“I’m sick of having no energy!” …. Sound familiar? Dealing with a general lack of energy, annoying fatigue, and overall sluggishness is one of the most common complaints I hear from clients in my nutrition practice. However, when I dig deeper, I often find three main roots to this lack of energy; a burdened liver, rollercoaster blood sugar levels, and an inconsistent eating routine.
Before I address the nutritional aspects of low energy, I do want to mention that chronic low energy, not mild bouts that fluctuate throughout the day, can be a symptom of an underlying health issue that may need to be addressed. Thyroid dysfunction, adrenal insufficiency, hormonal imbalances, anemia, autoimmune disease, digestive disorders, and mental health issues can all cause debilitating fatigue, so if you do happen to have any of the underlying issues, it is important to seek professional treatment as well as applying the following principles to ensure that you are getting top-notch nutrition as a benefit to your overall health.
1. FOODS THAT burden your liver
First, let’s talk about the liver. Nothing will zap your energy faster than the food and drinks that put a burden on your liver! The liver is truly the housecleaning organ of the body. Its main function is detoxification. This occurs when the liver converts toxins into water-soluble compounds that can be excreted through stool, urine, bile, or sweat. However, when toxins that come from poor diet overburden the liver, it becomes less effective at removing them from the body and the toxins end up stored in the nervous system and fat tissue. This leads to fatigue and sluggishness.
So, what are the foods that burden the liver? Breads, muffins, pastries, and grains that use refined carbohydrates (think white sugar, white flour, white rice), deli meats that are loaded with preservatives, fried foods, artificially flavored foods, and those that use additives for shelf stabilization. When it comes to drinks; alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and those with added sugars are the main culprits. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever have these foods or drinks! It’s all about balance. Having a coffee once a week, a glass of wine here and there, and a cupcake at a friend’s birthday won’t do damage. Rather, it’s the everyday burdens that add up and have a cumulative effect. Take a moment to think of your daily intake, are any of these burdening foods or drinks sneaking their way into your diet on a day-to-day basis?
A good rule of thumb is to ensure that you are consuming foods that are as close as possible to their original source around 80% of the time. Fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa, legumes such as sprouted beans, fresh meat and fish, and raw nuts and seeds are all fantastic choices for your 80%!
Think of your body as a luxury sports car, because really, that’s what we’d all like to be “driving” right? You want to fuel your “engine” (think ‘body’) with the premium options! The food you eat can be that premium fuel to give your body little boosts of energy throughout the day and keep that gorgeous and strong engine of yours humming along nicely!
2. rollercoaster blood sugars
The next root of low energy is rollercoaster blood sugars. Consuming the right foods in the right balance is truly the best way to keep blood sugar levels nice and steady.
When you experience highs and lows in your blood sugar levels from an overload of carbohydrates or a lack of protein you might feel foggy, irritable, and out-of-steam throughout the day. Protein works to slow the release of sugars that come from carbohydrate rich foods. When proteins are combined with carbohydrate sources, blood sugars are kept stable. Stable blood sugar levels = stable energy levels. So, they key here is to always be mindful of food combinations, starting with breakfast. In the morning, many people tend to skip out on protein. They opt for cereal, oatmeal, muffins, or bread, and forget to add in a protein. Do you do this? When choosing breakfast (and any other meal or snack in the day), remember to ask yourself “Where is my protein?” At breakfast choose to include eggs, plain Greek yogurt, natural nitrate-free bacon, or a natural protein powder to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
3. inconsistent eating routine
The last root of low energy is an inconsistent eating routine. In our busy lives we so often forget to eat! Eating is a primal need yet so many of us will get home at the end of a long, busy day feeling totally exhausted just to realize that we’ve barely eaten all day! If you skip breakfast, miss a morning snack, and skimp on lunch, then raid the kitchen in the evening (sound familiar?), you’re body just isn’t getting the fuel it needs to keep your engine running!
Generally speaking from 30 minutes to 1 hour after you awaken (which is when you should be eating breakfast), and every three hours thereafter until 1 hour before bed, you should eat a moderate amount of protein, some complex or simple carbohydrates, and healthy fats from whole, unrefined, minimally processed foods. Yes, it does sound like a lot of eating, but as mentioned before – it’s a primal need and your body THRIVES off of regular food intake throughout the day!
Eating regularly also fuels the metabolism to burn stored body fat for energy rather than conserving the body fat because of a lack of consistent food intake. So, not only will you feel like you have more pep-in-your-step, you may also notice a drop in body fat when you get intentional about a consistent eating routine.
As you go through this next month, take some time to look at your day-to-day dietary choices and habits. Are any of these contributing to the low energy you are experiencing? Make an effort to get rid of the burdens, balance your blood sugar levels, and right your routine and you’ll notice an improvement in your energy quicker than you’d expect!