July 10, 2014 at 9:22 AM ET
“I wish I had more energy." If that's how you feel most days, you should know true energy boosting comes from managing the three "S's” of healthy living: sustenance, sleep, and stress. And it’s a lot easier than you might think! The first step is recognizing which of these pillars of energy needs some work.
Take a closer look at both what and when you’re eating. Never skip a meal. It’s key to eat around every four hours. That translates to three meals and, if needed, one to two small snacks daily. If you aren’t a morning eater, try a skim milk latte to give yourself some much needed morning fuel. Keep your meals balanced with a combination of carbohydrates (for quick energy), fat and protein (for longer term energy).
Stay hydrated! Even slight dehydration can make you feel lethargic. Without the right water balance for cells, the body does not perform well, including regulating body temperature. Urine should be pale yellow for adequate hydration. Water is the best hydrator, but fruits and vegetables are almost all water as an alternate.
Both the quantity and quality of sleep will affect how energetic you feel the next day. Aim for seven hours of solid sleep every night. Make an effort to “barter” for more sleep time by reducing non-essential time demands in other areas.
To maximize your quality of sleep, create a positive "sleepscape." Keep your room cool, and turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
Avoid alcohol before bed. While it might seem to promote sleep, it has the opposite impact on the brain, and interferes with sound sleep patterns.
Mental fatigue is felt the same way as physical fatigue, and the primary cause of mental fatigue is stress. While daily stressors can’t always be eliminated, they can be managed with effective behavioral strategies.
Try talking through a problem with a friend or co-worker. De-cluttering the home or work environment is another effective tool. Practice selective unplugging from electronics, including phones and computers.
Look for a quick energy boost by giving your head a mini-massage by rubbing your temples, or practice mini-meditation by deep breathing for 2-3 minutes
Is Caffeine a True Energy Booster?
Caffeine is one of nature's most effective tools to boost energy when used in moderation. When it comes to caffeine, the less it’s consumed, the better it works when a stimulation is needed. Health guidelines recommend no more than 300 mg daily (about a 20-ounce black coffee).
Not a coffee drinker, or caffeine-sensitive? A 10-ounce mug of tea is around 50 mg of caffeine, with sodas (diet and regular) containing about the same. With larger amounts of caffeine throughout the day, caffeine receptors can become ‘fatigued” and stop responding, so more caffeine doesn’t translate to more energy.
For those who avoid caffeine altogether, or especially in the afternoons to prevent sleep disturbances, there are several options for boosting your energy:
Can Certain Foods Provide an Energy Boost?
While all foods provide fuel, the best short term energy boost comes from food combinations with a balance of carbohydrates (for quick energy), protein and fats (for longer term energy).
For quick energy: Stick with a carbohydrate-fiber rich food. Fruit is the perfect choice, providing water, fruit sugar, and fiber. Mixed nutrient snacks can keep you energized longer – like low-fat yogurt with fruit, a handful of nuts, hummus and crackers, a hard-boiled egg, or a slice of whole wheat bread and peanut butter.
For long-term energy: Sustained energy for the body comes from healthy cell function, and three particular nutrients impact energy levels throughout the body: vitamin B12, iron, and magnesium. Deficiencies in these can sap your energy chronically. Because they’re found throughout the food supply, it’s easy to include into your daily eating.
Good sources of vitamin B12: beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs.
Good sources of iron: red meat, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, tofu, pumpkin seeds, spinach, raisins, dried apricots.
Good sources of magnesium: dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), avocado, bananas, pumpkin seeds, nuts (cashews, pecans), salmon, tuna, soybeans and other legumes, low fat yogurt.
And avoid high-fat meals because they take a lot longer to digest, and can leave your feeling sluggish. Skip energy drinks and pills promising a quick energy boost; they are mostly caffeine based, and sometimes include other caffeine-like stimulants like guarana.
While it’s best to get all nutrient requirements from foods, it’s not always that easy. A daily multivitamin-mineral supplement containing 100 percent of the RDI is the best bet. While this is not an instant energy boost, it can supplement but never replace healthy eating.
Time to See Your Doctor!
If you've tried adjusting your diet, sleep and stress consistently and are still feeling tired, it’s time for a visit to your doctor. Low energy can be indicative of a more serious medical issue, including undiagnosed heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or anemia.
And sharing the lifestyle changes you’ve made can help your doctor diagnose the underlying causes of your fatigue.