A lack of energy isn’t the enemy; it’s a warning signal that there may very well be an enemy lurking, threatening your ability to function with the passion of a beautiful being. But you can reset your system and successfully power up. It starts with increased awareness and some action steps in the right direction.
Last month we answered three questions about your energy level. This month we tackle a few more.
Q: Are there specific foods that promote energy during a workday?
A: Yes, what you eat and how frequently will help increase your energy and stamina. For example, eating a doughnut with your cup of coffee in the morning may give you a boost, but since there’s no complex carbs, fiber or protein, that boost won’t last. Your glucose level and energy will crash in no time. To prevent this energy (and insulin) rollercoaster ride, eat small meals of complex carbs, protein and fiber every four hours or so. Some great choices for mini-meals include oatmeal with skim milk and fresh fruits; nuts, dried fruit and yogurt; even veggies and hummus. Also, make sure you’re drinking enough water to keep your energy level up.
Q: What about foods for peak performance before, during and after
A: If you eat healthful meals and nutritious snacks throughout the day, you’ve probably already got a good energy store for your workout. But if you need to fuel yourself before your workout, you want to limit it to around 200 calories.
Before high-intensity aerobics or cardio, you’ll benefit from a mix of carbohydrates—focus on foods with a low or medium glycemic index—to sustain your energy and improve endurance. Also, get some lean protein and healthy fats to help repair and maintain your muscle tissue. After your aerobics or cardio, try a handful of trail mix that has walnuts, dried fruit, whole-grain pretzels or a fruit smoothie made with low-fat yogurt and fruit. The combination of carbohydrates and lean protein helps your body’s recovery, replenishes your glycogen stores, and the protein (dairy protein, especially) provides important amino acids that work to repair damaged muscle tissue.
Strength training requires more protein than other exercises, but, unless you’re Lance Armstrong or Mia Hamm, you probably get more than enough protein as it is. Research suggests that when you get your protein may be key to building muscle mass. Grab a meal with protein, especially skim milk or low-fat, no-sugar-added yogurt right after your workout, and you may benefit from a greater increase in muscle mass than if you wait a few hours. In addition, you’ll need an adequate amount of carbs to make it through that final set. And don’t forget some healthy fats to round out your diet; try some whole-grain crackers with peanut butter and a small glass of 100 percent veggie or fruit juice.
A pre-workout snack isn’t essential for low-sweat activities like yoga and tai chi. But if you’re hungry, try a banana for potassium and two crackers for carbs. You’ll need a good supply of carbohydrates for stamina, as well as protein and fats to help repair and maintain your muscle tissue. Also, including omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C in your diet will help keep your joints and connective tissue healthy.
And don’t forget about your friend H2O. Make sure you’re replacing any water lost through perspiration; the more you lose to sweat, the less efficient your body becomes, and that will affect your performance.
Q: My husband is a big coffee drinker in the morning. Does caffeine really help with your energy level?
A: His daily cup of java may do more than get him going and out the door. The caffeine might also reduce his risk for blood sugar disorders probably by improving insulin sensitivity. Improving insulin sensitivity keeps him off the blood-sugar rollercoaster ride that can exacerbate already low energy. Just make sure you don’t rely solely on energy drinks (without sugar or equivalents added please—read the label) or coffee to keep your energy going.
Q: Does low energy say something about your overall health?
A: Have you felt tired for so long that it’s your new normal? Do you feel tired when you wake up even after sleeping a full eight hours every night for a week? Do you feel like you have to use every ounce of your energy just to move? If you answered yes to any of these, it could be a sign that your energy systems are slightly (or completely) out of whack. To help you get turbocharged, check your sleep habits (you want six to eight hours a night), walk daily (10,000 steps a day—no excuses!), drink plenty of water and cut back on saturated fat and sugar.
Q: What are some other ways to improve your overall energy level?
A: For some extra help, try:
B vitamins—You need B vitamins for well-functioning mitochondria, the parts of your cells that turn food into energy. Unfortunately, 99 percent of us don’t get enough from diet. But most of us absorb the B vitamins well (either in liquid or pill form), so it’s a good idea to take half a multivitamin in the morning and at night (twice a day to keep stable levels) to keep you energized. Also, get your B level checked once a year. You may be the rare person who needs a yearly injection of vitamin B, because you don’t absorb it well from your stomach and intestines.
DHA—This is the active form of good omega-3 fats for your brain and energy factories, and it helps keep the nerves firing to your muscles. We recommend getting it from either fish oil (3 grams daily) or a DHA supplement (900 milligrams daily).
Ribose—This is a sugar your body makes naturally. It’s not found in food, but you can get extra in supplement form. Just check with your doctor first, as it’s not right for everyone. If your MD gives the green light, you could try 500 milligrams three times a day for a week.