Fatigue is something most of us are all too familiar with, intimately. Our modern world bombards us with stress, unhealthy food choices, mind-numbing work, and easy to find quick fixes that boost energy temporarily but then leave us feeling drained moments later, even more tired than we began. Often we find ourselves emotionally, physically, and mentally depleted at the end of the day, but our bodies refuse to sleep. This creates a vicious cycle of perpetual exhaustion that builds and builds until we get sick or crash on our day off when we’d much rather be out enjoying ourselves.
There’s actually an easy solution to this mountain of fatigue we all carry around with us each day. Get off the couch and eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s something we all know we should be doing, but we ignore this unadorned advice and continue sipping our high-caffeine, sugary drinks in hopes of offsetting the tiredness a little longer so we can keep eating what we want and procrastinating exercise. We do so in vain. The only thing that will truly give us back the energy levels we desire is eating well and being active; so simple, yet so difficult for most of us to do.
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The trick is to start now. Do something today, even if it’s small: add fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to your menu, drink more water in place of soda, juice, energy drinks, or coffee, take a ten minute walk, avoid fast food for lunch, and don’t skip breakfast. Do some of these and watch your energy levels rise, your mood improve, and the fatigue fade away. To completely get rid of low energy, keep making these types of choices.
The body runs on carbohydrates and the brain can’t function without them. The glucose running through your veins is essentially linked to your energy level, mood, and thought processing power. We need it to fuel our movements and, since the brain runs on glucose, every single thought and reaction is powered by carbs.
Vegetables and fruits supply a ton of healthy carbohydrates complete with fiber to slow the intake and meter out what we need throughout the day. Also choose healthy whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa. Beans and legumes work too. These are rich in complex carbohydrates that are paired with fiber, protein, antioxidants, and many vitamins and minerals. These all supply a steady, long-term source of energy, keeping you going longer without worrying about the crash that you get with junk food, sugary drinks, or caffeine. Grains, seeds, and nuts are healthier when soaked, sprouted, or fermented to break up any antinutrients they contain.
Not all fat is created equal and not all of it should be shunned. Good fats aid metabolism, are burned as extra energy, and help keep the heart and blood vessels young and working well. Despite what many fad diets seem to portray, we can’t live without fat. Some fat is essential to the function of our brains, eyes, and nervous system and help the body stave off age-related diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Good fats can be found in nuts like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts and in seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp, and chia seeds. Fresh greens and avocados also contain good fats. Olive oil and coconut oil are two of the healthiest oils on the planet. Some of the fats in coconut may be saturated, but they are made up of smaller fatty acid chains that the body burns as fuel rather than stores, resulting in bursts of healthy vitality without adding to your waistline. Nuts and whole grains are also rich in magnesium, a key mineral involved in the conversion of sugar into energy. Dark chocolate makes for a healthy treat in moderation as it has some good fats, some powerful antioxidants, and healthier amounts of caffeine than soft drinks and coffee to boost energy alongside theobromine, another mild stimulant.
Protein is important to our cellular structure, muscle, and metabolism. The body uses it to create enzymes and hormones that aid digestion, transport nutrients into cells, help remove waste, balance mood, control metabolic processes, and carry out a million other jobs. If you aren’t getting enough balanced protein, your energy levels will be sapped and you are more prone to illness.
You don’t need a ton of protein, but you should get a good amount of proteins from healthy sources that are free of too many saturated fats and cholesterol. Whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts once again come to the rescue. Some, like hemp, chia, and quinoa, are considered complete proteins and contain all the essential amino acids that we cannot create ourselves.
Proper hydration is important to metabolic function and keeping blood the perfect consistency to flow easily through our veins and carry nutrients to our cells. Even slight dehydration can sap your strength and contribute to fatigue. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Pay attention to your thirst and automatically respond to it, especially during the hotter months. Apart from water, drink fresh, unsweetened juices and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are usually low calorie foods thanks to their water and fiber content. This is an easy way to feel full, eat something sweet, and not worry about the sugar spikes that come from processed sugars. The water in fruits and vegetables will aid hydration while the fiber releases energy slowly and the antioxidants prevent damage from free radicals, letting cells repair themselves. Water and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables include blueberries, cucumber, acai berries, apples, pears, goji berries, citrus, spinach, melons, cranberries, apricots, asparagus, and cherries.
Things to Avoid
Refined carbohydrates—like those found in sugar, corn syrup, white flour, regular pasta, and white rice—are not the same as what make up fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. Refined carbs have been stripped of water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This means they are absorbed and processed too quickly by the body, resulting in a rush of energy as glucose floods the bloodstream, but this high doesn’t last long. The body quickly realizes it can’t have this much sugar floating freely in the blood stream as it can damage cells and create free radicals. Insulin is released and cells begin absorbing the extra glucose. This causes blood sugar to plummet well below where it began, leaving us more exhausted and also contributing to weight gain.
Refined and processed foods create this yo-yo effect over and over again, driving energy levels way up and then way down. When we hit the low, we feel the need to counterbalance it once more with the same refined sugary foods or beverages that caused the problem in the first place. The yo-yo thus repeats itself throughout the day, as we bounce from energetic to exhausted over and over again. This isn’t a healthy way to boost energy. It leads to damaged blood vessels and heart tissue and contributes to obesity and diabetes.
Caffeine has a similar yo-yo effect on our energy levels energy, though not as dramatic as sugar. It isn’t the solution to fatigue and should only be used in moderation, spaced throughout the day, not in large doses all at once like in coffee, energy drinks, energy supplements, and many soft drinks. Alcohol is another problem. It’s a depressant and will drag your energy levels down.
Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Once again, our bodies and brains run on glucose. Skipping a meal forces the body to break into reserves and starves the brain. Meanwhile energy levels suffer. Fad diets don’t usually work long term, partly because the body craves food after being famished for so long and people quickly gain the weight back. True weight loss relies on the combination of moderate eating, healthy food choices, and higher activity levels.
Things to Do
Lose weight if you need to. Dragging around extra pounds is like an anchor strapped to your body all day. No wonder many of us feel so tired as we haul ten or more unneeded pounds everywhere we go. Focus on eating well with moderate exercise and it will surprise you how quickly the pounds can melt away. If you are eating more fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, you will automatically be cutting calories while still feeding your body everything it needs.
Move. Most of us have sedentary jobs where we sit at a computer all day. Many of us then go home and sit as we unwind in front of a television screen. Our bodies are designed to move around more. It’s how lymph fluid gets pumped around our system without a heart. It relies on our muscle movements and our breathing to remove waste, toxins, and broken down cells from our tissues. Our heart needs movement to stimulate it and get it working at its best too. So do our lungs and even our brains. It doesn’t take a marathon every day. Just walking for half an hour a day can make a big difference in how you feel. Do jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Stand next to your desk and jog in place now and again.
Eat frequent meals or snacks. The body needs fuel to function properly. Eat two small snacks each day between your meals. Make sure these are good snacks made up of healthy carbohydrates, good fats, fruits, and vegetables. Think more along the lines of almond butter on apple slices, veggies with hummus, fresh berries, raw nuts, or perhaps a protein smoothie.
Eat vitamin and mineral-rich foods like bell peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, quinoa, mushrooms, and citrus. Get a small amount of sunshine each day too for your daily dose of vitamin D, just 20 minutes is plenty. Vitamins and minerals may not directly supply energy, but they are involved in many of the processes that do. Vitamin C plays a large role in our available energy levels, how we feel, how we burn fat, and in the absorption of iron. Vitamin D has been linked to healthy weight loss and in helping the body resist depression. Iron helps carry oxygen to our cells and keeps our metabolism burning.
Raising energy levels is easier than you think. Just remember to follow the really rather simple advice I’ve given above: get off the couch and eat more fruits and vegetables. It will make a huge difference in how you feel throughout the day, how you respond to stress, and how much energy reserves you have at the end of the day.