Food is not only one of life’s pleasures; it is also the body’s primary form of energy. If you feel sluggish and out of vigor before the day is over, you may want to think about how and with what you are feeding your body. Just as your car can’t function properly without the right fuel, either can your body. Consider implementing these dietary strategies to increase your energy during the day.
Make sure to get your body engine revved up by consuming a meal within 1-2 hours of waking. If left on “empty” from the previous day, the body will remain in a fasted (or idle) state conserving instead of using energy stores (“break the fast”). This may take a little practice for some as true hunger signals need to wake up daily and may not surface until the later hours of the day.
After consuming a balanced meal, the body’s blood sugar level raises and drops in a four-hour bell shape curve. If mealtimes are delayed, blood sugar will drop, and energy levels can plummet. If your schedule prevents regular mealtimes, it is important to plan for snacks.
Don’t Discount Carbohydrates
In recent years, carbohydrates have been viewed as “bad” or fattening foods. There are no bad foods but rather only bad habits that have developed with these foods. Carbohydrates are the body’s only source of energy for brain function. Choosing fiber rich carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains most often will give the body the “gas” needed to perform efficiently and provide overall health. Watch out for energy drinks and sweetened coffee drinks that give a large dose of carbohydrate (i.e., sugar) and quick burst of energy, but then subsequently drop the blood sugar too low causing greater fatigue and lethargy.
Protein keeps us full and helps maintain a level blood sugar until the next time we fuel our bodies. Including a protein food at most meals is common in the American diet, but the lack of protein found in a typical snack is a major dietary downfall. For example, adding a small handful of nuts to an apple for a mid-morning snack will hold the blood sugar level until a meal is consumed a few hours later. Lean proteins such as reduced fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, chicken, fish, and beans are recommended protein sources.
Walking around in a state of dehydration can cause the body to feel tired and fatigued. A good rule of thumb for hydration needs is to drink in ounces half of your body weight throughout the day. Foods such as low-fat dairy products, vegetables and fruits contain a large water content which also contributes to recommended daily fluid needs. Watch your intake of caffeinated beverages, energy drinks and sodas (regular and diet) as they may further contribute to dehydration.
Busy schedules may make eating on the run normal with little attention to how much or how quickly our body is fed. An internal feeding mechanism does exist between our brain and stomach that signals when we have eaten enough. Unfortunately, it takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to process this connection, so if meals or snacks are consumed in a shorter time frame, chances are the amount eaten is more than your body needs. A larger food intake diverts energy to digestion which leads to difficulty staying awake after a large meal.
You might think that popping a few vitamins will give you energy. They don’t directly provide fuel to the body, but they are the “keys” that unlock the energy stored in foods. That’s why most (with a few notable exceptions like iron) supplements should be consumed with food and not on an empty stomach. If your diet is not as balanced as you would like, consider taking a multivitamin supplement containing no more than 100% of the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) to fill in the deficient spots.
Making these dietary changes just might be the tune up your body needs!