Managing end of year burnout & getting run down
Updated: 5 days ago
You probably don’t need to see the Christmas countdown signs in the shops to know just how close we are to the end of the year…you’ve probably been feeling that end of year run down for a while!
And while it’s pretty common to feel run down, exhausted and mentally fatigued at this time of the year, it doesn’t have to be. Or, at least, there are some things you can do to mitigate some of this...
When it comes to the festive season, there’s usually a few common topics that come up with my athletes.
1. Managing festive parties and celebrations - alcohol, eating, and late nights
2. Dealing with colds & flu, feeling run down, and simply exhausted
3. Training loads, family and holidays
So, I wanted to share some of my tips and leave you with some things to think about in case you are feeling like this too - or your athletes are.
MANAGING FATIGUE & FEELING RUN DOWN
Let’s start with feeling run down. I think we all feel this in some way or another towards the end of the year.. It can be lack of motivation, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, sickness or feeling not quite yourself.
If you’re feeling down, “off”, or unwell, it’s important you reach out to your doctor, health professional, or your loved ones. Getting regular check ups and routine blood tests is really important for identifying and managing any nutrient deficiencies or health conditions that might arise.
Once everything is clear, we can focus on food, sleep and movement.
Key foods to keep you energised:
Less-processed carbohydrates= for fibre, B vitamins and carbohydrates to keep you fuller for longer, in energy balance and fuelled: brown rice/ basmati rice, potatoes, sweet potato, legumes (chickpeas, blackbeans, lentils etc), pasta, quinoa, rice noodles, grain bread, sourdough bread
Fruits and vegetables = antioxidants to support immune system
Lean proteins (not fatty, deep fried) = support muscle maintenance, immunity, and hormones: eggs, chicken, fish, red meat once per week, tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy
Unsaturated fats = support immunity, brain function, and hormone production: avocado, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil
Hydration - this can be something that a lot of people forget throughout the day. Set reminders to drink water every 1-2 hours; or aim to drink 1-2 glasses with meals and snacks
Plating up your meals, or choosing meals out to match the plate model according to your day can be a helpful way of getting enough in.
Set up your environment:
Most of the time, we know what to do or eat, but it’s about time…and mental energy. So, setting up your environment to support your goals or what you want to be doing can help, and almost make it mindless what you’re doing. For example, you can either meal prep snacks or buy snacks in your regular grocery shop and then keep them front and centre of your kitchen - in the fridge, pantry or freezer.
That might be:
Boiled eggs on the top shelf of the fridge ready to add to your breakfast
Yoghurt pots at eye level with fruit or veg to grab for the day
Pre-training fuel ready to go - muesli bars, energy bars, sandwiches ready made up, up & gos, smoothies
Back up dinner meals - tinned fish, tinned beans (like my 15 minute bean burritos), microwavable rice, potatoes to steam, frozen veg, frozen meals
Car fuel / work fuel - muesli bars, nut bars, nut mixes, roasted chickpeas - things that will make it easy to fuel between meals or before you’re off to training
Then you can keep things that you don’t want to eat a lot of towards the back of the kitchen. It doesn’t mean you can’t eat it, it just means you’ll be able to pick other foods that will keep you energised for longer. Such as, keeping chocolate at the back of your fridge or bottom shelf; or put beer and wine at the back of the fridge or lay it down on the shelf and not in the door where you’ll see it every time.
Once you’re hitting all your foods each day that you need, some supplements may help boost things - but, it’s important you speak with your GP or dietitian first.
For example, if fatigue is a big thing, get blood tests done and see if you’re low in iron, B12 or something else. Supplementing when you’re low can make a big difference.
Omega 3 supplements are helpful if you don’t eat any oily fish or seafood two to three times oer week. There are three types of omega 3s - two are found in seafood, one in nuts and seeds; so supplementing can help support brain function and immunity. You can take fish oil or a vegan omega-3 supplement.
Probiotics may provide marginal improvements as they support gut health which plays a role in immunity. If you’re having a course of antibiotics or are travelling, probiotics are useful to take too. Check with your dietitian about which strands to take, as not all probiotics are the same.
Zinc plays an important role in immunity too. Men particularly can benefit from this. If you get cold sores regularly too, then a zinc supplement may be for you.
Magnesium - plays a role in healing and is thought to support muscle health. Particularly restless legs; so if this is something you struggle with, magnesium before bed may help you sleep better.
While you may have some big goals you want to tick off by the end of the year, or events you’re working towards next year, spend some time to re-evaluate and really think about what's working for you right now and what isn’t. Because things change. And it may be more about getting through work, balancing family, and staying energised, happy and on top of things. So for some athletes, readjusting training to get more rest and focus on quality of quantity can make a HUGE difference. Or perhaps reevaluating the structure of training and if it’s making it more stressful than enjoyable. Having a good honest chat with your coach (or yourself if you are self coached!) is really valuable.
I know from personal experience that reducing or changing training or exercise can be uncomfortable to initiate and deal with at first. But, once you get a bit more rest, perhaps a little more (quality) sleep, and you start to feel a weight lifted off your shoulders with less things to get done, you will feel better for it - I promise you! A rest day a week or a morning or two off for a sleep in can become your best friend.
GOING TO EVENTS WITH A PLAN
For a lot of people, festive celebrations and events can be a little overwhelming or a little stressful. Particularly if you’re working towards certain goals, or have a race or event coming up soon.
Firstly, this time of year should be enjoyed! It’s okay to have a little more of foods you don’t usually have, or more alcohol. It’s important to give yourself permission - permission to enjoy different foods, permission to celebrate, permission to go “off plan”. It’s equally important as well to acknowledge that while there may be a lot of foods on offer you love, that you don’t need to eat everything, you don’t need to finish off your plate, and there will be more of it. I find if you can have some foods each day that you enjoy, in moderate portions, you’ll be less likely to overeat at events and other times.
Here are some strategy that may help you stay in control and on top of your goals while finding balance.
Plan ahead. Do you know if there will be meals or food served? If not, can you have a meal or quality snack before you leave? This will help you stay fuller for longer, get enough nutrition for training the next day or recovery from your last session; and possibly not overeat at the event.
Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or soda - while up to 2 standard drinks may not affect performance, more than this will impair muscle recovery, adaptation and glycogen stores. It can also disrupt sleep and make the following morning’s training a little bit harder..particularly in the heat!
Prioritise events. If you feel overwhelmed with how many plans you’ve got…can you say no to some? Or perhaps arrive a little later, or leave early? This will help reduce your mental load!
Plate up. If there are grazing boards or nibbles, see if you can grab a plate and put everything on there you want to eat. This is a great visual cue to see if you’re eating enough or too much for you and your goals.
Re-set. If things don’t go to plan. Acknowledge it, set new goals or intentions for the new day and move on. No one is perfect; and fuelling well isn’t about perfection, it’s about realism and balance.
I hope this gives you some confidence in embracing the season ahead and the new year upon us. Take some time to listen to yourself, look after yourself, and be kind to yourself.
Remember... everyone has hard days; social media is like a highlight reel; and at the end of the day, no one is really watching you or cares what you do - do things for yourself and what makes you happy!
Happy festive season,