Whether you are a night owl or early bird, most of us are familiar with the feeling of being tired. You might have not slept enough the night before, or had an energy dip right after lunch and you are struggling to keep your eyes open. During these times, you might feel an urgent need for fast energy to keep up with the day’s tasks.
So how can you use nutrition to optimize your energy levels throughout the day, and what should you keep in mind when it comes to sleeping? There are a lot of tips and tricks out there – we’ve collected a few below.
This is the most obvious one, but unfortunately it’s something a lot of people still don’t prioritize enough. You have an energy supply that needs to be refilled each day through a combination of healthy food and the right amount of rest. Make sure to prioritize a good night of sleep with enough hours for you to feel well rested and ready for a new day. Sleep requirements can vary from person to person. You are most likely the expert on your own sleeping needs.
While we eat to gain energy, certain types of foods and meals tend to leave us feeling less energetic than before eating. When tired, many people reach out for fast energy sources- which usually means something containing lots of added sugar. This is unfortunately a very short-term solution. Eating or drinking sweet things will make your energy levels spike, but soon after they’ll be lower than they were from the start. You will also most likely soon be craving something else for more fast energy.
If you want longer-lasting energy throughout the day, decrease your intake of foods with lots of added sugars. Instead, choose foods containing complex carbohydrates (whole grain and fibers), unsaturated fats and lean protein. These are high in nutrients and take longer for your body to break down, leading to a slow and steady release of energy into your body.
Sticking to a regular meal schedule is something a lot of people find helpful for keeping your energy levels up and even throughout the day. The number of times you prefer to eat during the day is very individualized. With that being said, having breakfast, lunch, dinner and two to three snacks at regular times each day helps maintain high energy levels. “You can’t drive a car without fuel” is a saying that exists for a reason. If you want to keep energy levels up, you need to put in gas (food).
When you experience the classic after-lunch energy dip, prevent reaching for short-term solutions like sweets by making sure you have healthier options available. Examples of snacks that keep your energy levels up for longer include: hummus or unsweetened nut butter with veggies or crackers, plain nuts with yogurt, fruit ,or berries, boiled eggs on whole wheat toast, or a smoothie.
Some people find it hard to sleep when eating too close to bedtime; at the same time some people find it hard to sleep when not feeling full. Think about what works best for you, and adjust your meal schedule accordingly.
The energy we expend each day is not infinite and it comes from what you eat. Therefore, it makes sense that if you don’t eat enough, you’ll feel like you don’t have enough energy. Eating less than what you are expending is required to lose weight, but if you’re operating on too big of a deficit, you’re bound to feel it in your energy levels. You might feel sleepier, or just feel that it takes more energy to get certain things done. If you’re striving for weight loss, don’t go for too much of a calorie deficit or a quick fix. If unsure about how much you should eat according to your goal, tools like Lifesum will guide you to a sustainable way and do the calculations for you.
Caffeine is a substance that makes you feel more awake in the short term. A moderate daily intake can have health benefits, but it shouldn’t be consumed in excessive amounts. The FDA recommends a maximum intake of 400 milligrams a day—that’s about four or five cups of coffee. Remember that caffeine does not only exist in coffee, but can also be found in tea, energy drinks and soft drinks (1). Caffeine has a half-life in the body of a few hours. Having caffeine close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep (2). Therefore, if you’re having a hard time sleeping at night, try to limit your intake after lunch.
Having a colorful, varied diet, eating from all food groups, will help you meet your vitamin and mineral needs. These are also called micronutrients. Micronutrients are vital for many functions in the body and lacking certain micronutrients, such as iron, can cause symptoms like lack of energy (3). If you suspect that you have any deficiencies, consult your healthcare provider.
1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Spilling the beans: How Much Caffeine is too much? (2018). https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep and Caffeine. (2018). http://sleepeducation.org/news/2013/08/01/sleep-and-caffeine
3. U.S National Library of Medicine. Iron in diet. (2019). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002422.htm
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