By Ray Bass
Tired and low on energy and not sure why? It makes sense that you’ve started looking for answers. Feeling sluggish can be frustrating, and the root cause isn’t always clear. Often times, though, low energy is a sign that we’re not meeting our needs. Maybe we’re ignoring signs from our bodies, or relying on generic health advice that doesn’t work for us. We’ve come to accept certain behaviors and practices as “healthy,” when in reality, the opposite could be true. Either way, we’re left drained of energy and wondering what to blame.
The bottom line on energy is that we have to be more self-observant and pay attention to how our actions make us feel. Who knows—maybe something you thought was harmless is the culprit that’s bringing you down.
Here are five potential reasons why you have no energy and feel tired all the time.
1. You’re going too hard at the gym.
When we have health or weight loss goals, exercise is naturally part of the equation. Working yourself to exhaustion seven days a week, though, is a recipe for burnout. Sure, pushing yourself during workouts is important—that’s what prompts your body to change. It’s when we push ourselves too hard, for too long, too many days a week that our zealous fitness regimen starts to tax us outside of the gym.
Energy takes the form of ATP in our bodies, and the more intense our workout is, the more ATP it demands. ATP needs time to replenish during recovery periods. So when we consistently exercise at a high intensity without taking time to rest, we aren’t invigorated post-workout, we’re exhausted. If this sounds like you, try scaling back the frequency or intensity of your workouts, getting adequate rest between sessions, and eating plenty of protein post-workout—these adjustments could renew your energy stores.
2. You’re not eating carbohydrates.
Keto, paleo, Atkins, you name it—there are countless diets out there intent on cutting your carbohydrate intake. And their popularity isn’t a coincidence—this lifestyle is advantageous for some people. But if you’re constantly feeling out of it and you recently slashed your carbohydrates, it’s reasonable to think that the two might be connected. While it’s true, the average American eats an excessive amount of carbohydrates, nixing them altogether doesn’t suit everyone, especially if you engage in endurance workouts (long distance running, cycling, boxing, etc.). Instead, try adding complex carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and oats back into your diet, and see if your energy level changes.
3. You’re sleeping in or resting too much.
Sleeping in feels wise in the moment, but too much sleep can have a reverse effect on your energy levels—aka you feel overtired and unmotivated. This is often the case for people who skimp on sleep some nights and try to make up the hours later. Contrary to belief, you can’t really “catch up” on sleep that you’ve missed, and if you get into a habit of inconsistent sleep, your circadian rhythm can suffer, leaving your energy levels low. The same goes for spending too much time resting or being sedentary. Lethargy breeds lethargy, and even though you might think going for a walk will make you more tired, it usually has the opposite effect and can be quite energizing.
4. You aren’t eating before your workout.
To eat or not eat before a workout is one of the most contested topics in the wellness world, and the “definitive” answer changes all the time. We don’t all have the same needs. Some people swear by fasted morning workouts, and hey, if they feel great throughout the day, more power to them. Many people, however, benefit from eating before exercising, especially those who work out for long periods of time. For me, it’s all about the time of day. When I work out in the morning for less than an hour, I usually don’t need to eat anything. Before afternoon and evening workouts, you’ll always find me with a snack. I know people who do the opposite. C’est la vie.
Should you suspect that not eating pre-workout is causing your fatigue, try having something small like a banana or oatmeal an hour or two beforehand. Having fuel in your tank can improve your performance and leave you feeling much better afterwards.
5. You’re drinking too much (or too little) caffeine.
We’re raised to believe that coffee equals energy, but alas, it can also drain you of it. Drinking too much caffeine can interfere with your sleep patterns, which of course, makes you tired. For some people, it creates a series of energy peaks and valleys. Their energy soars and eventually fades. They drink more caffeine, and boom, more energy. Is it hard to believe that this cycle could tire you out? “Wired and tired,” as they say. The worst part is that if you’re used to drinking caffeine all the time, not drinking any will make you feel tired, too (that is, until you wean yourself off it).
The solution? It’s a tough call. Plenty of studies show the benefits of coffee and tea, but being reliant on anything to function is usually considered unhealthy. Experiment with your intake, see how drinking less impacts you, and remember that the choice is ultimately yours.
At the end of the day, your lack of energy could be for any number of reasons. It’s impossible to say without knowing you. Hopefully this gives you somewhere to start in terms of tailoring your daily practices to help you feel your best. And if something “healthy” is hurting your quality of life, it’s okay to question it and do what works for you.
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