiency, adrenal fatigue is caused by acute stress that stays consistent over time.

Our adrenal glands create hormones like cortisol and adrenaline – hormones that tell us to fight or flight in a threatening situation. Our fight or flight hormones induce a state of hyper-arousal, a temporary state of high-stress. But once the threat is gone, our bodies’ hormonal levels return to normal. At least that’s the idea.

The problem is that a fight or flight situation can include getting held up at gunpoint, preparing to sky-dive, or struggling to enjoy an unfulfilling job. Adrenal fatigue is associated with how we perceive a stressful situation.

For example, the thought of a never ending cycle of monotony in a dead-end job can feel stressful enough to produce the same fight or flight hormones. The fight or flight response is short-lived against physically threatening situations but may become chronic against daily situations perceived as threats to well-being.

While temporary stress prepares us to act with urgency, it hinders our health when it becomes a chronic condition.

Theories suggest that because chronic stress forces the adrenal glands to keep up with high levels of arousal, the body is kept in a perpetual state of fight or flight. However, this arousal is not meant to sustain over long periods and can consequently result in adrenal fatigue – or perhaps more accurately, adrenal burnout.

Adrenal fatigue is when your body no longer responds to stress in an appropriate way.

Potential causes of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Environmental stressors
  • Anxiety
  • Dietary influences
  • Emotional stress

What Parts of CrossFit Training Cause Adrenal Fatigue?

You may be wondering, “Why does CrossFit make me so tired?” The fast-paced intensity of CrossFit training increases adrenaline and cortisol at high levels and if the body is not prepared, it may result in burnout. A poor diet combined with a lack of sleep and a high intensity training regimen can be disruptive to the adrenal system by causing it to be overactive.

Essentially, cardio, especially high impact cardio for anything over an hour, may be considered over-doing it. A helpful rule of thumb – when you think you can do just five more reps, stop.

Is Adrenal Fatigue Bad for You?

Overtraining can be healthy when it’s done in short spurts. However, chronically overtraining for long periods of time may lead to problems like adrenal fatigue. Because CrossFit is a type of HIIT (high intensity interval training), adrenal fatigue is possible as it may be especially taxing on the nervous system.

How Does it Affect Your Training and Recovery?

It’s a good idea to stick with low-impact exercise when recovering from adrenal fatigue. Exercises like walking, swimming, low-impact strength training, and yoga are gentle on the adrenal system and can minimize further damage. However, it’s helpful to keep in mind the level of physical activity may not work the same for everyone, so it’s vital to pay attention to your body – and listen to your body when it needs to rest.

How to Recover from Adrenal Fatigue?

While there aren’t any pharmaceutical treatments for adrenal fatigue, there are ways to naturally prevent it or minimize negative symptoms. Diet and lifestyle change is a common method used in treating adrenal fatigue.

Exercise stabilizes hormone levels such as cortisol and insulin. But cortisol should not remain at peak levels when exercise stops. Adrenal fatigue happens when there is an excess of cortisol released in response to stress. Eventually, the adrenals become overworked and cannot produce the right amount of cortisol to allow your body to function as best as it can.

After you stop working out, cortisol levels should go back to base levels. Eating the right foods right after working out can help support this response.

9 Tips to Manage Your Lifestyle and Training to Avoid Getting Adrenal Fatigue.

1.      Eat the right foods

2.      Reduce anxiety

3.      Don’t skimp on protein

4.      Increase exercise slowly

5.      Don’t overtrain

6.      Supplements

7.      Sleep

8.      Epsom salt baths

9.      Walk outside

Eat Right

When it comes to taking care of your body, eating the right foods is a no-brainer. Knowing what food is best to prevent adrenal fatigue is key. The adrenal fatigue diet includes eating a well-balanced diet combining whole grains, leafy vegetables, healthy fats, and high-protein.

While you want to include healthy foods that fuel your body’s natural energy, you also want to limit items like fried food and artificial sweeteners to reduce blood sugar fluctuations. Additionally, avoiding processed foods, foods high in refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine is recommended.

Reduce Anxiety

Meditation is a great way to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Practicing deep breathing exercises and staying in the moment are simple yet effective. It’s easy to talk about, but becoming good at relaxing takes a bit of work. So, while you can consider meditation to be challenging, don’t focus too hard on getting it right. Instead, find a guided meditation program to sit back with and allow yourself to simply go with it.

Don’t skimp on protein

Organic proteins like lean turkey contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body, further helping to fight adrenal fatigue.

Increase exercise slowly

Low impact exercise decreases, adding more stress to the body. High impact exercise exacerbates your body’s adrenal system, precisely what you want to avoid.

Don’t overtrain

Overtraining can be related to the type of exercise performed, but it also includes the frequency that you choose to workout. Allowing your body to recover in between training sessions is just as vital as resting between reps. This allows your normal levels of cortisol to get back to optimal levels your body needs to work efficiently.

Supplements

Natural vitamins which help to reduce adrenal fatigue include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • B Vitamins
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Ashwagandha
  • Rhodiola
  • Licorice Root

Magnesium helps support balanced hormone levels and a healthy adrenal system. To get an adequate amount of magnesium in your diet, include foods like fattyfish, spinach, avocado, and legumes.

Sleep

Sleep is often overlooked but it cannot be stressed enough the impact a lack of sleep can have on the body’s functioning. During sleep your body has ample time to reset. When you are sleep deprived, your body must work overtime and cortisol levels rise.

Epsom salt baths

Take a soak in an Epsom salt filled bathtub several times a week to help repair your adrenals and reduce stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so typically, doing activities to reduce stress can minimize your body’s cortisol release. Epsom salt additionally helps replenish the levels of magnesium in your body, which is one of the first minerals to go when your body is under stress.

Go outside

Another way to curb stress levels is by taking a walk or a light hike through nature.

It’s natural for us as humans to want to get to the root of a problem and figure out what is causing us to feel less than spectacular. However, there may be many causes that present with similar symptoms. Adrenal fatigue, in some ways, is a natural way for our bodies to respond to excessive levels of stress.

Understanding adrenal fatigue as our body’s signal telling us to take it easy allows us to be proactive in taking better preventative measures, by listening to our bodies in conjunction with our minds. 

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