Be honest with yourself. Is your overall energy everything you want it to be? If you’re like most folks, it isn’t. Energy, or more accurately the lack of it, is the #1 reason people consult with me at my nutritional counseling center. For some, the issue may be nothing more than a slight energetic dip (and an accompanying craving for something sweet or caffeinated) every afternoon. For others, the energy deficit can be so severe that leading a normal life is virtually impossible. Regardless of your current position on the energy continuum, getting the most out of life and making the most of your life is dependent on maximizing your physical and mental energy. Put another way, to be your best you have to feel your best. Now that might sound a bit obvious and even trite. But what isn’t obvious to most folks is just how one goes about building that kind of energy – healthfully, naturally and safely.
Your first step is to recognize and then eliminate everything in your daily routine that depletes your energy. For most of us, overwork, excess stress, a lack of sleep, insufficient exercise and, most notably, a poor diet are the usual suspects. Take a look at the overall pattern of your life and see if any of them are a problem for you. Counterbalancing work with play and getting enough rest and exercise are real challenges for many that are driven to succeed. But keep in mind, they are prerequisites for building the kind of energy you’ll need to successfully compete, regardless of your line of work.
If you’re overweight take the weight off. Carrying around an extra 10-15 lbs. is equivalent to wearing a sack of potatoes on your shoulders. It also makes it harder for your body to generate and access energy. If you smoke, quit and avoid those who do. Carbon monoxide in cigarettes goes straight to the bloodstream and occupies the receptor sites on red blood cells that would otherwise be carrying oxygen. Fifty minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week will not only burn off any excess weight it will ensure delivery of the oxygen your cells need to keep you energized.
Coffee and sugar are used by the vast majority of adult Americans as a morning jumpstart or to prop themselves up every afternoon as their energy flags. Although these stimulants provide a temporary lift, they put a tremendous strain on your body’s energy production system and in the long run just make you more tired. If coffee and sugar are a regular part of your diet, chances are you’ve become addicted to them. Kicking the stimulant habit cold turkey is not recommended. Instead, consume less and less over the course of a few weeks until you can eliminate them completely without suffering symptoms of withdrawal.
Many of us consider sleep a nuisance and have a hard time getting to bed at a decent hour. Far from a waste of your time, sleep is one of the most important keys to building optimum energy. For most of us that means 7-8 hours, and some people need even more. Feeling energetic during the day is dependent on getting enough down time at night to recharge. Regeneration and repair of tissues, the production of hormones, waste removal at the cellular level and the neutralization of energy – stealing free radicals are all accomplished at night while we sleep. If you can’t get up without an alarm, you’re not sleeping enough. To find the amount that’s right for you, try getting to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you are able to wake before the alarm.
The human body is a high tech biochemical machine capable of generating all the energy you need, if you put in the right fuel. What kind of fuel are you putting into yours? Canned, processed and refined foods that are the staple of the average American’s diet have a fraction of the nutrients required for optimum performance. It’s ironic that the fast food habits we’ve developed for efficiency’s sake have all but made it impossible for us to thrive in today’s high-speed society. If you get most of your meals out of boxes, cans or drive-through restaurant windows it’s time for a change. Stop eating fast food and you’ll be eliminating refined, processed, fatty, fried and sugary non-foods that have no nutrient value or energy to give you.
Your body was engineered to run on a mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. The right amount of each can vary from person to person. In general 60-65% of your diet should come from complex carbohydrates (vegetables, grains and beans), 5-10% from simple carbohydrates (fresh fruit), 20-25% from animal or vegetable proteins (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, raw nuts, seeds, sprouts, peas, beans, soy, tofu, avocado, etc.) and 10-15% from healthy fats (olive, canola, flaxseed).
Circadian rhythms define the ebb and flow of energy through the various organs and systems of your body during the day. Eating according to these rhythms is one of the best ways to conserve and generate energy. Digestion takes up to 10 times more energy than any other internal process. By reconfiguring your pattern of eating you can take a tremendous load off of your digestion system and free up a significant amount of energy that becomes available for other internal and external activities.
In the morning your body is more interested in eliminating metabolic debris than it is in digestion. For maximum energy, breakfast should satisfy three criteria. It should be easily digested, promote cleansing and be stabilizing to your blood sugar. A protein shake does all these things. You can buy egg white, whey or soy protein powders at the health food store. Blend your choice with 8 oz of soy, rice or almond milk for a breakfast that gets you started on the right track.
If, after making all the adjustments above, fatigue continues to be a problem there’s a good chance you’ve developed an intolerance, sensitivity or allergy to some of the foods you eat all the time. These reactions to food are among the most common causes of fatigue as well as the most overlooked. A relatively expensive blood test called the IgG Elisa can be valuable here but it’s not the only way to trouble shoot this problem. Any foods you eat every day, especially those you crave, are the prime suspects. Keep a food diary for a few days. Note the ones that show up every day. Then remove all of these for two weeks. If your energy improves, one or more are a problem for you. Once your fatigue has disappeared try reintroducing the foods you have removed, one at a time every two days, to find the culprit(s) and continue to avoid them.