Tips for Avoiding Muscle Fatigue When Exercising

Fatigue Fighting Fitness Tips

Marla Ranieri, PT, DPT
Rehabilitation Department
Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center
Hospital for Special Surgery


Whether you are starting to work out for the first time or you are a professional athlete, muscle fatigue is a normal side effect of exercise that may put a damper on your routine. Fatigue is your body’s way of adapting to a fitness regimen and making you aware that you have reached your metabolic/psychological limit.

The following healthy lifestyle changes and tips can help keep you from hitting a wall in your workout:

1. Nutrition – Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes complex proteins, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates. You should increase the amount of carbohydrates you eat, beginning seven days prior to exercising, to about 40-60% of your caloric intake for aerobic athletes and 30-35% for anaerobic (nonaerobic) athletes. This will maintain your muscles’ glycogen levels, which are depleted during exercise.

2. Eating Schedule – Eat a light meal or snack about two hours before working out. It is not recommended to work out on a full stomach or an empty stomach. Make sure to eat within one hour after you work out. This will help repair and refuel the muscles that were broken down during exercise.

3. Hydration – Drinking water throughout the day and drinking sports drinks during exercise is crucial to prevent dehydration, electrolyte loss, and muscle fatigue. It is recommended to drink 10-12 8-oz glasses of water daily. While exercising, it is recommended to drink 125-250 ml of an electrolyte-rich sports drink every 10-20 minutes, or 1.5L per hour. This will replace the water and nutrients that are lost due to sweating.

4. Endurance – Improve your aerobic capacity. As your respiratory muscles begin to fatigue, oxygen will be redirected from the muscles of your limbs to those of your diaphragm. One way to improve your endurance is to gradually increase your aerobic workouts with interval training. You can also use a respiratory muscle-training device, a piece of equipment that allows you to inhale and exhale against resistance, increasing lung capacity. Whatever method you choose, as your endurance increases the added boost of oxygen in your blood will keep your muscles working for longer periods of time and prevent lactic acid buildup.

5. Body Mechanics – Use correct form when exercising. Pay attention to muscle imbalances and incorrect movement patterns; follow a regular stretching program. The right strength and flexibility will help you achieve correct form during exercising. If you can’t perform an exercise with proper form, then you need to either decrease your weight or modify the exercise. Improper body mechanics decreases efficiency and in turn burns more energy than necessary.

6. Rest/Recovery – Complete a warm up and cool down for 5 to 10 minutes each time you exercise. Start off slowly and gradually increase workout intensity levels so that your muscles are gradually challenged and can build over time. Allow adequate rest between workout sessions and strength repetitions. Make sure the rest break is enough to catch your breath between exercise sets. Listen to your body – fatigue is a sign that recovery has not taken place yet. If that is the case, then perform active recovery, which means participating in low impact, low intensity exercise such as walking, light swimming, or yoga. Do not return to higher intensity exercise until you feel fully recovered and recharged.

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