Example: “I want to improve my energy levels so that I can play with my kids after work and make it to the gym 3x per week.”
Macronutrients: Are you eating enough?
One of the first areas to explore with low energy is how much you are eating and the breakdown of those macronutrients. Making sure that you are eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day is important for balancing blood sugar hormones and maintaining high, even energy levels.
What does “balanced” mean? A balanced meal includes protein (such as chicken, fish, eggs, beef, pork, etc), healthy fat (such as olive oil, avocados, coconut, nuts/seeds), and some form carbohydrates, preferably a variety of low-starch, fiber-rich vegetables. If you are working out that day, you can include a starchy carb as well (about ½ a fist for most women and a whole fist for most men). Protein and fat are both very satiating nutrients, but also don’t have a profound effect on blood sugar. The more refined (processing that strips nutrients and leaves pure, quickly digesting carbs) a food, the quicker and more dramatically blood sugar spikes and therefore, ultimately drops. Such blood sugar highs and lows directly affect energy levels as well as mood and cravings!
How do you take action and create this balance yourself? You can start by using your plate as a guide: Fill about ¼ of your plate with protein, ¼ with healthy fats, and the other ½ with vegetables.
Eating at regular intervals throughout the day is also key for balancing blood sugar and energy levels. There is no one-size-all recommendation for how many meals to eat daily– some people prefer three square meals per day, others prefer 3 meals and 1-2 snacks, and some people even do well eating 2 large meals or 5-6 small meals! The key here is spacing these meals out throughout the day and always starting the day with breakfast. Skipping meals, especially first thing in the morning, will cause a drop in blood sugar. Your body will try to compensate for this by creating glucose from stored forms, a process that involves both the liver and adrenal glands. Adding more burden to these organs over time can also have a profound impact on energy. Skipping breakfast sets you up for a day of blood sugar highs and lows, cravings, and even mood swings.
If you are finding your energy is low, or you have frequent dips throughout the day, definitely take a look at what is and is not on your plate and how often you are eating. How nutrient-dense is your food? How refined is your food? Are you skipping meals? Make adjustments and take note of how you feel over time!
Micronutrients: Vitamins and minerals
Our bodies need an amazing amount of micronutrients to function optimally. These micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are what keeps the body going! Every chemical reaction that occurs in the body requires help from enzymes (made from proteins) and vitamins and minerals, which act as cofactors. Billions of these reactions occur every second, which is why we don’t feel good when we aren’t eating well. Not obtaining proper amounts of vitamins and minerals can directly affect your energy, even if you are meeting your macronutrient and calorie requirements.
Tips for increasing your micronutrient intake:
- Include leafy greens and cruciferous veggies at most meals. You get the most bang for your buck with these since they contain a wide array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (powerful antioxidants), and fiber per calorie. One handful is adequate, but the more, the better!
- Add more veggies to your recipes.
- Making a smoothie? Add in a handful of kale or spinach.
- Making meatballs, a casserole, or meatloaf? You can mix in cooked spinach, shaved brussel sprouts, mushrooms, riced cauliflower, shredded zucchini, diced peppers, etc.
- Are you on the go for breakfast and don’t always want a smoothie? Make egg muffins ahead of time. Whisk eggs and veggies together, then put in muffin tins and bake. You can grab and go in the morning with a piece of fruit or some avocado. These are great for snacks too!
- Look at what your are drinking. Drinking plain water? Consider adding lemon or another citrus fruit for extra micronutrients. You could also try drinking some coconut water after you workout and swapping your afternoon coffee for kombucha tea (For some info on kombucha, visit: http://www.housekombucha.com/drupal/what-kombucha)
Digestion- are you absorbing your nutrients?
Obtaining the micronutrients the body needs also depends on digestion, the process that helps us absorb and therefore utilize these nutrients. You won’t get the full benefits of eating regular, balanced meals made up of nutrient-dense food if you’re digestion isn’t up to par. How do you know if you need a boost? Digestive symptoms like indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, and constipation are a clear sign. However, digestive dysfunction often manifests in other ways, especially immune, neurological, and skin disorders– such as inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disease, brain fog, acne, eczema, etc. Since there are such close ties between the digestive system and all other organ systems in the body, numerous symptoms we deal with regularly can be traced back to digestion.
Digestive issues are very common in our modern society. Most people lead busy, on-the go lives, and the effects of stress degrade the strength and integrity of the digestive organs. Processed foods lacking in nutrients and high in artificial ingredients and digestive disruptors like gluten and casein (the proteins found in wheat and dairy respectively) are main components of our modern diets. Certain medications such as antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents) such as ibuprofen can negatively affect the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract. These stressors all add up, and when we neglect to care for our digestive systems, our health suffers! We need to take better care of our digestive systems in order to feel our best!
The Moral of the Story:
Remove: Digestive disruptors + immune stressors + inflammation
Add: Nutrient-dense food + stress management + healthy digestion habits
→ Improved digestive, immune, and endocrine health → increased nutrient absorption and improved energy levels
Tips for supporting healthy digestion:
- Try to always eat in a relaxed state. Sit down, avoid distractions, and chew your food well.
- Support healthy gut flora by including probiotic-rich, fermented foods in your diet as often as possible- such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha tea
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, especially raw, which are rich in fiber and enzymes.
- Include gut-nourishing foods often, such as bone broth, coconut oil, egg yolks, organ meat, and grass-fed butter/ghee.
- Drink plenty of water- digestion is a hydration-dependent process!
Our bodies are about 60% water! That fact alone proves how important it is to make sure you are drinking enough. Being adequately hydrated provides the body with the energy it needs for optimal mental and physical performance. Since water helps to transport nutrients throughout your body, when you are dehydrated, your brain becomes foggy and often makes you think you are hungry. If you are even mildly dehydrated, you can’t efficiently transport the nutrients you need, so your body thinks it isn’t getting them and tells you to eat! Your performance also suffers from dehydration. If you have ever been dehydrated and tried to work out, you know how difficult that is. You can get muscle cramps and experience dizziness and extreme muscle fatigue. Hydration is a key part of the recovery process as well. Water carries nutrients to different parts of your body, remember? Your muscles need nutrients in order to recover so make sure water is part of your recovery routine as well.
How much are you drinking?
The minimum amount of water the average person should be drinking per day is half of one’s bodyweight in ounces. So if you weigh 150 lb., then you need a minimum of 75 oz. of water daily. If you exercise, or drink diuretic drinks such as coffee, you should add 16-24 oz. on top of this.
If you are concerned that you are not drinking enough water, it is recommend to weigh yourself before and after you exercise. For every pound lost during exercise, drink 16-24 oz. of water to replenish. The exact amount will differ per individual. If you are a smaller athlete, start with 16 oz. and if you are larger, start with 20-24 oz.
How do you know when you are dehydrated?
The first sign of dehydration is fatigue. If you are fatigued and have a slightly dry mouth, your body is already about 1-3% dehydrated.
Common Symptoms of Mild Dehydration:
- Headache or head rush
- Slightly dry mouth, eyes
- Slightly decreased urine output
- Dark yellow urine
- Loss of appetite
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Dry or flushed skin
- Head rushes
Don’t ignore these symptoms! Stay ahead by drinking water throughout the day.
Most people with low energy have a very close relationship with coffee– some to the point where they can’t function without it! But although coffee is usually the first thing we reach for when we feel our energy waning, it may actually be the last thing we want to consume. Why? In the long run, caffeinating our already stressed, tired bodies isn’t fixing the root cause of low energy and ultimately, is making it worse.
Coffee has amazing health benefits and is proven to enhance mood, focus, and productivity. Coffee also is rich in antioxidants important for preventing against cancer and heart disease. However, too much of a good thing can be bad, especially for our energy levels. For one, coffee is dehydrating, but consumption can also crowd out consumption of water, therefore further dehydrating the body. Secondly, caffeine is a stimulant, alerting our adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that help us fight or flee from a stressor. Our reaction to the coffee is what makes us feel alert. However, compounding stress in our lives depletes our bodies’ abilities to function at their best! Lastly, if consumed late in the day (after 3pm for most people), coffee can negatively affect our sleep quality, leaving us feeling less than rejuvenated each morning and further perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of caffeine reliance. Ultimately, caffeine does not give the body energy (or wings); it gives the body stress.
If you feel you rely on coffee to get you started every morning, or get you through the day, it may be a sign you’re too dependent. Try lessening your intake and focusing on natural sources of energy (like nutrient-dense food, water, and quality sleep) and find some healthy replacements for your coffee fix.
Tips for kicking your coffee habit:
- Drink tea instead. Green, herbal, and kombucha teas all have amazing health benefits. Some have minimal amounts of caffeine, so can help give you a subtle boost without taxing your body.
- Swap for an “herbal coffee” like DandyBlend or Teecino. These have the same warm flavors as coffee, but actually are made from roasted, dried herbs and/or grains. (Many are gluten-free, so although grain-based, may not be problematic for you!)
- Go for decaf. You can start by weaning yourself and mixing a 3:1 ratio of caffeinated to decaffeinated, then 2:1, then 1:1, and eventually 100% decaf.
- Try mushroom coffee! (We like this brand, Four Sigmatic: https://us.foursigmatic.com/). These coffee blends also contain ingredients such as chaga and ashwaghanda that help the body better deal with stress.
- If you are looking for an energy boost, especially mid-afternoon:
- Get up and move! Walk or stretch, get some fresh air.
- Eat food
- Drink water
The effects of chronic stress on the hormonal system can be intense, particularly on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which directly affects our hormonal balance and energy levels.
Body senses stress = Adrenal glands release hormones–> Cortisol = Flight or fight response
This flight or fight response stimulates multiple reactions in the body, but one that’s particularly important is the breakdown of glycogen (stored carbohydrate for energy) in our liver. Fight or flight tells your body it needs energy, so your body creates it by releasing glucose (quick energy) into the bloodstream. This occurs whether you are sitting in traffic or being chased by a bear and creates a dysregulation in your blood sugar. And when blood sugar levels aren’t properly regulated, cortisol levels and patterns are affected, leading to issues such as fatigue, low thyroid function, decreased muscle mass, elevated or depressed immune function, increased body fat, and increased hunger and cravings.
Some tips for dealing with stress:
- Just breathe. Breathing is the easiest way to see an immediate decrease in stress. Plus, when we are experiencing stress, it’s often the first thing we stop doing. Make it a habit to remember to breathe deeply when feeling stressed. You can focus by closing your eyes and count your inhales and exhales!
- Take time to reflect on when you experience stress and where it comes from; this is extremely important for figuring out how to reduce it. Whether you want to sit in thought or write something down, take a few minutes and ask yourself these questions:
- Where is your stress coming from?
- Can you control it?
- What can you do to change it? If nothing then how can you change your mindset toward it.
- Understand the power of planning and a routine. Having a solid morning routine helps get your day started in a very relaxed, organized way. You are following steps that you created to start your morning the way you want, rather than rushing out the door and trying to remember everything you need to do. A night time routine also helps you wind down from the day. When you stick with your routine, your brain becomes conditioned to associating certain acts with bedtime/sleep and this makes it easier to wind down and fall asleep.
- Look at your work space. Whether you work for yourself or a large company, it is important to create a positive and encouraging work space. Here are some ways to brighten up your space:
- Use essential oils! If you are looking for something that is natural, instant, and doesn’t take any effort from you, then we highly recommend investing in essential oils. You can keep some at your desk and smell them when you get tired, distracted, or just want a little pick me up. If you have your own office or your coworkers don’t mind, you can use a diffuser.
- Oils that are great for energy: lemon, wild orange, peppermint, lemongrass.
- Oils that are great for stress: lavender, lemon, ylang ylang, chamomile, eucalyptus.
- Post your favorite inspirational quote somewhere. What’s going to motivate you to be more positive, get more done, and stay accountable to your goals? Find a quote that speaks to you and gives you motivation when you are lacking it.
How much sleep are you getting per night? If it’s not at least 7 hours, this may be an important area for you to focus on. Just getting one extra hour per night can have an immense impact on your energy and mood throughout the day. Also look at your sleep quality- are you waking up often throughout the night? Your stress hormones may be high if you don’t properly wind down at night, especially if you work or exercise late in the evening.
Some tips for getting better sleep:
- Wind down at night before bed.
- Establish a nighttime routine that helps you to relax and unwind from your day at least 30 minutes before getting into bed.
- This could be reading, knitting, coloring, taking a bath, having a cup of tea… whatever works for you, do it! Getting yourself set up for the following day can also be calming- write your next day’s to-do list, pick out your outfit for work, pack your gym clothes, etc. Knowing you don’t need to rush around to do these things in the morning can take some stress away!
- Sleep in complete darkness. Use a sleep mask or invest in some blackout shades.
- Lessen your exposure to blue light once the sun sets.
- Our bodies are biologically adapted to certain sleep/wake cycles that are in rhythm with natural light and darkness patterns. Being exposed to unnatural blue light from phones, computers, and TV can depress melatonin (a hormone associated with rest and sleep), and therefore make falling and staying asleep much more difficult. Most smartphones now have integrated a setting to tint the screen color toward an orange hue instead of blue. You can also use an app to do this, such as f.lux, which also can be downloaded on your computer. Blue-blocking glasses (orange-tinted shades) are also helpful (you can find a pair on Amazon.com for under $10!)
Many people workout everyday, but then sit at a desk all day and wonder why they have poor energy and a hard time achieving the body composition they want. Getting movement outside of the gym each day is just as important as your one hour of working out. Not only does it have positive physical effects, but it’s also great for energizing your brain. It can be very difficult in our technology-driven world to get up and move during the day and stay active, but we recommend using some of our suggestions to help!
Tips for getting more movement during the day:
- Create a reminder to move around during the day. It’s really easy to get caught up in work and let it take your brain over. Help yourself out by putting a sticky note on your wall or creating a reminder in your phone to get up and move every hour or so. Walk to get water or just walk around your office and take deep breaths. Get blood flowing and wake up your brain again. Getting into different positions is also beneficial for your body. Whether you are standing or sitting, it’s not healthy for your body to be in the same position for an extended period of time.
- Schedule your workouts like meetings. We all lead busy lives, so if you don’t make time for exercise, you will be less likely to find it. Scheduling your workouts ahead of time prioritizes them. Once you get into a momentum of regular exercise, it will be easier and more enjoyable to keep up with!
- Start each day with some form of movement. For example: Go for a short walk with your dogs or quick jog. Do some simple yoga poses. Make a routine of doing 10 air squats and 10 pushups before breakfast. Even just taking 5 minutes to stretch each morning can help to start your day in a positive way. Whatever works for you, do it. A body in motion stays in motion!
Recovery from exercise is even more important than doing the exercise itself. This includes adequate rest, quality sleep, a balanced diet with nutrient dense foods, stretching, and mobility. Many people focus so much on getting to the gym and how that will help them reach their goals, but forget about the other factors that are so important. We addressed many of these above, so we just want to take some time to talk about mobility and flexibility. Being mobile and able to get in the correct positions while working out is imperative for your long term success.
Find something that works for you and do it daily. There are tons of online resources and programs out there that are easily accessible. If you don’t know what to do on your own or need some motivation from someone telling you what to do, check out the resources below. We recommend trying a few and then seeing what you like best. There is no “better” option. The best option is what works for you and is something you will do on a regular basis. Our favorites:
- https://www.doyogawithme.com/ (this is FREE!)
Eating for wellness and vitality takes a holistic (multifaceted) approach. Just like our bodies are composed of different organs and systems that work together for optimal function, we too need to consider different lifestyle factors to reach optimal wellness and vitality. Focusing on nutrition along with digestion, hydration, stress management, sleep, movement and recovery are all essential for overall wellness. We always say, “consistency is key” and the same goes here; eating for wellness is a lifelong process of nourishing and nurturing of our bodies’ changing needs.