Whether it’s due to not getting enough sleep the night before, a long day at work, being under lots of stress, or partaking in strenuous physical activity, we’ve all experienced tiredness. In fact, it’s normal for your energy levels to rise and fall. However, if you find yourself feeling fatigued more often than not, then some of the foods you’re eating could actually be to blame as they may be zapping your energy rather than giving you fuel. Below are some of the most common energy-draining foods as well as my suggestions on how you can increase your energy levels, not just through the foods you eat, but by implementing other factors and lifestyle changes into your routine.
Grains – especially if whole grains – are good for you. They’re high in fibre and rich in complex carbohydrates, which are a great source of energy for the body. However, if you find yourself consuming more processed grains then they’re actually depleting your body of the energy it needs. This is because during processing, the fibre-containing layer known as bran gets stripped. Processed grains also lack germ, which is another essential part of the grain that contains many nutrients that can help maintain energy. Examples of processed grains include white bread, pasta and rice – and, when you eat them, they are digested quickly. This then results in a rise in your blood sugar level followed by a drop in your energy level.
Common breakfast foods such as cereal and flavoured yogurt, while you might think are healthy, can also cause your energy level to drop. Cereals that are geared more towards children tend to contain little fibre and are high in added sugar – sometimes by as much as 50%. This can cause both blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, which will also boost energy briefly, but it will then crash. Eating cereals and other foods that are high in added sugar can also result in further sugar cravings. Whether it’s you or a child eating cereal, try to opt for those that do not contain added sugar and have at least 4 to 5 grams of fibre per serving. If you’re going to eat yogurt, I suggest avoiding ones that are flavoured as they also tend to contain added sugars, and instead go for plain yogurt (Greek is best) and sweeten it yourself with a small amount of honey or fresh fruit.
Alcohol, while known to cause a relaxing effect, can actually eventually reduce the quality and duration of your sleep depending on the quantity you consume and how often you consume it. If you’re going to drink alcohol, make sure your consumption level is low to moderate. If you’re someone who happens to drink alcohol in excess on a daily basis, you may need treatment for alcoholism, which is something that can be addressed with your family physician.
Caffeine is a stimulant that is known to increase energy, and is commonly found in coffee. There are many pros to drinking this caffeinated beverage. In fact, studies have shown that when it is consumed in moderation, it has many positive effects – both physically and mentally. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. When you drink coffee, it gives you a boost in energy and brain function. However, the more coffee you drink, the more your body will build up a tolerance and rely on it in order to get the energy you need. Relying on coffee and/or not getting the required amount of coffee your body needs once it has built up that tolerance can also cause your energy levels to crash. To avoid this, I suggest limiting your caffeine intake to no more than 3 or 4 cups per day.
So just what are some healthier foods (and drinks) that can improve your energy levels? Water is number one. Along with its many other health benefits, drinking water can also boost your energy and fight off fatigue. When you don’t drink enough of it, you could become dehydrated, which can result in feeling tired and sluggish, so try to drink water regularly throughout the day. Fruit is something I also strongly recommend including more of in your diet. Apples, for example, are great for boosting energy as they’re high in antioxidants, which slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, thus causing your energy level to decrease less rapidly. Apples are also rich in fibre. Another great fruit for increasing energy – one of the best, in fact – are bananas. Bananas are a great source of energy-boosting carbs, potassium, and vitamin B6.