Adrenal Burnout in Athletes

meg barker wakeboarding

Christie Rourke - 28 March 2017

Firstly, lets recognize that this is very common among the general public, but especially affects people who physically train hard and who push themselves. Our adrenals are hormone secreting organs; vital to life, health and vitality. They regulate the function of all tissue, organs and glands in the body to help maintain homeostasis (balance) during times of stress to keep us alive. They also have an affect on the way we think and feel.

The purpose of the adrenals is to enable your body to deal with stress from all sources, such as work, exercise/training, injury, disease or even relationships. They will react to activities or situations that are exhilarating, physically demanding or stressful. Signaling a response for your body to enable you to fight, flight or freeze; attack, escape or surrender. This can of course be very useful in situations such as competition or training learning new and scary skills in crazy sports such as the ones we all love!

However, a burst of adrenaline in the body should last only around 2 minutes. If we are not careful we can end up in a cycle of continual stress response, where our adrenals are constantly firing and trying to help us fight, flight or freeze! We can over train (exercise is a stress on the body) and therefore when we do this we don't allow our adrenals time off. We live in heightened state of stress and this leads to fatigue. This fatigue is not relieved by sleep and people often need coffee and stimulants to get them going in the mornings or through the day.

The adrenals can become affected after long periods of stress, or a big trauma in life. After an infection or illness or of course over-training they can become depleted. Often people will have a mixture of reasons for them arriving at such a low point.


Often called the “stress hormone” corTisol is released by the adrenal glands that helps regulate “homeostasis” (a level balanced body!)

It helps with all of the following:

  • Blood sugar levels

  • Fat, protein and carbohydrate breakdown

  • Immune responses

  • Anti-inflammatory actions

  • Blood pressure

  • Central nervous system activation

Cortisol is released in a cycle with its peak at 8am and its trough at 4am. It is released in reaction to a stressful event, but it is important that the cortisol levels return to normal after these events. However, in our highly stressful society these days this doesn't always get to happen. This can lead to health problems, and chronically fatigued adrenal glands.


Meg Barker, wakeboarder

Rest is important after training and to our bodies in general. If you have a stressful job or a physical one (this is stress for the body too) then we need to give ourselves time out and time to recover. Allowing our cortisol levels to restore themselves so they are ready to work again when we need them.

Try having short “power naps” in the day if you feel you can, and sleeping in past 9am can help the cortisol levels build up in your body too. Using mind/body techniques for stress and relaxation can help such as the diaphragm breathing we spoke about in our previous blog article.

Our body heals when it is asleep. It also heals when at rest and therefore if you have exercised hard, it needs a day off to recover and rebuild the muscles. This will improve your performance and you won't lose muscle mass or strength from taking time out in your training.

If you suspect you are fatigued and the adrenals may be affected you can take a test on the following website www.adrenalfatigue.org . It has lots of information about this “syndrome!” and the book written by Dr James Wilson - “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” is a great read.

Christie is a Sports Therapist, who runs a Sports Injury Clinic in Worthing, West Susex, by the sea (www.bodywaves.co.uk). She loves all watersports and especially enjoys surfing, and wakesurfing through the winter when wakeboarding just gets a little too cold for her hands and feet to handle! Her favourite GlideSoul wetsuit is the pink tie-die and she loves the reversible pink and tie-die impact vest too. GlideSoul are a brand with integrity and drive. They want women to be active and enjoy sports and exercise and encourage health and well-being alongside this.

Christie has felt the effects of over-training herself. When at university studying she was also training and playing for a national league basketball team for at least 10 hours a week. This coupled with a bereavement made for a stressful time and the fatigue of the adrenals that worked over time trying to help her cope. The discovery of the book mentioned above as well as proper nutrition and supplements got her out of the cycle, which she now manages by using diaphragm breathing and muscle activation which we featured in the previous two articles written by her. If you have any questions please do get in touch, or use the site mentioned to find a therapist that can help. There is no reason to feel so tired you cannot do the things you love or even just get through the day.

Christie Rourke Meg barker wakeboarding
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