Energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. with the demands of today’s busy lifestyles, often combined with too few hours of quality sleep, poor eating habits and little or no exercise, it is no surprise that many of us may experience suboptimal energy levels. the good news, however, is that there is plenty we can do to optimize our energy levels.
Whilst it is normal to experience small daily energy fluctuations – notable energy fluctuations are not inevitable. In most cases, you can take control of your energy levels by following the top food for energy tips listed below. You can also review previous posts on the importance of sleep and activity – which will have an effect on energy levels also.
Think of your body as a car that needs fuel to run efficiently. Without enough or the right type of fuel, it will not function at its best. Food is your fuel and optimized energy is about eating the right foods at the right times whilst avoiding the wrong ones at the wrong times. This sounds quite simple but is often easier said than done. Following these tips should help simplify.
FOR OPTIMAL ENERGY
- Balance your meals: combine the three food groups – carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Eating these together enhances nutrient absorption and the release of energy, whilst also keeping us satisfied until the next meal. For example: chicken or fish (protein), plenty of colorful vegetables (carbohydrates) and a drizzle of olive oil (fats).
- Eat at the optimal time: eat meals before getting hungry – hunger is a sign that blood sugar is dropping and already impacting energy levels. Eat breakfast within one to two hours of waking, lunch approximately four hours later, and dinner within six hours of lunch. If you have a day job, if possible, eat dinner before 7pm.
- Do not skip meals: skipping meals depletes energy. This is also counterproductive when trying to lose weight as eating properly increases your metabolism, which burns more calories.
- Snack pre and/or post intense exercise: our bodies need energy to sustain exercise and to recover to become stronger and fitter. Coincidentally, exercise is known to be a natural energy booster and mood lifter!
- Consume plenty of nutrient-dense foods: the following nutrients, when deficient, can decrease energy:
- Iron: found in red meat, spinach, beans, pulses and cashew nuts.
- Vitamin D: found in eggs and oily fish but mainly obtained from safe exposure to sun!
- B-vitamins: found in avocado, poultry, almonds, potatoes and oats.
- Zinc: found in beans, pulses, shiitake mushrooms, oysters, sunflower seeds and red meat.
- Magnesium: found in sunflower seeds, broccoli, rocket, beans, pulses and brown or wild rice.
- Essential fatty acids: particularly omega 3’s in oily fish (salmon, anchovies, mackerel, herring, sardines etc).
TO AVOID SUBOPTIMAL ENERGY
- Reduce highly refined foods, sweets and fruit juices: these all raise blood sugar levels quickly, making you feel highly energized, but only for a very short time. These foods raise blood sugars quickly but also make them drop quickly to even lower levels. This causes you to feel sluggish whilst also leaving you craving more, which makes these foods hard to resist. Eat nutrient dense and fresh foods to avoid falling into this trap!
- Avoid “energy” snacks: be cautious when snacks say they provide energy. As described above, these often only provide short-term boosts – aim for long-term sustained energy and health. Snacks are great to deal with hunger in between meals and prevent overeating but choose them wisely: nuts, fruit, seeds and raw vegetables with hummus are great options.
- Plan ahead: consider carrying healthy snacks with you such as fresh fruit, nuts, and protein bars full of nuts and seeds to stop you reaching for the sugary refined snacks when you’re hungry.
- Too many calories: whilst too few calories can lead to suboptimal energy levels – too many can do the same! Eating too much requires the body to use energy to digest and absorb the large amount of food which is why you often feel sleepy after a big meal.
- Eating before going to bed: a small light snack before bed may aid sleep – however, heavy dinners late at night should be avoided as these will make you feel sluggish the next day.