Do you often feel like you’re “dragging” by the midday, struggling to muster up the energy to stay productive through the rest of the LONG afternoon? Most of us encounter that problem at one time or another, but for some people, it’s an all too frequent occurrence. So what do you do to ramp up your energy level? Do you reach for a cup of coffee with a spoonful of sugar, hoping the caffeine and the sugar will get you through the rest of the day?
Unfortunately, the boost you get from the caffeinated coffee will be short-lived and once your brain “adjusts” to the caffeine load you’re sending it every day, you no longer feel the same degree of alertness. At that point, you’ll have to drink more coffee or end up feeling zapped of energy once again. Fortunately, there are better ways to keep your energy level up, whether you’re working at the office or on the go.
Adjust Your Dietary Habits To Improve Your Energy Level
As you might expect, diet has a lot to do with how energetic you feel. Sugar is a “quick fix” for a flagging energy level, but only a short-term one. Food is converted to energy at different rates, depending upon its macronutrient composition. Sugar and simple carbohydrates are absorbed rapidly and lead to a rapid rise and fall in energy level. Ditch the sugary pick-me-ups and go for slow-burning, fiber-rich carbohydrates sources that keep your blood sugar stable. Think non-starchy vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean sources of protein.
Begin your day with intention. Start with a protein-rich breakfast and fiber-rich carbs, like oatmeal, that is slowly converted to energy, so you don’t get a steep rise and drop in glucose level, which may cause you to feel tired and unable to focus. Then, have a small snack every 4 hours consisting of protein and slowly absorbed, fiber-rich carbs. No, a pack of nabs from the vending machine won’t cut it. Instead, try almond butter on whole grain crackers, string cheese, or half a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. You may find when you start the day with a protein-rich breakfast, you don’t need a snack since your blood sugar is more stable, your energy level stays high, and the hunger pangs are kept at bay.
Increase Your Fluid Intake
It’s easy to get so busy that you don’t take water breaks. One study showed even mild dehydration can zap your energy level, cause you to feel sleepy, and make it harder to focus. Keep a stainless steel water bottle filled with water at work and by your side when you’re out and about and refill it every hour or so. Every cell in your body needs water to function properly, including brain cells. If you’re not keeping your cells and tissues hydrated, you’ll feel it.
Most people don’t realize that even mild dehydration can make you feel bad. In one study involving healthy, young women, those who were even mildly dehydrated experienced fatigue and had more difficulty concentrating. The reason you feel tired may have been partly because you’re not drinking enough water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink!
Reassess Your Sleep Habits
It goes without saying that you need at least 7 hours of sleep a night to feel your best. If you’re already getting that amount and still feel tired, look more closely at your sleep quality. If you’re waking up frequently during the night or sleeping so lightly that you don’t enter the deeper stages of sleep, your energy level will suffer. Make sure the room you’re sleeping in is completely dark to maximize your brain’s release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
Don’t sleep with your cell phone, computer, or other electronic devices that give off EMFs (electromagnetic fields) next to your bed. Although not proven, there’s some question as to whether these waves can interfere with your body’s circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. It’s also best to avoid using these devices within an hour or two of bedtime.
Choose When You Exercise Wisely
For some people, working out first thing in the morning is energizing and gives the power and stamina to push through the day. Experiment and see whether working out first thing helps you avoid the mid-day doldrums. If you exercise as soon as you wake up, be sure to optimize your nutrition and drink enough fluid before, during and afterward. Don’t forget that a little low-intensity exercise during the day, getting up to walk around every hour, can also help you recharge. Paradoxically, the less we move, the more tired we feel!
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Key Nutrients
Even if you’re getting enough calories and macronutrients, you can still feel tired and run down if you lack enough B-vitamins or have a low vitamin D or iron level. B vitamins support cellular energy production. People who are deficient in vitamin B12, in particular, may suffer from fatigue and brain fog.
Low vitamin D is another cause of fatigue and muscle weakness and most people are unaware that they’re deficient. As you already know, low iron levels are linked with iron-deficiency anemia, a common cause of fatigue and lack of energy. Fortunately, there are blood tests that can determine whether you’re low in these components that are essential for feeling your best. Ask your doctor about this.
How’s Your Health?
If you’ve adjusted your diet and sleep habits and still feel drained of energy, talk to your doctor. A number of health problems can zap your energy, including an under-active thyroid, undiagnosed diabetes, undiagnosed allergies, hormonal changes associated with menopause, chronic stress, sleep apnea, anemia, and even common prescription medications, especially some blood pressure medications and antihistamines, used to treat allergy symptoms. If it’s a recurrent or persistent problem, get it checked out!
The Bottom Line
A low energy level is not infrequently associated with lifestyle factors like diet and mild dehydration, but it can also be a sign of health problems. Make sure you’re eating a diet that gives you sustained energy, getting enough key nutrients like vitamin D, drinking enough water, and sleeping enough at night.
Medscape Family Medicine. “Even Mild Dehydration May Cause Emotional, Physical Problems”
Br J Nutr. 2011 Nov;106(10):1535-43. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511002005. Epub 2011 Jun 7.
WebMD. “How Tired is Too Tired?”
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