10 Easy ways to boost energy

Posted on: 13 November 2013 by 50connect editorial

Feeling tired and lethargic as we head into winter? Here’s how to revive your get up and go…

woman on bike

1 Choose good carbs

To keep up energy levels, at least half of your calorie intake should come from carbohydrates. “Eating carbs improves the ability of the amino acid tryptophan to get into the brain, which in turn stimulates serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical,” explains Head of Nutrition for Healthspan, Robert Hobson. But steer clear of the refined type found in biscuits, cakes and sweets. Instead try to include at least one portion of complex carbohydrates (wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread etc) at every meal. The reason? Complex carbs help to ensure a steady flow of glucose (the brain’s main fuel) to the brain.

2 Don’t skip breakfast

The saying that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is definitely not just an old wives’ tale. The nutrients and energy that you get from breakfast, lunch and dinner are all very important, but those who do not eat breakfast are more often than not the same people who cannot seem to get going in the morning. Martin Budd, author of ‘Why Am I So Exhausted’ by Hammersmith Press says, “Some people tend to have an early dinner and a late or missed breakfast. This gap between meals (often 15 hours) tends to allow their blood sugar to fall to a low level (hypoglycaemia) in the early hours, (usually 2-4am). I recommend that such patients are advised to have a sugar free snack (e.g. nuts, cheese, eggs, yoghurt etc) if they awaken. I never advise them to set their alarm and awaken. To thus shorten their night fast, they usually feel brighter on finally waking. Many people feel tired and shaky if they miss a meal, yet the same people can fast through the night for 12-15 hours. I usually encourage such patients to check their blood sugar levels when they awaken. “

3 Don’t shun steak

Red meat gets a bad press but it’s great if you’re trying to ramp up energy levels as it’s a rich and easily absorbed source of iron.

“If you aren’t getting enough iron from your diet, you’ll likely experience symptoms such as lethargy, poor concentration and generalised fatigue,” says nutritionist Angela Dowden. For a delicious way to help prevent these problems, try tucking into a succulent sirloin steak or lean lamb chop. It’s true that too much red meat isn’t good for us, but it’s only the processed type that should be eliminated completely. “When it comes to lean, unprocessed red meat, like steak or roast beef, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends a limit of 700g (uncooked weight) a week, which is actually three 8oz steaks!” Angela adds. 

4 Go bananas

Bananas are the classic energy-boosting snack because they are one of the few carbohydrate-rich fruits. Just one of our bendy friends will also provide you with 10% of the RDA of magnesium and 14% of vitamin B6.

5 Check your medication

Certain medications may have unwanted side effects which impact on muscle function leading to aches and pains. “Statins, taken by up to seven million people in the UK to lower cholesterol also deplete levels of the nutrient co-enzyme Q10, which plays a vital role in energy production,” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “That’s why many health professionals recommend taking a co-enzyme Q10 supplement alongside statins.” Co-enzyme Q10 is not always well absorbed by the body in its natural form, ubiquinone. So, when buying supplements, look out for the body-ready form,

6 Stay hydrated

Being even mildly dehydrated can lead to reduced energy. It’s fine when you’re young and healthy to rely on your sense of thirst to tell you when you need to drink, but as we get older it can be less reliable. Checking the colour of your urine may be better - a pale straw colour if you’re optimally hydrated. Most people can achieve this by drinking 6-8 cups or glasses of fluid daily, which can include juices, tea and coffee, but excludes alcoholic drinks.

7 De-stress

As everyone knows, stress saps energy. When we’re under stress, our body pumps out hormones such as cortisone and adrenaline. Called the “fight or flight” hormones, they serve a great evolutionary purpose: they prepare our body for an emergency. But they were never meant to be turned on all the time and chronically high levels can lead to exhaustion and affect your memory. Relaxation measures that energise include everything from deep-breathing and meditation to taking a warm bath so that you sleep better. “Get outside,” says psychotherapist Sally Brown. “Studies show walking in a green space or near water will leave you feeling calmer and happier. Or try singing along with the radio - It makes you feel happier than simply listening to music, according to University of London research.” Don’t underestimate the importance of a social network either. Having friends and family around for support is great at busting stress. 

8 Get moving

Paradoxically, physical activity makes you feel more energised, not less. Even a brisk 15-minute walk will send oxygen and nutrients to the brain, improve circulation and boost energy.

9 Check your immunity

If you’re been struck down by a cold or flu over the winter, the acute symptoms may resolve but full energy recovery may take a while. Fighting infection drains the body of energy and it’s not uncommon for someone to feel fatigued for months after suffering a bout of flu. Help to boost the immune system and in addition to enough sleep, water and a healthy diet, not smoking and regular exercise by supplementing with zinc, vitamin C and garlic. Echinacea taken at the first sign of cough or cold symptoms can boost the immune system to help see off these infections more quickly. Since the gut is a major part of that system, it needs to be looked after. Professor Glenn Gibson, at the University of Reading "About 70% of the human immune response arises from the gut. This is principally because of the trillions of bacteria which reside there and taking a probiotic daily such as Nu-TRI-Foundation daily especially during winter will help combat winter infections. Studies have shown that recovery from the flu or a cold can be markedly sped up during probiotics intake.”  Friendly bacteria support the immune system but illness, antibiotics and stress can reduce their number so a daily probiotic will help ensure the gut has enough.  

10 Sleep soundly

Just one restless night can decrease alertness, say researchers from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre.  Simple remedies to consider if you having trouble nodding off include hypnosis and traditional relaxation techniques. Diet is also important. Research has shown that raising levels of serotonin can induce sleep. A late-evening snack of a carbohydrate-rich food (one study recommended wholemeal banana muffins) may help to raise levels of serotonin. Supplements of 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) an essential amino acid found in certain foods, is converted into serotonin in the body to have the same effect.

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