How often do you hear people say "I'm tired" and hence their reliance on caffeine in the morning or a chocolate bar around 2pm? In my experience, people tend to have one common goal in mind and that is to find ways to increase their overall energy throughout the day. How do we prevent the afternoon slump and drive energy production?
Here are ways in which you are able to naturally increase your energy levels.
Increase B Vitamins
Food is essential to provide our bodies with vital nutrients and minerals to drive the thousands of biochemical reactions that supply us with energy. All food ingested is converted to energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).
There are many nutrients involved in the body's ability to produce ATP. The most important group of nutrients for the conversion of food into ATP is a group of B vitamins. Thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) are the essential three B vitamins in the conversion of food to energy. If there are insufficient B vitamins ingested, energy conversion is reduced resulting in fatigue and lethargy.
Tip: The best place to get B vitamins is through our food. When vitamins are obtained through our diet, they are easily absorbed and assimilated, while the added benefits of consuming co-nutrients, assisting in the uptake and absorption.
Thiamine-rich foods: Fish, pork, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, green peas, yeast extract and edamame.
Riboflavin-rich foods: Almonds, beef, lamb, eggs, mackerel, leafy green vegetables and frozen peas.
Niacin-rich foods: Chicken breast, fish, pork, quinoa, beef, offal, mushrooms and sunflower seeds.
Do you feel exhausted throughout the day? Did you know it is estimated that up to 20% of women and 3% of men are iron deficient in New Zealand, while approximately 760,000 people aged 18 years and over are at risk of anaemia in Australia. Without healthy red blood cells, your body cannot produce or carry enough oxygen to your cells. The consequence of insufficient oxygen throughout the body is exhaustion or iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron deficiency anaemia occurs frequently among women of childbearing age. This may be a result of inadequate iron-rich foods, poor absorption of iron within the body or a loss of iron due to menstruation. If this rings true, it is suggested you see your local GP to check your iron levels.
Iron-rich foods: Dark green leafy vegetables, offal, chickpeas, seafood and beef.
Support the immune System
Fighting infections is a sure fire way to zap energy – especially chronic low-grade infections. The immune system expends energy when it gears up to fight a virus or an infection. Coupled with this increase in energy expenditure, when you're not feeling well the tendency is to eat anything quick and easy, often with little or no nourishment - bread, pasta or fried foods. During this time the immune system is in dire need of support in the form of nutrients when fighting any infection. Consume nutritious foods high in Zinc and vitamin C to help boost the immune system and reduce the symptoms of the cold and flu. You may also like to try a high dose vitamin C or Zinc supplement for additional support.
Zinc-rich foods: Oysters, wheat germ, beef, veal liver, spinach and pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin C-rich foods: Yellow bell pepper, guava, kale, kiwi fruit and broccoli.
Support digestion - You are what you eat, absorb and assimilate
There are a number of factors that can affect the ability to digest and absorb the nutrients from your food including: stress, caffeine and medications, such as antibiotics. The type of foods consumed and the way in which you consume them are critical to your ability to absorb and utilise nutrients needed to form ATP.
The key to sustained energy from food is in the energy release. When you eat foods that contain fibre, such as: fresh vegetables and lentils, you help to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream – the result being your energy release is sustained. Fresh wholefoods naturally contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals and thus provide the essential nutrients to ensure a healthy digestive system and a slower release of energy.
For example, a piece of white bread when it's cooked in a toaster burns quickly – it does essentially the same in your body. You want slow burning fuel – fat and protein are two slow burning fuels.
Tip: Increase complex carbohydrates, such as; quinoa, wholegrains, peas, beans and lentils to encourage slow burning.
Muscle building or resistance exercise is incredibly important especially for women as they age. We lose muscle mass from 30 onwards unless we actively maintain or build it. By building muscle, using regular resistance training with your own body weight (yoga and pilates) or weights, such as: dumb bells, barbells and kettle bells, you're actively supporting your posture, bone health and your ability to feel energised.
Recent studies suggest resistance training raises levels of human growth hormone production and testosterone in both men and women. The more muscle we have the more energy is produced, higher metabolic rate and the ability to assist with body fat management.
Consider this as an analogy, we all know our computer or smart phone slows down and burns more battery the more programs we have open. For example, 23 open tabs of web pages, spreadsheets, documents and presentations, photo editing app, movie playing, music, software updates... our mind can feel very much the same. The more things we have open and unresolved, the bigger the drain on your mind power and energy, from all of these open loops.
How many times a day, a week, a month or a year do tasks or situations open up, yet they are never resolved, finalised, or closed? How many emails do you read that you don't immediately reply to and they hang in your mind and add to your task load of what's not yet done? It's as if you walk around each day with so many tabs open, that you never feel like you've got it all handled.
Take action and close your 'tabs'. Begin by scheduling these reoccurring thoughts into your calendar or journal, find ways of resolving the matter one by one. If this means scheduling time to go through it, then do so. Get friends or family to assist you or the support of a professional if matters do not resolve themselves.
We can all feel the pressures at various stages of our lives. Whether it's a day we don't eat the right foods or we are too busy to sit down and enjoy our meals. It is important to ensure we are consuming the correct foods where possible, that will enable us to fuel our energy stores and provide us with the essential nutrients and minerals vital for energy production.
By Dr Libby Weaver Nutritional Biochemist, Author & Speaker