You’ve stepped up your training recently. You’re making good progress, getting in great training sessions and generally happy with the direction you’re headed. Then you hit a wall.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. In less than two weeks, intense bouts of exercise can have negative effects on sleep quality. This, in turn, can negatively affect an athlete’s mood. It’s a problem capable of being remedied, however. New research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggests more carbs as a way to combat your moody mind.

Scientists from Loughborough University studied the effects of heavy training on 13 highly trained cyclists in order to determine their sleep quality. Researchers measured athletes’ moods, sleep patterns and performance during two nine-day periods of intense training. Results were gathered before and after exercise.

In order to determine the effects of diet, athletes were given high carbohydrate beverages per ACSM guidelines before and during exercise. They were also given a high carbohydrate and protein recovery drink within 10 minutes of the end of each training session. Under control conditions, athletes were provided with lower carbohydrate beverages before, during and after exercise. Athletes under control conditions were not given protein. The effects were measured as part of a double-blind, randomized and counterbalanced cross-over study design.

To measure the effects of intense training on sleep, athletes were fitted with an actiwatch capable of measuring time in bed, actual sleep time, sleep efficiency and other variables. Sleep data was collected during the study and compared to baseline results taken before the trials began. Athletes were also given mood state questionnaires to determine the program’s effect on their moods.

Although the moderate carb group spent more time in bed, the number of times the athletes woke through the night were significantly higher. This group also reported the most negative changes in their moods, listing increased feelings of stress, anger, fatigue and confusion.

The study also reinforced the importance of recovery as part of a training regimen.

“The cycle of successful training must involve overload to a state of acute fatigue, followed by a period of rest,” the authors of the study said. “The results of such training are positive adaptations and improvements in performance. However, if overloaded training is not followed by sufficient rest, overreaching may occur.”

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