We all know that exercise has powerful benefits for our overall health and wellbeing. Yet, so many of us struggle to find the energy, motivation, and time to use this powerful form of therapy to improve our health and happiness.
If you have symptoms of hypothyroidism, it can make getting a workout in that much more frustrating. However, when exercise is used in combination with medication to treat your thyroid, it can have powerful effects on your hypothyroid symptoms.
The key to sticking with a regular workout routine include aiming for progress (even if it is slow) and taking care of your body post-workout.
Exercising and hypothyroidism
People with hypothyroidism can attest to the frustrations of trying to exercise with uncontrolled hypothyroidism. Indeed, it can feel like a vicious cycle where fatigue, joint pain, and weight gain exacerbate one another and make working out feel impossible. We know that exercise has profound benefits on the human body. However, it does not cure or treat hypothyroidism.
Optimizing your thyroid levels with thyroid hormone replacement medication is usually the first step in minimizing symptoms. Remember that, when choosing thyroid medication with your doctor, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
Yet, medication alone is not always helpful in managing frustrating hypothyroid symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, and aching joints.
Beyond taking thyroid hormones, you can support your thyroid with a regular exercise routine. Exercise can help you shed the pounds, improve stiffness and pain in your joints, boost your mood, help you feel more energized, and increase your muscle strength.
When you are starting to exercise, find something that you enjoy doing, such as hiking, walking, biking, swimming, or work out classes like pilates. It can be especially helpful for people with hypothyroidism to do low-impact aerobic exercises and strength training to reduce your risk of injury and pain. Getting injured early on can take your motivation to exercise away. Try to aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise three times a week with daily walking and stretching.
Why refuel after a workout
People often think that results from a workout are because of how hard they push themselves during exercise. However, your results also come from how well you allow your body to recover. When you work out, you are increasing the workload on your body, which causes stress and taps into your 'fight-or-flight' systemic response. By adding gradual stress to your body, you can build muscle strength (including cardiac muscle) and increase your endurance, as long as you care for your body post-workout.
It is normal to experience inflammation from micro-tears in your muscles and soft tissues with exercise. There has also been a debate about whether intense exercise boosts or weakens the immune system. More current research finds that exercise increases your immune system's responsiveness, especially if you follow your workouts with healthy eating. Your electrolyte balance is displaced, and your use up your glycogen stores with exercise. Furthermore, let's not forget that your hormones can also be affected by exercise because cortisol levels increase during and after a workout.
Whether you are hoping to shed pounds, increase muscle strength, or feel happier and healthier, refueling your body after a workout is just as important as the workout itself.
Use food as fuel
So much of our culture and individual heritage surrounds food, determining what and how we eat. Yet, the reality is that food is that to nourish and provide energy for our bodies. And often, the foods we are most accustomed to are not the most nutritionally-dense items in the supermarket.
It is critical to eat within 30-60 minutes after a workout to help your body repair and recover. Eat foods high in protein and healthy fats such as lean meats, eggs, peanut butter, avocados, etc. Vegetables packed with vitamins and minerals are helpful in tissue repair.
For muscle and soft tissue repair -
Include functional carbohydrates high in antioxidants to replace glycogen stores such as dates, berries, and cherries. Functional carbohydrates mixed with the protein found in nuts, seeds, and legumes can kickstart muscle recovery. Turmeric may also decrease inflammation.
To replenish electrolytes and fluids -
Eat foods high in calcium, magnesium, chloride, potassium, and sodium. Coconut water, fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies with a calcium-rich base such as milk or non-dairy fortified milk can help restore electrolyte balance between the cells in your skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. Bananas and dates are also rich in potassium and can be delicious additions to smoothies. And, let's not forget the benefits of regular water!
To boost your immune system and balance hormones -
Zinc increases cellular communication in your immune system. It is also a catalyst for numerous enzyme reactions in your body and can even help regulate thyroid hormones. L-glutamine is also an amino acid that may boost your immune system and increase tissue repair. This nonessential amino acid is in eggs, beef, skim milk, tofu, corn, and white rice.
Supplements, protein powders, and more
Most people can get what they need for proper recovery after a workout by eating sources of lean protein like meat, fish, chicken, or dairy products. For instance, a fruit smoothie with yogurt or milk is an excellent recovery drink after a workout. But aside from eating wholesome, healthy foods, you can refuel your body through various supplements and powders.
Choosing supplements and protein powders can be incredibly overwhelming as there is a massive market for these products. Choosing the right products for you is also highly individualized based on your specific dietary needs. We recommend that you work with a thyroid specialist to figure out what's right for you.
Pay attention to ingredients when choosing a supplement or powder. Whey or soy-based protein powders are some of the most commonly available. However, many people with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's have sensitivities to these ingredients. Other sources of protein powder include egg, milk, pea, hemp, and brown rice. If you experience uncomfortable symptoms after having your protein shake, it may be an indication that you're not tolerating that protein source well.
To begin, you can ask yourself the following questions when considering a protein powder or supplement:
- What are my goals for using protein powder?
- Am I vegan or vegetarian?
- Do I have other health issues aside from hypothyroidism?
- What are my dietary triggers?
- What is my budget?
Of course, refueling your body after a workout extends beyond what you eat. Getting quality sleep and decreasing stress in your life can decrease your recovery time and help you reach your fitness goals. Also, stretching, foam rolling your muscles, massage, and hot and cold therapy are essential practices to support your body after a workout.
A note from Paloma Health
Regular exercise is an integral part of managing hypothyroidism. If you feel like you are fighting an uphill battle, work with a trustworthy thyroid doctor to optimize your thyroid medication, diet, and lifestyle.