By Kathy S. McEwan, Southwind Extension District Family and Consumer Sciences Foods & Nutrition
If you’ve noticed that your energy dips after lunch, you are tired during the day, or you are one of the many who are battling back to health following an illness, it may be time to incorporate some healthy habits into your daily routine to increase or rebuild your energy. According to www.eatright.org and www.webmd.com, even committing to a couple of these changes can boost your energy levels.
- Stay hydrated.
Drinking more water and staying hydrated can help you avoid getting tired. Some studies suggest that even mild dehydration can slow your metabolism and sap your energy. The solution is simple—drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals, energy (calories), and fiber that your body needs. Fruits and vegetables are also full of water which helps you to stay well-hydrated. Try starting meals with fruits or vegetables and incorporate them into your meals and snacks.
- Choose whole grains.
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are filled with fiber which helps keep your energy steady throughout the day. Carbohydrate-rich foods like whole grains are your body’s preferred source of fuel and they raise levels of the feel-good chemical, serotonin. In contrast, sweets and processed grains cause your blood sugar to spike and crash, which can make you feel tired and moody.
- Choose magnesium-rich foods.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a key role in converting carbohydrates into energy. Not getting enough magnesium in your diet can drain your energy. Some foods rich in magnesium include whole grains, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, almonds, cashews, and dark chocolate.
- Include protein in meals and snacks.
When you eat protein with meals and snacks, it keeps blood sugar levels steady by preventing blood sugar spikes and dips which drain your energy. Lean pork, lean beef, skinless chicken, and turkey are sources of protein that include the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine triggers feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine which can help you feel more alert and focused.
- Choose smart snacks.
Snacks found in a vending machine or convenience store are often full of sugar, saturated and trans fats, salt, and other highly processed ingredients—these are all energy drainers! Instead, pack healthy snacks to eat in-between meals to keep your energy levels high throughout the day. Try keeping healthy, portable snacks in single serving containers in your desk, backpack or car.
- Plan meals and snacks ahead.
Aim for three meals and a couple healthy snacks each day to keep your energy high. Planning your meals and snacks ahead will ensure that you have healthy food whether you’re eating at home, packing lunch, or having a snack on the go. An eating plan for the day will help to keep you on track.
- When eating, eat.
Doing things like watching TV, reading, or talking on the phone while eating may lead to you eating more than you think. Also, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body has had enough to eat. So, when eating, only eat. Try to sit down and focus on your food when you eat and avoid distractions.
- Find physical activities that you enjoy.
Physical activity is important for your health and fitness, but it also promotes a feeling of well-being and increased energy. Pick activities you enjoy like walking, running, or biking and do at least ten minutes of physical activity each time. Healthy adults should aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week, but ANY amount of physical activity will be a benefit. If you have not been active for a while or have health concerns, check with your healthcare provider before beginning physical activity.
- Set healthy and realistic goals.
Setting realistic goals and making step-by-step changes will help you to develop healthy habits and increase your energy naturally. Try logging your diet, activity, and energy level to track your progress. A notebook works well, or you can try an online program or smartphone app. When setting goals, make them SMART – Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant, Time Limited. For instance, instead of setting a goal of drinking more water, make it a SMART goal by committing to drink 24 oz. water before noon every day.