Eating for Energy
Energy; what is it, how do we get it, how do we keep it and what saps it?
How do we define energy?
I would say something along the lines of feeling clear headed, motivated, alert and having the enthusiasm to carry out whatever task you have to, as well as having the physical energy to actually do it.
What saps our energy?
I think there are two biggies here, stress and sugar. They often go together, with stress leading us to reach for something sugary. You know how it goes; you have a mid afternoon slump and just have to have a chocolate bar or a muffin. We look for what we perceive will give us a quick energy hit.
What happens when we have that muffin or chocolate bar is that our blood sugar spikes, followed by a release of the hormone insulin to push that sugar (glucose) in our cells. So a short while later our blood sugar is low, we feel tired again and we reach out for another quick sweet hit.
Along with the blood sugar highs and lows, go fluctuations in mood and motivation and at the end of a day where you’ve been grazing on sweet treats you will more than likely feel very fatigued and demotivated.
I’m sometimes asked what particular foods could/should someone eat for energy. There are no magic foods when it comes to eating for energy. There is a lot of hype around so called energy drinks and energy bars and products, but all food contains energy, it’s just a matter of which ones are better for good health and sustained energy.
Rather than just relying on food to boost your energy, there is a combination of several factors that will make a difference to energy levels during the day.
- Breakfast. Firstly and very importantly – start your day with a decent breakfast. That does not mean grabbing a takeaway coffee and a muffin at the drive through on the way to work!
Overnight we have fasted and by morning our fuel supply is low. Carbohydrates are our body’s primary source of fuel, so we need to include a source of carbohydrate at breakfast. It’s also a good opportunity to get some fibre in.
Porridge (oats) makes an excellent breakfast. It doesn’t get any cheaper or more natural than a bowl of oats with milk or yoghurt and some fruit. Oats are just oats, with no additives and qualify as real food. Try soaking your oats overnight for a creamier breakfast. There are many different things you can add to your oats such as frozen berries, banana, dried fruit, seeds, nuts, LSA, etc, depending on your energy requirement.
If porridge isn’t your thing, then look for a higher fibre, lower sugar type cereal served with low fat dairy and fruit. Eggs are a great start to the day too, ideally with grainy toast.
- Eating regularly during the day Ideally, to maintain an even blood sugar level, we should eat small snacks and meals every 3-4 hours during the day. These meals and snacks should be a balance of protein and carbohydrate, with some good fats added in too.
- Hydration. We don’t get the same cue to drink on colder days, but we still need fluid. In summer we tend to eat more salads, and salad veggies have a high water content, but in winter the inclination is to eat much stodgier foods and vegetables.If cold water doesn’t appeal, you might try drinking more tea and herbal teas, or lemon juice and hot water. Sip regularly throughout the day to help maintain energy levels and clear thinking.
- Eating low glycaemic foods. Foods with a lower GI do not spike your blood sugar levels so rapidly, meaning less insulin spikes and better fat burning.Simple and high sugar foods provide a quick energy lift, but that lift doesn’t last for long. Sugar is most definitely an energy sapper and elevated blood sugar levels are extremely damaging to every cell in our body.
- Include protein and fibre with each meal. Combining protein and carbohydrate in the same meal or snack once again helps prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar after you have eaten your meal. This is not at all complicated, it just means having a source of protein (e.g. chicken, meat, eggs, fish, nuts, yoghurt, etc) with vegetables, crackers, fruit or another source of carbohydrate.
- Moderate your portion sizes. I often see clients who don’t eat much during the day, but who come home and eat a huge meal at night.It takes a lot of energy for your body to break down and digest your meals and if you eat a huge meal, it is going to cost your body a lot of energy to digest and assimilate it. (think, ‘the after Christmas dinner couch collapse’!) It is a better scheme to eat smaller meals regularly during the day to provide a constant supply of energy. Aim to eat more during the day and then taper off your meals towards the end of the day.
- Exercise. If you are feeling tired, exercise is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But when you elevate your heart rate through exercise, it means more oxygen is being delivered to your cells, which means you feel more energetic and alert. Exercise wakes you up, warms you up and it also helps reduce stress levels. Remember, stress is a major energy sapper.If you are feeling a bit sleepy at work, stand up and move around, swing your arms, get your blood pumping. If that’s not practical, try sitting up straight and taking long, slow, deep breaths. It will increase the amount of oxygen going to your brain and improve your alertness.
- Lastly, are you getting enough quality sleep. Lack of sleep is very stressful on the body and if it goes on for a period of time it is very detrimental to health, as well as being a big factor in why you may be tired. Beware of caffeine if you are having trouble staying asleep as caffeine stays in your body for many hours after you have consumed it. Drinking alcohol too can result in restless sleep.
The importance of protein in our diet
The majority of our foods contain carbohydrate. All our fruit and veggies are carbs, all cereals, pasta, rice, grains, crackers, biscuits, cakes, muffins, cereal bars are predominantly carbs. Most dairy contains carbs. It’s very easy to get enough carbohydrates in our daily diet, but we need to balance them out with quality protein.
Protein is not only important to help prevent sugar spikes, but proteins are the building blocks of the body and are responsible for all the growth, maintenance and repair work that is constantly going on in our bodies.
Proteins are the most important and most complex components of the human body and, after water, proteins are the most important foods we eat.
Proteins are our messengers. All our hormones are proteins. Proteins are our defenders. Our immune system antibodies are all proteins. All movement is controlled by enzymes, all enzymes are proteins.
They control every thought we have and every move we make. For a quality body, we need to eat quality proteins.
There is a difference between being really busy and under pressure to meet deadlines, and being stressed. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your workload or life situation and it is ongoing without respite, you may be, or become, stressed.
Chronic, ongoing stress is extremely detrimental to our bodies and affects every cell, every organ and our health may eventually become compromised. If you are stressed, you are probably fatigued too.
Things that will help deal with stress naturally are adopting the habits listed above, including eating good food regularly throughout the day, eating low GI foods, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Making time for yourself and sharing good times with good friends also helps reduce stress levels. Read more about stress and how it affects your body here.
Are there any supplements to help deal with stress?
B Vitamins are what our bodies use to help deal with stress. If you are constantly stressed, through work, relationship issues, financial issues, illness, or similar, it’s quite possible that you may be low in B vitamins.
B vitamins also help digest, assimilate and release energy from what we eat, so if you are low in B vitamins you will probably be low in energy.
It may be a good idea to supplement with a high strength multivitamin and mineral product daily. There are also specific supplements that act to help your body deal with stress and it may be worth talking to someone knowledgeable about these.
To find out more about how to help with your energy levels, contact Lynda now