Feel like you’re dragging your heels lately? Are you noticing a slump in your energy each afternoon? A lot of us could use extra energy support. We’re working longer hours, getting less amounts of sleep, and are constantly stimulated. The amount of responsibilities and roles we have make a work-life-balance more challenging as it chips away our energy reserves. Here are 6 easy ways to help support your energy levels, if you can make them part of your routine and lifestyle.
1| Morning protein and daily protein requirements
When it comes to energy, the type of food we consume as our first meal carries a great deal of importance. When proteins and healthy fats are emphasized in our meals they help control satiety while providing a rich source of fuel compared to carbohydrates and sugars.
Carbohydrate-rich foods such as cereals, pastries and toast are often associated with “breakfast foods,” however, they can actually work against our bodies by creating a fast dump of sugars into the body. Insulin must then work to deliver this sugar into your muscle cells, while extra sugars are stored in the liver as glycogen. These sharp spikes and drops in blood sugar often leave us with more sugar and carb cravings, and the crashes can set back our mood and energy.
The most recent guidelines recommend consuming 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day, with the first meal of the day incorporating 20-30g of protein.
For someone who is fatigued, physical activity and energy usually consume a never-ending Catch-22 loop. We know that exercising regularly can improve our energy and sleep quality, but not having the energy to actually get started and exercise can be real road-block. Though it can be challenging to start a new workout routine, the benefits are definitely worth it.
To get yourself started, pick an activity that you actually want to do; Something that looks interesting or fun and that would bring you joy. Find an environment that you want to be in: a fitness class or sport surrounded by like-minded people, a solitary activity like Yoga or Zumba in your living room, swinging a kettle bell in your backyard, or jogging along the boardwalk. Your second task is to remember what it feels like when you’re finished your workout. Take a moment and thank yourself. Remember this feeling and use it whenever you need to kick yourself to get back at it again. Make the time in your schedule. You and your health should be one of your top priorities.
3| Clean up the diet: Eliminate wheat and processed foods
Just as energy sources in the diet have importance, as do eliminating the foods that can cause fatigue.
There are certain foods that tend to interfere in our mood and energy levels. These may differ from person to person, but certain foods turn up repeatedly in cases of fatigue. It’s no surprise that wheat products and gluten-containing foods make us sluggish. They’re harder to digest, can cause inflammatory responses in the body, create extra bloating and gas, and literally weigh us down. When we eat wheat-based foods like breads, pastas, cookies, pizzas, we tend to consume more even after our bellies are full. In addition to accidentally over-eating, we opt for more carbs instead of vegetables, proteins, or healthy fats.
Processed foods also pose a problem, as they often contain very little nutrition. Think of your body as a high-end sports car with an empty tank of gas. By filing up the tank with sludge, you fix the problem of having an empty tank, but the car isn’t going to run on sludge. It requires the proper fuel, otherwise, you won’t be going very far.
Other foods that can cause fatigue will depend on the individual. IgG immune reactions to food antigens can cause fatigue, but this needs to be properly tested for and assessed by a health-care practitioner or naturopathic doctor.
4| Cut out caffeine and alcohol, replace them both with water
Many of us believe that caffeine helps our energy. We use coffee and tea for waking up and when we need an afternoon pick-me-up, but caffeine can keep cortisol levels elevated. For this reason, it is best to delay a morning coffee as long as you can after waking: Cortisol is naturally at its highest level in the morning after waking. By delaying morning caffeine, you allow the body to naturally induce its own normal waking cortisol spike. This promotes more natural cortisol (stress) responses throughout the day.
Alcohol, as we know, is a depressant drug. Often used for relaxation or personal enjoyment, alcohol can increase fatigue while interfering with sleep quality. Alcohol has been shown to interfere in the regulation of the circadian rhythm, our sleep-wake cycle, while also increasing nasal congestion – a huge cause of snoring and sleep apnea, both of which lead to daytime fatigue.
5| Get out in nature: Forest walking
Cities, and our working lives in general, can be chaotic. Whether you’re taking care of children at home, or taking care of client cases at work, everyone needs a break. Allow yourself time to recharge on a weekly or even daily basis. Have some quiet time, get out into nature. If you have the opportunity to walk through the forest, or along a trail, I highly recommend it. Leave your earbuds at home and put your phone on silent. Give yourself as little as 5 minutes, or even up to an hour, to just be. Inhale fresh air, hug a tree, walk barefoot through the grass, practice a meditation or just walk. Give your brain a break from the constant influx of stimulating information, including noises, distractions, “News feed” stories. Take a break. Walk and be in the moment.
Western society has been on a very slippery slope when it comes to sleep. We’re working longer hours, pushing bedtime later and later. On average we’re sleeping 20% less than we did a hundred years ago.
Sleep is critical for repairing and restoring the body’s tissues. In addition to consolidating and reinforcing our memories, sleep regulates key hormones, gene expression, and blood sugar levels.
Getting 6 hours per night or less (3 days per week for 3 consecutive months) is considered sleep deprivation. Short term, sleep deprivation causes impaired performance, attention and memory while keeping cortisol elevated. Worse still, it impairs insulin sensitivity and blood glucose regulation and increases the hormone ghrelin: a hormone that increases hunger.
All of these factors together create the perfect storm of fatigue, both short-term and long-term.
Changing our habits is no easy feat. The tips above sound simple, and they can be, but they require dedication to your personal well-being and health, and going with that, self-discipline.
How can you incorporate these changes?
Start slow. Drink one less cup of coffee per day, and instead, 2 extra glasses of lemon water. Or, if you’re getting only 6 hours of sleep per night, work to add on extra sleep by going to bed 15 minutes earlier than your habitual bedtime. You can make smaller changes at a time as long as you keep working towards your goal. Put these guidelines into place and see how your body and energy responds.
Dr. Sarah King, ND, is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, graduating from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2014. Prior to completing her medical studies, she attended Nipissing University where she received her Honors Bachelor of Science in Biology. Sarah has a passion for women’s health and is a birth doula in Durham and Toronto Region. She treats a wide variety of health conditions including menstrual disorders and hormone balancing, fertility, prenatal care, digestive concerns, skincare and mental health/anxiety. Outside the office Sarah is an avid runner with a love of the GTA’s best forest trails. She also continues to improve her yoga practice and teaches breath work as part of stress management counselling to her patients.