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Status:Closed    Asked:Dec 16, 2013 - 08:16 AM

What metabolic, nutritional, or systemicl factors can cause poor adaptation and recovery from exercise?

Thanks for asking for details! I am a 56 year old male active in biking and downhill skiing, and maintain an exercise regimen year around to varying degrees. I have a reasonably healthy diet and am in generally good or great health. My main problem is that my recovery from and adaptation to high and low intensity exercise is very poor.

I typically feel good while exercising, but my recovery is horrible. Sleep is poor after a good workout (even if earlier in day) and the next day I suffer from reduced energy and motivation, as well as reduced cognitive functioning (poor concentration, general fuzziness, lack of clear mind). In the morning I might be adequate, but later in the day I become more depleted and drained, and concentration is further reduced. If I overdo it, I have to resort to OTC sleep meds and stimulants (caffeine, 5 hour energy) to function the next day. Invariably I have to reduce my workout sessions, in intensity or frequency, to maintain daytime functioning. Muscle soreness is not a big issue; it’s more of a systemic response to exercise. After exercise I feel good if not great, and I could easily push myself harder and longer if it weren't for the price I would pay.

Though tempted to give you details of my workouts I will resist, other than saying that it takes me months to work up to higher levels of activity, whether it’s cycling season in the spring or shifting to kettlebells, plyometrics, and ski machine in the fall. I have to go very slow and hold way back, not because I can’t do the 10 miles or put up 10,000 lbs. of kettlebells, it’s that the price I will pay if I overdo it will last for two or three days.

I do not believe that this is a matter of simply applying rest/recovery principles better though I'm sure that would help. I've worked out and exercised for a long time and know that this has worsened over time (yes, aging!). And to be frank, I'm not sure that I ever recovered well, but something seems be off. I’ve noticed that the “adrenaline” keeps going long after exercise stops; at night I can often feel my heart beating though heart rate is reduced to normal levels below 65 BPM. (Weird note: chocolate has the same effect on heart and sleep).

I recently had labs done, and most parameters were relatively normal (RBC was toward low end). I happen to work at a medical clinic that practices "Functional Medicine" and can order any labs necessary to evaluate this further.

OK, probably more than you asked for. I would love some feedback if there is anything that could be explored further in the lab or through evaluation. I honestly don't think this is a matter of better training principals, though as I stated above, I am sure I could improve in these areas.

Thank you very much for considering my question.

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In short, inadequate rest (which includes both time off from exercise and sound sleep), lack of proper nutrition (refueling and hydration), and individual characteristics (such as age, level of conditioning, and current medical conditions) can affect adaptation and recovery from an exercise session. I will offer suggestions on rest and proper nutrition, but I strongly suggest that you get a complete evaluation from your primary healthcare provider, especially if you are over 40 years of age and /or you have symptoms of chronic fatigue and heart palpitations.

For most people, normal dietary practices following exercise will facilitate recovery within 24–48 hours. But athletes following vigorous training regimens benefit from strategic refueling. The main goal of post-exercise fueling is to replenish glycogen stores and facilitate muscle repair. The best post-workout meals include mostly carbohydrates accompanied by some protein. Refueling should begin within 30 minutes after exercise and be followed by a high-carbohydrate meal within two hours. The carbohydrates replenish the used-up energy that is normally stored as glycogen in muscle and liver. The protein helps to rebuild the muscles that were fatigued with exercise. A carbohydrate intake of 1.5 g/kg of body weight in the first 30 minutes after exercise and then every two hours for four to six hours has been recommended. Of course, the amount of refueling necessary depends on the intensity and duration of the training session. For example, a long-duration, low-intensity workout may not require such vigorous replenishment.

In the case of hydration, the goal is to correct any fluid imbalances that occurred during the exercise session. This includes consuming water to restore hydration, carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, and electrolytes to speed rehydration. If
you have at least 12 hours to recover before the next strenuous workout, rehydration with the usual meals and snacks and water should be adequate. The sodium in the foods will help retain the fluid and stimulate thirst. However, if rehydration needs to occur quickly, consider drinking about 1.5 L of fluid for each kilogram (or 0.75 L of fluid for each pound) of body weight lost. This should enough to restore lost fluid and also compensate for increased urine output that occurs with rapid consumption of large amounts of fluid. For more information on nutrition for exercise, including pre-exercise and during exercise, I highly recommend the new ACE Fitness Nutrition Manual (

Lastly, adequate rest between exercise sessions and good quality sleep are musts for proper recovery. Giving yourself 48 to 72 hours time off between vigorous exercise sessions is a good guideline for recovery. This doesn’t mean you should be completely sedentary during the time off, as milder forms of exercise, such as walking or yoga, can be performed, especially if your occupation or lifestyle involves long periods of sitting. Delayed onset muscle soreness can also be used as a gauge for approaching your next vigorous workout. That is, if you’re still sore from your previous workout in 72-hours time, take that as an indication that your body is still undergoing the acute healing phase and hold off on vigorous training for another day or two.


Dec 16, 2013 - 08:20 AM

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