For many trainers and trainees, unconventional fitness methods become more than a way to get into shape, they become a lifestyle. Unfortunately, this passion for high-intensity training can lead to something known as Adrenal Fatigue when not combined with proper diet and mental health.

For years I have been battling with a tire of fat around my waist that I couldn’t shift. No matter how hard I trained in the gym and how much I reduced the fat in my diet or calorie consumption, it was still there, this thick layer sitting around my middle! I even started doubting myself as a personal trainer and wondered how I could get results for my clients, yet couldn’t seem to shift this weight myself?

One day I stumbled across a video on YouTube (of all places!). This guy was talking about a holistic side to training and it was fascinating! The more I watched these videos, the more that curtain that had been pulled over my eyes for so many years started opening. I contacted him and filled out some questions on my lifestyle, stress levels, and mental clarity; he asked me to take a test for my hormones and when the results came back, I learned that I had stage 3 adrenal fatigue.

I started to realize that there is more to health than just training hard and low fat diets. As personal trainers, we don’t always look beyond the physical aspect, instead, we expect weight loss to be a simple process of hardcore gym sessions and reducing calories or implementing portion controls for ourselves and our clients. How often do we look at the bigger picture; emotional characteristics, lifestyle, character type, or how well we can deal with stress? How about other important factors as simple as why we feel tired all the time and struggle to get out of bed every morning? Why have we been training for six months and still can’t lose that stubborn layer of fat around the middle?

In October 2008, when I discovered that I had stage 3 adrenal fatigue, I didn’t have a clue what it was! And here’s something even more ironic: I didn’t find this out from a doctor! The guy I contacted from YouTube was a qualified Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist (FDN), which is someone who is qualified to re-establish hormonal pathways and resolve chronic stress related disorders. If you have a choice, go see your doctor and get medicine to cure your symptoms, or see a FDN and get to root of the problem to cure the cause, which would you choose? I want to share my experience with adrenal fatigue with as many people as possible; this condition isn’t pretty and the really sad part of it is that most people who have it don’t know it.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is a condition with severe to mild forms and is usually brought on by some form of stress: physical, emotional, psychological, environmental, infections, or a combination of causes. The adrenal glands are two small glands the size of almonds that sit above the kidneys and are responsible for secreting over 50 different hormones including epinephrine, cortisol, progesterone, DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone. Over the past century, adrenal fatigue has been recognized as Non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, subclinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, and adrenal apathy.

What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?

The onset of Adrenal Fatigue often occurs because of financial pressures, infections, emotional stress such as divorce, miscarriage, death of a loved one, and over training. Other factors include “bad health habits” such as poor dietary habits: skipping breakfast, feast or famine; heavy caffeine or other stimulant intake (like sodas), smoking, drugs, sugar, and white flour products. Then there are “bad emotional habits” such bitterness and anger, workaholism, and other control issues.

After experiencing many of these events and habits over a long period of time, the adrenal glands tend to produce less cortisol, the body’s master stress hormone. Cortisol’s main role in the body is to enable us to handle stress and maintain our immune systems. The adrenal gland’s struggle to meet the high demands of cortisol production eventually leads to adrenal fatigue.

Who gets Adrenal Fatigue?

People with type “A” perfectionist personalities, university students, mothers with two or more children and little support, single parents, people in unhappy marriages, people dealing with extremely unhappy and stressful work conditions, self-employed individuals with new or struggling business, drug or alcohol users, people working with alternating shifts, and even personal trainers!

What tests should I have done to confirm or deny that I have Adrenal Fatigue?

Saliva testing for cortisol levels via labs with the help of a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist.

What should I do to recover and get my energy back?

Three words: Simplify, Modify, and Minimize:

  • Minimize any stress in your life, which includes hardcore gym sessions, instead, try and do relaxing and calming exercises such as yoga, meditation, or gentle walking.
  • Take time off from your job and try not to work long hours; give sufficient downtime for yourself.
  • Sleep more! Going bed by 10:00PM will help a great deal; it’s in your circadian cycle (sun and moon) and your body repairs itself between 10:00PM and 2:00AM. If you went to sleep at 12:00AM every night and still got your 8 hours, you still won’t be doing yourself any favors. Also, sleep in when you can on the weekends or when you have no work; try and sleep between 7:00AM and 9:00AM to give your adrenal glands extra time to recover.
  • Laugh more often (increases the parasympathetic supply to the adrenals).
  • If you’re tired, don’t push your body and make sure you take small breaks to lie down.

Should I still exercise or should I just take it easy?

If you are a fitness freak like myself, it may be time to rethink your fitness routine and focus on your health first. You can’t lose weight to get healthy, you need to get healthy to lose weight. If you exercise when you have adrenal fatigue, you are sending your body into a catabolic state (breaking down). As your adrenaline increases, your adrenal glands release more cortisol, which means your body will hold on to more fat around the middle; it wants to support and provide more nutrients throughout your midsection because that area is under stress.

As far as exercise is concerned, never underestimate the power of a 20-minute walk. Your body needs time to detox and that cannot be achieved by powerlifting at the gym or through high-intensity cardio! Strenuous exercise during adrenal fatigue only exacerbates the problem because your body excretes lactic acid. That’s why it is so important to drink filtered water after a good workout; you need to flush the toxins from the body. I personally recommend a good, brisk 20-minute walk each day. Yoga, breathing exercises, and some meditation are also great.

The Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue:

  • Feeling fatigue in the morning despite sufficient hours of sleep
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning like normal – even when you are a “morning person”
  • Feeling fatigue in the afternoons, especially between 3:00PM to 5:00PM
  • Feeling more energetic in the late afternoon and early evening
  • Insomnia/irregular sleep – fatigued at night but still waking up often
  • Weight gain and can’t lose it, especially around the waist
  • Depression for no particular reason (as well as for particular reasons)
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • Reliance on stimulants like caffeine
  • Cravings for carbohydrates or sugars
  • Poor immune function (frequent colds and flu symptoms with slow recovery times)
  • Hypersensitivity to light/sound/touch/odors (For example, the sound of the bathroom fan drives me mad – the car radio may sound generally annoying when it used to be enjoyable)
  • Poor Memory/Spaciness/Memory lapses/Difficulty Concentrating
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Constipation
  • Feeling easily/often overwhelmed
  • Recurrent Candida infections
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Tendency to tremble under pressure
  • Increased symptoms of PMS for women; periods are heavy and then stop, or almost stopped on the 4th day, only to start flow again on the 5th or 6th day
  • Feel dizzy when standing up too quickly
  • Heart palpitations

Unfortunately, the buzz you get from a fitness fanatic lifestyle does not make you invincible. You need to understand the causes, symptoms, and solutions for Adrenal Fatigue to make sure that your workout routine (and life) stay on track.