Intense Bouts of Exercise May Impair Sleep; Carbs Can Help

Posted 02/29/2016 | By HealthCorps

Intensive exercise training affects the sleep, performance, and mood of athletes, but eating more carbs may help.

We now know how crucial sleep is to our health. Lack of sleep, for whatever reason, can play havoc with your weight and put you at risk for a number of serious health conditions. An athlete needs enough daily quality sleep so that his body can rest and repair itself, literally on the cellular level. Adequate sleep will also support the kind of mental toughness necessary for arduous workouts.

A new study in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggests that those intense bouts of training and exercise that many athletes perform daily may be the very reason why they are not sleeping well.

The researchers observed thirteen very experienced cyclists and monitored parameters like mood, sleep patterns and performance, before, during and after training sessions. Then, to test whether dietary changes could help support better sleep patterns, the athletes were given either a high carbohydrate or moderate carbohydrate diet. The athletes did not know which diet had been assigned to them. Two separate nine-day training efforts were observed.

The first thing that surprised the researchers was the fact that as little as nine days could cause significant and progressive decline in sleep quality and duration. They also observed that with this decline came mood changes and deterioration in exercise capacity. And despite the data that showed that athletes spend more time in bed to compensate for long duration of extreme exercising (they are physically and mentally exhausted and naturally need more sleep), “sleep efficiency” which reflects sleep quality, was significantly reduced during the period of the intense bouts of exercise. During intense training periods the number of times the athletes woke up at night was increased. Ultimately, the athletes reported negative changes in their mood including higher tension, anger, fatigue, confusion, depression and they noted feelings of escalating stress.

Spending more time in bed doesn’t necessarily mean recovery occurs.

As far as the diets, the athletes on the higher carb diets did better overall. The constant stream of carbs daily did alleviate some but not all the effects of the intense training regimen. As for the athletes on the moderate carb diet, they did report “more sleep,” but that may have been due to the intense training sessions.

The take-away message is that rest days or days off are crucial for intense exercisers.

Rest or off days may help to allow for better sleep patterns overall. Coaches and exercisers who train should be aware of the benefits of exercise-free days and even naps on training days, to help re-charge the body. And though many athletes shun grains, this study suggests that these carbohydrates may be crucial for deep sleep, if you train like an Olympian. Of course, the recommended grains should be high fiber, unsweetened, whole grains. For a list of quality grain carbohydrates you can read Carbs Not Fat Are a Better Boost for Exercise Performance.

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