Adrenal fatigue is the inability of the adrenal glands to carry out their normal function. The kidneys produce hormones to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, burn fat and protein and react to stress. A disruption can cause changes in metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, the cardiovascular system and sex drive. The adrenal glands are the main stress control of the body and thus are affected with a stressful, overworked and under nourished lifestyle.
Some common triggers or causes of adrenal fatigue are: over-exercising, high stress levels, sleep deprivation, high sugar intake, chronic illness, depression, surgery. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but you can likely identify with a few of these.
The signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be slightly different with each person. Keep in mind, one or two symptoms does not suggest adrenal fatigue. Rather, a cluster of the symptoms and lifestyle factors in an otherwise healthy adult could point towards adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue is not on the forefront of “old school docs” minds or they were never taught this in med school. Holistic medical practices, dietitians or nutritionists are more likely to recognize the symptoms and prescribe a non-medicinal approach to working back to health.
Weight gain and inability to lose it- often abdominal area
High frequency of sicknesses that tend to last longer than normal
Reduced sex drive
Lack of energy, even with adequate sleep
Reliance on caffeine- coffee, soda, energy drinks
Chronic pain of unknown origin
Obviously, we at Athletes’ Potential are not dietitians or nutritionists but we have a strong belief that input = output. We tend to treat the output side, but you could see they are directly related! So if you train 6 days per week, crave and/or eat sugary foods, sleep 4-5 hours a night and have trouble sleeping once you lay down--- your body is TIRED. As a society wrapped up in the ‘go until you drop’ mindset, it is not often that we take time to slow down and let the mind and body recover.
Take a minute to answer these questions for yourself: How many minutes each day are quiet and calm? Meaning, no phone, no TV, no conversation, no working, no cooking. After a workout or long day at work, what do you do to ensure that your body is ready to do it all again tomorrow? How do you respond when your body sends stress signals?
Any “I don’t know” or “I don’t have time” responses? Keep reading!
Where to start?
Recovery practices- If you are that athlete training 5-6x/week but have no recovery schedule, it is only a matter of time before you will have an injury or begin to experience some of the above symptoms. Recovery can look like an off day (more than once every 2 weeks), a stretching and soft tissue regimen, appropriately fueling for the training or a resource such as whole body cryotherapy. Stretching and soft tissue maintenance has always been our mantra but something you may not be familiar with is the cryotherapy. It will reduce inflammation to speed recovery, boost metabolism, decrease chronic pain, burn calories and increase norepinephrine (increase focus, attention, mood). Many of our patients with chronic sleep issues tend to have more restful nights following a few bouts of cryotherapy. This could be the game changer for you!
Nutrition- Not my area of expertise, but definitely an area of interest! A friend of ours is a Nutritional Counselor at a Holistic and Integrative Medicine clinic here in Atlanta. She shared a short blog about supplements that she suggests if you are experiencing these symptoms, found HERE. There is also a delicious recipe--- you’re welcome! A dietician or nutritionist can work with you one-on-one to talk through symptoms and which food changes could impact your health.
Meditation- Meditation doesn’t have to be some mystic, religious experience unless you want it to be. By meditation, I mean taking a small chunk of time to relax the mind, breathe and calm the body. This is a new practice for me as well! The first time I tried it, I only lasted about 30 seconds before I was thinking about something else. Now, I almost always make about 10 minutes of relaxation! Check out the app Headspace. It’s free and is directed mindfulness for 10 min each day.
Journaling- Very similar to meditation, but some people prefer journaling. For those with busy minds, taking a few minutes to write down what you are thinking about can be freeing and lighten the load swirling in your mind.
Listen to your body- Although last, it is the most important and closing thought. Listening to your body while training is paramount to all practices. If you feel fatigued, foggy headed, have various aches and pains over the body, perhaps today isn’t the day to run your 10-mile loop or try to PR a lift. Take the time to slow down and be attentive to the signals your body sends!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.