When hormones drain your workout energy

Are you exercising to boost energy and find you’re more tired instead?

Do you finish a workout and then compromise the rest of your day trying to recover?

As a trainer who has worked with women for decades, I frequently see women seeking energy from exercise but actually digging themselves into a hole. That’s because in the early stages of adrenal fatigue most women don’t even realize what’s happening. We’re so used to pushing through, feeling tired, and constant to-do lists that low energy levels get swept under the rug. Who has time for that?

The first stage of adrenal fatigue is barely recognizable. The biggest problems don’t occur with the first stage. If you’re in good health, your body has reserves. If you don’t have those reserves initially and or you don’t get relief from the stressors and the situation progresses, that’s when your body is most likely to begin some breakdown.

There are four stages of adrenal fatigue that you want to know about so, as you dive into new fitness goals, you can understand the signs and symptoms your body is sending and handle them accordingly…

Stage 1

What’s Happening:

  • Onset of a stressor (could be anything, i.e. job loss, family changes, loss)
  • Elevated cortisol, DHEA, and insulin

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Increased arousal and alertness
  • Sleep may suffer

How to Cope:

When you have uncontrollable stressors, make changes that help reduce your self-imposed stress. For example, reduce the frequency, intensity, or duration of exercise. Why? Cortisol produces energy in emotionally, mentally or physically stressful situations in order to calm you down. When you exercise, you normally produce extra cortisol. So if your body is already producing it to help you deal with a stressor, you don’t need any extra from exercise.

Let some things go or get help around the house. Make meal prep easier with short cuts or making large batches of simple go-to make foods. That being said, make sure what you do eat is high quality whole food.

Stage 2

What’s Happening:

  • Some drop in DHEA because of increased need for production of cortisol
  • You’re tired but wired

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Unhealthy reliance on coffee or sugar during this time
  • Might be an unhealthy seek for control with routine, rigidity, or inability to shift gears
  • You may be exhausted but have trouble sleeping

How to Cope:

Rely on support systems to help you identify when you’re mood is different. You won’t notice it as much as others when you’re caught in the storm. You may be exhausted but unable to sleep.

Get fresh air. Get time to yourself both with friends and alone doing something you enjoy. Buff up your nutrition through both food and supplements to target nutrient insufficiencies. Reduce your exposure to toxins in your environment.

Stage 3

What’s Happening:

  • Further drops in DHEA and testosterone
  • Sex hormone precursors shift to cortisol production

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Increasing and constant tiredness
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Regular infections or illness
  • Lower sex drive

How to Cope:

Shift gears into self-care to prevent a major bottoming out. Take a day off before and or after a weekend to extend your rest time. Unplug from social media. Elevate your nutrition game to add antioxidants (like astaxanthin) and boost overall food quality. Remove alcohol, reduce coffee, and remove any processed foods. Let rest and recovery precede exercise. Move, but primarily in recovery modes like yoga, walks, and outdoor activity. Do things that bring you joy.

Stage 4

What’s Happening:

  • Your body is out of reserves
  • The adrenals have already recruited other hormones

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • Apathy

How to Cope:

Time off, patience and a complete change of lifestyle are required if things go this far: Consider changing a stressful job, especially if you have a long commute or too frequent travel. Nutrition needs to come to the forefront, with a focus on gut health. Stop exercise for now if you haven’t already. Add deep breathing and restorative yoga.

Get help bringing hormone levels to a balance as you make these lifestyle changes (an integrative or alternative physician can help).  Start listening to your body again. Shut down electronics whenever possible. Get outdoors daily for sunlight and fresh air. Guard your sleep and don’t let anything (pets, snoring companions, light) disrupt it. Set things in place to prevent this kind of burnout from happening again.

Your adrenals are linked to other systems in the body. Your thyroid levels can drop when your adrenals are going into high gear. That can be simply a sign of the body balancing itself. It’s not always a sign of thyroid problem initially.

Check in with your lifestyle habits. Prolonged and regular fatigue could be an early warning sign that you need to make changes now to reverse symptoms and prevent a more serious problem later. Time off, less but higher quality exercise and a reduction of overall stress load can lighten the load on your system.

We don’t take rest and recovery serious enough until we have to, and then often think the only option is a medication. Look first at nutrition, sleep, exercise and the presence of joy and peacefulness in your life. You have control.


Debra Atkinson

By Debra Atkinson

Debra Atkinson Is the founder of the Flipping 50 movement and host of the Flipping 50 podcast and TV show available on your iphone, ipad, and Apple TV. She is the author of four books including You Still Got It, Girl! The After 50 Fitness Formula For Women and Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust.

Debra is a contributing blogger on the Huffington Post, ShareCare, Prime Woman, and Livingbetter50. She provides solutions for women approaching 50 or who have already turned the corner on what to eat, how to move, and the mindset for lifestyle change with hormone balance that will make the next years as the best years. Find her resources here.