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Eating to boost energy

Posted July 13

With modern life as fast-paced and busy as it is, many of us find ourselves exhausted not only by the end of the day, but throughout the day, too. Being tired makes anything and everything we do more difficult. Exhaustion can make it feel impossible to meet even the most basic human needs like exercise, movement, human connection and more.

Lack of energy is a multi-faceted issue with no clear single contributor; there could be one or more factors that lead to low energy. Sleep, exercise, hormones, mental health status, medications, nutrition and more can all be behind a lack of energy. There are things we can control when it comes to our energy levels and things that are possibly outside of what we can control (such as medications prescribed by a doctor). Let's talk about how to boost our energy through the foods and drinks we take into our body and some lifestyle factors to consider as well.

1. Eat frequently. For some, three larger meals per day works great. Others enjoy six smaller meals throughout the day. Either way can work for energy levels and optimal nutrition, but the key is to avoid long lengths of time without eating. For example, many people eat a very small breakfast, a small lunch and then wonder why they hit the wall of exhaustion in the afternoon. Find ways to evenly space your caloric (read: energy) intake throughout the day and you'll likely see an improvement in energy levels. That might mean a larger breakfast, a more well-balanced lunch and afternoon snack and then dinner at home.

2. Balance carbohydrates, fat and protein. Each time you eat, take a look at your food choices and notice if you're getting a fat source, a carbohydrate source and a protein source. Each of these three macronutrients are essential for our health and well-being and contribute to us feeling energized and well-nourished.

3. Eat more whole foods. As much as possible, opt for foods that have one ingredient. Foods that are minimally processed and closest to how they come in nature will provide energy-boosting zest for the day. The occasional processed treat is nothing to stress about but try to fill the majority of your day with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fats, proteins and dairy.

4. Drink water. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. Ensure you're properly hydrated throughout the day to decrease the odds of becoming too tired to participate in your favorite activities. Since water requirements depend on height, weight, age, gender, physical activity levels, etc., it's tough to provide a recommendation that's right for everyone. Aim for about 8-12 glasses (2-3 liters) of water per day and adjust based on the factors mentioned. And if you're currently drinking mostly juice or sweetened beverages, switch to water and notice the improvement in energy levels.

5. Be aware of caffeine intake. If you drink caffeinated beverages, take a look at the timing of when you drink them. The morning pick-me-up can be completely appropriate and can even enhance your ability to focus and perform at work and elsewhere. Too many caffeinated beverages, especially later in the afternoon or evening, can detract from your ability to get adequate rest and can contribute to overall tiredness and fatigue.

6. Limit alcohol intake. The aftermath of a fun night on the town can play a big role in energy levels the next day. Also, the drowsiness that alcohol causes a few hours after drinking can make it difficult to participate in evening activities with your family. Remember to stay within the recommended limits: two drinks per day for men and one drink for women.

7. Get adequate sleep. Current recommendations for sleep include anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults. It's also recommended to aim to go to sleep and wake up at consistent times each day. Get into a sleep routine and ensure you sleep for at least seven hours per night and you'll likely notice improvements with your energy levels during the day.

8. Take some time to unplug. With the hustle and bustle of today's world, it's wise to take some time to unplug and allow yourself to just BE. This could take the form of exercise, meditation, prayer, yoga, a walk outside or anything else that connects you to this moment and your surroundings. Unplugging from the headlines, the stresses of modern life and worries you experience can be a very powerful way to feel rejuvenated and energized about life.

When looking at this list, pick two or three things that you feel you could improve on and start there. When those get easy, add a few more into your daily routine and notice the improvement in energy levels and ability to live life to its fullest.

Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.

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