Why You’re Feeling Post-Workout Fatigue the Next Day (and How To Reduce It)
Once you have set your fitness goals, it takes hard work and sacrifice to achieve them. For example, it is common to experience post-workout fatigue the next day, especially if you are just beginning a program and have undergone a level of activity to which you are not accustomed. While it is probably not possible to avoid any fatigue or soreness as part of your fitness program, there are things you can do to keep them to a minimum.
Symptoms of Post-Workout Fatigue the Next Day
There is usually more to fatigue after a workout than simple tiredness, although that can certainly be part of it. Your muscles may seem weaker than usual. About 12 to 24 hours following the activity, your muscles may start feeling sore, and if you touch them, they may be especially tender. Your joints may be stiff, with a reduced range of motion. You may experience some swelling of the affected limbs.
These symptoms are usually mild. They typically start the next day but may persist for several more following the workout. If symptoms are particularly troublesome, there are things you can do to manage them, such as applying ice packs to numb pain and reduce swelling, massaging the affected muscles, or taking over-the-counter pain relievers. While these measures may help you manage pain, they do not aid post-workout recovery.
Causes of Next-Day Post-Workout Fatigue
There are four factors that can contribute to symptoms of fatigue following a workout. So that you can better understand what is causing your symptoms, here is an explanation of each.
1. Fuel Depletion
Your body gets the fuel by which it powers all its various functions from the food you eat. The most efficient source of energy is carbohydrates, found in foods such as bread, pasta, and fruit. When you eat carbohydrates, the body uses some of them for fuel right away and stores the excess in the form of glycogen in the muscles and the liver. An intense workout can burn through the body's store of glycogen quickly, which can contribute to post-workout fatigue the next day.
2. Metabolic Byproduct Accumulation
Processes such as glycolysis, the breakdown of glycogen to keep your body fueled, can also create chemical byproducts, such as lactate. The buildup of these byproducts can lead to cellular acidosis, i.e., a decrease in the muscle's pH level, and can interfere with electrical signals that allow the muscles to contract. As a result, the muscles do not work as efficiently as they are supposed to.
3. Skeletal Muscle Damage
An intense workout puts stress on the skeletal muscles. The stress can cause micro-tearing of muscle fibers. The damage usually isn't severe, and your body is typically able to repair it within a few days. However, it can cause muscle soreness and fatigue in the interim.
To be clear, not all movements put equal stress on the muscle. Concentric muscle contraction, during which the muscle shortens, causes less stress than eccentric contraction, during which the muscle lengthens. For example, the action of lifting up a barbell or free weight is a concentric contraction, while lowering the weight is an eccentric contraction. Therefore, it is technically not lifting weights that is causing you post-workout fatigue the next day; it is letting the weights back down again. Running (especially downhill) and jumping are examples of other activities that cause eccentric muscle contractions, making fatigue and soreness more likely following these activities.
Water makes up approximately three-quarters of your body. The body needs fluid to carry out vital functions such as regulating your body's temperature, delivering oxygen via the bloodstream, digesting food, and eliminating waste. Water also helps facilitate movement by helping to cushion your joints. When you exercise, you lose fluids at an accelerated rate by breathing more heavily and sweating. If you do not replenish the fluids during and after exercise, you could become dehydrated. This is more likely if your hydration level was on the low side before you started exercising.
Dehydration can contribute to the generally unwell feeling of post-workout fatigue the next day. It can also cause additional symptoms of its own:
- Accelerated heart rate
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Confusion or delirium
If you experience symptoms such as these, you should know that they are not normal following a workout and may indicate a more serious problem.
The FITT Program for Recovery From Training
Recovery is the process by which your body heals any damage that results from your workout routine and brings itself back into balance. The American Council on Exercise recommends a program of recovery from athletic training called FITT, which consists of the following components.
There are essentially two types of recovery from physical exertion: passive recovery and active recovery. Passive recovery involves resting completely from all strenuous activity, while active recovery involves continuing exercise at a lower level. Depending on your exercise program, both types may contribute to your recovery.
The time of recovery refers to the duration of each recovery session between bouts of activity or training.
The intensity of recovery only applies if you are undergoing active recovery. It is expressed as a percentage of the intensity of your entire workout. During passive recovery, when you are resting, the intensity is 0%.
The frequency of recovery is a term that you may understandably find confusing. This refers to the number of days per week that you need to devote to recovery. The ideal frequency depends on the activity you are recovering from, its intensity, and its duration.
This combination of Frequency, Intensity, Type, and Time gives you an idea of the recommended recovery plan after significant physical activity. If you are just starting a workout program and are not a professional athlete, your recovery program may not include all the FITT components. A professional such as a doctor can help create a recovery program for you based on the particular exercise you are doing.
While recovery is part of a larger fitness plan, it is a separate program from your exercise routine. In other words, you may do different things during recovery than you would do while you are working out primarily.
8 Steps To Reduce Post-Workout Fatigue the Next Day
Strategies for avoiding fatigue and soreness following a workout generally consist of preparing the body before your workout and then starting the recovery process as soon as possible afterward. Here are eight steps you can take to minimize symptoms of fatigue.
1. Ease Into a New Exercise Program
When starting a new exercise program, start at a low level and gradually increase your activity. Trying to do too much too soon can lead to injuries above and beyond the expected, normal soreness and fatigue. When you increase your activity gradually, your body gets used to the exertion, and you experience less soreness.
2. Vary Your Workout Routine
Work different parts of the body every day so that you do not overwork fatigued muscles. Rest is very important to the recovery process. Let discomfort be your guide and avoid doing the same workout on muscles that are still sore. Also, if you experience any acute pain during a workout, stop what you are doing right away. In many cases at least 48 hours should pass before you start working the same muscle group again.
You can also plan your workout routine to help you prevent post-workout fatigue the next day. For example, you can cut down on the number of eccentric muscle contractions that you do and focus more on concentric contraction movements. You can also incorporate active recovery techniques, such as foam rolling and light cardio, into your routine.
3. Keep Your Body Hydrated
Muscle recovery is one of the many functions for which your body requires fluids. When you are exercising, you need to drink more water to replace the fluids you are losing, but be sure to keep drinking after exercise. It is also a good idea to consume fluids before your workout in anticipation of losing some as you start to sweat. A doctor can give you a more specific idea of how much hydration you should be getting.
4. Refuel Your Body
Within 45 minutes of exercise, your body primes itself to absorb nutrients to replace what you lost during your workout. You can take advantage of this by eating a snack or a small meal within this timeframe that includes both carbohydrates and protein. Eating carbohydrates helps to replenish your store of energy, while protein is necessary for muscle recovery.
A few hours after that, you can eat another, well-balanced meal containing lots of nutrients. Even if you are trying to lose weight, depriving yourself of food is counterproductive.
5. Get Enough Sleep
As an adult, you should spend at least seven hours out of every 24 sleeping. Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on both your physical and mental function. In addition, sufficient sleep offers specific benefits for avoiding post-workout fatigue the next day.
When your brain gets the signal that your muscles are fatigued, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which is necessary to repair the damage and start building new muscle tissue. However, this process cannot take place while you are awake. It is only when you are asleep that the pituitary gland starts releasing growth hormone.
Sleeping just after a workout allows your body to get to work on recovery right away. This may mean taking a nap after your workout or, if you work out later in the evening, going to bed for the night soon after. However, some people have difficulty sleeping immediately after exercising. You'll have to determine what works best for you.
While napping during the day can help make up a sleep debt, you should still try to get seven hours of sleep at night. Because the quality of sleep counts as much as the quantity, you can take steps to get quality rest regardless of when you sleep:
- Choose a quiet room or use a white noise machine to mask other sounds.
- Make the room as dark as possible.
- Avoid the use of electronics immediately before going to bed.
- Aim for a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. This can help keep you more comfortable, especially if your body temperature is elevated after working out.
6. Warm Up and Stretch Properly
Warming up your muscles before exercise helps them prepare for the stress you are going to exert on them by working out. Many people stretch to warm up, but warming up and stretching are actually two different things. Stretch after you warm up. Another way to help avoid muscle soreness is to stretch again after your workout.
7. Consider Other Recovery Techniques
There are other techniques that studies have shown to be effective at preventing post-workout fatigue. They include maximal oxygen intake during exercise and training programs to increase the production of monocarboxylate transporters, which remove metabolism byproducts from your cells. These are more advanced techniques and may not be appropriate for a beginning fitness program. Talk to a doctor or personal trainer to find out whether these techniques may benefit you.
8. Recognize the Difference Between Normal and Abnormal Fatigue
Some mild fatigue symptoms that persist for a day or two after an intense workout are normal and expected. However, if your symptoms are severe or if they linger longer than a few days, they may be a sign of a more serious problem that could require medical treatment. Your doctor can address any concerns you may have.
Track Your Progress Using More Than Post-Workout Fatigue the Next Day
As you continue your fitness program and gradually start increasing the intensity of your workouts, you should find that you experience less post-workout fatigue the next day. This can be satisfying to notice, but there are other, more scientific ways to keep track of your progress. Purchase ZOZOFIT, and you can perform as many 3-D scans of your body as you need and use your smartphone to track your results.