You work out to become strong, fit, and healthy—and all it does is reward you with tiredness. What do you do when working out makes you tired?
Tired After Working Out
“I’m trying to fix being so tired. I need more capacity to do all the things I need and want to do.
I’m pretty healthy and fit, happy with my body for the most part, but I get so wore out sometimes. When I work hard to be healthier, it helps for a while and then I get tired again. When I try to be more restful, it seems like my health falls apart pretty quickly and I end up more tired than I was before I “rested more”. I feel like I have to sleep so much (8+ hours) regardless of what I do.
I know I cant do nothing, because I’m unsatisfied with the current situation. But I don’t know what to do.”
I totally know what they mean.
We know exercise is good for us. Our bodies are designed to move.
But sometimes we just don’t have the energy to go for a walk, let alone a full-out 60-minute lifting session.
So what can we do?
Are We Missing The Fundamentals?
Well, the first thing is to figure out why someone might be tired in the first place.
One time I talked to a client who was in his mid-twenties, and he told me that he was tired all the time.
We talked about diet. We talked about lifting. We talked about workplace stress. All of these things.
And then, finally, it comes out that he only sleeps 5-6 hours a night. (I should have asked about his sleep first, oh well.)
No matter how easy your life is, numerous studies have shown that almost everybody needs at least 7 hours a night and likely closer to 8–9 hours a night.
From what I’ve read, there also seem to be seasonal differences based on the length of sunlight each day. We might need less sleep in the summer—something like 7-8 hours. In the winter, with shorter days and less light, we might need 8-10 hours.
So if you’re struggling with energy, the first thing is to look at the fundamentals:
- Are you getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night?
- Are you getting some daily sunshine exposure directly to your eyes? (Not through the window.)
- Are you eating mostly wholesome food that you’ve cooked yourself?
Giving Yourself Time To Adapt
Our body is incredible at adapting. Lift weights and your bones and muscles get stronger. Start running and your cardiovascular output improves. Start playing piano, and over time your body memorizes hand placements and all the keys.
Sometimes you just need to give your body time to adapt. If you’re brand new to working out, it’s possible you just need to give yourself more time. I found that after 30 days of consistently lifting weights, I was beginning to get energy from working out, instead of losing it all.
Try Lifting Less Heavy
There was a period in my life that I was doing 3-5 rep barbell deadlifts. Lifting that heavy was pretty fun, I got a lot stronger than I thought I could. However, looking back over 13 years of lifting weights, it was also the most fatiguing point of lifting ever. I would need to nap after my heavy deadlift day.
When I became a dad, I realized I couldn’t do that anymore. I needed energy after working out, and so I switched to doing higher-volume workouts with a lighter weight. I still got great results in terms of muscle gain, got my heart rate up, but didn’t suffer from extreme tiredness.
Eating Foods That Don’t Agree With Your Guts
When we start working out, our appetite can spark and we start eating more. Or, we might introduce a new supplement like whey protein, BCAAs, etc. The vast majority of people are struggling with chronic inflammation, which can cause extreme tireness, stubborn fat, and stubborn muscles. The largest source of inflammation seems to be gut disruption. Many people struggle with food intolerance, which can result in fatigue, constant burping, and other digestive woes. You might be eating something that is hard for you to digest, and is draining all of your energy. The most common suspects in research are bird eggs, pasteurized dairy, and white flour. So if you’re eating more whey powder, maltodextrin, or some other supplement, that might be contributing to feeling tired.
Obscure Reasons For Tiredness
Once you’ve settled the foundation, we can now start looking at some of the stranger things to see what gaps we can fill in.
For example, fluoride has been found to shrink the pineal gland, which can cause sleep problems, making someone feel tired all the time. This 2019 study looked at over 2,000 kids (aged 6–19) from the USA and measured the fluoride levels in their blood.
Here are some of the downsides of fluoridated water mentioned in the paper:
- decreased melatonin production
- lower REM sleep percentage
- decreased total sleep time
- more likely to go to bed later and wake up later
- poorer sleep efficiency
- higher odds of sleep apnea
- more sleep disturbances
- more daytime tiredness
Those are some pretty bad effects of drinking fluoridated water. And that’s in healthy kids! Fluoride is also linked to hypothyroidism, which causes fat to store around the belly/neck and your limbs (legs/arms) to become weak and skinny. It’s even linked to developing diabetes.
The biggest sources of fluoride are:
- dental visits
- pre-made drinks from fluoridated water (pop, beer, tea, coffee, etc.)
- and drinking water.
- Non-stick pans. (Probably less likely as the major source of fluoride but worth mentioning—stain-resistant fabrics on couches.)
Soda pop in Canada has so much fluoride due to using fluoridated city water to create it, according to one study just one large Pepsi would put a fully grown man into the toxic intake category of fluoride by the government’s own toxicity levels on fluoride. And that doesn’t even include other daily fluoride sources like toothpaste.
So, if you’re so tired that you can’t work out, here are some beginner ideas to try out:
- Make sure you’re getting 7 hours of sleep each night. If you’re already doing that, try sleeping one hour more.
- Try lifting less heavy and use more volume. This will require tweaking your rep range, rest times, and overall volume.
- Switch to bottled spring water for two weeks for all cooking and drinking. Stop drinking pre-made drinks with fluoridated/chlorinated water for this time as well. That means no coffee from cafes, no orange juice from concentrate, no energy drinks, etc. At the end of two weeks, re-evaluate how you feel.
- Switch to hydroxyapatite toothpaste with no fluoride. Hydroxyapatite is what our teeth are made out of. NASA discovered the process of making a synthetic version to help restore the bone density of the teeth/bones of their astronauts. In a 2019 study on children, hydroxyapatite toothpaste works even better than fluoride for reducing cavities.
- Buy one incandescent Edison bulb for an experiment and put it in the table lamp that you relax next to at night. After sundown, a fun game begins of not turning on the overhead lights. Our brain registers light above our brow as different, more like sunlight than light below the brow, like a fire. Second, LED lights are close to the ultra-violet spectrum. This is why they’re naturally purply-blue in colour. Incandescent lights aren’t “energy efficient” because they give off heat. That heat is on the other side of the wavelength spectrum, the red/fire/heat side. This is why it’s naturally yellow/orange and is more pleasing to look at. Blue wakes you up like a bright blue sunny day. Orange/red puts you to sleep, like a beautiful sunset or fire.
- Cut out pasteurized dairy (including whey protein). Pasteurized dairy is missing all the natural enzymes such as alkaline phosphatase, protease, lipase, lactoperoxidase, etc. This is my best guess as to why pasteurized dairy is hard on the body and raw dairy isn’t. It’s been documented in studies that those who struggle with urinating during the night ought to avoid all pasteurized dairy products in the afternoon to see an improvement in symptoms. If your government gives you their blessing, you may want to investigate raw dairy.
- Start having tons of raw, wildflower honey. Carbs give us energy, particularly energy to work out. But many people have disrupted gut health and have difficulty with many types of carbs. Some carbs, like white rice, have most of the B-vitamins and copper/magnesium stripped along with the harder-to-digest rice bran. This makes it easy to digest but causes an energy crash. Introducing: raw honey. This source of carbs comes with natural bee enzymes allowing your body to rapidly digest it but without the blood sugar rush or the crash. Honey helps to kill bad bacteria in the gut, like H pylori, allowing for the body to heal. This 2003 study on honey found that just two weeks of honey (around a few tablespoons a day) boosted white blood cells by 50%, vitamin C levels by nearly 50%, copper by 33%, zinc improved, and researchers also found it lowered markers of damaged tissue by 41%. Put it on sourdough toast, make tea with it, or eat it directly off a spoon like I do.
- Shrink exercising to something manageable. If doing a one-hour lifting session is too much, what about a 30-minute session? If 30 minutes is too much, what about 15 minutes? Even just doing *one* set close to failure can be enough to see the benefits if you’re not currently doing anything. For example, you wake up, and you eat breakfast, you pick up a kettlebell and do 15 reps of Goblet squat, and push yourself, getting close to failure. That’s it for the day. Get dressed and get started for the day. Tomorrow morning you do as many push-ups as you can to failure—done for the day. The next morning you do some bent-over kettlebell rows to failure—done for the day. Do this for five days a week. It’s literally a 60-second workout, and even that little exercise can help you feel stronger and more energetic and improve your capacity for bigger workouts.
There’s a lot more to talk about energy. But this post is getting way too long already. The same principles I cover in the Outlive programs (anti-inflammation, sleep, sun, etc.) help with this naturally.