Éric Simard, Dr. in biology and researcher, with the collaboration of Stéphane Migneault, psychologist.


I’m going to talk to you about fatigue, but I’m going to include several dimensions that are not usually considered. Fatigue depends of course on our physical capacities, but also on our mental capacities, which in turn are influenced by our expectations and our psychological state. Fatigue is therefore usually multifactorial and should also be tackled by several simultaneous approaches in order to obtain the best results.

Therefore, for fatigue, I will discuss:

  1. The psychological state and expectations
  2. Physical activity
  3. Managing chronic stress and/or seasonal affective disorder
  4. Food
  5. Supplements
  6. Advice from the psychologist

Given the great importance I place on the role of the state of mind in combating fatigue, we will end these recommendations, in the second article, with the advice of Stéphane Migneault, psychologist.

1. The psychological state and expectations

The term fatigue of course includes physical fatigue and psychological fatigue. I personally consider that psychological fatigue is greatly linked to our expectations. People who are demanding of themselves will tend to be mentally tired because they put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform. This can be an advantage, but it is also a burden to carry over and over again. It is important to find the right balance.

This is just one example. Psychological fatigue can also be linked to dependencies on others, chronic stress, life difficulties imposed by health conditions, significant events, or other situations that are difficult to manage and whose effects persist over time. A pharmacist collaborating with the Vitoli Blog wrote three articles that contain recommendations that can be very useful:

I am of course not a specialist in this field, but it is very important to consider the psychological state and to ask ourselves if our assessment of our level of fatigue is not too related to our expectations or really to our physical capacities. We can always be satisfied that we ran 40 km in two hours, and be disappointed that we didn’t have enough energy to climb Mount Everest in 30 minutes. This is an example of physical performance, but it involves our psychological expectations. If in doubt, do not hesitate to consult a professional.

2. Physical activity

You probably remember the slogan of the advertising campaigns “Physical activity gives you energy”. There are two main reasons why this statement is true: a biological reason and a psychological reason.

From a biological perspective, physical activity is much more than a tool for controlling body weight. Physical activity causes macroscopic changes, like an increase in the density of the blood vessels that supply our muscles, but also microscopic changes, like an increase in the density of mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of our cells. It is a physiological adaptation to the need to generate more energy for activities that require more from us. The body makes energy capacities available according to our needs. Thus, if we regularly express the need for greater energy capacity, the body will make it available. The opposite is also true. Sedentary lifestyles inevitably lead to low energy capacity.

The psychological reason is also linked to the biological effects of physical activity. Physical activity, especially intense activity, causes changes in the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are also two main biological reasons: the reward and the ability to flee. From an evolutionary point of view, it is easy to imagine being able to cover a vast territory, among other things, for the search for food, linked to a more intense physical activity, can be rewarded by the production of well-being neurotransmitters. And that’s the case! Thus, intense physical activity increases the production of dopamine (linked to feelings of reward). Likewise, what’s the point of moving fast if you don’t know where you’re going? Intense physical activity also increases the production of adrenaline to enable us to escape or fight (which has not been of use in our day to day lives since the times of the cavemen). There are, of course, many other related aspects such as reducing inflammatory processes and increasing vascularity in the brain (and yes, not just muscles).

Let’s take an example that speaks for itself. A recent study concerning cancer-related fatigue, a meta-analysis, reports that physical activity and psychological interventions are effective, during and after treatment, and are significantly better than drug-induced approaches.

3. Managing chronic stress and/or seasonal affective disorder

A friend of mine who’s a doctor, told me recently that cases of depression are skyrocketing now with the onset of autumn, but they are exacerbated by the pandemic and the effects of chronic stress. I wrote an article on this very recently and would like to draw your attention to the impacts of depression and chronic stress on the assessment of your fatigue level. It is possible that a large part of your feelings are related to it. Here are two articles that could help you:

4. Food

Food, our source of energy, plays a key role in fatigue. It is not enough to have an energy intake, but also the kind of energy and what the body does with that energy. In addition, diet has a great impact on the state of mind. You should be concerned about all facets of healthy eating. Here are some special considerations for fatigue:

  • Coffee. Tired people tend to consume more coffee and it can cause addiction/dependence as well as sleep or stress problems which can make the situation worse. Be careful and consume in moderation.
  • Sugar. The source of energy our taste buds prefer. Unfortunately, the consumption of sugar stimulates the production of insulin and when its levels become high, it favors the storage of energy instead of its use. The consumption of refined sugar therefore increases feelings of fatigue by reducing its availability for our cells. This is also true, to a lesser extent, for other sources of refined sugars such as pasta, white flour and/or other foods with a high glycemic load.
  • Alternative energy sources. It can be beneficial to force our bodies, on occasion, to keep active mechanisms related to alternative energy sources such as the use of fat and protein. This involves either reducing all food intake (fasting; to force the body to draw on reserves) or sharply reducing total carbohydrate intake (as is the case with the ketogenic diet).
  • Lack of certain nutrients. Several minerals and vitamins are linked to the mechanisms of energy production and their deficiency can cause fatigue. For example, magnesium which is essential for the functioning of more than 300 enzymes throughout the human body. It is estimated that 45 to 50% of the Canadian population is deficient in magnesium. A meeting with a nutritionist could identify nutritional gaps, and a dosage of certain vitamins and/or minerals may be requested by your doctor.

We will cover the other two tips to help you with fatigue in the second article which will focus specifically on the use of quality dietary supplements and the advice of psychologist, Stéphane Migneault.


Other recommended articles:




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