Best Foods to Boost Energy Levels
Maintaining high levels of energy whilst dieting and exercising can prove difficult; this article will discuss the best foods for boosting energy levels without resorting to sugar and stimulants.
A great proportion of people in the modern world suffer with on-going low energy and fatigue resulting from the stresses of everyday life. Following a strict diet can exacerbate feelings of fatigue, making it difficult for individuals to stick to a weight loss regime.
If you want to boost your energy levels, particularly whilst trying simultaneously to lose weight and maintain a healthy diet, there are certain foods that you can turn to – and we don’t mean caffeine and sugar!
Here we will discuss a selection of healthy foods and tips to help keep your energy levels up without resorting to stimulants.
Causes of Fatigue
The term ‘fatigue’ refers to a feeling of tiredness and low energy; it is a problem that most people will suffer with at some point in their lives, and one that is not easily attributed to one particular cause. A person can suffer from fatigue for long periods of time, and it is a problem that is more common amongst women than men. Working out precisely what is causing fatigue can be complicated; in order to do so, there are a number of questions that you can ask yourself.
Although not common, there are some physical medical problems that can cause fatigue. If you are suffering from on-going tiredness, it would be worth visiting your doctor to check for these causes before discounting them. Some of the best-known causes of tiredness include: anaemia, thyroid problems, diabetes, and sleep apnoea – though there are a number of other possible physical causes. These are often accompanied by other symptoms.
Psychological and lifestyle issues might also form part of the problem. Those who are under lots of stress are often burdened with fatigue. Anxiety and depression can lead to problems such as insomnia, which, in turn, can result in tiredness and a lack of energy. Lifestyle and diet can further aggravate the problem – it is important that an individual maintains a good sleeping pattern and diet plan.
Interestingly, being overweight can also be a cause of tiredness. The bodies of those who are overweight are under more stress when performing everyday tasks. Losing weight in itself might help overweight people to combat fatigue, and whilst dieting can add to the problem in the short-term, there are certain foods that can be added to your diet to help keep energy levels up during the weight loss process.
Lifestyle Changes to Boost Energy Levels
Whilst food choice and diet will be discussed in more detail below, there are some changes that an individual can make to their lifestyle in order to boost energy levels. Perhaps most importantly amongst these is the maintenance of a good sleeping pattern. Unsurprisingly, the amount and quality of sleep that an individual gets can be strongly linked to fatigue and their energy levels during the day.
As a general rule, it is recommended that people get eight hours of sleep a night. This is however only a guideline; some people will need more than eight hours and others will need less. It is important that you take the time to work out precisely how much sleep you need to function well, and work your sleeping habits around this. Getting enough sleep can have a great number of benefits besides increased energy levels; it can boost immunity, improve mental wellbeing, increase sex drive, and even prevent weight gain.
Another factor to take into consideration is alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol, particularly in the evenings, can disrupt sleep, often causing people to wake up in the night. Alcohol is also a depressant and as mentioned previously, feelings of depression and anxiety can affect your sleeping patterns. Reducing alcohol intake can therefore significantly help a person to get more sleep and consequently, to feel more energised in day-to-day life.
Best Foods to Boost Energy Levels
Your diet can have a significant effect on your energy levels – the food that you consume is, after all, what your body uses for energy. Both what you eat and when you eat it need to be takes into consideration. Generally speaking, the key to a good diet that will provide you with plenty of energy is one that is well balanced between the main food groups, and involves eating at regular intervals throughout the day. The NHS recommends eating three meals a day and limiting the amount of snacking between meals.
Fruit and Vegetables
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is very important for a healthy diet, particularly when these foods are consumed in place of sugary and fatty alternatives. Eating at least five portions of fruit and veg daily can help you to feel energised and healthy throughout the day. As discussed in the ‘Foods to Avoid’ section below, eating sugary foods provides a rush of energy that is short-lived. Instead, your body requires a steady supply of energy throughout the day, and fruits and vegetables are great sources for the body’s maintenance tasks.
Carbohydrates are an important source of slow-release energy; this means that they can help to provide the body with energy gradually, ensuring that it has a steady source for normal bodily function. Starchy foods are a large component of most peoples’ diets and many sources of carbohydrates provide a good selection of nutrients as well as a great energy source. Examples of healthy foods that are high in carbohydrates for slow-release energy include: potatoes, bread, pasta, and cereals. Wholegrain versions of these foods, where available, might be even more beneficial for your energy levels. Carbohydrates are deemed a particularly important energy source for endurance athletes.
Ensuring that you get plenty of iron from your diet is integral for your energy levels. A lack of iron, medically known as anaemia, can result in tiredness and fatigue. The Food Standards Agency reported that in recent years, 40% of females aged 16-24 were deficient in iron. Iron can be found in a range of different foods; red meat provides a good source, as do wholegrain foods and vegetables such as lentils, spinach, beans and mushrooms. It is recommended that you consume a variety of different foods to ensure that you are getting plenty of iron into your body.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted for their potential benefits for the brain. The substances are thought to aid brain function and have also been suggested in clinical trials to help to improve mood and depression. Since there is a link between depression and sleep problems, eating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids might help to reduce tiredness and fatigue. Popular examples of these foods include fishes, such as salmon, trout, and mackerel, diary products, such as milk, margarine, and eggs, and enriched bread and pasta.
The Importance of Breakfast
The importance of breakfast is widely understood; eating a healthy breakfast is thought to have a variety of health benefits. In terms of fatigue, breakfast is believed to be very beneficial for keeping an individual’s energy levels up throughout the day – this is something that has been studied in clinical trials.
Having a heavy breakfast has been shown to improve mood, attention, and memory. One study using medical students as subjects found that skipping breakfast and consuming meals irregularly was linked with fatigue. Another study showed that eating breakfast could improve cognitive performance and mood.
Indeed, the results of National Health and Nutrition Examination Studies 1999-2004 indicated that everybody should consume breakfast, and that the energy density of breakfast is associated with diet quality, body weight, and overall energy density of diet. It was also noted that women who consumed breakfast had significantly lower BMIs than those who did not.
Foods to Avoid
As well as looking at what foods to add in to your diet, it is important to note that there are some foods that might be detrimental to efforts to boost energy levels. In particular, foods that provide a short-term boost in energy that can often be followed by a dip in energy, therefore having the opposite to the desired effect. The key examples of these are sugar and caffeine.
Whilst it would not be practical to cut all sugar from your diet, reducing the amount of sugary foods that an individual consumes on a day-to-day basis can be very beneficial for energy levels and for general health. Sugar provides a temporary increase in energy that may be followed by a slight ‘energy crash’. Studies have suggested that increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables could also reduce the consumption of high-fat/high-sugar foods and that concentrating on an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption might be more beneficial than concentrating on reducing fat and sugar consumption.
Similarly, caffeine is a stimulant that many people turn to when they are suffering from fatigue and tiredness, but that can actually have the opposite effect. There is no doubt that caffeine provides an increase in energy, since it stimulates the central nervous system; however, this effect is only temporary and people report suffering from a ‘crash’ in energy after the effect has worn off. Caffeine consumption can also impact your sleep and can cause insomnia, particularly if consumed in the evening. This could cause you to suffer from tiredness and fatigue the following day.
Dieting and Energy Levels
Many people who are trying to lose weight report low energy levels, particularly if they are following a very-low-calorie diet. Very-low-calorie diets have been associated with fatigue and tiredness – they should be avoided by anybody who is already suffering from low energy. Dieting alone can cause depression, which has been linked with fatigue. It is very important to ensure that you are losing weight healthily. In order to do this, you should opt for a well-balanced diet that is not too low in calories; it should encourage gradual, long-term weight loss rather than quick changes.
It is very important that an individual who is dieting feels as though they are getting plenty of food and that they have the energy to perform regular exercise. If a person feels fatigued, then they will be less likely to partake in exercise, thus hampering their weight loss progress. Undertaking regular exercise might however have the opposite, potentially helping people to feel more energised and less fatigued. One study of cancer patients found that those who underwent a home-based exercise programme were less fatigued and anxious than those that did not, also noting improved sleep. Exercise has also been touted as an alternative to antidepressants in the elderly.
Remember that sticking to a diet and losing weight can help an individual to feel more energised in the long-run, since the body will be under less stress whilst performing tasks on a daily basis.
People looking to boost their energy levels can make a number of lifestyle changes. Reducing alcohol consumption and improving sleep patterns can, for example, have a significantly beneficial impact on energy levels throughout the day. The choice of foods is also important; swapping sugary foods for fruits and vegetables might be useful, but the key to improving energy levels through the diet seems to be through a healthy, well balanced diet that incorporates all of the main food groups. Ensuring that you consume plenty of iron and omega-3 fatty acids might also be useful.
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