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Causes of Chronic Fatigue in Athletes

All competitive athletes go through times when they run out of energy and can't get through their workouts. Over the centuries, scientists have offered many different explanations and treatments, and most were wrong. Until 20 years ago, athletes were often told that tiredness is caused by low mineral levels. However, researchers have repeatedly shown that healthy athletes rarely suffer from deficiencies of potassium, magnesium, sodium, or calcium. Similarly, viruses and other infectious agents will certainly cause athletes to feel fatigued. However, most of the time, doctors can't find them.

The most-likely explanation for chronic fatigue in competitive athletes is muscle damage. You train for competition by taking a very hard workout, which literally damages your muscle fibers. You feel sore the next day, so you allow your muscle fibers to heal by taking easy workouts. However, many athletes are so obsessed with their training, that they attempt another hard workout before they have recovered from their previous one. This damage prevents muscle fibers from adequately storing muscle sugar for fuel, so they contract with less force and tire earlier. You will recover faster by eating a wide variety of food so you will get all the nutrients that you need to repair the muscle damage caused by hard training. If you are a competitive athlete and suddenly can't get through your workouts, the odds are overwhelming that you are training too much. Take a rest, and if you do not recover in a few days, ask a doctor to look for a hidden infection.
More on the work-up for chronic fatigue

Checked 12/2/10

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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