If you feel fatigue after exercise, you’re not alone. In the POTS world, patients can often feel worse after exercise, especially in the early months of an exercise program. Extreme fatigue after exercise is also very common in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). Until I reached a certain fitness level, I experienced extreme fatigue and other symptoms after almost every workout. But I learned some things along my POTS fitness journey to help deal with this fatigue. Keep reading to discover how to reduce fatigue after exercise with the tips I use every day.
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Keep An Exercise Journal or Calendar
If you want to learn how to reduce fatigue after exercise, start by keeping an exercise journal. After all, how will you know if you exercise too hard if you don’t record your workouts? When I record my workouts, I use one of two formats: a journal or calendar.
No matter the format, I keep track of the same workout elements. These include the type of exercise (cardio or strength training) and workout duration and frequency. I also track how intensely I exercise each session. This can be done in several ways. You can use a rate of perceived exertion method or time spent in various target heart rate zones. Another workout measure I often record involves what muscle groups I worked on strength training days.
Having a detailed exercise journal helps to keep your workouts organized. That way, if you begin to feel fatigue after exercise, you can look back on what exercise you did recently and assess what aspects of your workouts need to change. An exercise journal may also motivate you to complete workouts, since each day you’ll know exactly what exercise to do.
Track Your Symptoms After Exercise
Along the same vein as above, track any symptoms you may feel after finishing a workout. Post-exercise symptoms can come on and worsen anywhere from 12-48 hours after exercise or increased physical activity. And symptoms may last for days — even in some cases, weeks.
Besides tracking the symptoms, rate how badly they interfere with your quality of life and daily activities. How soon after exercise did you experience them? And how long did symptoms last? If symptoms last a long time or are extreme, reduce either exercise intensity, duration, or frequency. If you’re following an exercise protocol, like the Levine Protocol for POTS, consider repeating a previous week (perhaps even a previous month) until symptoms subside.
*Note: I am only speaking from a POTS patient perspective here. For those with ME/CFS, exercise should be managed by your doctor, as exercise may not be suitable for all patients.
Increase Exercise Gradually
Slow and steady wins the race! When dealing with extreme fatigue after exercise, another key element to remember involves pacing yourself. This is why I love exercise protocols. Exercise protocols typically lay out every workout for you, and they have gradual progression built into them. All you need to do is follow the plan!
However, because everyone is different, exercise protocols may not progress at the speed that works for you. So, if you begin feeling fatigue after exercise or other symptoms that interfere with your daily activities, then that should signal you to take a step back. Repeat the previous week of workouts and see if symptoms improve. If you do not follow an exercise protocol, think back on your recent workouts. Did you exercise longer than usual? Harder than usual? Did you try something new, like a yoga class? This is why keeping an exercise journal is crucial!
Take Power Naps
I used to feel bad about taking naps during the day. But I’ve learned that some days it’s what I need to feel and function at my best. It’s okay to take a power nap (or two!) throughout the day. I find that even just closing my eyes for 15-20 minutes, makes me feel more awake and refreshed.
Sometimes, if I actually fall asleep and nap longer than 30 minutes, I feel groggy when I wake up. So, try this quick power nap method and see if it reduces any fatigue the day after exercise.
Practice Good Nutrition and Hydration
Make sure to stay hydrated during and after workouts, and fuel up correctly post exercise.
Keep a stock of your favorite electrolyte replenisher drinks, like Liquid I.V. or Pedialyte. These products work great to restore electrolytes lost through exercise so that the body stays hydrated. I always have these in my pantry — and even in my purse for emergencies!
Eating well after a workout is just as important as staying hydrated. Not fueling your body with the right food can contribute to fatigue after exercise. So what should you eat post workout?
According to Healthline, a post-workout meal should include protein and carbohydrates. Adding a little healthy fat won’t harm your post-workout recovery, but it may slow down digestion. For the best results, aim to eat your post-workout meal within 45 minutes after exercise. Perfect examples of post-workout meals include Greek yogurt with berries and granola, or a roasted chicken sandwich on whole grain bread topped with veggies. A smoothie is another great option, like my mango and berry protein smoothie!
Try Exercising at Night
This suggestion is a personal one, so it may not work for everyone. I’ve found that I can get fatigued about 3-4 hours after a workout. For that reason, I’ve eliminated morning exercise. This reduces the amount of afternoon energy crashes I can experience. Instead, I exercise in the evening, around 4-5 p.m. That way, when I get tired afterward, it’s time for bed.
However, maybe a different time of day works better for you. Find that sweet spot in your day that aligns when you’re sleeping and when you typically feel fatigue after exercise. If you deal with insomnia, this trick can also help you fall asleep faster.
Monitor Heart Rate
Wearing a heart rate monitor is really important for those with POTS and/or chronic fatigue. These monitors, whether a wristwatch or chest band, track your pulse all day. A higher pulse means the body is working harder, which can lead to fatigue and other symptoms if prolonged. Monitor heart rate throughout the day to know when you’re doing too much and when you need to rest.
My heart rate monitor of choice for daily wear is my Fitbit Ionic. It’s an older model, so it’s probably more affordable now than newer options. But I’ve had it for almost three years and it still works like it’s brand new. I can see my heart rate with two taps of the screen. And I can see my pulse for the entirety of my workouts, which allows me to gauge when I need to lower or raise the intensity. I will forever preach the importance of a quality heart rate monitor, especially for POTS patients.
Balance Daily Activities
You know that saying that life is all about balance? Well, it rings true for people with chronic illness. If you’ve never heard of the spoon theory, I encourage you to check it out. Basically, it means that we have a finite amount of energy (or spoons) each day. Our daily activities, depending on how much effort they require, take away our energy reserves. If we do too much and use up all our energy — or more than what’s available in our tanks — in a day, we may experience a crash. Symptoms may worsen and fatigue may settle in.
So balance high energy activities with low energy alternatives. Enjoy good days, but do not overdo it. I repeat, do not overdo it! A good-symptom day can tempt you into going all out and doing everything and more, but this can often lead to a crash. I know this, and I still make this mistake. Just make an effort to stay mindful!
In addition, conserve energy throughout the day when possible. Simple changes to your daily routine can help with this. For example, prepare dinner while seated at a counter or use a shower bench. Sit down to style hair or apply makeup.
I know how discouraging it can be to feel worse after exercising when exercise is supposed to make you healthier. For POTS patients, exercise is known to make symptoms worse before they improve. And people with MS/CFS may need to be careful with any kind of exercise they do to avoid triggering symptoms. But with thoughtful planning and flexibility in your schedule, you can use the above tips to help reduce fatigue after exercise.