If you find that tiredness is starting to stand between you and your passion for cycling, you may be able to put fatigue down to working long hours, emotional stress or difficulty sleeping. However, if you’re unable to find an obvious cause, it might be time to review your lifestyle, as various factors can affect your energy levels. This article offers advice on aspects of your lifestyle you may need to look at to beat exercise fatigue, get your energy back and enjoy cycling again as much as usual.

5 Common Triggers for Exercise Fatigue

1. Choosing the Wrong Carbohydrates

Although regular meals that include a source of carbohydrate are a must, the type of carbohydrate you choose is just as important. When out on your bike, your muscles’ preferred source of energy is glucose, but to achieve a sustained release of energy your muscles need a regular supply of glucose. Carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index are ideal for this, as they raise your blood glucose levels slowly, while high glycaemic index carbohydrates rapidly increase blood glucose then soon after you experience a dip in energy(1). Choosing items such as white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes and cornflakes is a no-no when you have a long ride ahead of you, so instead opt for grainy bread, brown or Basmati rice, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes or oats.

2. Not including enough iron in your Diet

Iron is essential for energy release, as it forms part of haemoglobin, which allows you to transport oxygen to your muscle cells, one of the key components needed for respiration. Tiredness is a classic symptom of iron deficiency, but other signs to look out for include increased shortness of breath on exercise, an irregular heartbeat and a paler complexion(2). Even if you don’t have iron-deficiency anaemia, a reduction in your usual iron levels may cause noticeable symptoms. A simple blood test can show whether your iron levels are low, which may require a course of iron tablets to restore your iron status. However, the easiest way to prevent anaemia is to include enough iron-rich foods in your diet. Even if you avoid red meat, there are plenty of other good dietary iron sources, including fish, eggs, breakfast cereals with added iron, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and nuts. You need to remember though that with non-meat sources iron is less efficiently absorbed, so you should include a source of vitamin C with meals, while avoiding tea and coffee near mealtimes, to increase iron uptake.

3. Over Training

As with anything you can do too much of a good thing, so if you push yourself too hard during cycling or you train too many times each week, you will start to feel the effects on your body. Besides exhaustion, other signs that you are doing too much exercise include reduced performance, low mood, digestive upset and low blood sugar levels(3). Redressing the balance between training and exercise is essential to prevent burn out.

4. Unhelpful Habits

Whether you smoke, drink heavily or use other substances as a form of stress relief, these habits can all contribute to fatigue, not to mention a variety of serious health problems. For instance, even if you just consider yourself a light smoker, smoking at this level can still affect your lung function and reduce oxygen levels in your blood, interfering with energy release(4). Meanwhile, drinking alcohol can dehydrate you, which is unwelcome either before or after exercise, as one of the symptoms of dehydration is tiredness(5). Alcohol can further impact on your performance by reducing your concentration, co-ordination and decision-making abilities, all of which are especially dangerous when riding a bike, particularly if you are a road cyclist. However, use of drugs and solvents can also leave you feeling less alert and drained(6). The best policy is to quit smoking if you currently smoke, drink in moderation if you choose to do so at all, and avoid all other substances unless you are prescribed medications, and even then you should read the warning instructions about potential side-effects and adjust your activity accordingly.

5. Undiagnosed Medical Problems

Although lifestyle factors are a common cause of fatigue, if despite adjusting these you still feel overly tired, it might be time to visit your doctor. This is because a range of medical conditions from diabetes and thyroid problems to chronic fatigue syndrome and sleep apnoea can cause daytime tiredness(7). It goes without saying that any of these issues are going to cause you fatigue related stress both during and after a ride. Thankfully, by discussing your symptoms, performing an examination and arranging any suitable tests, your doctor should be able to identify the underlying cause, allowing you to start treatment.

Author: Emma Crosby

Well, that's all for this post. Let us know your thoughts for any riding fatigue remedies by leaving a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Bicycle Store

More Reading - References

  • 1. Glycemic Index Foundation, Sustained energy, accessed 17 June 2014
  • 2. Bupa, Iron-deficiency anaemia, accessed 17 June 2014
  • 3. Body-Brain Performance Institute, Overtraining – can you spot it? accessed 17 June 2014
  • 4. Better Health Channel, Fighting fatigue tips, accessed 17 June 2014
  • 5. Australian Sports Commission, Alcohol and Australian sport, accessed 17 June 2014
  • 6. Coalition against Drug Abuse, Treating solvent misuse, accessed 17 June 2014
  • 7. Australian Online College, What causes fatigue? accessed 17 June 2014