One question we commonly get asked is “how can I boost my energy levels”. It seems everyone is in a bit of an ‘energy crisis’ these days, and it’s no wonder when you look at our busy lives that leave little room for quality sleep, exercise and delicious home cooked meals.
You might have come across those enviable people who drift off soundly asleep, jump out of bed bright and early and seamlessly charge through the day full of energy. However, for most of us, this is more of a dream than a reality. Fatigue seems to wear us all down physically and emotionally and can wreak havoc on the immune system, productivity levels and enjoyment of life.
If you feel exhausted, find it extremely difficult getting out of bed or have massive energy dips in the afternoon, it might be worth having a closer look at your lifestyle. We know that regular exercise, managing stress and getting enough sleep are essential when it comes to fighting fatigue. It also turns out that our eating habits directly affect our energy levels.
Here are 7 things to keep in mind when it comes to boosting energy levels through nutrition.
1. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Iron
Iron is a mineral needed to make red blood cells, which transports oxygen around the body. Without enough iron your body has to work a whole lot harder to get the energy it needs. Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world and women, vegetarians and children are at an increased risk.
One of the most common and earliest signs of an iron deficiency is feeling tired. Many people dismiss being tired as “a part of life”, however, this is not always the case. Low iron levels cause less oxygen to reach your tissues meaning your body is essentially being deprived of the energy it needs. If your “normal” fatigue is coupled with you feeling weak, irritable, or unable to focus, iron might have something to do with it.
If in doubt – go and get your bloods checked! It’s simple and something you should do every couple of years to make sure everything is in check.
If you do suspect low iron levels, try and increase your intake of iron rich foods:
- Whole grains
To maximise your body’s ability to absorb the iron from these foods, consume them with a good source of Vitamin C. For example you could add a squeeze of lemon over your meal or enjoy a side of raw cherry tomatoes.
2. Calories Do Matter
The food you eat gets broken down into energy, which your body uses to carry out daily functions. Whether you’re getting too much, not enough, or the wrong type of calories – it may be making you tired.
Let us explain…
When you are not getting enough calories in your diet, there are physiological changes that take place in your body to counteract for this. Evolution has created a body that is always anticipating future famine. When you reduce your calorie intake, your body tries to conserve the energy it has by slowing down your metabolic rate (this is why dieters often feel lethargic).
Just as under eating can lead to fatigue, eating too much at one meal or over the day can put the body in overdrive. It needs to channel tremendous amounts of energy to digest and absorb the large amounts of food consumed. There’s research to show that eating a lot at lunch can contribute to a more pronounced afternoon energy slump. The reasons behind this are still unclear, however, it is likely because of the increase in blood sugar after a large meal which is then followed by a slump in energy levels.
Finally, the quality of calories matter. In theory you could meet your daily energy requirements off chocolate alone. Even though you may be hitting your perfect overall energy needs, you’ll most likely feel like shit. That’s because the type of calories matter. The body requires specific foods to ensure we receive specific nutrients in the right proportions so that we have sufficient energy to function optimally throughout the day. The best way to do this is to choose foods that are nutrient dense (e.g. vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean proteins).
3. Hydration is Hugely Important
One of the first signs of low hydration levels is a feeling of fatigue. Not only does dehydration leave you feeling sleepy and lethargic, it can also impact on your decision making and coordination. This is because water is the main component of blood and is essential for carrying nutrients to the cells and removing waste products.
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to dehydration. Whether it’s sitting in an air-conditioned office, humid weather causing you to sweat, or simply not consuming enough liquids.
One way to check your hydration levels is to look at the colour of your urine when you go to the toilet. It should be a pale yellow/colourless liquid, so if this is not the case it’s a tell-tale sign you need to drink more.
4. Choose The Right Snacks
For many people, their energy tanks fall dangerously close to empty around the 3pm mark and the only feasible solution seems to be the biscuit jar or coffee machine.
The reason you feel tired in the afternoon is because your brain can only go for so long without energy before it starts to crash. Fortunately, there is a solution to boost those energy levels right back up! Having a nutrient-rich snack that’s low in sugar and rich in fibre and protein will ensure your body has the fuel to keep going to you can function at your best and feel satisfied.
Here are some healthy snack options:
- Yoghurt and fruit
- Trail mix
- Handful of unsalted nuts
- Banana with peanut butter
- Roasted chickpeas
- Vitawheats with cheese and tomato
- Hummus and veggie sticks
- Boiled egg
- Bliss balls
- Wholegrain cereal
5. Notice How Caffeine Affects You
After a cup of coffee, it certainly feels as though you’re getting an energy boost. This is because caffeine is a stimulant. While a coffee (or two) a day may be a savour when it comes to meeting a project deadline, it is important to notice how it affects you.
If you literally rely on 5 cups of coffee to get you through the day, it is probably not a good thing. While coffee does boost energy levels, this is the effect of the drug, not true energy and therefore is often a band aid solution. It is important to solve the underlying cause of your fatigue.
Overuse and reliance on caffeine over the long term can be problematic. Caffeine stimulates stress hormones, so can contribute to anxiety, irritability, weakened immunity and insomnia.
6. Limit Alcohol
Mid week boozy lunch at work letting you down? While it might seem a glass of wine helps to lift your mood, alcohol is a depressant and can significantly reduce your mood. Alcohol also acts as a diuretic (aka it makes you pee) increasing your chances of becoming dehydrated. This in turn leads to lowered energy levels and reduced performance.
Don’t get us wrong – it’s totally ok to enjoy a couple of drinks on a Friday night, as long as it is done in moderation. However, if you’re relying on a nightly drink to fall asleep, or if you go way overboard every weekend, you may find that cutting down on alcohol improves your energy levels considerably.
Tips when drinking:
- Have a big glass of water before you go out for a drink
- Try having a water in between each alcoholic drink
- Order wine by the glass rather than the bottle so you can stay on top of how much you are drinking
- Red wine is a good choice for its antioxidant content
- If you are drinking spirits, enjoy with soda as this will help to keep you hydrated
Read more about how Alcohol Actually Affects Your Body.
7. Allergies and/or intolerances
For some people, eating certain foods contribute to bloating, fatigue and foggy heads. There are a number of other symptoms of food allergies and intolerances such as skin rashes, migraines, diarrhoea and constipation – all of which can zap energy! If you do experience any of these, it’s definitely worth have a chat with a dietitian or doctor who can help you work through your triggers and get things under control.
Let us know if you have any other questions when it comes to energy levels, we’d be happy to help!