For most people, the last few years have left us feeling tired, fatigued or just absolutely exhausted. Not to mention trying to keep up with our ever evolving fast-paced society. However, feelings of low energy and constant exhaustion are not normal and shouldn’t be celebrated as a sign of just working hard.
Getting to the root cause of low energy levels – that familiar 3pm slump – should be your priority for increasing energy levels in 2023. Luckily, there are some lifestyle changes that can have a tremendous impact on boosting your energy. Although, keep in mind that good things take time. It’s all about balance, consistency and patience!
Stress: The Energy Taker
Supporting the bodies response to stress whether it be work related or after your first morning coffee is one factor that can help protect your energy.
In our body, there is an interaction between three glands that are responsible for our stress response known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. These glands interact to release different hormones and messengers which results in the production of the steroid hormone cortisol, or most commonly known as our stress hormone.
Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning – our get-up-and-go hormone - before digressing throughout the day referred to as diurnal cortisol levels. However, some people experience irregular cortisol production or higher levels due to everyday stressors that tell our bodies to release cortisol like meeting deadlines and sitting in traffic. Chronic stress is seen in those with continuously high cortisol levels and is one of the common culprits of low energy.
Start supporting your stress by implementing practices that favour our HPA axis such as short meditation breaks, deep belly breaths, reducing your caffeine intake and restricting the mindless scrolling on social media.
Nutrients for Energy
There are certain vitamins and minerals that are essential for energy producing pathways within our cells; metabolism, DNA synthesis, brain and muscular function. The nutrients we put in our bodies therefore directly influence our energy output and having an appropriate supply of these determines energy levels. Two main instigators are iron and B vitamins.
Iron: Ahhhh yes ladies I’m sure we’ve all heard this one before. Low iron is one extremely common cause of low energy. Iron plays a vital role in oxygen transport throughout the body where two-thirds of iron is present in red blood cells as haemoglobin, our oxygen carrying protein. Iron allows haemoglobin to acquire oxygen during its circulation through the lungs and releases oxygen throughout our muscles and tissues as it continues circulating.
Menstruating or pregnant women, adolescents and those following a vegan or vegetarian diet are most at risk of experiencing low iron or anaemia due to increased loss or decreased intake of iron. Physical fatigue, decreased work efficiency and low exercise tolerance are common symptoms associated with iron deficiency.
Iron is present in foods as haem and non-haem iron. Haem iron is more bioavailable for humans and is found abundantly in animal food sources. However, non-haem iron is less readily absorbable and found largely in plant sources. by consuming non-haem sources alongside foods high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwifruit, tomatoes, peppers and berries) can help increase its absorption, which is particularly useful for those who are following a diet that is restricted from animal products.
B Vitamins: All eight B vitamins play a part in the proper functioning and production of energy within cells. A deficiency in just one of the B vitamins can limit energy production causing low energy and have the potential to cause serious health concerns.
A severe deficiency in B6, B9 or B12 are shown to also cause anaemia alongside iron. In particular, a vitamin B12 – or cobalamin – deficiency causes stunted growth of red blood cells within bone marrow. These cells then die prematurely due to dysfunction leading to anaemia.
Keeping an eye on your B12 levels is especially important for those who choose to restrict animal products, as around 25% of B12 is derived from red meats and 30-50% is obtained from dairy sources. There are a handful of plant sources that contain small amounts of B12, such as algae and nutritional yeast, however, talking to a professional about supplementing B12 if you are predominantly plant-based is paramount.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Getting the foundations of eating a healthy diet right is one of the best things you can do for energy levels and by doing this we also control our blood sugar. More often than not the highs and lows in blood sugar levels is what causes irregular energy levels, and it should be emphasized that blood sugar control is not just important for diabetics.
The composition of your meals that include healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, colourful vegetables and protein will ensure your blood sugar remains stable and keeps you satiated. As well as, of course, sustaining your energy throughout the day! This may look like:
Breakfast - pasture raised eggs and avocado on sourdough toast with a side of berries
Lunch – brown rice salad with your favourite vegetables, leafy greens, extra virgin olive oil and tuna or beans
Dinner – baked salmon with sweet potato, broccoli and a tahini dressing
Plus, listening to your hunger cues and having a balanced snack when you need it is a-okay.
Also, be mindful of the timing of your meals. Consuming breakfast has been shown to have higher odds of good blood sugar regulation throughout the day when compared to breakfast skippers. And along with consuming regular lighter meals throughout the day your energy levels should be looking up!
With all the different recommendations out there, it can be hard to know what is enough and what is too much when it comes to daily exercise. We’ve all overdone it before and been left feeling burnt out or not recovering properly from sessions only to wind up injured and exhausted.
HIIT style exercise is known to burn more calories than resistance or steady state cardio, which unfortunately seems to be the basis of its appeal to many, and overdoing it can lead to low energy availability. However, it does have its benefits for improving cardiovascular and metabolic health outcomes. Strategically implementing higher intensity exercise into your week is a great way to avoid fatigue on the days when you know you’ll need more energy.
Everyone is different, although listening to your body and honouring when it’s time to decrease the intensity of your activity will be your energy saver. Opting for Pilates, yoga, lighter weight sessions and walking are all fabulous substitutes.
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