How to recognise the bad moods exercise can cause – and how to deal with them
Exercise is a mood enhancer, but overloading your body physically or mentally, or fuelling insufficiently beforehand, can make your regular happy athlete a grumbling monster.
I know most of the triggers for bad temper and moodiness, so if you're the suffering partner of an endurance athlete or just dealing with your own mood swings, here's a user guide for the mood warning lights on your engine.
Cranky: being consistently bad tempered and snappy while training for a big event suggests you may be over-training. It's impossible to sustain a big training load without sufficient sleep, so that's the first factor to correct. If you are getting enough sleep and are still irritable, you may need to assess if you are over-training.
Whiney: whininess is an acute or short-term condition usually generated by fear – fear of the unknown workout or of discomfort and/or pain. It can also often be caused by a lack of confidence in your ability to finish the distance or to do so at speed planned. Developing mental toughness and an ability to cope with hard workouts is a skill which can be learned and which eradicates mid-session moaning.
Hangry: being hungry and angry is an unhappy but easily remediable state of affairs. It's caused by incorrect fuelling during a long workout, or if you train without eating breakfast. A crash into tearful misery during a long ride or run is a red flag for low blood sugar. Aside from fuelling correctly during your workout, having quick-recovery nutrition after a really hard session is important in avoiding this.
Princess mode: applies to men and women and is usually a short-term malady caused by the onset of a big race or event. Symptoms include hypochondria and an inability to do anything for themselves: "Darling, I'm resting my legs. Could you pop out and get me a tub of glucosamine and a pair of compression socks?" Humour your athlete briefly on race week until the gun goes off. No longer.
It's taken years of practice, but I've mostly eradicated whininess out of my system. Ironman training is an excellent cure, and when I do succumb, it's usually quiet sobbing into a headwind somewhere out on the Connemara coast with 40 miles to home. Like a tree falling in a forest, if there is nobody to hear it, it's not true whining.
I usually remedy crankiness by dropping a training session if I become overwhelmed. While it won't overcome chronic fatigue, you can never underestimate the miraculous powers of a nap.
Hangriness is a state I fall into more often than I would like and it's my own fault. I'm pretty good at fuelling well during a workout, but it's at refuelling afterwards that I fall down. So always carry a protein recovery drink sachet that you can mix with water in your bag as it will tide you over until a meal. I had a low-sugar meltdown on a recent trip to Hawaii after long workouts because I hadn't really planned for quick-recovery nutrition.
As for the princess, she was last seen moaning about cold germs and tight hip flexors before the Boston Marathon, but she's back in her box now until the next big event.
Health & Living