There’s tired, and then there’s… Adrenal Fatigue

Ever been exhausted? I don’t just mean tired, I mean REALLY tired.

Ever felt like the simple act of getting out of bed or preparing a meal requires every ounce of your strength?

This may be something more than simply having over done it at work or having done too much exercise this week. It may be much more serious.

Recently I was asked about the potential impact of a hectic yearly calendar of Ultra-Marathons on a runner’s Adrenal glands and how it may lead to illness. Excellent question and one that I thought deserved a solid answer, so here we go.


It isn’t only Ultra-Marathoners that are at risk of over taxing the Adrenal glands, there are many ways in which we can develop what has come to be known as Adrenal Fatigue.

Until recently, many Doctors did not officially recognise that Adrenal Fatigue existed. Instead they would test for a condition known as Addison’s disease which is an almost complete failure of the Adrenal glands to function. The test for Addison’s disease shows that the Adrenal glands are working or they are not, it does not indicate a lower than normal functioning, just all or nothing. This is why the Adrenal Fatigue is often overlooked.

Adrenal Fatigue comes about through the body being in a Fight or Flight state for excessive periods of time. The Adrenal glands secrete a hormone called Cortisol which helps to fight inflammation and physical, emotional and psychological stress. Cortisol also blocks many other hormones that carry out important jobs such as digestion, tissue repair and immune function.

For a keen runner competing in numerous races on a regular basis, consistently requiring your body to churn out bucket loads of cortisol can mean the Adrenals may eventually go on strike and leave unable to do the simplest of tasks in your daily life.

We are put under different stresses almost all day every day, and for the most part, our Adrenals do their job so well that we don’t even notice most of those stresses. However, if they were to stop working, the result could be any or all of the following:

* Subclinical depression

* Unmanageable tiredness

* Unexplained weight gain or inability to lose weight

* Poor immune function and regular illness

* Slow healing of injuries or infections

* Low sex drive

* Hypoglyemia (low blood sugar)

* and many more

The best cure is always prevention, and the best way to prevent Adrenal fatigue is balance.

Not overdoing things sounds obvious and potentially pointless advice, but ensuring you give your body time and space to rest and recover, plus the tools to do this properly, is the only real way to avoid Adrenal Fatigue through overtraining.

Ironically, exercise is perhaps one of the best ways to prevent Adrenal Fatigue because it helps to regulate hormonal activity, it improves healthy functioning of your cells and it is a fantastic outlet for stress.

The medical fraternity recommend regular moderate intensity exercise to help with cases of Adrenal Fatigue and also to help prevent it. Exercise is probably the last thing on the mind of someone with this condition, but there are ways to help get it done. Track for a number of days how you feel at different times of the day. When you can find a pattern of a particular time of day where you typically feel the best (even if it is only slightly better than at other times), then schedule your exercise session for that time and just do as much as you feel you can. Gradually over time you will feel able to do more.

Sleep is a massively important factor and I’ve written about this previously HERE.

One thing you can do with sleep is go to bed earlier rather than try to sleep in. By going to bed earlier than normal, you get to allow your body to wake up naturally when it feels like it, rather than be woken by an alarm before it is ready.

Nutrition is obviously another major contributing factor and eating lots of vegetables (lots of greens but also as many colours as possible) that have been either lightly steamed or boiled for a short time will be a great option.

The powerhouse in our cells is called the mitochondria and when these little guys aren’t functioning properly, fatigue will be inevitable. To boost the healthy functioning of the mitochondria, there are three supplements that will be of great benefit, these being Carnatine, Coenzyme Q10 and Essential Fatty Acids.

Outside of regular moderate exercise, adequate sleep and the right nutrition, stress management techniques such as meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises and visualisation techniques are all excellent at shifting your nervous system into parasympathetic tone (Rest and Digest mode) which reduces the demands on your Adrenal glands and helps to recharge those batteries.

So, coming back to the original question about an Ultra-Marathoner who has had a big year of events and perhaps overdone things – the answer is to look at the list of symptoms above, ask yourself if your energy levels are consistently lower than normal and if the answer is yes, then consider the idea that your Adrenals may need a little TLC. Far better to scale back your training/racing agenda and be able to run for many more years to come, than to push on through and potentially do some serious damage to your most valuable possession – your body.


Run long,

Shaun Brewster.

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