Do you struggle to get going in the mornings, or find yourself hitting a wall of fatigue come 3pm? The answer to always feeling tired may lie in your diet. What and how you eat has a profound effect on your energy level; so, we went to the experts to find out what we should be eating when for better energy.
8am: First Thing In The Morning
While you should be aiming for three meals per day as well as a couple of snacks, breakfast is arguably the most important meal if you’re looking to keep your blood sugar – and hence energy – on an even keel throughout the day. As nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville explains, “A well-balanced, healthy diet is essential for high energy levels. At its most basic level, the food you eat and drink is the fuel that your body and brain needs to function at its peak. Skimp on the quality of that fuel and you will pay the price with weight gain and low energy.” Avoid reaching for sugary foods first thing and instead start the day with some oats – try a bowl of porridge with some ground nuts or seeds sprinkled on top for a protein hit.
TOP TIP: Eggs – a valuable source of protein as well as B vitamins (responsible for converting food into energy) – make for a nutritionally balanced breakfast, too. Team with a serving of low-GI vegetables such as leafy greens or cherry tomatoes for an added vitamin and fibre hit.
10am: Coffee Break
Between school runs, long commutes and tight deadlines, it’s no wonder many of us rely on our daily caffeine fix to get through the day. However, caffeine is a stimulant – when it hits our system, it releases adrenaline, a stress hormone that is not designed to be churned out 24-7. This, in turn, makes our energy levels soar but then crash, which makes us feel like only more caffeine and sugar can fuel our bodies.
TOP TIP: Reach for a green or Matcha tea – containing almost as much energy-boosting caffeine as coffee, its effects are proven to be longer-lasting thanks to slow-releasing amino acids.
Come mid-morning, nutritionist Shona Wilkinson advises us to snack on raw, unsalted nuts, which are packed with nutrients and are unprocessed, making them a high-energy food source. As she explains, the key to keeping energy levels constant is to eat little and often – if your body is too full, your brain thinks you don’t need to get more food and you can relax; if you are still a little hungry, you stay awake because you feel as if you need to find your next meal. It’s the caveman mentality.
TOP TIP: Avoid anything pre-packaged when it comes to choosing a snack. Foods in their raw state – think nuts and raw nut butters as well as fruits and vegetables – are your best options.
Stick to wholefoods throughout the course of the day if you want to maintain energy – when we consume foods that are in their whole form as opposed to their processed counterparts, your body has to spend less time and energy breaking it down; this is the easiest way to start increasing your energy. For lunch, eat some lean protein, a portion of low-GI carbohydrates and plenty of green vegetables. The brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower and kale) are a powerhouse of nutrients, including antioxidants, which are crucial for optimal energy levels.
TOP TIP: Remember to chew your food properly – countless nutritionists agree that one of the best ways to improve digestion (and therefore, energy) is to chew adequately. This, in turn, will mean your body is better able to extract energy from the food you eat. Try chewing each mouthful at least 30 times.
4pm: Beat The Afternoon Slump
When it comes to avoiding the dreaded afternoon slump, remember you’re looking for sustained energy, not a quick sugar hit. Team healthy fats with fibre to see you through until dinner – try half an avocado dusted in sea salt or some Brazil nuts and berries.
TOP TIP: If you’re heading to the gym after work, give some thought to your afternoon snack – a protein-based smoothie can be helpful if you’ve got a weight training session planned while a handful of dried fruit has plenty of energy to keep you going through a demanding HIIT session.
What you eat for supper has a profound effect on how you sleep. As Shona Wilkinson says, “You may not think you need much energy while you’re asleep, but your brain and body still need glucose to keep working. If levels fall too low, this can cause the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can wake you up. To avoid this, make sure you have some slow-releasing carbohydrates in the evening, such as a serving of brown rice with your evening meal.”
TOP TIP: Pair your low-GI carbs with a serving of salmon – chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, it is also high in protein, vitamin B6, niacin and riboflavin, key nutrients which can help convert food into energy.