How to balance your energy levels
Most of us would like to feel more energetic in our daily lives. We live in a busy world where time to cook our own meals can be limited and the foods we see advertised are not always good for us, especially those that promise to give us energy.
Some examples of foods that are marketed as ‘energy-giving’ and sometimes even ‘healthy’ but in fact lead to sugar cravings, tiredness, stress and weight gain include but are not limited to:
- breakfast cereals
- muesli bars
- soft drinks
- energy drinks
- fruit-based snacks like sultanas, yoghurt covered raisins and fruit chips
So what should we be doing to maintain our energy levels? Challenge Me’s resident nutritionist Mel Leitch has so many ideas for us that we have had to split them over two blog posts! Read on for the first 5 principles to achieving more energy now and look out for our blog post next week for even more ideas to balance your energy
1. Start with a robust, nourishing breakfast
After fasting all night your body needs a variety of nutrients, not just carbohydrates to kick-start its daily functions. Packaged cereals and supermarket breads tend to be high in sugar and very processed, adding in synthetic nutrients after the grains have been stripped of many of their natural nutrients. They are high-carbohydrate foods which give you a quick energy boost, followed by a dip a few hours later.
Eggs and vegetables are great for breakfast, containing many vitamins and minerals plus keeping you satisfied for longer. Try the many possible variations (eg. scrambled with mushrooms and tomato, poached or boiled egg with avocado on sourdough, frittata, quiche and even soup with egg just to name a few) to for variety.
You can also make porridge from either whole rolled oats or pre-soaked buckwheat or quinoa, or make your own bircher muesli from whole grains and nuts/seeds of choice plus spices (like cinnamon, vanilla bean, allspice) soaked overnight in yoghurt and served with fresh fruit. You can even eat leftover dinner for breakfast! We can easily limit ourselves out of habit and perception when it comes to appropriate breakfast foods. Break free and put your body’s needs above convenience and habit for an energy-rich day.
2. Have protein and/or healthy fats with each main meal and snack
Don’t have carbohydrates on their own. Carbohydrates, which essentially break down into sugar in the body, do give us energy but it is fleeting. High levels of carbohydrates are found in foods like fruit, bread, pasta, rice, vegetables (such as potato, pumpkin, peas, corn, turnips and onion) and many packaged/ processed foods like biscuits, cakes, chips, chocolate, ice cream. Also in drinks like hot chocolate, soft drink, juices and smoothies.
What goes up must come down, and carbohydrates give a burst of energy with a temporary high, that later crashes when your body responds with a burst of insulin production to lower your blood sugar levels. Consuming protein (meat, fish/seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes like chick peas/lentils/beans) and healthy fats (fish/seafood, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, full-fat plain yoghurt, grass-fed/pastured dairy, small amount of nuts or seeds) with carbohydrates prevents the high and low rollercoaster, stabilising your energy throughout the day.
3. Eat regularly
Don’t leave eating so long that you’re starving, or your body will crave carbs. The hungrier you are the more likely you will be to choose carbs because you need energy fast. If you are active you will need to eat every 3-4 hours or so to keep your blood sugar stable. More sedentary people may get away with longer breaks, but ensure each meal contains a variety of foods including those with protein and/or healthy fats and that you are not ignoring hunger or too busy to eat.
4. Avoid processed/packaged foods
We have already mentioned that foods like biscuits, cakes, chips, chocolate, ice cream and white bread are high in carbohydrates and send your blood sugar levels soaring. Generally the more processed a food item is, the higher it is in sugar or carbohydrates.
Instead, choose whole foods (meat, vegetables, eggs, fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds) and spend a little time at home preparing your meals and snacks for the week. You will be amazed at how much you can achieve in just a couple of hours and how easy it is to avoid buying your meals/snacks out once you get into the swing of it.
If you need to eat snacks as well as main meals, go for whole food snacks (like a piece of chicken, a boiled egg, vegetable sticks and guacamole, olives, fruit and a small amount of nuts) or make your own version of baked goods at home from whole, organic ingredients.
5. Drink plenty of water & avoid caffeine
Staying hydrated can help keep you awake and focused so make sure you aim for 2 litres of water per day.
While many of us choose caffeine for its stimulating properties, it actually leave you more tired than before. This is because caffeine causes your body to release adrenaline from your adrenal glands – a hormone associated with stress. Adrenaline tells your body it is in danger and as a result, your body releases glucose (sugar) from your liver and muscles into your blood stream to provide you with energy to run away or fight the danger (the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response).
As many of us lead quite sedentary lifestyles sitting in the office most of the day, the excess blood sugars get stored as fat. It’s the same ‘high then low’ energy pattern as eating sugar. This process also leaves us craving carbohydrates to replenish the stores we lost from our liver/muscles. It is a vicious cycle and one that increases the more caffeine you have.
Key takeaway: keep caffeine to a minimum or avoid altogether.
If you like what you have read in this blog post, sign up to the Challenge Me starter program today! The Challenge Me nutrition eBook provides even more evidence based research on what you should eat and why. It breaks many food myths and teaches you how to eat tailored to your individual goals. The lifestyle elements of the program will also teach you how to have a healthier and happier mind and body. If you’re not ready to join the program, you can also purchase the Challenge Me nutrition eBook from the shop section of our website.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post fo the next 5 tips for balancing energy levels!