5 Tips to Avoid Feeling Sleepy After Exercise

Sleepiness in Athletes

James’ Question:

Is it usual to get really sleepy a couple of hours after a ride? I’ve recently started riding at the weekends (though I’m a long-time commuter and spinning fan). A typical example would be a two or three hour ride, in which I drink 500ml of energy drink, with a recovery shake straight after. But 2 hrs on, sleepiness sets in. I also always seem to get hard-to-identify cravings, as though I need more salt/sugar/carbs but I can never quite decide what. Bit like a hangover where you think “maybe a fried egg sandwich will cure it” (though it rarely does…).

Be great if you could help,


Kelli’s Answer:

Hi James,

Thank you for the question!  This is actually very common among endurance athletes.  In fact, many Pro or Olympic level endurance athletes are known to sleep 10 hours a night PLUS 2-3 hours in a nap during the day.  Why?  Not sure exactly.  It hasn’t been determined in research, nor has it been well studied.  There are hypothesis, though.  Some experts think that the cytokines released during long, intense training causes sleepiness afterwards – this does not occur with shorter exercise.  In fact, most shorter or easier training is invigorating…longer can cause sleepiness.  These are the same cytokines released by the body during a short illness such as a cold, which is why most people feel very sleepy when they are sick.  Bummer.

While I may not have a “magic bullet” to fix all of this, I can help you optimize your fuel to give you the best chance of recovering well and staying energized after training and throughout the day.  And, maybe we can lessen the effect of those cytokines.  Here are my recommendations:

1)      Hydration: More hydration during your ride: Aim for 20-24 oz. per hour (at a minimum, 16 oz. per hour).  Dehydration is detrimental in many ways as it can cause nausea, fatigue, headaches, cravings, etc.  Additionally, stay on top of hydration day to day, aiming for 64-80 oz. fluid per day (in addition to what’s needed for training).

2)      Carbohydrates: Aim for 40+ grams of carbs per hour on the bike.  For these rides that are longer than 60 minutes, I recommend sports drink + 15-25 grams of additional carbs from a gel, ½ energy bar, energy chews, etc.

3)      Recovery: Your recovery shake needs to contain 30-60 grams carbohydrates, 10-30 grams protein, and fluid.  I also strongly recommend adding Medium Chain Triglycerides, from organic extra-virgin coconut oil, as they are an efficient energy source that’s used directly by the mitochondria (energy powerhouses) of the cells.  As a bonus, antioxidants and probiotics are helpful in recovery – the probiotics increase the absorption of the antioxidants which fight the extra free radicals created by exercise.  For a recipe, try: http://lovingthebike.com/cycling-nurition/loving-the-bite-almond-butter-smoothie and use plain yogurt in place of milk.  Try to consume your recovery snack within 30 minutes of finishing your ride.

4)      Supplements: It’s beneficial to most endurance athletes to supplement with a high-quality multivitamin.  One brand I like is the Rainbow Light Brand, and they have a multivitamin specific for men.  Since it sounds like this is an issue after long rides, and not fatigue in general, it doesn’t sound like an iron issue to me.  Also, being a male cyclist (as opposed to a female runner), you’re not in a high-risk group.

5)      Healthy Fats: Since omega-3s from fish oils slow the release of cytokines and thereby reduce their affects, hypothetically it’s possible that omega-3s may reduce this endurance-exercise-sleepiness issue – and, they’re healthy for you anyway, so it’s worth a try.  I generally recommend 1000 mg of DHA/EPA per day from supplements + 6 oz. fatty fish 2 times per week for ~1500-2000 mg of DHA/EPA per day.  Vegetarian sources of omega-3s may also help, but most research has used fish oil.

I hope this helps!  Let us know after your next big ride!

Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

  • DaliborF

    I read the answer and I agree with everything except the part of how long the training period lasts, I have noticed this to happen to me to feel sleepy after gym when I do strength training with heavy weights, my training usually don’t last longer but I feel sleepy. I think that that can be cause of not sleeping enough and lack of food (fuel for muscle). Any tips why else would happen.
    If its helpful I could also add to my blog http://www.fitandneat.com


  • StupidPolice

    I have the same problem – but just cured it by increasing carbs during the ride. 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin and fructose lets you digest up to 90g per hour. Despite training for 6 hours and climbing 10,500ft I had no tiredness either during or after the training today. It wasn’t a race so I only consumed 4 hours worth – but that’s still the equivalent of a dozen normal gels. The difference is dramatic. For several years I just thought it was normal to need to sleep after a session and that if my brain went into a fog during one that was normal too. It is a blood sugar deficit. I have normal health.

    • Kelli, RD

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree. 60+ grams carbs are fine for shorter rides, but especially @ 5+ hours, I recommend 90 grams per hour. You’re right, this is best accomplished with a 2:1 glucose to fructose which allows optimal digestion, absorption, and metabolism of the sugars. Thanks!