Trying to get through life with chronically low energy levels is no fun. Waking up in the morning feeling as tired as before you went to bed, drinking back-to-back coffees just to cope with the working day and skipping the gym because you’re ‘just too tired’ is an all too familiar pattern for many people.
Before you accept this situation as permanent, read this article. It looks at one common cause of low energy levels and suggests a few simple lifestyle changes which could make all the difference. What have you got to lose but your lethargy?
Disclaimer: Low energy levels can be a sign of a medical problem. It is worth checking in with your doctor just in case!
The Role of Blood Sugar Levels
This section could be the most important in this article because it focuses on one of the most common reasons for low energy levels: unbalanced blood sugar levels.
This goes hand-in-hand with a diet that’s high in carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Riding the energy wave of a carb-rich diet is like taking a trip on a roller coaster. You feel tired in the morning so you fuel up with a high-carb cereal (maybe even adding extra sugar) and head for the coffee maker. The stimulating effect of the caffeine masks your fatigue while your carbohydrate binge soon breaks down into sugars which are greedily absorbed by the brain. You feel awake and alert for a while.
Then comes insulin to spoil the party. Picking up on your excessively high blood glucose levels, your body gets a shot of this powerful hormone which sucks out the sugar from the blood and stores it for later use. Your sugar high ends, you enter the crash phase and your brain screams out for more high energy food. And so the cycle continues…
Understanding Nutritional Balance
If the above sounds like you, you should be smiling. It means that you can probably fix your chronic low energy levels without medication.
Before we look at how to do this, let’s take a basic look at what our bodies need to function. First, you need to drink plenty of water (ideally the equivalent of a small glass every hour).
Next, we need to consume a healthy balance of macronutrients. These are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats. According to Livestrong, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) is between 45-65% carbs, 20-35% fats and 10-35% protein. However, if your current ratio is 65% carbs, 25% fats and only 10% protein, you may struggle to achieve an ideal blood sugar balance not to mention to burn all that stored glycogen and fat. Try switching to 45% carbs, 20% fats and 35% protein and you should start noticing that your ‘boom and bust’ energy cycle is replaced by a more consistent energy supply.
We also need to meet the recommended daily amount of micronutrients. These include those many vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and other substances. We only need them in small doses but that doesn’t reflect on their importance. In fact, deficiency in any of these could be behind your energy deficit.
Increasing Protein and Nutrient Levels
Now that we’ve looked at what you need to look at in your diet, it’s time to look at how you can bump up your protein and micronutrient levels. Simply switching your morning cereal or toast for a boiled egg can help but there is one source of protein that is making a name for itself in the wellness field: whey protein, a product of the dairy industry.
You have probably associated whey protein with bodybuilding or even read some articles about weight loss with whey protein. However, another benefit of whey is that it can be stripped of sugar and fat and taken as a protein rich meal replacement shake. You need to look for whey protein isolate as this is the closest thing you will get to pure protein. Whey isolate is also much easier to digest than many other sources of protein.
Replace your breakfast (or another meal) with a high quality protein shake and your general energy levels should start to rise.
On to micronutrients. Although eating your five portions of daily fruit and veg will keep your most important vitamins and minerals topped up, you can boost these levels further with superfoods. You probably associate the term with fashionable exotic foods such as pomegranates, spirulina and quinoa but even everyday foods such as broccoli, egg yolks and parmesan cheese can be thought of as superfoods in their own right as they contain higher than normal levels of certain micronutrients (vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium in the above examples). It is often best to consume organic superfood raw but this may not be possible due to time constraints. If you choose to purchase a superfood powder or supplement, look for organic, whole food ingredients (especially green superfoods) and avoid excessive sugar, fat and stimulants.
Still Need an Energy Boost?
Increasing your protein consumption and topping up on micronutrients will ensure all of the building blocks are there for a healthy lifestyle. With reduced cravings (due to normalized blood sugars) you will also find it easier to gradually drop those comfort foods (donuts, chips, burgers, etc.) from your life.
Nevertheless, you will probably still have the occasional low energy moment (it happens to us all) and this will typically happen just before your weekly gym session or ahead of a long work day. When this happens, you may need to boost energy levels instantly. Chocolate bars and energy drinks usually contain more fat and sugar than you need so resist the temptation. There are alternative products out there which are low fat and low carb yet can still give you an energy lift. A good quality pre-workout energizer can also be an emergency source of energy.
On the whole though, following all of the previous advice should ensure you have spare energy to burn on most days. Stick to your balanced diet and you should find you have a consistent stream of energy throughout the day – no more ups and downs!