There is an energy crisis in America—and I am not talking about natural resources. We all want to feel alert, well-rested, and energetic, but for many of us this is more of a dream than reality. As busy and productive people with over-scheduled, stressful lifestyles (sometimes combined with little quality sleep and poor eating habits), it is no wonder so many of us feel drained.
Fatigue breaks us down physically and emotionally and wreaks havoc on the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, depression, and even chronic conditions like heart disease. But we have the power to change our habits, boost our energy, and feel terrific.
We all know that regular exercise, stress management, and getting at least eight hours of sleep are critical for combating fatigue. It also turns out that our eating habits directly affect our energy levels, and there are ways we can use nutrition to feel more energy throughout the day.
1. Eat predominantly nutrient-dense foods
Optimal energy metabolism (the process that converts food to energy) requires an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Every cell in our body can unlock its energy potential with the proper fuel from food. If we dont get enough nutrients from foods, we suffer from sub-optimal cellular energy metabolism, making us feel tired and sluggish.
2. Seek out foods high in antioxidants
Antioxidants are the bodys scavengers of those damaging chemicals that tax our system and cause fatigue and lead to illness. Being that there are thousands of natural, protective antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, a pill or processed food will never come close to what youll get from the whole food.
Furthermore, too much of certain nutrients can be risky – this risk is alleviated when the nutrients come packaged in a whole food, which is naturally balanced with complementary nutrients and thousands of health-supporting compounds. Seek out colorful, juicy fruits like berries and melons, and dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, collard greens, and spinach.
Studies show that diets high in omega-3 fats improve mood, memory, and thinking, which are related to focus and energy. Try to get at least one excellent source of omega-3 fats a day: fish, flax seeds, flax oil, hemp seeds, hemp oil, leafy greens (think big salad), or walnuts. Omega-3 supplements such as fish oil can help but they should never replace a healthful diet.
4. Ditch the diet
If your “diet” is synonymous with “deprivation,” youre doing your body a “disservice.” Skimping on calories ultimately decreases your metabolism as your body tries to conserve all the energy it can. Thats why dieters often feel lethargic. To make matters worse, as metabolism slows, the body burns even fewer calories, leading to a slower rate of weight loss. Then when more calories are inevitably consumed, weight gain is the usual result.
5.Make breakfast a priority
Yes, its easy to skip breakfast, and we even may feel virtuous doing so, as it appears to be a way to save calories. But it hurts us in the long run. Studies show that a good breakfast not only gets your metabolism going, but it will help keep you alert and satisfied until lunch. Bonus: healthy breakfast eaters set the stage for a full day of healthy eating.
Swapping out processed foods like donuts, pastries, white bagels, cereal, and waffles for healthier options including fresh fruit, whole grain hot or cold cereal with nuts/seeds, whole grain bread with nut butter, or even last nights casserole are all good options.
Getting a near-steady supply of food energy throughout the day helps keep your blood sugar level and your energy level up. Letting yourself get too hungry causes your blood sugar to crash, leading to feelings of sluggishness and, often, cravings for junk food. But of course it is important to choose your snacks wisely.
Some great snack ideas include a mix of nuts and dried fruit (about one half ounce of each); a container of plain yogurt topped with 2 tablespoons of natural granola; 3 cups of air-popped popcorn tossed with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt; 5 whole grain crackers with 5 baby carrots and a quarter cup hummus; a half cup of berries and an ounce of walnuts, an ounce of baked or whole-grain chips with tomato salsa, or a small apple sliced and dipped in 2 tablespoons of almond butter.
7.Drink for energy
Being properly hydrated is a very easy and effective way to keep your energy high. The body needs water, and lots of it, to function optimally. You can skip the vitamin waters and energy drinks which, unless youre an endurance athlete, just add unnecessary calories and expense. So keep a fresh and ready source of water by you at all times, and sip at least 1 cup every 2 hours. Tote a reusable bottle with you wherever you go. Bonus: all those extra trips to the restroom help you to move more.
8.Become the designated driver more often
Since alcohol is a depressant, it can contribute to low energy. Ironically, it can also act as a stimulant several hours later, which can disrupt your sleep cycle and cause fatigue the next day. If you depend on a nightly drink to fall asleep or overindulge over the weekends, you may find that cutting out or down on alcohol improves your energy considerably.
If you wish to indulge occasionally, red wine is a good choice for its antioxidant content. (Disclaimer: individuals taking certain medications, and those suffering from certain forms of anxiety, high blood pressure, or dependence issues should avoid alcohol completely. Ask your doctor.)
After a cup of coffee, it certainly feels as though youre getting an energy boost. But it really isnt true energy—its a drug effect. So although youll feel a short-term boost, it will backfire when it wears off, because at that point the body realizes it has no real energy source and the result is exhaustion and hunger, typically followed by overeating.
So, caffeine can be used occasionally as a temporary stimulant, such as before a long drive or for alertness for meeting a deadline, but overuse and reliance over the long term can be problematic.
For a gentler lift, try green tea, which provides beneficial antioxidants as well as the amino acid theanine, which helps you stay calm and focused. (Disclaimer: individuals taking certain medications, and those suffering from certain forms of anxiety, high blood pressure, or dependence issues should avoid caffeine completely. Ask your doctor.)
10.Choose power foods
As the 10th nutrition strategy, Id like to share my list of the top 10 energy foods, most of which you should aim to include in your diet on a weekly basis:
1.Almonds (or other nuts)
3.Watercress (or arrugula, kale, collards, spinach, etc.)
4.Quinoa (or other intact whole grains such as millet, amaranth, brown rice, etc.)
5.Flax seeds (grind them before adding to foods)
6.White beans (or lentils, white beans, black beans, etc.)
7.Dates (or other dried fruit – in moderation)
8.Blackberries (or strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc.)
9.Sea vegetables (nori, dulse, hijiki, etc.)
10.Edamame (young whole soy beans)