Fight your fatigue with food!
Falling into that afternoon slump is common, but is it normal? Should we really feel like we could pass out by the time the clock strikes 3? Definitely not. No one expects you to be high energy all day long, but we shouldn’t feel so tired come mid-afternoon.
There are several ways that we can get ahead of fatigue so that we can stay energized throughout the day. The three keys for fighting fatigue are:
- Keeping hydrated
- Not skipping meals
- Choosing the right foods and nutrients, and limiting your portions of sugar and starch
Let’s break these down further…
Post-lunch, it’s common to grab that afternoon cup of joe as an energy boost, but this is actually counterproductive. What happens is, we experience a spike of energy but then this caffeine actually can disrupt our sleep, leading to more fatigue the following day. Also, dehydration is often what is a major contributor to that feeling of fatigue, and we’re not going to correct that with more caffeine. So skip the afternoon caffeine fix, and make sure to hydrate with lots of water. If you don’t love water, add lemon/lime/mint/orange/crushed berries into your water, try seltzer, or unsweetened herbal tea (cold or warm!) as it has lots of flavor and no sugar (i.e. Tazo Passion Fruit Tea, Bigelow Peach or Lemon tea, Sound Sparkling Tea).
Here’s an easy trick to ensure you are drinking enough water:
- Divide your weight (in pounds) in half to get the daily fluid oz you need
Example: If you weigh 160lb, divide by 2 to get 80oz of water as your daily need.
* ~34oz = 1 liter
- If you exercised vigorously, add at least 8-12oz of extra fluids to your day
- If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so get ahead of the game! Keep a bottle of water with you at all times, set a reminder on your phone to drink – whatever works for you!
Don’t skip meals!
When we eat something nutritious (see below for more deets on this!) every 3-4 hours, we are less likely to overeat foods that aren’t so healthy for us. The foods we tend to overeat are ones with lots of sugar, leading to a temporary energy spike and then plummet. It doesn’t take much to fuel our brains – grab a handful of almonds with a piece of fruit, and you’re good to go for the next few hours.
Choose foods with lots of nutrition to fuel your body, and limit your portions of starch and sugar
We’ve learned that our body does not use 300 calories of a chocolate bar in the same way as 300 calories of whole foods like vegetables, beans and lean protein. If we consume foods with more nutrients, our body can utilize those nutrients for fuel; if the food doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value, only parts of it can be used for energy. This is why it is best to choose whole foods as compared to processed foods, as the latter are limited in vitamins and minerals that our body can use to make energy.
I often see clients who come to me taking mega-doses of vitamins to help give them energy. However, what I’ve found is that we’re often not eating enough foods with the energy-boosting nutrients in the first place, so if we work on improving the diet, the added supplementation really is not necessary. Below are a few nutrients that help keep us feeling energized:
Iron: Did you know that about 12% of women are deficient in iron? And when you don’t consume enough iron, you feel fatigued because iron is needed to bring oxygen to the cells in your body; oxygen is required to create energy from the food you eat. Iron is found in animal protein, beans, greens and seeds. And it is better absorbed when consumed with vitamin C-rich foods like berries, citrus or bell peppers. As an example, instead of eating a spinach salad with only beans or chicken, top with lemon juice and/or blueberries to absorb the iron best.
Expert tip*: We call iron the “anti-social vitamin”, as it doesn’t like to be taken with anything else! If you are taking iron supplements, to absorb them best- take on an empty stomach in between meals and not with other vitamins, supplements or medications. The only supplement that would be worthwhile to take with it would be vitamin C.
Magnesium: Magnesium is required for energy formation and has shown promise in terms of learning and memory as well as overall brain function. Not to mention, magnesium can be helpful in giving you a better night sleep, improving your energy and efficiency the next day! Magnesium is rich in almonds, grains (e.g oatmeal, brown rice), and beans. So instead of grabbing M&Ms for an afternoon energy kick, try a handful of almonds instead!
Expert tip: Too much magnesium can contribute to diarrhea, so be aware of this when thinking of adding magnesium as a supplement.
B Vitamins: It is true that most of the people living in the U.S. today are either overweight or obese, but that does not mean that most of the population is well nourished. In fact, a significant amount of people who live in developed countries – like the U.S. – actually have low or deficient levels of at least one of the B vitamins. B vitamins are crucial for promoting energy, as well as brain function. There are seven B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folate (B9), and cyanocobalamin (B12). Thiamine, vitamin B6 and B12 are richly found in animal protein such as beef, tuna, chicken, salmon, turkey and sardines; this is particularly the case for vitamin B12 and why people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet likely need to supplement with B12. The remaining B vitamins are rich in vegetarian-based foods like seeds, beans, leafy greens and mushrooms. So, to up your intake of B vitamins, add beans and greens to your turkey chili and top with toasted pumpkin seeds (yum for that added crunch too!).
Healthy Fats: Eating monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats actually help our body absorb antioxidants and fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K). Beta-carotene, for instance, is an incredible antioxidant, which turns into vitamin A in the body; without fat, we can’t use it well. Antioxidants are key for energy because they keep our cells functioning at full capacity! Incorporate healthy fats like ground flaxseed and chia seed, walnuts, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and extra virgin olive oil. You may want to add ground flaxseed to your morning smoothie, or top your avocado toast with salmon instead of an egg!
**Expert tip: Choose oils that are high in omega-3 (i.e flaxseed- best drizzled on food, not for cooking) and monounsaturated fats (i.e olive, avocado) instead of those high in omega-6 fats (i.e highly processed corn, sunflower, soybean), and sub in fish for your steak.
And beware of sugar!
There are a lot of “power” bars and “energy” bars out there. Food companies want us to buy their products, so they are going to market them to look as appealing as possible! But remember that we always have to dig deeper than the outside label. Look for added sugars. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, it is one of the heaviest ingredients in that food; secret words for sugar include agave, honey, fructose, molasses, and brown sugar. Choose pre-packaged foods with <8gm sugar/serving. I’m often asked about protein bars, and am always behind having your own whole foods snacks but understand that sometimes you are in a pinch and are faced with bars as your main option. If it’s a bar, also look at protein and fiber (both should be >5gm/serving); a quick and easy way to check is to make sure gm of protein + fiber is more than 2x gm sugar. KIND bar has some </=5gm sugar versions, and Oatmega and Primal Kitchen are good options as well.
Aim to eat meals with greens, nuts/seeds and beans, and avoid high starch/sugar. Aim to eat whole foods every ~4 hours. Don’t be fooled by the energy “quick fixes” as they are often loaded with sugar! And make sure you keep hydrated!
Lunches that will keep you energized through the rest of the afternoon:
- Mixed green salad with avocado, lentil, chia, tomato and egg
- Warm bowl of kale, quinoa, lentils, squash, onion, chicken and chopped walnuts
Snacks to keep you going through the afternoon slump!:
- Brown rice cake with nut butter, ground flaxseed
- Roasted veggies and hummus
- Edamame drizzled with olive oil
- Bean salad with walnuts and berries (great to have in bulk!)
* Always check with your doctor about how to take supplements as every individual has a different medical situation.
No-Bake Energy Bites
1.5 cup rolled, dry oats
1/2 cup peanut butter (can substitute almond or sunflower butter)
1/2 cup ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (can try 1/2 cup raisins instead!)
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
Add dry ingredients into bowl, and mix evenly
Add honey, vanilla and nut butter, and mix evenly
Roll into 1-inch balls
Enjoy! Keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 1 week (if you make it that long!)