T Nation

Depleted From Physical Labor


A bit of background. I am 42 yo M in pretty good shape and have been lifting on and off since my teens. I am in no way a body builder. But I am strong and in decent shape w decent cardio capacity.
I have a desk job and have a few months off.
My friend is building a house and to try to wiggle off some stubborn fat I said I would help mainly to try to combat my sedentary day job & stubborn fat.

well, after 1 week of 40 hours of painting and general gopher I am EXHAUSTED. I eat at work and drink plenty but my skin is dry as hell I am thirsty all the time and my shoulders, forearms & mainly LEGS/KNEES are beyond fatigue.

I feel like I might be dehydrated or losing electrolytes I am unsure. I will not drink corn syrup Gatorade. My forearms are sore just typing this post. My legs feel like lead. I tried to do my daily 4 mile 4mph walk/HIIT session AFTER work and I almost passed out and my legs felt like they weighed 100 lbs each.
On this job, I squat and stand up repeat, bend at the back, carry stuff, SCRAPE and sand until my arms feel like they are burning.

Today I fell asleep at 2 PM and woke up at 6:30PM famished and thirsty. I ate like a pig and feel like shit now.

What should I do and what am I experiencing?

How can I squat, deadlift, do HIIT, cycle etc but can't work? That shit is harder than it looks. I guess lifting isn't "practical" work. My Dad who is 72 and raised on a farm can barely lift a 15 LB dumb bell to curl but can do all the shit I mentioned with no fatigue (well, he is tired after but not like me who is dead)

How do construction workers do this for days/years etc?
Will I build up a tolerance to it (maybe it was just a shock to my system).
I see now why many of these dudes are wiry and built but can't understand how some pot bellied lugs pull it off - surely there diets are shit and some of them smoke all day.

If I do this for a few months will I get stronger/lose fat?
Do I increase calories (how much) and when can I get a kick ass workout that won't suffer after 8 hrs of that?
(I can't workout at dawn and be expected to perform at work so how do guys do both?)

Sorry for the long post but I am TIRED, DRY, SORE, HUNGRY and stressed out.


I am 5'8 180 maybe 15% BF.


sleep more and eat more food?


Suck it up.


Eat some more carbohydrates, this will help combat the tiredness.

Ass for the dehydration, I take it that you are sweating a lot. When you sweat you sweat out water, and sodium. When replaced with only water you hypothalamus senses low sodium concentrations and puts a hold on ADH(anti diuretic hormone) and your kidneys are gold to release more water which furthers your dehydration.

Since you are losing alot of sodium and water, you need to replace the sodium and water. Since you do not like Gatorade(Carbs + Carbohydrate + water) you will have to do it the old fashioned way. Eat something, preferably something with some sodium and some carbohydrate throughout the day, and drink your water. Situations where there is profuse sweating in hot/humid conditions, Gatorade is a scientifically sound drink for re hydration.

After that, you can suck it up and your work capacity will improve.


I worked in a steel welding factory over Summers when I was in college. Clocked in at 6:00am and out at 4:30pm. Most of the work has lifting and moving, red hot, and heavy welded steel base bands. The really heavy ones were like 120 lbs, but two guys were on them. Loading the trucks was the worst in the Summer, as it was like 120 degrees in them with no ventilation. When it got really hot, management would send this guy Larry to the store to get a bunch of gatorade. They put them in big garbage cans with a bunch of ice, and after lunch when it got really hot in the shop each guy was allowed 2. They had little strips of sponges with elastic bands you put around your forehead to soak up the sweat too.

If you are thirsty drink more. If you are out in the sun, think about putting some suntan lotion or hat on. The sun can take a lot out of you, especially if you aren't getting hydrated. If you are really sweating, have a gatorade. They have G2 or whatever the low calorie ones are if you are afraid of corn syrup. If you say you're thirsty and your skin is dry your either very dehydrated, getting too much sun, or both.

Another thing I noticed, is that I ate a lot more when I was doing that much work. If you are trying to lose that stubborn fat, I'd be careful about overdoing it with the calories as I know exactly what it feels like to come worn out wanting nothing but a cold shower, some food, and sleep. Eat more, but don't go crazy.

Lastly and most importantly, if fat, out of shape, chain smokers can do it without complaining you are probably being a little melodramatic about it. Just drink more water if youre thirsty and get more sleep if youre tired.


Thanks Zagman - I am trying to do this to lose fat and am on a low cal, low carb diet.
I am doing a pretty clean carb up day on weekends (T-Dawg basic principles).

What would you suggest for carbs and sodium?
I DO drink all day and maybe as you said that sets me up for more dehydration. I read on some raw foods forum (I try to eat whole, unprocessed and organic that's why I don't drink stuff like gatorade) a recipe for some lemon/lime juice and sea salt as an electrolyte replacement. That doesn't look like it would have too many carbs though - what about a tub of green veggies w some tamari or soy sauce to snack on all day for energy and hydration?

Also, if I am eating more carbs in the form of veggies will that kill my low carb thing I have going? (I thought low GI carbs like green veg were safe/semi-free in terms of carbs - it's not like I'd be eating twinkies, rice or wonder bread).

It does come down to energy & "crampy" feelings. Are my legs cramped feeling symptoms of dehydration? Also, since I am trying to lose fat I am afraid to just EAT MORE. I realize my energy requirements are greater if I am active all day but that's the idea. I don't want to eat back all the calories I burn off by working.

As far as working out fatigue, I think you may be right in the dehydration ideas - is cramping what dehydration feels like? It is especially in my legs & lowwer back - again, they just feel like they don't want to move or flex. I feel tight and heavy. And my lips and skin feel dry too.

Thanks for any and all ideas. I am an animal when it comes to "pain" - I have a very high threshold. I lift hard, have had surgeries and broken bones etc - I am not being wimpy so the "suck it up" comments are stupid. This is beyond discomfort, I really felt like I was going to seize up when I was simply POWER WALKING up a hill the other day!

*** Thanks theuofh too


Obviously you will want to skip any HIIT or other lifting until you are conditioned to the construction work.

Strength is fairly movement-specific. To get strong in a certain movement, whether curling a DB or lifting a bag of cement, work on THAT movement.

The work you're now doing requires a lot of different movements compared to what you probably do in the gym, with a lot less stability.

Also, you are now experiencing a huge increase in VOLUME. Even if you did the same movements you are used to, but increased volume to 8 hours a day instead of 1, you would be more tired!

They usually start young. How many start construction work at 40?

Yes. I used to work on a farm during the summer when I was a teenager, after sitting on my butt for 9 months at school, and it was rough. But you get conditioned to it. On the plus side, you'll probably sleep like a baby.

Conditioning. The body can adapt to almost anything. If you go home each night after work and drink a ton of beer, for instance, you can probably put on a pot belly despite all the physical work.

You'll get stronger in the work that you do. The strength MAY transfer back to the gym, but it may not. Even if not, you'd quickly regain your strength in the gym.

YES increase your calories! Eat for the calories you're burning.

NO don't work out in the gym until you adjust to the new daytime workload.

Don't be opposed to something like Gatorade if you need it. It sounds like your blood sugar is dropping too low.


This is a better explanation compared to the first post. Now, I can assume that you don't just need to suck it up.

Low carbing it, quantify "low". Understand that low carb dieting/low GI dieting is really going to hamper your work capabilities. Carbs do not make you fat, it is still about calories, and all calories are not created equal. I would suggest some salted almonds or cashews as snacks for the day.

I would switch to a low glycemic load diet, not a low glycemic index. The glycemic index is flawed, where glycemic load is far better for helping you accomplish lowered blood sugar. Taking the physical workload that you have to endure, low carbing it for 6 days and then carbing up one day a week isn't going to serve you too well. I would suggest moderate carbohydrate intake up until the early afternoon. All fruits and veggies are fair game for the early part of the day. Whole grains are good too, especially for breakfast. Starting early afternoon I would cut the carb intake right down to nothing. This will be no where near a ketogenic diet, but it will increase your work capacity while allowing you to burn off the fat.

You just flat out need the glucose to help fuel this level of activity. But, as long as you are very active you will not have those carbohydrates turn into fat, they will be used for energy. It is about total calories when it comes to losing weight, as long as your total calories is below maintenance and you protein intake is high enough avoid catabolism, you will lose fat. Utilizing carbohydrate intake in an intelligent manor will allow you to lose the same amount of fat while increasing your work capacity.

Did that help?


thank you very much guys.
I think my main problem was never having done this type of thing before and as Zag mentioned maybe I need some help w hydration.
Andersons - I agree w you re: volume and actually thought of that. Hard work at the gym for 1 hr isn't the same as 8 hrs!

I assume I will get conditioned to it - I squat up and down all day long - now I see why catchers (Jason Varitek) have tree trunk thighs and burn out w bad knees at 34!

I am going to up my food, salt & carbs a bit and just try to work harder and stronger at the job and back off from the gym and HIIT sprints for a few weeks. I'll try some walks for some fat burning on the weekends and add in some weights slowly. I really have a new respect for these dudes who swing hammers, climb up & down ladders all day and get up and down on their knees etc - it is brutal. I also see now why they CHOW at lunch. I was trying to do this on turkey burger and a cup of broccoli w fish oil w afternoon protein shake.

thanks again for advice


Low cal, low carb + 8 hours of hard physical labor do not mix.

You've got to understand the basic principles of metabolism. Say you burn around 300 calories per hour. It could be more. For 8 hours. That is 2400 MORE calories than you usually need. If you normally need 2400, now you need 4800, just for maintenance.

If you are not eating for your level of activity, you are basically starving yourself. Hard labor combined with low calories will convince your body that it's starving and will trash your metabolism.

If you keep your calories low, your body will adapt by breaking down muscle and preserving fat. After you stop the construction work, you'll find yourself getting fatter on fewer calories than ever.

At this point, get your calories up to maintenance until you feel decent and are recovering. Then cut them back by about 20% to lose fat.

And why the phobia of carbs? If you are working 8 hours a day, insulin sensitivity will skyrocket from the volume of physical activity. You can use carbs and I would say you will need them. And you'll never get enough calories and carbs from veggies.


Thanks Andersons - I am not really afraid of carbs, but just figured I would try it to see what would happen. Specifically, I was/am doing "Metabolic Surge" by Nick Nilsson w meal plans by John Berardi.

A typical breakfast on low carb phase 1 (5 days) is
1 c low fat cottage cheese
1/2 oz almonds
1/2 tbsp Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil
This was about 325 calories.

Other meals were basically
4 oz Lean Protein
4 C Spinach/Green Veg
Fish or Olive Oil or Nuts

I would do 4-5 meals of this to reach 1,500-1,700 calories.

I used a body gem to determine my caloric needs and also used Benedict Harris and came up w similar #s.

I was doing 3 lifting days and 3-4 HIIT days.

DAY 6 (After 5 days of pro & fat) I would eat ALL Protein - No carbs or fat.
DAY 7 (All Fruit - Nothing else for my carb up)

Following week was more balanced w carbs coming from oats, etc.

Basically a 12 day plan repeated -
Pro & Fat (Low carb except the veg)5 days
ALl Pro, ALL fruit - 2 Days
Pro, Carb, Fat - 5 Days.

I came up w 1,700ish w the author of this program who powerlifts (much more energy expended than me) and he is 210 LB and he is able to cut and maintain mass while doing this on this amount of calories.

Are you familkiar w Metabolic Surge?

It is leaving me too tired w the manual labor thrown in, so I don't know if I should add carbs and skip the low carb 5 day phase or keep the macronutrient principles but just eat MORE food to compensate for labor cals burned.

I am 5'8" , 180-190 LBs and would like to be 170 and reach 9-10% BF.

I thought the manual labor would be a good calorie burner and way to shock my system into something diff from gym workouts, but it is leaving me feel fried & weak for my workouts.

Given the above info do you/anyone have any recs?

This is like a 28 day type deal, where I would go back to more "normal eating" for a rest period for a few weeks, then repeat as the author realizes it is short term over training/under feeding but assures me that for only 4 weeks I can't really do metabolic damage/starvation mode and also re: the low calories his belief is that adipose tissue is inactive and therefore does not need to be fed. Also, it isn't total low carb like Atkins etc, the low carb/hi fat basically is a 5 day deal then you eat more carbs for a week etc

(I am not into SIZE - I am 5'8" and don't want to be a fireplug. I just want to strip down so I can run again without feeling heavy and get back down to a 31" waist w no love handles and get some back definition)

Sorry for the long post - if anyone can help that would be great.

Thank You All


I agree with this.

whenever I worked in the scrap yard or construction(outside in arizona summer 115+degrees) I ate beef jerky as a snack.

the sodium in the jerky help to fight off the dehydration along with the water I drank.

I grew up with a native american family and they lived mainly on the reservation and in summers would heard sheep,I went along with them alot of times.

anyways the grandmother told me one day because I was tired and cramping and just felt sick she said, "god placed salt here for us it use in on and around our bodies,if you hurt after sweating and working use it the way it was given to you"

she was right after all.
drinking a very weak salt water mix or eating food at lunch time with salt on it helped combat dehydration like was mentioned.

scrubing salt on your hands or feet helps peel away caliouses.and also if you are a mechanic like I am and want a way to get the oil or tranny fluid off your hands and dont have that pumous stuff salt does the trick and leaves your hands baby smooth.

soaking in a hot salt water bath soothed sore muscles.


I too have a very physical job on building sites 6 days a week. Some days i hod carry continuously up and down ladders and other days it`s easier and i just stand there laying bricks to a line.
The trick is to just eat smaller meals but more often throughout the day. The work load will become easier the more time you do the job and the more prepared you are with getting in those quality feeds every few hours or so.

Salt definately helps too for cramps!
Has to be sea salt or like a rock salt though.
I too add it to all my foods and sometimes a glass of water.
Also for achey muscles, i add epsom salts to bath water and soak for a good 20 mins in that. You feel so relaxed and heavy afterwards you can hardly be arsed to move especially after an intense leg workout.


Corn syrup gatorade might help, lol. I am being serious. It has carbolhydratrons and ions and electricals and all that neat stuff.


I know what you mean. I mean im a young buck, but I work construction. What I did that helped me out was simply eating more and stimulants. I added a granola bar and some almonds to my two scoops of whey with water meal. When you're in the trades you simply aren't given the time to whip out your tupperware full of chicken and peas and take 10 to eat it.


No, I am not.

However, the name "Metabolic Surge" is rather amusing to me given that 1700 calories are being consumed by a 210 lb man. That is not exactly a surging metabolism to me. :slight_smile:

In any case, I bet the plan did not include 8 hours of physical labor per day.

When you are sedentary, and abruptly start working like that, you burn BOATLOADS of calories. If you continued to do the same work, you'd burn fewer calories over time, but you'd still burn a heck of a lot more than sitting on your butt all day! Think about it!

Once again, I'd estimate you'd be initially burning some 2400 calories just from the activity.

It is all very well to read books, but you've got to use your head. The author wasn't thinking you'd increase your exercise by 8 hours per day. All that work requires energy.

I do not see the need for low carb days when working construction like this.

I am not such a fan of shocking the body. When you don't know what you're doing, you can just as easily shock it into a NEGATIVE adaptation (that you don't want) instead of a positive one.

I think the manual labor is a good thing. It will increase your physical fitness and energy expenditure, and you should sleep like a baby. BUT it's not a good time to be following a diet that does not account for your energy expenditure.

I would eat a large breakfast with plenty of protein, low-GI carbs, and some fat. I'd carry an easy-to-eat midmorning snack. I'd eat a big lunch and hopefully a mid-afternoon snack. I'd eat the best clean foods possible, but you can't munch on veggies all day while working construction. You could skip the starchy carbs in your evening meal and eat lots of veggies then.

I don't see the need for any additional gym workouts at this time, either. If you adapt so you're not so tired after a day's construction work, you can add some lifting back in.

I do not know the details or reasoning of the plan in the book, so I will not attempt to critique it.

But YOU ARE NOT FOLLOWING THE PLAN. You are adding a massive amount of brand-new energy expenditure without increasing any of the nutrients you are using.

MAYBE the plan in the book is just overreaching, but with your modification it is now starvation.

You should realize that if an author concedes his plan is short-term overtraining, then you'd better not modify it to include even more training.

High energy expenditure + very low calories = metabolic damage. And the greater the deficit and "shock to the body," the faster you'll damage your metabolism. Yes, I think you CAN damage your metabolism in 4 weeks of starvation. A friend of mine just recently did so, in about 3-4 weeks of starvation dieting that followed a month or two of regular dieting.


When I work the long days- I take a day off. Or an extra day off.

You have to balance your diet, and training volume.
You are probably not eating enough to sustain
this new level of work, and likely not eating enough to
burn fat either.
Hydration- somone posted about salt- not a bad idea.
stay hydrated.
you should be doing a gallon or more a day with your level of activity.

And try to do less volume of work at the gym -
you are already "working hard"

and Ice, epsom salt baths will help with some recovery

and are you wearing gloves? or good shoes at "work"
if your feet hurt your whole body hurts