Written By Camilla Whishaw – Runner’s Tribe

As runners, fatigue is a common feeling, something that can be expected during and after workouts and races. But what happens when this feeling becomes your normal state of being? When you wake up feeling fatigued, or spend the majority of your day feeling flat? This article touches on some of the broad categories to consider in relation to fatigue. In coming weeks, individual components of this summary will be explored in greater depth, paired with tools to equip you in rediscovering your energetic self!


Adequate nutrition, tailored to each individual, is paramount for energy production and beating fatigue. Even athletes with the best intentions to eat well can find that good nutrition habits slip when they are under the pressures of everyday life: work; travel; training; social and family demands. It can be all too easy to forget to include much needed snacks, or regularly rely on takeaway for dinner after a late training session. This may lead to insufficient energy intake; insufficient macro and micronutrient intakes; and poor control of blood glucose levels- all factors which will greatly influence fatigue levels. 


Most people are aware that even minimal levels of dehydration (around 2%) can adversely affect energy levels and performance. Fluid needs are unique to each individual, but as a rough guide, most of us need to consume between 2-3L daily, before taking into account our elevated needs due to sweat loss and exercise. Add to this the heat and humidity in summer and exposure to dehydrating air conditioning and our needs increase further. Unless you regularly sip on water throughout the day, whether this be by religiously carrying a drink bottle around with you, or by having a glass and jug of water at your office desk- this can be a tough target for many to achieve.


When trying to cram everything into our busy lives, sleep is often the factor which is compromised. “I’ll get up an hour earlier in the morning to make sure I fit my run in”, or “I’ll just stay up late tonight to finish that report for work.” Do either of these sound familiar to you? We often treat sleep as a negotiable factor in our lives, yet when it comes to sustained energy and wellbeing it is one of the most crucial aspects which must be respected. Not only is sleep quantity important, but so too is sleep quality.


Generally speaking, many runners by nature, tend to be bits of ‘overachievers’. We put so many demands on ourselves and set exceedingly high standards and expectations in many areas of our lives. So much so, that we tend to always be striving for more in every area of our lives, and hardly ever factor in ‘down time’. This elevates stress levels (often which go unnoticed to us) and reeks havoc with both our cortisol and blood glucose levels, thereby impacting fatigue levels.


Taking a close look at your training load is an important consideration in addressing fatigue: particularly that general fatigue which has an insidious onset. Often athletes following less structured training programs can go for extended periods of relative high volume or quality training without taking a scheduled ‘easy week’. This can also be true of those following very detailed plans- some athletes can become so caught up in following a specific program to a tee that they neglect to respect that these need to be approached in an individual context. One program does not fit all and if your body is tired, then you may just need to briefly back off!


Regular alcohol consumption can contribute significantly to fatigue: depleting the body of essential nutrients required for energy production; contributing to dehydration; promoting inflammation; impairing recovery after training and racing; potentially influencing poor nutritional choices; and negatively impacting on sleep quality. Whilst alcohol can be included in a healthy and balanced diet, you may need to address how often you are drinking; in what context; and how much alcohol you are consuming.


As athletes we can be quite stoic and push on training and competing when we are sick. In many cases this may be detrimental to our overall health, performance and energy levels. Not allowing ourselves to properly convalesce in the initial stages of illness can result in lingering, low-grade infections, and increased metabolic demands on the body. This can leave us feeling fatigued, performing sub-optimally and not recovering properly from training and competition.


When it comes to our own energy levels, it is important to consider the people we spend the majority of our time around. Think for a minute of how you feel when you spend time in the company of positive, supportive, energetic friends. Contrastingly, if you spend the greater part of your day with people who are constantly negative, complaining and critical, how do you end up feeling? Whilst you may not be able to control who you work with, take steps to limit the time you must spend in the company of people who drain your energy.

Camilla Whishaw
Naturopath. BHSc. (Naturopathy).
Member of ANTA, ATMS.