Do Antidepressants Affect Swimming, Cycling, Or Running Performance?


Antidepressant prescriptions have risen by 35% in the past six years. There are several reasons for taking them. The years 2019–2021 have been tough for many people. Read on if you’re taking them and are concerned that they might affect your athletic performance.

Do antidepressants affect running, swimming, or cycling? To date, no scientific research has stated that these medications can enhance or hinder athletic performance. However, it is not the medications themselves but the side effects and other interactions that can cause problems.

I’m going to explain how the medication you’re taking could impact your athletic performance.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. I’m just laying out the facts for you. Always consult a doctor before mixing physical activity with any type of medication.

Can Antidepressants Affect Athletic Performance? (Concerning Side Effects)

It’s not the medication itself but the effects on heart rate, mood, mental cognition, and motor skills that are a concern. Any of these can affect athletic performance and need to be considered by anyone intending to run, cycle, swim, or work out.

Increased Heart Rate

Athletic activity, especially aerobic, increases your heart rate. Some medications used to treat depression contain serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) which are known to raise heart rates. Coupling this with exercise doubles the chance, which could lead to serious health problems. (Source)

Affects Mood

For many, getting motivated to work out or exercise is sometimes part of the battle. Commonly used antidepressants like Prozac or Zoloft can cause extreme fatigue, making you even less likely to feel like doing anything physical. (Source)

Decreased Alertness

The extreme fatigue brought on by some antidepressants can also lead to decreased alertness, especially when first taking them. One of the prominent warnings on any label is not to operate machinery like a vehicle. This applies too to cycling or using gym equipment. (Source)

Do Anxiety Meds Affect Athletic Performance?

Anxiety and depression are similar but have their differences. A doctor may prescribe the same medication for both. However, the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), while SNRIs are used to treat depression. (Source)

SSRIs can cause dry mouth and bouts of sweating. As these two commonly occur when exercising, be sure to be on top of your water intake more than usual. (Source)

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax are also prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. Similarly to SNRIs, they can cause fatigue, muscle relaxation, and low energy levels. So consider all of these before combining them with working out.

What To Avoid While On Antidepressants?

Medical professionals will advise that while taking antidepressant medication, people should avoid consuming alcohol and reduce coffee intake. Caffeine is also found in sodas like cola and energy drinks often used by athletes during training or events.

Due to its possible effects on the heart, a doctor may recommend light exercise like slow swimming or walking over fast running or cycling. 

Some antidepressant medication has been known to cause weight gain. It’s also a good idea to avoid fatty foods, highly processed, or ones with too much sugar.

Can You Work Out While On Antidepressants?

As already mentioned, both SSRIs and SNRIs can affect the body, making working out something to check with your doctor before combining them. There are health benefits to exercising, so it’s something to consider. 

Some medical professionals recommend exercise as a treatment for anxiety or depression before prescribing medication. A 2015 study showed that in a control group, after three years of observation, 200 minutes of exercise a week created more positive emotional feelings. (Source)

If the medicine is non-negotiable, one recommendation is to exercise first thing in the morning before taking it. Again, check with your doctor that delaying when you take it is possible.

Is Exercise Better Than Antidepressants?

Doctors generally know better, and it’s obviously for good reasons if they’ve prescribed antidepressant medication. There are, however, medical professionals who do advocate for exercise as a natural solution. (Source)

My team and I often talk about runner’s high. Check out Brad’s article How Do You Hit Swim, Bike Or Runner’s High? (What Actually Is It!) – Triathlon Budgeting. For me, that euphoric feeling you get while running, swimming, or cycling is better than any medication.  It’s a natural high created by your body.

Why not go out there and see if you can achieve a runner’s high and see how it makes you feel? It might be the solution you’ve been looking for.

What Is The Best Antidepressant For Athletes?

Exercise could prove to be the best treatment for anxiety or depression. If it’s not enough, a medical professional will prescribe what works. There is no ‘best’ combination, as explained throughout this article. Each one comes with its own set of side effects and has exercise limitations.

Talk to your doctor about your exercise routine and ask them to prescribe the one that fits the closest. It may take some trial and error, but it’s not a lost cause by any means.

What Other Medication Affects Exercise and Workouts?

It’s not only antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication that can’t always be mixed with exercise. Stimulants, sleeping pills, antihistamines, decongestants, and laxatives can all interfere with a workout or other physical activity. (Source)

Stimulants

Used to treat symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy, stimulants like Adderall increase heart rate and elevate blood pressure. Combine this with cardio activity, and the risk of heart attack increases.

Prescription Sleeping Pills

Complete insomnia or a general lack of or restless sleep is common for many. Prescription sleeping tablets can assist and provide a proper night’s rest. The challenge with some is that the person wakes up feeling groggy, which can last for some time. 

Attempting to exercise during this time, you may experience feeling uncoordinated and have impaired motor skills.

Allergy Medication

Allergies are often treated with antihistamines. These can cross the blood-brain barrier, and impact coordination, memory, and commonly cause sleepiness. Some brands offer 12-hour relief, but the drowsiness can last that entire time. 

Exercising while feeling so drowsy gets counterproductive. Operating machinery when taking antihistamines, including bicycles and exercise equipment, is unwise.

Antihistamines are also known for increasing body temperature. If you excerpt yourself doing strenuous physical activity, you risk overheating. As a result, the body sweats more causing dehydration.

Cough & Cold Treatment

Decongestants are used to treat the symptoms of coughs, colds, sinus infections, and flu. Like stimulants, they can also increase heart rate and blood pressure. Refraining from exercising and training while taking this type of medicine is best.

Laxatives

While less severe than the others listed, laxatives can kick in when you least expect it. This could result in two things. 

Certain brands can cause the muscles in your gut to contract, possibly resulting in pain and cramps. Exercising can exacerbate the cramps, making it a very painful activity.

The second reaction is the dreaded “runner’s squirts,” which has been known to affect marathon runners and triathletes.

It’s best to avoid exercising while on a course of laxatives.

Running, cycling, swimming, and working out while taking any medication is something that needs to be discussed with your doctor before attempting. There are plenty of occasions when you can combine them, so don’t be afraid to have that conversation. Taking medicine doesn’t have to mean limiting your life. Enjoy what you can!

Stephen Christopher

began running at the age of 50 and 2 years later ran his first marathon in just over 5 hours. He continues to join events all over Thailand and South East Asia with Berlin and London on the list for the future.

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