5 Ways To Boost Men­tal En­ergy

Log­ging miles af­ter a hard day’s work may feel like a stress re­liever – but it could be sab­o­tag­ing your run

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

A brain boost will help you to run your best

THINK ABOUT THE last time you went for a run. What were you do­ing be­fore it? Maybe you were wak­ing up from a bad night’s sleep, or you’d just fin­ished an in­tense project at work, or you’d spent the bet­ter part of an hour scrolling through In­sta­gram. Though it may not feel im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent, all of these things are men­tally drain­ing and could be emp­ty­ing your brain’s fuel tank. Worse, re­search shows that your work­out suf­fers when you lace up for sev­eral miles in this state of mind.

A re­cent re­view of 11 stud­ies, pub­lished in the jour­nal Sports Medicine, found that when you’re men­tally fa­tigued, your over­all per­for­mance in en­durance work­outs and high­per­for­mance bouts – such as a long run or hill re­peats – is neg­a­tively af­fected. ‘We are not able to con­tinue to fo­cus through the ex­er­cise ses­sion be­cause we’re tired from fo­cus­ing so in­tensely prior to the work­out,’ says Angie Fifer, a men­tal-per­for­mance con­sul­tant with the As­so­ci­a­tion for Ap­plied Sport Psy­chol­ogy.

In one of the stud­ies re­viewed, re­searchers had ath­letes com­plete two hard work­outs:

in the first, sub­jects watched a 90-minute doc­u­men­tary that didn’t cause men­tal strain, and then they cy­cled at high in­ten­sity un­til ex­haus­tion. In the sec­ond, sub­jects worked on a com­puter task that re­quired in­tense con­cen­tra­tion for 90 min­utes, then per­formed the high-in­ten­sity cy­cling un­til ex­haus­tion. When the ath­letes’ per­for­mances were an­a­lysed, ex­perts found that while phys­i­cal mea­sure­ments – such as heart rate, blood lac­tate and oxy­gen con­sump­tion – weren’t af­fected by the men­tally fa­tigu­ing task, psy­cho­log­i­cal in­di­ca­tors such as per­ceived ef­fort were. The lat­ter work­outs felt tougher, which meant ath­letes be­came tired more quickly, says study author Jeroen Van Cut­sem.

While he’s not able to say defini­tively what’s hap­pen­ing, Van Cut­sem the­o­rises that this in­creased per­cep­tion of ef­fort could oc­cur be­cause when you’re men­tally tired, your brain has to boost how much it talks to your mus­cles in or­der to per­form at the same level. That’s known as a higher sig­nalling rate, which makes it feel that you have to work harder phys­i­cally. An­other the­ory is that your brain pro­cesses ef­fort dif­fer­ently when you’re men­tally drained, which could also make the work­out seem tougher.

It’s im­por­tant to note, how­ever, that men­tal fa­tigue isn’t the same thing as burnout – the lat­ter is a chronic state of brain drain, one that’s trig­gered by fac­tors like a con­sis­tently high work­load, job in­se­cu­rity or lit­tle con­trol of what’s hap­pen­ing around you ev­ery day, says Van Cut­sem. Those can all add up to emo­tional ex­haus­tion and feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy, which can turn into long-term prob­lems. Men­tal fa­tigue is acute: it oc­curs when your brain is tired from pro­longed pe­ri­ods – typ­i­cally 30 min­utes to two hours – of de­mand­ing ex­er­tion.

‘A tough day at work, hav­ing to work through a spe­cific chal­lenge or prob­lem, or de­liv­er­ing a pitch or pre­sen­ta­tion can all cause men­tal fa­tigue,’ says Fifer. ‘Ba­si­cally, it’s any­thing that re­quires a sig­nif­i­cant amount of fo­cus over an ex­tended amount of time.’

Be­fore you worry about whether or not your brain is too tired for a work­out (which, iron­i­cally, will only tucker it out more), the up­side is that not all work­outs are af­fected by men­tal fa­tigue. Van Cut­sem says that the in­ten­sity is what mat­ters. ‘It’s about en­durance work­outs ver­sus all-out, max­i­mum­ef­fort ones,’ he says. Short, all-out work­outs (such as HIIT in­ter­vals) don’t re­quire a lot of cog­ni­tive pro­cess­ing, so it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter how tired your brain is. ‘The shorter and more max­i­mal the task, the lower the im­pact of men­tal fa­tigue,’ he says. It’s kind of like do­ing some­thing be­fore your brain even fig­ures out what’s hap­pen­ing: bust­ing out a 20-sec­ond high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val is men­tally eas­ier to push through than steel­ing your mind for a two-hour run. So if your run doesn’t re­quire a lot of thought – if it’s more about phys­i­cally pow­er­ing through – then that can be the bet­ter op­tion on days when you’re feel­ing men­tally ex­hausted.

There are also ways to com­bat men­tal fa­tigue through­out your day, adds Fifer. Her big­gest tip: struc­ture your day so there’s a break be­tween in­tense meet­ings or brain­storm­ing ses­sions. ‘While we think we can power through and get more done, it’s bet­ter for us men­tally to man­age stress and take short breaks,’ she ex­plains. ‘The gen­eral rule of thumb is to fo­cus in­tensely for 20 min­utes, with a fiveminute break.’ And on days when you’re just not feel­ing that your head’s in the game, stick to your train­ing sched­ule as in­tended and try to em­brace the chal­lenge by recog­nis­ing the ef­fort you put in to com­plete that run (even if it’s not your best). Van Cut­sem says pre­lim­i­nary re­search shows that do­ing so may im­prove your re­sis­tance to men­tal ex­haus­tion, re­sult­ing in greater men­tal tough­ness for im­por­tant events – such as race day.


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