We’ve all hit that difficult time of day when our energy dips, our concentration flags and we’re ready to take a nap. And the very culprit could be your diet. The foods you eat – and don’t eat – can zap both your mental and physical energy.
To help you feel energized during the day, adopt smart eating habits to sidestep the following nine blunders that rob you of energy. If you still find yourself sluggish, despite eating right, consult your doctor. Ongoing fatigue may be the symptom of an underlying health problem.
You eat too many refined carbs
Carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains and fruit are metabolized into blood glucose, the only form of energy the body can use immediately. When it comes to feeling energetic, though not all carbohydrates are created equal.
Highly processed, refined carbs (e.g. white bread and crackers, refined breakfast cereals, sweets and sugary drinks) rank high on the glycemic index scale. That means they cause large spikes in blood glucose followed by sharp drops, which can bring on fatigue. Sugar also blocks the activity of orexin cells, brain cells that stimulate wakefulness.
For a balanced release of energy choose low glycemic carbohydrates such as 100% stoneground bread, 100% bran cereals, steel-cut and large flake oatmeal, milk, yogurt, soy beverages, apples, bananas, pears, oranges, dried apricots, berries, nuts, seeds, and beans and lentils.
You skimp on protein
Protein-rich meals help you feel more alert by counteracting after-meal drowsiness that can be brought on by consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates. Including protein at meals also helps regulate, or slow, the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Include a source of protein – e.g. fish, turkey, lean meat, eggs, yogurt, tofu, legumes, nuts – at all meals and snacks.
You skip breakfast
The morning meal replenishes your brain and muscles with energy (glucose) after fasting overnight. Studies have found that adults and kids who skip it report lower energy, poorer moods and reduced memory.
Start the day with a breakfast that delivers protein and low glycemic carbohydrates. Good choices include bran cereal with milk, fruit and nuts; steel cut oatmeal topped with ½ cup Greek yogurt; a smoothie made with milk (or soy milk), berries and ground flax; and 100% whole grain toast with almond butter and fruit salad.
You don’t snack
It takes your body roughly two to three hours to break down carbohydrate in the food you eat and convert it to energy for the body. To prevent your energy level from fading, include healthy snacks between meals.
Snacks should boost your blood sugar and keep it relatively stable until mealtime. Try fruit and nuts, Greek yogurt and berries, a bowl of lentil soup, whole grain crackers (Wasa, Ryvita and FinnCrisp are low glycemic) and part skim cheese or a whole foods energy bar.
You drink too little water
Water in your bloodstream circulates oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and removes wastes. Water is also an essential ingredient in the production of energy molecules.
Men require 12 cups (3 litres) of water each day; women need 9 cups (2.2 litres). All fluids – except alcoholic beverages – count towards your daily water requirements. That includes water, milk, unsweetened juices, tea and coffee.
You rely on caffeine to stay alert
One or two cups of coffee can boost mental alertness, but drinking more can overstimulate your central nervous system and cause insomnia. Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a brain chemical that causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity.
Women of childbearing age should limit caffeine intake to 300 mg per day; other healthy adults should consume no more than 400 mg daily. (One 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has 95 to 200 mg of caffeine, one cup of black tea has 14 to 70 mg and one cup of green tea has 25 to 45 mg.) Cut yourself off caffeine by 12 noon.
You sip on wine after dinner
A nightcap or two before bed may help you fall asleep but it disrupts sleep by causing you to wake up in the second half of the night. Even imbibing during “happy hour” or with dinner, without further consumption before bedtime, can increase wakefulness during the night.
Consuming more than two drinks can also steal time spent in REM sleep, the stage important for memory and learning. Plus, alcohol dehydrates you, which can worsen fatigue the next day.
If you do drink, limit your intake to 1 alcoholic drink per day (e.g. 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of sprits, 12 ounces of beer).
You don’t get enough iron
An iron deficiency, even without anemia, can cause fatigue and lethargy. Iron rich foods include beef, oysters, clams, turkey, chicken, tuna, pork loin and halibut, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, soybeans, lentils, baked beans, black beans, firm tofu, cooked spinach, raisins and prune juice.
Menstruating women should take a multivitamin and mineral supplement to help meet daily iron requirements (18 mg or 32 mg for vegetarians).
You’re running low on B12
Too little B12 can also cause you to feel tired. The vitamin is used to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your body.
B12 is found in all animal foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy) and non-dairy beverages and soy products fortified with the nutrient. You can also get B12 from a multivitamin or B complex supplement.
Older adults, vegans, heavy drinkers and people on long-term acid-blocking medication are at risk of B12 deficiency. If you’re concerned you might be low in B12 (or iron) speak to your doctor about getting tested.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.