Are you falling asleep mid-task, having trouble concentrating on conversations, or wanting to take a mid-afternoon nap at your desk? Most of us have experienced the overwhelming sensation of exhaustion at less-than-optimal times. The good news is that you may be able to prevent fatigue and boost energy levels by paying attention to what and when you eat.
1. Opt for whole grains.
There are two categories of grains—whole and refined. Whole grain foods contain all parts of a grain seed—bran, germ, and endosperm. A few whole grain foods are whole wheat flour and breads, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole corn including cornmeal and popcorn. Refined grains have been milled to give them a finer texture and improve shelf life. This process also removes the bran and germ which contain fiber, iron and B vitamins. “Enriched” grains will have many of these key nutrients added back to them after processing. Refined grains include white bread, white rice, and items made with white flour (some pastas, cakes). The Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume at least half of our grains as whole grains.
Your body digests whole grains more slowly than refined grains allowing for a more gradual rise in blood sugar, which leads to stable energy levels hours after eating.
As a bonus, whole grains provide many nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and minerals like iron. Eating whole grains as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It can also aid in weight management and keep energy levels up throughout the day.
2. Go lean with protein throughout the day.
The body needs protein to rebuild and repair tissues throughout the day. If you don’t get enough protein in your daily diet, your energy levels may plummet, leaving you feeling fatigued.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women over 19 years old need 46 grams a day. Men over 19 need 56 grams a day. Of course, these recommendations vary based on your height, weight, physical activity, and general health. For reference, ½ cup of canned tuna has about 28 grams of protein.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend selecting lean sources of protein. Try seafood, lean meat and poultry, beans and peas, eggs, soy, nuts, and seeds.
Our bodies are continuously repairing damaged tissues used in daily activity. So, it is important to eat protein foods throughout the day, not just all in one sitting. When your body does not have enough protein from your diet, it pulls from existing muscle to fuel its needs.
3. Don’t forget about fat!
Fats are essential in the diet. They provide us with energy, are a fundamental part of all body cells, and are involved in metabolism. Fats are also needed for digestion of vitamins A, D, E, and K. However, it’s the type of fat you eat that matters most.
Unsaturated fats: There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Both types can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Common sources include avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, and oils like olive, canola, soybean, peanut, safflower, and sesame.
Saturated fats: These fats can raise cholesterol levels and overconsumption may increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Common sources of saturated fat include animal products like meats, cheeses, butter/lard, and cream, so watch your serving sizes!
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 10% of calories from saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats when possible.
In terms of energy, fat is the main fuel source for low to moderate intensity duration activities. When you are sitting at a desk, watching TV, or doing other low impact tasks, your body is using primarily fat as the energy source. Therefore, it’s key to incorporate some unsaturated fat into your snacks and meals throughout the day.
4. Timing is key – have something small every 4 hours.
Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day (every 3-4 hours). This schedule will help prevent dips and spikes in blood sugar levels. Larger meals, especially around lunchtime, can result in a sudden influx of energy followed by a slump. In addition to making smart food choices, planning your eating schedule is an important factor to consider.
Don’t forget, your brain needs energy too! A steady supply of nutrients will help keep you focused, alert, and awake so you can go about your day.
5. Look beyond food.
Simple, Energizing Snacks
Sleep is a critical time for your body to recover. Skip out on a few hours and you may notice your energy levels are lower than usual.
While it may not seem like it, physical activity is a great way to increase your energy level. Regular exercise strengthens muscles and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. That improved delivery system helps you feel stronger and more awake. Physical activity may also promote better sleep.
Stress uses a lot of the body’s energy, especially if it’s over an extended period of time. Stress can be mentally and physically demanding, so find activities that counteract stress for you. Whatever you need to do to relax, whether that’s going for a run, talking with a friend, or listening to music, take a moment and just do it.
This blog was written by Aimee Takamura, Sodexo Dietetic Intern.