Running can be great for your health. But overtraining can put extra stress on your adrenal glands and HPA Axis. If you are already under stress, exercising too hard can lead to long term fatigue and low energy levels. For athletes or regular runners, this can mean lower performance levels and slower times.
Other factors can contribute to this too. Food intolerances, excess caffeine, stress at work.. these are all things that trigger your body’s stress response. Combine these with overtraining and you have a recipe for adrenal fatigue.
Quit coffee and other stimulants
When confronted with increased fatigue, slower times, and worse performances, your first instinct as an athlete might be to push yourself harder. This might mean increasing your training schedule to improve endurance, or consuming stimulants like coffee or sugar in the morning or before workouts. However, if weakened adrenals are the underlying reason for your slower times, both of these solutions will likely be counterproductive.
If you feel that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, giving up caffeine is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
When you consume caffeine or go for a run, your brain releases a hormone that tells your adrenals to produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. If your adrenals are in good shape they will respond immediately, creating the familiar “fight or flight” response of increased heart rate, dilated pupils, greater muscle strength, and higher alertness. However, if you subject your body to these stressors for long periods, the adrenal glands can slowly become less able to produce the stress hormones that you need. A cup of coffee or a run used to make you feel energized, but now it just makes you feel heavier and more tired.
Cut back on your training too
Cutting back on your training for a few months is a good idea too. By ending the constant stimulation of your adrenal glands, you will allow them to recover from their depleted state. Eventually, given enough time, your adrenals will recover and be there for you when you need them. That means faster times and better performances!
Also note that giving up caffeine is just one element of the treatment for adrenal fatigue. You should also combine this with a sharply reduced training program, a balanced and nutritive diet, and an evaluation of any other stressors in your life (work stress, financial stress) that can be improved or eliminated.
It can be hard to get a diagnosis
Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome, or a collection of symptoms, that usually results from chronic stress. Fatigue is the major symptom, but patients typically experience several others. These can include insomnia, food cravings, headaches, dizziness, a feeling of being frequently overwhelmed, and much more. We all tend to react differently, and the variability in these symptoms often makes it difficult for an MD to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.
A regular doctor is likely to focus on just one of these symptoms and attempt to treat that. For example, he or she might tell you to get more sleep, or diagnose you with depression.
That’s why adrenal fatigue is diagnosed much more often by integrative doctors. The more holistic approach used in integrative medicine means that a doctor will look at all aspects of a patient’s life. This creates a much better opportunity to see how things like diet, exercise and stress might be contributing to poor health.