Who doesn’t want to have more energy to power through a busy day? The purpose of eating is to supply your body with macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein) it can convert to energy. Yet some foods give you short-term energy bursts followed by an equally precipitous fall.
You’ve probably heard the advice to eat foods that give you energy. Good advice! But what about the opposite? What about foods that zap your energy? These are typically processed and junk foods, like soda, candy bars, and potato chips. They may make you feel energized for a brief time, but you feel fatigued an hour or two later. Plus, these foods affect your long-term energy levels and health. Let’s explore these types of foods in more detail below!
Processed Foods and Refined Carbohydrates
Sugar is one of the biggest culprits for triggering an energy crash but so are refined carbohydrates. When you eat sugar or refined carbs, your blood sugar rises quickly, which causes your body to release insulin—a hormone that helps lower blood sugar levels by converting sugar into fat or glycogen (a form of short-term energy storage). You need insulin to get glucose into cells, but if you eat too much sugar or refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels become unstable and unpredictable, which can lead to fatigue and a mood crash.
To avoid these effects, try cutting back on simple carbs like white breads, pastas, cereals, and soda in favor of complex carbs like non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Consume a source of protein and healthy fats at every meal to help stabilize your blood glucose level and prevent energy crashes. Think out of the box and package for more energy and stamina.
Soda is in a category of its own when it comes to energy crashes. The combination of sugar and caffeine causes brief energy surges followed by a plummeting energy level. Soda isn’t just bad for your waistline — it’s harmful for brain and mental health too. When you drink soda, your blood sugar spikes and crashes as soon as the sugar is gone from your system. This causes energy highs and lows, making it harder to concentrate and stay focused. Drink more water instead or choose a healthier flavored beverage such as unsweetened green tea.
You might think sugar-free sodas are the answer, but they come with problems too. Some studies show artificial sweeteners disrupt the gut microbiome and contribute to obesity in ways other than through calorie-mediated mechanisms. So, lighten up on the soda or eliminate them entirely. If you need to cut back gradually replace one soda each week with water or a healthier beverage like tea.
The caffeine in coffee has a half-life of about five hours. This means that after five hours, half of the caffeine will have left your body. That’s why many people drink coffee in the morning to get going — by late morning or early afternoon, coffee drinkers are ready for another cup, as their energy level crashes. Therefore, coffee drinkers often need another cup or two throughout the day just to stay awake.
Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain. Adenosine is a chemical that makes you feel tired when it binds with your receptors. Caffeine binds to those receptors, preventing adenosine from doing its job. This boosts alertness for about three to five hours after drinking a caffeinated beverage. But if you drink coffee consistently, your brain builds more adenosine receptors, so you get less energy and alertness over time unless you increase your caffeine intake. If you cut back on caffeine, you’ll feel tired.
Don’t forget the boost you get from coffee is only temporary, so it’s not a reliable energy booster. Plus, if you’re starting the day with a bagel (a source of refined carbohydrates) and coffee, you’re increasing the odds of an energy crash later in the day.
A glass of red wine at dinner might sound like a way to relax but it could cause you to feel TOO relaxed. Plus, alcohol is a depressant, so it can make you feel sleepy and relaxed. It also causes dehydration and can leave you feeling sluggish the next day.
If you drink too much alcohol at once, this can cause your blood sugar (glucose) level to drop suddenly, which causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia usually causes symptoms such as shakiness and sweating.
But there’s more. Alcohol interferes with several neurotransmitters in your brain: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and glutamate. The more alcohol you consume, the more these neurotransmitters become unbalanced and the more it will affect your mood and energy level. Best to avoid it or only have an occasional drink.
Drink More Water
Many people are dehydrated without realizing it and even mild dehydration can cause fatigue and lack of energy. The human body is 60 percent water, and you need to replenish the water you lose through sweat, urine, and other bodily fluids.
When you’re dehydrated, your body can’t function properly. Your blood volume drops, which means less oxygen gets to your muscles and brain. This can lead to fatigue and lightheadedness. You may also experience headaches, dry mouth and difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly.
Dehydration can affect your mood as well as your physical health. If you’re not drinking enough water during exercise or hot weather, you may feel irritable or anxious because of the lack of electrolytes in your system. Monitor the color of your urine to ensure you’re hydrating enough. It should be a pale yellow or clear.
Now you know some of the worst eating and drinking habits that can zap your energy and lead to energy crashes. If you’re tired, take a closer look at your diet.
- “Mild Dehydration Triggers Moodiness & Fatigue in Women.” 30 May. 2013, https://www.livescience.com/36106-mild-dehydration-triggers-moodiness-fatigue-women.html.
- “Can I Drink Alcohol with Diabetes? Why Does Drinking Alcohol Cause ….” 26 May. 2021, https://www.beyonddiabetesnutrition.ca/post/alcohol-diabetes-hypoglycemia.
- Ruiz-Ojeda FJ, Plaza-Díaz J, Sáez-Lara MJ, Gil A. Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials. Adv Nutr. 2019 Jan 1;10(suppl_1):S31-S48. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmy037. Erratum in: Adv Nutr. 2020 Mar 1;11(2):468. PMID: 30721958; PMCID: PMC6363527.
- “Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar – The Nutrition Source.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/.
- “Why Refined Carbs Are Bad For You – Healthline.” 04 Jun. 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-refined-carbs-are-bad.