If you’re accustomed to training hard, you might have had to deal with the occasional bout of post-workout fatigue. While this is completely within acceptable parameters, you should be concerned if this fatigue continues to persist far into the week.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition characterised by chronic fatigue but with difficulty in falling or staying asleep. You might look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue, but you’ll experience a general sense of malaise, tiredness or “grey” feelings. Despite it affecting millions of people, conventional medicine still fails to recognise it as a distinct syndrome.
The cumulative effects of stress can lead to symptoms of adrenal fatigue, so it’s not just athletes who have to guard against it. As the name implies, adrenal fatigue is largely caused by a dysfunction of the adrenal glands. Under normal circumstances, adrenal glands secrete adrenaline in order to enable you to respond to fight-or-flight scenarios like say, narrowly avoiding an oncoming car.
Now imagine if the adrenals “tank” is emptied but isn’t given the opportunity to replenish itself. The end result would probably be akin to pushing a car bereft of its wheels along a gravel road. Throw in the stress of daily life and that road quickly becomes an uphill struggle.
The thing to remember is that the adrenals don’t necessarily need to be triggered in order to become exhausted. Chronic stress and constantly elevated cortisol levels can easily lead to adrenal fatigue if not addressed in time. To the body, it doesn’t matter whether you’re fretting over an email or running from a serial killer. At the end of the day, what stresses the body is ultimately considered to be stressful.
Getting a handle on your stress levels represents your best bet to guard against adrenal fatigue. While the body is well-tuned to handling acute stress like the ones imposed during training, it’s not at its best when faced with daily chronic stress. Aaron Rolley of International Fitness Consultants advises that one should take proactive measures when it comes to preventing adrenal fatigue:
- Learn how to meditate
- Avoid watching screens close to bed time
- Don’t over-consume caffeine or sugar
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep and exercise
If you start exhibiting symptoms of adrenal fatigue but aren’t exactly sure, you can opt for an adrenal salivary test at your doctor’s. Not only is it simple, but saliva hormone levels are more reflective of hormone levels within cells, where hormonal reactions take place. Even if the test results turn out to be negative, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Raff, H. (2009) "Utility of Salivary Cortisol Measurements in Cushing's Syndrome and Adrenal Insufficiency," Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 94(10), 3647-3655
Tintera, J. W. (1955), “The Hypoadrenia Corticol State and its Management”, New York State Journal of Medicine, 55(13), 1-14
Wilson, J. (2001) “Adrenal Fatigue the 21st Century Stress Syndrome”, Petaluma, CA 94955: Smart Publications
Bengtsson, I., Lissner, L., Ljung, T., Roengren, A., Thelle, D. & Währborg, P. (2010), “The Cortisol Awakening Response and the Metabolic Syndrome in a Population-Based Sample of Middle-Aged Men and Women”, Metabolism, 59(7), 1012-1019