What we do during our workouts plays a role in how we feel afterwards. But there are other factors that actually make a big difference, too, and will impact whether exercise leaves us feeling energized or exhausted.
“Your current state—how rested you are, when the last workout was, how much energy you have available, when you last ate and how your unique body responds to that meal, hydration, temperature, stress level, previous exercise tolerance, mindset—all factors in to how your body will respond to the next exercise demand,” exercise physiologist and trainer Kaitlyn Baird, the coordinator of running and metabolic services at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, says.
- Kaitlyn Baird, CEP, USA triathlon level 1 coach and an exercise physiologist at the Sports Performance Center at New York University Langone Health
Essentially, how ready and rested your body is for exercise will determine how much oomph you have to give. Then, if the intensity of your workout meets your readiness, you’ll probably feel great afterward. If it exceeds it, some couch time is in your future.
“The overall demand—the time of day, duration, intensity, neuromuscular difficulty, energy needs—will determine how much work you have to perform,” Baird says.
Sleepiness, as opposed to just physical fatigue, comes thanks to a brain-body connection that translates the tax placed on your body to how you’re feeling overall. If you’re feeling tired after a workout, some factors that compound this effect are the potential that you’re dehydrated, that you haven’t been sleeping well (and then exercise “adds to the deficit,” says Baird), or that you have “depleted your energy and/or you aren't eating enough of the right fuels to power your workout.”
The good news is that knowing that preparation and recovery factor into how you feel after a workout means that you can plan for more energized days.
“This is where weekly, monthly, and even annual programming comes into play,” Baird says. “How you manage your state and how much overall demand placed on you with each workout can impact how you feel when that workout is over.”
Baird advises that you give yourself more overall recovery after a harder workout. If you do, the payoff will come both during the workout with more rested and ready muscles, and afterwards.
“Although it will differ from person to person, exercise can produce endorphins and improve mood,” Baird says. “When you hit a sweet spot, you may just end up feeling amazing.”
Are you recovering today? Here's a 15-minute stretch session to add in some movement even when you're taking it easy:
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