If you seem to always be following a diet, then you probably follow the basic rules for healthy eating: Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, always choose whole grains over refined ones, and never eat just before going to sleep. You may even be so strict with your diet that you feel drained of energy before your workout even begins.
While it may seem like the only way to lose or maintain your weight is to keep your intake under a certain number of calories each day, you have to support your body with the proper amount of nutrients to get through those grueling cardio and weight sessions. Here are the top five signs you may not be eating enough to fuel your workout regimen.
1. You’ve stopped losing weight
If weight loss is your goal, then you know the general rule of thumb is you need to expend more energy than you consume. But if you’re training six to seven days a week and cutting back on carbs, sugar, fat, and calories, it’s likely you’ll eventually reach a point of overtraining. Your body won’t be able to keep up with the physical demands and your progress will start to halt completely in terms of stamina, strength, and weight loss.
ShapeFit explains overtraining along with making severe cuts to your diet can result in a hormonal imbalance, which can stall muscle growth. You’ll begin to put on fat easier as well, even with your strict diet and intense workouts. You may not realize that overtraining can also throw your nutrient balance out of whack. If you’ve hit a plateau and are constricting your diet severely, consider taking a week to rest up and eat a little bit more. You may be surprised to see the pounds will start to come off again.
2. You’re exhausted
A lot of fitness professionals recommend eating a small snack an hour or two before your exercise or a larger meal up to four hours before an intense workout. If you neglect to properly fuel your body, you’ll burn out quickly. Livestrong.com says eating enough for your workout, particularly earlier in the day before your training begins, is vital for having enough energy to properly execute the moves without feeling fatigued. This is particularly important for high-intensity workouts and interval training, as your blood sugar can drop and cause you to feel unwell mid-workout. While eating a boatload of carbs before your workout is unnecessary, you will need to eat a combination of foods that offer carbs, healthy fat, and nutrients so you don’t tire too quickly.
3. You’re recovering slowly and poorly
Soreness is typical for those who have a regular fitness routine, but if the sensation lingers for long stretches of time, then it’s likely you aren’t eating enough post-workout. BoxLife Magazine reports your body will function at a lower level if you aren’t giving it the fuel it needs, and you won’t be able to recover properly if you aren’t eating enough, especially after a workout.
The 20 to 30 minutes immediately after finishing your workout is when the protein in your muscles is being broken down. If you’re looking to gain muscle mass, this is the perfect time to take in some protein and carbs. If you wait until your next full meal to eat, then you’ll be missing a golden opportunity to increase muscle mass and refuel what you lost while exercising. Adding a mini meal to your routine might be exactly what you need.
4. You’re irritable
It’s one thing to wake up on the wrong side of the bed once a week or so, but if you find you’re grouchy morning, afternoon, and night, then there may be an underlying issue. Self explains those who chronically under-eat are at high risk for irritability. This could be because food itself stimulates the area of the brain that receives pleasure.
Not only does your blood sugar plummet when you haven’t eaten, but the hunger hormone known as ghrelin is also triggered, as is your adrenaline. This combination of hormones can lead you to snap at anyone who looks at you the wrong way. There are also psychological effects that come from depriving yourself of food, and this can leave you more susceptible to feeling annoyed and frustrated.
As far as your workouts are concerned, these negative feelings may reflect a poor performance in the gym. Having a more upbeat, positive, can-do attitude will get you moving faster and lifting heavier.
5. You can’t fall asleep
While you may blame working out late in the evening for your insomnia, it actually might be your restricted diet that’s really giving you trouble. Chris Kresser explains sleep quality often suffers for those who aren’t eating enough. The same goes for those who wake up multiple times during the night. When you under-eat, your blood sugar is going to be unstable, releasing cortisol and adrenaline to compensate. If these hormone levels get too high, you won’t be able to sleep.
If you’re experiencing difficulty sleeping soundly through the whole night, try adding a little more food to your diet — you can even add in a healthy snack an hour or two before your bedtime, but go for something light.