Doc, I'm STILL tired

Okay, so you are still tired and you’ve checked all your sleep habits (sleep hygiene), but you still crash and burn by the afternoon, desperate to get some more zzzzs. What else?

There is a rather long list of diagnoses for ‘tiredness’ in the medical world. Common things occur commonly so how is your diet? Anaemia and low iron levels are very common reasons for fatigue.  Do you eat foods rich in iron, like red meat (or other animal-based foods such as poultry, eggs), green leafy vegetables (think Popeye), legumes or nuts and seeds? And are you getting enough?

Did you know some foods can help iron absorption, like foods rich in Vitamin C whereas others can reduce iron absorption (coffee, tea, wine and calcium-rich foods). This is why many iron supplement tablets are combined with Vitamin C.  As a doctor, I would much rather check out your diet and make appropriate changes where possible first before adding supplements so it’s worth a discussion and food diary. Your doctor can check these with a quick blood test and also explore if there are any other reasons for you to have low iron/anaemia such as blood loss (obvious losses that you can see or hidden loss in the gut etc) which can be an increased risk in our Masters athletes.

Are you eating enough in general for your sudden increase in activity levels? Your body needs fuel, just like your car, but if you don’t put enough petrol (food) in, your body will struggle to perform.  Energy sources such as carbohydrates, fats (good fats) and protein are important for pre, during and post exercise so please don’t remove them entirely from your diet!  Your body will continue to churn the energy requirements long after you stop exercise so healthy snacks may help you get through the day.

I swear every week I hear of a new “diet” but many of these dietary modifications (FODMAPs, gluten-free, ketogenic, Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan etc) can be utilised safely by elite athletes under appropriate supervision with their dietician and doctor.

Finally, your doctor can look into other medical issues that present as ‘tiredness’ such as thyroid conditions, viral illnesses/infections, medication side-effects, mental health and other organ systems – it’s worth a general check-up chat, you’ll feel much better!

Dr Kira James is a Sport & Exercise Medicine Registrar with FNQ Sports Medicine, living it up in Cairns.  As a country girl, she loves any excuse to visit Waterbar or her local butcher for good quality steak – for training purposes of course! Find out more about Dr Kira at