What is Metabolic Damage and Adrenal Fatigue?
We’re constantly bombarded with motivational messages through social media that tell us to do things like push harder, train past the pain and just grind through it. While we’ve all benefited from these moments of inspiration, what if the answer wasn’t to do more, but to back off and allow your body to rest, recover and regenerate itself to an optimal hormonal balance so that you can achieve the results you’re after. Sounds crazy enough it just might be true. What’s becoming an increasingly common condition among physique competitors, gym enthusiasts and athletes alike is something being referred to as metabolic damage, or more accurately adrenal fatigue (think of metabolic damage as the dramatic, eye-catching phrase to describe the condition and adrenal fatigue the more scientifically accurate, yet less scandalous description). Now before half of you self-diagnose yourself with adrenal fatigue, take the week off the gym, abandon your program and hit up every cheat meal spot you’ve been craving, I should mention that a large proportion of people tend to misdiagnose adrenal fatigue when in fact it’s something else, frequently unrelated to how hard you’ve been working and dieting. Don’t get me wrong, adrenal fatigue is a very real thing and should be managed appropriately if you want get the most out of your body. In this overview article, I’ll help describe what you need to know about this condition – how to recognize adrenal fatigue, what causes it and what you can do to resolve it.
What causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Put simply, adrenal fatigue is caused by doing too much for too long. This typically means things like:
-overdoing cardio for extended periods of time
-training too hard for too long with chronic insufficient recovery time
-not eating enough calories – specifically carbohydrates, for too long
-overreliance on stimulant based beverages and supplements
-chronic daily stress left unmanaged
It’s tough to say what’s considered an “extended period” of time or what’s training “too hard for too long” because it’s relative – every individual has their own point where their body starts to shut down. Some people may be former athletes and able to withstand much more training and cardio than the average person, while others may only be able to withstand a portion of that before their body starts to show signs of breaking down. Same goes for caloric intake. A trained athlete may be able to withstand longer periods of aggressive dieting without any negative repercussions and then quickly have their metabolism bounce back afterwards, while a previously sedentary gym rat may suffer longer term consequences from as little as 8 weeks of restricted dieting. For all variables, it really comes down to paying attention to your body, watching for any signs/symptoms (described below) and not simply always ‘grinding’ through it. Listen to your body because the answer isn’t always to do more or eat less.
Misuse of certain supplements are another common culprit of adrenal fatigue. Clients will start taking them to get a little boost in the gym or kickstart a weight loss program, then continue to use them multiple times through the day for weeks on end with no days off. Combined with the stress of their training and cardio with often severe caloric restriction, the addition of these supplements for prolonged periods can exasperate the situation and create a synergistic stress on the body and hormone systems – namely an overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol and a reduction in thyroid output. When it comes to supplements, sometimes regardless of what it says on the label, I’ve always been a strong proponent in cycling them and avoiding prolonged periods of intake that could create some unwanted longer term side effects for the client. I would typically recommend cycling off the supplement for as long as you were ‘on’ or at the very least half as long as you were on it. Adhering to this simple rule can help your body return to it’s normal state of homeostasis, prevent any dependency issues and allows receptors to recharge – preventing the requirement for higher dosing protocols over time.
If you’ve been giving it your all week after week, month after month and not seeing the expected returns it could be a good time to have a look at some common signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. At times, it can feel like your body is fighting you to lose weight, because essentially that’s what it’s doing.
How to recognize Adrenal Fatigue? (the symptoms)
Our bodies are programmed to maintain a delicate balance and it’s constantly working to achieve this, even when we aren’t thinking about it. Now when one system is thrown off (i.e. the adrenals), other systems in the body can start to show signs of impaired function in a downward cascade type of “domino-effect”. That’s why you’ll see so many different systems involved with adrenal fatigue. Although the condition may start with what appears as a concentrated strain on one system, left untreated over time, this trickles down to impact many other systems of the body, leaving the client feeling drained, burnt out and fighting a losing battle.
Here are some of the more common symptoms of adrenal fatigue to watch for :
-More difficult than normal to burn fat
-Low morning energy levels
-Feeling of ‘wired and tired’
-Sexual dysfunction – decrease in libido
-Disrupted sleep – difficulty falling asleep and disrupted
-Difficulty focusing during daily activities
-Increased craving for sweets
-Prolonged muscle soreness post-workout (more than 2 days)
-Increased sensitivity to light
-Don’t feel anything from stimulant based thermogenic supplements any more
-Elevated resting heart rate
-Low body temperature / feeling cold
-Dizziness when standing quickly
What you can do to fix Adrenal Fatigue?
It’s been suggested by many experts that typical low carb type diets (i.e. keto, paleo, anabolic) are frequently one of the main culprits of adrenal fatigue, and I happen to agree. Any client I’ve come across over the past 7 years that’s demonstrated symptoms of adrenal fatigue had previously been on a very low carb diet for an extended period of time with no carb up days or refeeds present. While I’m not blaming low carb diets for causing adrenal fatigue, there is a right and a wrong way to follow this approach. The wrong way just happens to be an express route to adrenal fatigue.
I don’t think any expert will tell you they have the cure for adrenal fatigue and neither do I. What most will agree on however is systematically working your way backwards out of the rut you got yourself into by doing things such as:
-gradual reduction in cardio – frequency and time
-continue with weight training with a reduced volume and intensity
-engage in more relaxing, stress relieving activities such as yoga or stretch classes
-slowly reintroduce carbohydrates into the diet
-work on improving sleeping habits
-introduce some natural, restorative supplements to your regime (see suggestions below)
I’ve used many of these methods in working with clients with adrenal fatigue with varying degrees of success. You have to remember that it takes time for the body to repair itself and many clients refuse to “take it easy” long enough for their body to successfully adapt and return to optimal hormal balance. Be patient!
Supplements to help with Adrenal Fatigue
There are certainly some natural supplements that can encourage the body to restore itself and I’ve listed some of the more common options below. Always consult with your practitioner or Naturopath for a more customized supplement program designed for your specific needs. These just happen to be some of the supplements I’ve used with my own clients and did tend to help the restorative process.
I hope this post provided a basic overview on what you need to know about adrenal fatigue and what you can do to resolve it. There is obviously much more information that can be discussed on this topic if we dive deeper into the condition. You’ve now got enough information to help spark some intelligent thought about your own program and what your body might be saying. And don’t be shy to make your next meme about enjoying a cheat meal and taking a day off!