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Fuel Your Strength 388 - Why You're Struggling with Motivation to Workout

Why You’re Struggling with Motivation to Workout

Are you lacking the motivation or energy to train? I often hear this from women athletes, and it often stems from a lack of fueling or being in a low energy availability state. If you are feeling more tired during your workouts or during daily activities, have to go to sleep hours earlier than normal, or find yourself taking the elevator instead of the stairs because you are just so tired, there is a good chance you are not fueling yourself enough.

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If You Want To Increase Your Motivation to Train, You Should:

  1. Get clear about how, why, and when you are fueling yourself and if it is enough for your training program
  2. Look out for signs that you may be in a low energy availability state
  3. Remember that your energy levels impact so much more than just your physical activity

Stop Calling Yourself Lazy

Sometimes we think that low motivation is a character flaw, that we aren’t working hard enough, are feeling lazy, and just need to power through. But so often, we forget to look at what could be the underlying causes behind our lack of energy. Not fueling yourself enough, especially if you are an athletic person, is something you need to consider.

I want you to stop blaming yourself and start looking at what, how, and when you are fueling yourself. You may find that your ‘lack of motivation’ is really just a low energy availability issue by checking in with yourself regarding if you are getting enough daily energy intake.

Getting Real About the Energy Your Body Needs

Your energy levels impact your entire life, not just your intentionally structured physical activity. Low energy intake, or living in a low energy availability state, has psychological, mental, and physical impacts that you might not realize are linked. Not eating enough can play a huge role in determining your relationships, mood, goals, and so much more. This is why ensuring you are fueling enough for your unique body and training schedule is crucial. While the characteristics of low energy availability have a wide range, the impact they have on your body and mind is far-reaching.

Are you ready to stop beating yourself up for being ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated’ and start fueling yourself the way your body needs? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Why competitive athletes who love to train can still struggle with motivation (4:47)
  • The reasons athletic women undereat and how it could be affecting your training and recovery (7:51)
  • Why eating enough and fueling correctly is crucial even if you didn’t work out today (11:28)
  • How low energy could be impacting other areas of your life outside of the gym (14:30)
  • Signs that you are in a low energy availability state and what to do about it (17:39)


“The inspiration for this podcast really comes from many, many years of working with many of you and clients out in the world, other athletic women. Especially athletic women over 40 who come to me with frustrations about low motivation.” (2:00)

“You know why you love to train. You have goals, and yet, sometimes it just seems like that motivation has gone ‘poof’ and is nowhere to be found.” (2:13)

“It’s not just the energy or the ‘motivation’ to go train; we are talking about your energy levels impacting your entire life.” (13:29)

“When you get dragged down into the busyness of life, you can lose sight of how important your energy levels are and what it takes to stay fueled and recharged.” (14:52)

“It is important to note that low energy intake, or low energy availability state, can manifest itself in different ways for different people.” (22:16)

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Related Episodes

LTYB 350: Are You Eating Enough? Low Energy Availability in Sport 

LTYB 352: Energy Flux and Fueling for Athletes with Jamie Scott 

FYS 382: Making Strength Gains in Your Late 40’s with Allison Fitzpatrick

Why You’re Struggling with Motivation to Workout Transcript

Oh, I just have no motivation to train, I have no motivation to do anything. I hear this so often from women athletes, especially women athletes, over 40. If you’ve ever felt like this, you’re not alone. In this episode, we’re going to explore the link between motivation and fueling, and why low energy intake might just be the culprit of your low motivation.

If you’re an athletic 40, something woman who loves lifting weights, challenging yourself, and doing hard shit, the Fuel Your Strength podcast is for you. You’ll learn how to eat, train, and recover smarter. So you build strength and muscle, have more energy, and perform better in and out of the gym. I’m strength nutrition strategist and weightlifting coach, Steph Gaudreau. The Fuel Your Strength podcast dives into evidence-based strategies for nutrition training and recovery. And why once you’re approaching your 40s and beyond, you need to do things a little differently than you did in your 20s. We’re here to challenge the limiting industry narratives about what women can and should do in training and beyond. If that sounds good, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s go.

Thank you so very much for being with me today on the podcast. I’m really excited that you’re here. And before we dive any further into the episode, please hit subscribe on your very favorite podcast app. Now, the inspiration for this podcast really comes from many, many years of working with many of you and clients out in the world, other athletic women, especially athletic women over 40, who come to me with frustrations about low motivation. Do you know why you love to train? You have goals and yet sometimes it just seems like that motivation has gone poof and is nowhere to be found. Sometimes that can also lead to you sort of mentally beating yourself up for being undisciplined or not trying hard enough. And quite often, it goes back to how much energy intake you’re getting, and where are some of those gaps.

So we’re going to explore this connection here on the podcast today. Now, if you listen to this episode, and you’re like, This is me, I need help, I need a strategy for putting together the things that are going to help me focus in terms of my nutrition, my training, and my recovery. And I’m going to invite you to book a call with the team and chat with us more about if you’re a great fit for strength nutrition unlocked. This is my group program, you can go ahead and book a call over at StephGaudreau.com/apply.

Alright, let’s tell a little story. I had a client, we’ll call her Michelle, this is you know, names changed. Of course, Michelle was somebody who loved to train. And she kept explaining though, how her motivation kept falling apart. Not only was she finding it really difficult to make it into the gym, but everything else, all of the associated habits that she knew helped her feel really great and supported, her training had kind of fallen apart. She was not eating meals throughout the day skipping meals to busy and hadn’t prepped food. And of course, mentally was struggling. She had a lot of busyness with work and would get home at the end of the day and tell me all I want to do is eat sugar, and just kind of stand in front of the cabinet and mindlessly graze on things.

She said, You know, I’ve been wanting to meal prep, I bought all the food for it. And I didn’t actually do any of my meal prep. I was just being really lazy. I was not motivated. And I don’t know what’s wrong with me. So let’s just start by looking at this a little bit more in-depth. Oftentimes, I hear this even from people who have been athletic for many years, potentially decades, maybe even competitive athletes who have that experience. You know that you love the way being physically active makes your body feel. It’s great for your mental state. You love having that consistency and your schedule like it’s a priority. So this isn’t your first time around the block, so to say and yet, I still hear this from so many women.

You know, I’ve been struggling things are really busy. I’m getting overwhelmed. I feel lazy. I don’t know why I can’t just make myself do this. I know it’s important, but what’s the like what’s wrong with me? And so, the first thing is there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s not a flaw in you. And we’re going to go through how under-eating, overwhelm, and so on are connected. So in the shell’s case, she wasn’t being lazy. And I think, you know, sidenote, go read the book laziness does not exist by Dr. Devin price. I’ve mentioned it on this podcast before. But Michelle wasn’t being lazy, even though that’s the first thing she blamed it on. It was actually that her root problem was a lot of overwhelm. And here’s how it played out. The overwhelm was causing her to under-eat across the day. And I see this all the time, coffee for breakfast, maybe a little snacky snack on a protein bar. Lunch, if it happens is very small, very light.

Oftentimes just kind of graze on things between zoom meetings. And you know, there’s a lot of work to be done. So I call this the black hole of lunch, where lunch really just does not happen in a lot of cases. And then at the end of the day, you’re fatigued, you’re frazzled. You know, in Michelle’s case, there was not much energy left to prep all this food that she bought, cook it eat a good meal, or even just keep meals simple, but make sure that they’re nourishing you. And you know, everything was leading up to her just being really drained. Because of her low energy intake, she was just so tired. By the time it was time to go and get in the gym and lift or go do some intervals, or whatever happened to be on the docket for the workout. So this happens a ton.

And again, a lot of women especially end up in my DMs and in my emails, saying things like, I just feel like I can’t understand where my motivation went, I can’t understand why I lack the discipline, or I lack the willpower as if it is all down to the drive. The right motivation is the drive to do these things. And we think that we can just supersede we can just overcome when we’re consistently running these huge energy deficits. So before you chalk up your quote, unquote, lack of motivation, to just not caring about your training or needing to be more disciplined, you need to stop and check-in Are you fueling enough? Are you eating enough? Are you fed enough? And this is a tough one because again, we’ve explored this on other podcast episodes, women, athletes, and athletic women, oftentimes under-eat for different reasons.

So let’s go through some of those reasons why athletic women under-fuel themselves. And hopefully, this will give you some insight, and we’re going to kind of tie all this together. So first is intentionally restricting, right, let’s just get that one out of the way intentional dietary restriction. And we’ve talked about this before, but there can be pressure to be leaner, and lighter. This could take the form of restricting a specific macronutrient such as carbohydrates, fats, or protein.

Oftentimes, the one I see with women over 40, who is athletic is the carbs. I mean, we still need to do a podcast episode on this, I feel like, but the carbohydrate intake is just so low, so low to do any intense training, and you feel really terrible. Typically, when your carbs are too low, and you’re trying to get in there in the gym and push things really hard. This could also be an intentional caloric reduction and an attempts to lose body weight if you’re in weight, a weight class, sport, or body fat. And then we also see protocols like fasting, low carb, and even sometimes low protein amongst athletic women. So this category of intentional dietary restriction takes different forms and can be for different reasons. But oftentimes, that leads us to not be taking in enough fuel for our training. And the balance of what’s left over is not enough to support our basic bodily functions. That right there is the definition of low energy availability.

Number two, unintentionally eating too little compared to your activity level. Now, sometimes, the undereating that I see with athletic women is less intentional, it’s kind of unintentional or happens as a result of other things. So maybe you’re trying to eat healthily, and I’m using air quotes here, but you don’t realize you’ve made a lot of low-energy food swaps. In other words, you’re eating foods that are high volume foods that have a lot of fiber or a lot of bulk to them, but actually are quite low in actual caloric energy.

So this happened with one of my students, Allison, I’ll link the podcast episode that she came on and talked about her experience in strength nutrition unlocked. And Allison was all about, you know, eating healthy and making nutritious food choices. But she didn’t realize she was eating pretty low energy, even though her plate always looked quote-unquote, full. So sometimes we’re making these inadvertent mistakes. Getting enough, daily energy can also be challenging. If you’re traveling. Maybe you’re a younger athlete, although I think most people listening to this podcast are not, but maybe you have kids who are in high school, or they’re athletic as well. And you know, they just might not have as much control over food, purchasing food prep, obtaining food, right, maybe they don’t go grocery shopping, which tends to be most kids are sort of at the quote-unquote, the mercy of their environment, right.

Other times, you just don’t realize how much energy it takes to fuel your training and cover your basic bodily functions. A lot of people think, Well, I didn’t exercise today, so I don’t need to eat very much. And they forget that their body needs a baseline of energy intake, right, we generally call that basal metabolic rate, or resting metabolic rate and that your body is trying to keep you alive. And it requires a significant portion of your daily energy expenditure.

Like 70% of our daily energy expenditure is coming from just surviving. And for some reason, diet, culture, and all of the things that we learned, growing up, especially if you just think, well, I didn’t exercise today. So I don’t really need to eat, which is totally the reverse of what’s actually true. Maybe life is just really hectic, maybe you have a job where your ability to sit down and eat regular meals is impacted. I see this a lot with the nurses that I work with, they’re just on super long shifts, they’re getting called into surgery, or whatever it is. And they’re like, I just have to take something really fast and eat a snack. And sometimes they just don’t have the preparation or the access to be able to do that and eat something even really, really fast, right?

Sometimes life is just really busy, or like, I’ll just drink coffee for breakfast, it’s totally fine. A bar will get me through meeting a protein bar or something of that nature. And again, sometimes we have to do those things in a pinch. But we don’t realize that it’s really cutting into our energy intake, and leading to this kind of like unintentional low energy availability state. Another reason we see this happening is an increase in energy output without an energy intake that’s gone up. So maybe you’ve increased your training volume, your training intensity, but you’re not compensating by increasing how much energy that you’re actually taking in. We see this quite a bit when people get on new training plans, for example, or maybe you’ve added a second session in the day, and now your energy output has gone up quite a bit. So sometimes it’s an actual training plan. And again, while you have good intentions, inadvertently, you’re ending up not taking in enough energy. And so how does this affect your energy level?

Well, remember, everything is connected to energy. It’s not just the energy or the quote, unquote, motivation to go train we’re talking about your energy levels are impacting your entire life. And I hear this all the time from people that I talk to, on the phone, in emails and DMS, where you’re Yes, you want to get stronger, you want to get into the gym and be consistent, you have goals with building muscle and building strength, increasing your endurance, your capacity, etc. But it’s not just that, that struggling or suffering, it’s like you get home after work, and you don’t have the energy to interact with your loved ones. So I hear quite a bit, you know, the kids asked me to go to the park and throw the frisbee or, you know, my husband wanted to hang out with me in the afternoon. And I just couldn’t hear a lot, you know, I had to go to bed a couple of hours before my partner, because I’m just so wiped out. And that’s impacting your relationships, right?

That’s, that’s just one example of how low energy affects other aspects of your life. And of course, your feeling of self-efficacy is tied into that as well. So that’s where a lot of the mental kind of beating yourself up comes in. When you get dragged down into the sort of busyness of life, you can lose sight of how important your energy levels are and what it takes actually to stay fueled and recharged. And oftentimes as adults, we forget, we’re like, oh yeah, I need to eat to where we’re very concerned with little kids, you know?

Hey, do you need a snack? Is it time to eat? Are you hungry yet, we do the same for our pets, we would never skip feeding our pets? And yet we do the same things to ourselves. Right. And that takes that toll on the rest of your life outside of just intentionally structured physical activity, which we would call trading, right? I tend to see this manifesting in people that don’t understand, they’re like, I’m just so tired, I’m so wiped out, I’m so exhausted, you know, I will just always take the elevator, I’ll never take the stairs, or maybe you find yourself driving around the parking lot over and over to find the closest spot to the door because you feel like you, quote-unquote, can’t be bothered to walk, you know, maybe you could walk an errand in your neighborhood, but you’re like, Oh, I’m just too tired, I have to drive. And so what that is often a big red flag for is that your energy intake is, again, too low. And so what happens is, you don’t have enough energy coming in, you have too much energy going out on your body begin to find ways to make you conserve. So not only do you oftentimes lack the energy to train, which is a purposeful activity.

But now your non-exercise activity, which we call NEET, also goes down. And NEET can play a huge role in your energy expenditure for the day. And it tends to manifest in these ways where you’re just like, Oh, I could get up and fold laundry, but I’m just too exhausted or, you know, I could take a walk after dinner, and maybe spend time with the kids or my partner, and just kind of get out as a family, or whatever it is, I’m just too tired, right. And so overall, our movement decreases, and our energy is too low. And so subconsciously, or consciously, we are moving a lot less. And again, this plays out with feelings of laziness, lack of motivation, needing to be more disciplined, and oftentimes, it manifests as well, I just need to eat even less, and move even more. And I’m just going to find the last shred of energy, I have to force myself to the gym and get in there and do these really hard workouts, which we can do fine when we’re fueled up, but when we’re running on fumes is really, really difficult. So maybe you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking, Yeah, you know, like, this sounds like me, but what other signs are there that I could be in a low energy availability state, because sometimes motivation, as you would expect, comes and goes, we don’t always feel the most motivated to go and do things.

Although I think a significant change in your motivation and status away from your baseline is worth looking into. But other people have asked me to cover what are other signs of a low energy availability state. So there are many, and it really depends on you as a person, you may not have all of these. But these are definitely some signs of energy deficiency to look for. So in addition to a sense of low motivation, I am actually feeling very fatigued. So if you feel far more tired than normal during your workouts or other daily activities, this amount of excessive fatigue is a huge red flag. I know when I was dealing with low energy availability 10 years ago, in my training, excessive fatigue that was not normal, for me was one of the biggest signs where I just felt like, I just can’t even go into the gym today, I’m just so wiped out. And that was one of my big red flags.

A second one would be your reduced ability to perform, you don’t have the same capacity to put out power or strength numbers, you’re just feeling an overall decline in your performance. Another one that people often don’t connect to low energy availability is repeated injuries or illness, things like upper respiratory infections, you know, if you catch everything that’s going around, that’s often a sign that you’re in energy deficiency, struggling with recovery, where you notice that is taking way longer to recover from workouts. If your workout absolutely destroys you and affects your energy for the rest of the day, and the days to follow, that’s a big red flag, right? Changes in your mood, mood state mood swings, right? Those are really important to notice as well. A huge sign of low energy availability, and reduced or low bone density. So this one is again, very important. And it’s not just in women over 40. Of course, we’re experiencing changes and our estrogen levels, which can really impact our bone density.

But also, there was a study that came out of New Zealand and 2016, looking at female recreational exercisers and energy intake status. And they found that 45% of those women were at risk for low energy availability. And related to the bone tissue. There was a statistically significant number of women in this study who had stress fractures. So if you’re someone who’s prone to things like stress fractures, this is huge that you want to be looking into. Of course, you may need more support and medical intervention than just eating more, but that’s a big red flag intending to be in the lower bone density category. Decrease in things like your libido, a disruption in your menstrual cycle. So this could be you know, you’re starting to notice shifts in your menstrual pattern. This can, of course, become a little bit tricky when you’re in perimenopause. But if you’re not in perimenopause, yet, you’re pre-menopausal, and you’re not entering into the perimenopause window, you know, any huge disruptions and your menstrual cycle changes, big changes. Again, if it stops completely, I mean, that’s a huge red flag, that you may not be getting enough energy intake, and there is no one cut off. That’s the thing people are like, well, as long as you’re not 15% body fat, you should be fine. That’s not true.

There can be a range of energy intake statuses and things like body fat percentages, that are associated with things like menstrual disruption. So we can just use that as its own marker. nutrient deficiencies. Of course, a big one among athletes is iron. And I remember a post that I put up when I was cycling, I was in the endurance sports world under eating. And I posted about being iron deficient. Now, at the time, I didn’t know that that was a big indicator potentially, of being in a low energy availability state. So I mean, this is just a really long list. But it’s important to note that a low energy intake or low energy availability state can manifest itself in different ways for different people. Of course, we started the show by talking about low motivation. So there are mental and psychological impacts. And of course, the physiological impacts of this. Now, just a quick note that low energy availability, low energy availability can lead to the syndrome called Red S, which is a relative energy deficiency in sports.

And that syndrome is characterized by again, a wide range of physiological issues and psychological changes. And within that nested within red s is the female athlete triad, which I grew up hearing about that from time to time, but now has really been expanded beyond the triad and beyond just focusing on women, because we’re seeing that male athlete can also have signs and symptoms of low energy availability leading to red s. So if you suspect that you’re in a state of red S, or you’re suspecting that you’re in a state of low energy availability, it’s really important to get in there and really talk to a sports nutritionist or sports dietitian, someone who understands how to look for this and assess for it. And then depending on what’s going on, you may be able to deal with some of this on your own, or you may likely need support.

So to tie a bow on this and sum it up. Sometimes we think that low motivation is a character flaw, that feeling lazy is just something we need to power through. And we forget to look at what could be underneath those things. Especially if you’re an athletic person, you’re training a lot and you normally don’t feel that way. It’s definitely something to look into. Of course, it could be things that are going on outside of the gym, in terms of how busy or overwhelmed you are by the other things you’re doing in life. But if this is something that’s kind of new for you and popping up or it persists, then definitely stop putting the blame on yourself in terms of a character issue and start looking at whether am I eating enough. Do I have enough daily energy intake, according to how much I’m training, and is my lack of motivation, actually a low energy availability issue? Remember that low daily energy can impact everything from your performance to your mood, to your desire to get that neat, that nonexercise activity, and remember that low energy availability in athletic people, doesn’t only happen in elite athletes, this is something that happens to recreational exercisers as well. And low energy availability is the underlying cause.

Have the syndrome red s relative energy deficiency and support, there may be significant impacts not only on your performance, but on your health and well-being, such as difficulties with digestion, mood, focus, immunity, bone health, and reproductive function. So I hope this gave you some insight or at least some places to look or gave you a little bit of respite from the idea that you’re just a lazy, unmotivated person. And maybe the issue is that you’re not taking in enough energy to support what your body needs in terms of training, and daily life. Thanks so much for tuning into this episode. Of course, you can grab the show notes for this episode over at StephGaudreau.com. I’m also going to link the four parts of my energy series where we’re really talking about critical concepts in terms of energy, availability, metabolism, and more. And share this episode on your Instagram stories and hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Those are free ways to support this show and show your a

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


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