Do You Need a Nap or a Run?

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Do You Need a Nap or a Run?

Being tired is part of training (and life). Sometimes when you’re tired, it’s OK to keep running, and even to use running to perk yourself up and get you out of your funk. Other times, feeling tired can be a sign there’s a deeper issue. Knowing when to run and when to take it easy is critical. Take a look at these common scenarios and see if any of them fit your current sleepy status.

IF YOU’RE … FEELING EXHAUSTED FROM ONE NIGHT OF BAD SLEEP
YOU SHOULD … RUN

Consider swapping your hard run or intervals for an easier run or long walk instead, says Dr. Michael Ross, a sports medicine physician at the Performance Lab at the Rothman Institute. “I do think people need to listen to their body and not power through,” adds naturopath Lia Sonnenburg. “It can be a sign you’re doing too much and you’re shutting down other systems at the cost of doing exercise. Periods of rest are paramount, over-training can set you back a lot and is devastating.” So take it easy today and see how it feels when you wake up tomorrow.

IF YOU’RE … ALWAYS TIRED, BUT ARE FOLLOWING A TRAINING PLAN
YOU SHOULD … REST

“Taking time off is never a problem,” Ross says. “Famed cyclist Greg LeMond says in his book that for every day off, it takes a week to come back, but that’s completely untrue. Studies have shown that you can take up to three weeks off without losing fitness. If you train too much, you can easily get burned out — and overtraining means very different things for different people.” You can be overtrained without overtraining, depending on the stress outside of training in your life. “You can barely be training and be very overtrained,” he adds.

IF YOU’RE … ALWAYS TIRED, BUT HAVE TAKEN TIME OFF
YOU SHOULD … SEE A DOCTOR

“There may be an anemia, leukopenia, food intolerance or other imbalance that needs addressing,” says Sonnenburg. “Recently we’ve also begun looking at genetic polymorphisms in the population as well, once you’ve ruled out any of those deficiencies and nutrient imbalances.  Some people are meant to be endurance athletes while others, with more fast-twitch fibers, are meant more for the HIIT world.”

IF YOU’RE … HAVING A STRESSFUL DAY AT THE OFFICE
YOU SHOULD … TRY 15 MINUTES

“It’s always OK to feel what you feel — you might feel sluggish, but start your warmup and see how you feel,” says Ross. The run might actually serve to re-energize you and work out some of the stress from a hard day at the office. On the other hand, if you’re new to running or just not feeling amazing, you might find that after your warmup, you’re still feeling crappy. If that’s the case, slow your roll and go on a more meditative walk or head somewhere quiet and try your favorite yoga moves (or find a quick routine to follow along with online).  

IF YOU’RE … NOT IN THE MOOD, FEELING BLUE
YOU SHOULD … CROSS-TRAIN

If this is a problem every day, then you may want to take some time off from running and try another activity, like yoga or even a spin class to see if you’re just dealing with some training ennui. But if it’s a more occasional occurrence, lace up and head out the door. Once you’re going, you’ll likely be re-energized. Have a motivational playlist with your favorite jams that you reserve for these ‘blah’ feeling runs. A little Taylor Swift can go a long way toward changing your mood.

IF YOU’RE … TAKING A NAP EVERY SINGLE DAY
YOU SHOULD … MONITOR YOUR DAILY HABITS

“Why do you need a nap? Because you’re not getting enough sleep at night or are you still tired even after a good night of sleep?” Ross asks. He adds that the flood of beneficial hormones that happen from sleep happen in the first hour, and a nap can actually break up that flood and make your sleep less effective. He notes that if, every day, you find yourself nodding of at 3 p.m., start looking at what you’re eating, how you’re sleeping and what your training and stress look like. If daily naps are a must, try to tweak your food or your workload so you can make it through the day without needing one. (That said, the occasional nap is completely fine, especially on a long training day!)


READ MORE > SLEEP EXPERT DR. G ON ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE AND SLEEP


IF YOU’RE … EXHAUSTED AFTER EVERY RUN
YOU SHOULD … MONITOR YOUR NUTRITION

You might just be bonked. “If you’re feeling exhausted from your workout, it usually means you’re not fueling properly,” says Sonnenburg. “The trend of ‘low-carb’ and ‘keto’ diets often mean athletes aren’t getting enough carbohydrate in for their workout. You need carbs to build glycogen stores in muscle and pull water into muscle tissue. An athlete needs to have some responsible intake of good carbohydrates in order to perform their best and maximize their work output.”

IF YOU’RE … HAVING TROUBLE GETTING UP IN THE MORNING
YOU SHOULD … MONITOR YOUR SLEEP

First, make sure you’re actually sleeping. “Track your sleep — sleep hygiene is so important,” says Ross. Even if you’re in bed for eight hours, are you really sleeping? A sleep tracker can help you get a better sense of your total deep sleep hours. Check with a doctor: “There aren’t any great blood markers for overtraining,” says Ross. “But there are medical problems that can be causing an issue: low thyroid, low testosterone, certain infections — so you want to head to a doctor to look at some of those things if you’re not feeling better after resting.”  

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on TheOutdoorEdit.com, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.

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