by Heidi Smith, CINHC, CCWS, CMP
If you have ever reached for something caffeinated or sugary mid-morning or mid-afternoon, it is likely that you are not getting the proper nutrition to sustain your energy level throughout the day.
Many Americans skip breakfast or have a donut and coffee on the way into work and then by 10 o’clock, they are feeling sleepy or sluggish and reach for something else that is sugary or caffeinated to keep them going through the day. The key to better energy is better nutrition, and there are some simple rules to follow that will help you to maintain a constant energy level throughout the day.
So what does “better nutrition” mean? The answer is actually pretty simple: A proper, nutritious dietary lifestyle means eating a balance of lean proteins, healthy carbs and healthy fats. Additionally, it is important to drink enough water, get the proper amount of sleep and get daily exercise. Combining these elements will truly help to improve your energy and your overall health.
What Your Body and Brain Needs for Energy
The body needs energy to function and our energy comes from the things we eat and drink so it is key to focus on nutrient rich foods. The three most important nutrients that we need for energy come from lean proteins, healthy fats and healthy (complex) carbohydrates. These elements are rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids which are essential for the production of neurochemicals. We also need antioxidants that come from fruits and vegetables to help repair the brain and we need proper hydration. Without these key elements, the body and brain cannot function properly which causes us to feel tired, sluggish and can even lead to sickness and disease.
What happens is that our bodies use proteins and fats for energy when the carbohydrates have been depleted. The body breaks down the foods we eat and absorbs them like fuel and you would know this as the process called metabolism.
What Depletes Your Energy?
There are two different types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. The ones you want to avoid are the simple carbs which include things like foods high in sugar (soft drinks, candy, pastry), white foods (pasta, bread), high fat foods (potato chips, French fries), processed foods (frozen dinners, pre-packaged foods), too much caffeine or alcohol, not enough water and not enough sleep.
These foods, particularly the high-sugar and caffeinated items will provide an instant and short-term boost of energy that may last for 30-60 minutes. Because those simple carbs are digested so quickly, they will then lead to an energy slump almost immediately afterward.
Similarly, caffeine will provide a quick burst of energy followed by a crash and alcohol just reduces your energy as it is a depressant and may make you feel “uninhibited” but not energized.
Things to Sustain Your Energy
I like to encourage my clients to focus on clean, whole foods and reduce or eliminate any processed and fast foods. Really work on getting down to the basics and even keep a journal of what you eat throughout the day and how you feel after you eat. This process will help you to be aware of what you are eating and it will help you to begin understanding the way certain foods affect your body and your energy level.
Here are some simple steps to help you keep your energy level at its peak all day long:
- Eat more lean proteins – like chicken, turkey, fish, legumes and beans.
- Incorporate more color into your meals – the more colorful your fruits and vegetables are, the more nutrients they have and the more energy you will get from them.
- Start each day with breakfast – Whole grains like steel cut oats or a poached egg on a slice of whole grain toast with avocado is a great way to start your day and it will keep you from feeling hungry until lunch. It is important to add in foods that are high in fiber, as well as fiber helps you to feel fuller longer and provides more sustained energy.
- Drink plenty of water – a good rule to follow is to take your body weight, divide in half and that gives you the number, in ounces, of water you should drink daily.
- Swap out your fats – instead of slathering butter on your toast or vegetables, use mashed avocado on your toast or spray a small amount good quality olive oil on your veggies and season lightly with a touch of sea salt or other seasoning.
- Get enough sleep – for most adults 7-8 hours is still really optimal for quality sleep which will reenergize your entire body and your brain.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol and sugary beverages – if you can do it, eliminate these three altogether. If you still need to have something, limit to no more than one per day. It truly will make your sleep more productive and will have lasting impact on your energy level.
- Incorporate mindfulness or meditation into your day – some people don’t know where to begin with the practice of mindfulness or meditation but there are many great resources in your local community and online that can help you to get started. Even the most basic practice, incorporated for at least 10 minutes, twice a day, can give your brain time to quiet and relax which, in turn, helps to renew your energy level.
- Get up and move! – One of the most frequent things I hear from clients is that they are too busy to exercise and to that I say, “We all have time!” Whether you are busy at the office or busy at home taking care of kids and your home, exercise can be done in many ways and many forms. Something as simple is scheduling time to get up from your desk every 45 minutes to stretch or do a few squats will help to get your blood circulating and will get oxygen flowing to your brain. While on a conference call or if you are home cleaning house, do some leg lifts or toe raises to get moving. Every small effort adds up to bigger rewards. There are some great apps available to show you simple exercises you can do anywhere that will help to increase your energy without necessarily having to go to the gym or break a sweat.
Heidi Smith, CINHC, CCWS, CMP is the founder of the Integrative Wellness Studio in Chicago, Illinois. For more information on Coach Heidi visit Integrative Wellness Studio