You know you should be working out, but all you want to do is curl up on the couch and take a nap. Sound familiar? If so, don’t worry – you’re not alone. We’ve all experienced days where no amount of willpower can jump-start our energy levels. Faced with this situation, it’s easy to give up and put off working out until tomorrow. But here’s the good news: with a few simple techniques, you can get your energy back and stay on track with your fitness goals. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why you might feel lethargic before a workout, and look at 12 ways to naturally boost your energy so that you can make the most of your exercise session.
Why Do I Have No Energy To Workout?
When you’re constantly tired, and never in the mood to workout, you might start thinking that something is wrong with you. You might be right, but there can be a variety of reasons why you lack the energy to workout.
Before thinking of underlying medical condition, consider some lifestyle choices that rob you of your energy:
- Not resting enough: Even if you’re getting enough sleep, your body needs regular rest days to recover from workouts. Not giving it the opportunity to do so can lead to fatigue
- Eating unhealthy food: Eating processed and/or sugary foods will give you an energy spike followed by a crash that makes you feel even more tired (8)
- Eating at the wrong time: Eating too close to your workout can make you feel sluggish
- Poor hydration: You need to be well hydrated throughout the day if you want to stay energized
- Stress: Your body will naturally produce cortisol, a hormone that can make you feel tired and lethargic (1)
- Exercising too often or doing workouts that are too intense: It’s important to give your body time to rest and recover in between workouts
- Not eating enough carbohydrates: Carbs provide glucose, the energy source that powers your muscles
- You’re skipping meals or not eating regularly: Eating regular meals throughout the day helps to keep your energy levels steady
- You’ve been inactive for a long period of time: If you’ve been sedentary for a while, it can take some time for your body to get used to the new routine of regular exercise.
Lifestyle factors like these can cause low energy levels, making it difficult to muster the motivation to get up and workout. In some cases, underlying medical conditions like those listed below can also be responsible (3):
- Deficiencies – a lack of certain vitamins or minerals can cause fatigue. Iron, magnesium, and B12 are just some of the nutrients essential for energy production
- Sleep Apnea – this condition causes repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, resulting in poor quality sleep and daytime fatigue
- Anemia – this condition occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body, leading to tiredness
- Thyroid Issues – under or overactive thyroid can cause fatigue, weight gain, and other symptoms
- Mental health issues – depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions can also lead to fatigue
- Hormonal imbalances – too much or too little of certain hormones can cause fatigue. The most common culprits are cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen.
How Can I Get Energy To Workout Naturally?
Once you’ve identified the cause of your lack of energy, it’s time to take action. Here are 12 ways to naturally boost your energy so that you can make the most of your exercise session:
Time Your Meals Right
The dreaded post-lunch slump isn’t just a myth. Digestion happens in such a way that it takes energy away from other bodily functions. Digesting certain nutrients like proteins and fats takes more energy than others, so you shouldn’t eat them close to your workout.
Research shows that one effect of eating is to temporarily reduce your energy, so it’s best to eat a meal at least 2 hours before your workout (9). Any closer and you risk feeling sluggish.
When we say meal, we don’t mean a bite of an apple or a whole pizza. Focus on having something balanced and nutrient-dense like some protein, veggies, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Here are some of our favorite, nourishing meals to have hours before a workout:
- Chicken breast, quinoa and roasted vegetables
- Baked salmon with brown rice and steamed spinach
- Egg omelet with tomato and avocado
- Tuna salad on whole-grain bread
- Lentil soup with a side of roasted sweet potato
- Hummus wrap with grilled veggies
Snack Minutes Before Your Workout
If you were too full hours before your workout to have an entire meal, or if you had one and are suddenly feeling drained nearer to your workout, that’s when you can snack.
At least 30 minutes before your workout is ideal; too close to the start and your body won’t have enough time to digest it.
Ideally, this should be something light and nutritious that will give you a quick energy boost. Don’t worry about the effects of eating a simple, quick-digesting carb; this is actually recommended for a fast energy boost before exercise.
So, what are the best pre-workout snacks? Here are some of our favorites:
- A banana and a tablespoon of almond butter
- Plain yogurt with fresh berries
- Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
- A protein shake
- A fruit smoothie
- A hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit
- Oats with nut butter and diced apple
- Vegetable sticks with hummus or nut butter
- Rice cakes topped with peanut butter and sliced banana
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Water is essential for every bodily function. When you’re dehydrated, it’s harder to concentrate and your body can’t perform as well. It slows down your metabolism and zaps your energy levels.
Unfortunately, most of us are walking around in a mildly dehydrated state. Partly this is because we don’t drink enough water throughout the day, but also because of things like caffeine and alcohol.
Aim to start your workout with a full tank of water.
Drinking 500ml (2 cups) of water at least an hour before your workout is optimal to allow time for it to be absorbed (5). If you can, drink more the hour before your workout and top it up with some sips 10 minutes before you start.
Carry a water bottle around with you throughout the day so that you can keep sipping. You should also aim to rehydrate after your workout – drinking plain water is best, but sports drinks can also help replace lost electrolytes.
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Take A Power Nap
Power naps are an underrated form of self-care.
Taking a quick nap before your workout can be just what you need to shake off that tired feeling. But don’t go overboard – we’re talking 10-20 minutes max. This is the ideal amount of time to get in a restorative cycle and come out feeling refreshed.
Bear in mind that a power nap won’t make up for a lack of sleep the night before. If you’re routinely feeling like you need a nap to function, it’s best to address your sleeping patterns. Some changes you can make to improve your sleep quality include:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
- Limiting screen time before bed
- Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon/evening
- Avoiding greasy, spicy or sugary food before bed
- Taking a warm bath, reading or meditating before you sleep
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery and some fresh air. Getting outside can help clear the cobwebs from your head. Natural light exposure increases alertness and helps to regulate serotonin, the hormone that makes us feel good.
Take a quick walk, sit in the sun for a few minutes or take some deep breaths of fresh air. All of these will help to kickstart your energy levels and get you ready for your workout.
Drink Coffee, In Moderation
Drinking coffee is a double-edged sword. It’s true that the caffeine in coffee can provide a quick energy boost, but it’s also true that too much of it can dehydrate you and make you jittery.
Aim for a single cup of coffee no later than an hour before your workout. If you have more than that, it will start to counteract the positive effects you’re hoping for.
In a day, stay within the recommended caffeine limit of 400mg per day (7). That’s about four cups of coffee or ten cans of soda.
We don’t recommend getting your caffeine from soda; sugary drinks won’t help you get the energy you need for your workout. Plus, they’re not good for your overall health.
We also don’t recommend coffee as an energy booster for evening workouts, as this can interfere with sleep which in turn will disrupt your energy levels for the next day. Your last cup of coffee should be at least 4 hours before bedtime.
For evening workouts, we suggest you get your pick-me-up from green tea. Although this healthy beverage has less caffeine than coffee, it still has enough to give you a gentle boost. It also contains L-theanine which helps to reduce stress, relax the body and improve mental clarity.
Check Your Gut Health
If you’re not digesting your meals properly, it’s going to be tough to get the nutrients necessary for energy production.
Some signs of gut issues include bloating, excessive gas, constipation or diarrhea. These alone can be enough to sap the energy from your entire body. Poor gut health is also linked to low moods and fatigue (4).
Check with your doctor if you think you might have a gut issue. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to improve your gut health. These include upping your fiber intake, eating prebiotic foods, and avoiding highly processed foods (6).
Read More: Meet Your Goals With Two A Day Workout Plans
Check Your Mental State
Sometimes the lethargy you feel before a workout is simply due to a lack of motivation. We’ve all been there – feeling unmotivated to do things that we know will be good for us.
If this is the case, you need to find a way to decompress, and get into the right frame of mind. Here are some of our favorite ways to do this:
This is a relaxation technique that helps to reduce stress and clear your mind. To do it, breathe in deeply through your nose while counting to three, hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly.
Take a few minutes to sit down and focus on the present. Let go of whatever is stressing you out or distracting your mind, and simply be in the moment.
Writing down your thoughts can help you recognize and release any negative emotions that are holding you back.
Take A Break From Social Media
Social media can take up a lot of our energy and doesn’t always leave us feeling better. Taking some time away can help refocus our energy and make us feel more motivated.
Listen To Motivating Music
Music is a powerful tool for changing your mood and motivating you to do something. Create a playlist of songs that get you in the zone and put it on before your workout.
Switch Up Your Workout
If you’re feeling low on energy, it could be because your workout routine has become too predictable and boring. If that’s the case, try adding some variety to your routine.
Mix up the type of exercise you do and how often you do it. Instead of running five days a week, try alternating it with strength training or yoga. Or, add some interval workouts to increase the intensity of your runs.
Doing something new can help to boost your motivation and give you some extra energy.
Review Your Daily Schedule
Are you biting off more than you can chew? Constant fatigue is often a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard. Maybe it’s time to take a good, honest look at what you’re asking of your body and mind.
Do you need to scale back your commitments? Could you delegate certain tasks or prioritize some things over others? Are there any activities that you could cut out altogether?
Making small changes to your daily routine might be just the thing you need to get a bit more energy for your workouts. Here are some tell-tale signs that you may have a hectic, hard to manage schedule:
- You’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious
- You often find yourself skipping meals and snacks
- You don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
- You’re often too distracted to enjoy the moment
- You’re skipping workouts because you don’t feel like you have enough energy
If any of these sound familiar, it’s time to take a step back and review your daily schedule.
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Try Some Supplements
If you’ve tried all of the above and still feel like you lack energy, it might be time to consider a supplement. There are many natural supplements that can help to boost your energy levels and performance, such as caffeine, B vitamins and creatine (2).
However, it’s important to remember that not all supplements are created equal. Make sure you do your research before trying any new product, and always check with your doctor if you have any health concerns or questions.
Lack of energy before a workout can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your fitness goals. By taking the time to understand why you might feel lethargic and making some simple lifestyle changes, you’ll be able to get back on track and start seeing results in no time.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Cortisol (2021, clevelandclinic.org)
- Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance (2022, nih.gov)
- Fatigue (2020, clevelandclinic.org)
- Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis (2017, nih.gov)
- Hydration and exercise (bhf.uk.org)
- Microbiome restoration diet improves digestion, cognition and physical and emotional wellbeing (2017, nih.gov)
- Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? (n.d., fda.gov)
- Sugar crash effects and how to fix them (n.d., sanfordhealth.com)
- The Control of Food Intake in Humans (2022, nih.gov)