Are you struggling to get going in the morning or hitting a wall of fatigue in the afternoon? What and when you eat can have a profound effect on your energy levels...
Those enviable people who effortlessly drift off to sleep, wake up with the birds and charge through the day full of enthusiasm almost certainly have their daily diets nailed. If all-day energy currently eludes you, your eating habits and food choices may need a shake up...
Complex (not simple) carbohydrates
Not only are they a good source of fibre, can help you manage weight and may reduce the risk of certain health conditions, complex carbohydrates release glucose into the blood gradually, providing the body with a steady supply of energy. A diet rich in foods such as wholegrains, oats, pulses, nuts and seeds will help you stay healthy and full of energy.
Simple carbohydrates come in two forms, natural and refined. Some fruits and vegetables are high in natural sugars, and can provide a healthy boost of energy when needed. Refined carbohydrates are often found in processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and sweets and include white flours and table sugar. These are best enjoyed as an occasional treat as they are quickly digested, releasing sugar rapidly into the blood stream, causing insulin spikes that lead to energy highs and crashing lows.
Swap white pasta and rice for brown or wholewheat varieties, try using wholemeal flour as an alternative to white flour and make the most of cheap, filling legumes.
Zingy salmon & brown rice salad
Wholewheat pasta with broccoli & almonds
Brown rice stir-fry with coriander omelette
Malted walnut seed loaf
Walnut & raisin oatcakes
Banana fairy cakes
Red lentil, chickpea & chilli soup
Always eat breakfast
People skip breakfast for reasons varying from not feeling hungry first thing in the morning to believing it will aid their weight loss goals. It is well documented that in fact, eating a healthy breakfast can reduce cravings later in the day and encourage healthier food choices for subsequent snacks and meals.
Eating low-GI, complex carbohydrates alongside a helping of protein at the start of the day will give your body all it needs in terms of energy, will kick-start your metabolism so you start burning more calories earlier in the day and will even help get your brain in gear.
Replace any white breads with wholemeal or wholegrain for a satisfying and healthy breakfast.
Eat less, more often
Hands up if you've lost an entire afternoon asleep on the sofa post-Sunday lunch. When we over-indulge in foods high in carbohydrates, fats or sugars, a few things happen in the digestion process that can leave us feeling lethargic and drowsy. When you eat, your brain signals to your body to slow down and digest the incoming food – the more you put in, the harder your digestive system has to work – and the less energy you will have.
If your giant portion was full of sugar and simple carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and flours, then your brain will also be dealing with an increase of insulin and elevated levels of serotonin and melatonin – chemicals associated with drowsiness.
Eating smaller meals more regularly will help regulate your blood glucose levels, as well as releasing energy gradually instead of in one big hit. Controlling your portion sizes is key to this approach – you could well be eating more at meal times than a balanced diet requires.
When you need a quick boost...
As we all know, exercise is key to staying healthy, but sometimes the energy to lace up those trainers eludes even the best of us. This is the time carbohydrates with simple, quick releasing sugars come into their own. The concentrated carbs in these foods will provide energy to the muscles in the quickest way possible. However, we're not suggesting you eat a slice of chocolate cake before hitting the gym. Instead, take advantage of high fibre foods containing natural sugars such as fresh or dried fruit, or a homemade smoothie topped with honey to give you a boost without leaving you uncomfortably full.
The importance of B vitamins...
All B vitamins play a role in converting your food into energy that the body can use. Therefore, making sure you get your recommended daily amount will ensure your body has a reliable source of energy to call upon. Avoid deficiencies by eating a diet rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, meat and fish.
What are your top tips for keeping your energy up?
Try making our choc-orange energy booster balls.
This article was last reviewed on 16 September 2019 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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