Diet & Nutrition

A simple daily checklist for more energy, according to a nutritionist

If you went into the New Year feeling raring to go, only have the first week of January drag on, you’re not alone. If your energy levels are already beginning to wane, nutritionist Susie Burrell has tips for how to get it back on track. 

For any busy person, if you were offered more energy, no questions asked, chances are you’d be grabbing it with both hands. A rather elusive concept, the definition of energy differs widely and can include the energy we get from food, the way we feel in our body, the physiological systems in the body that run metabolism or simply being able to do all the things you would like to do without feeling overly tired or fatigued. It can also be influenced by many things, even by our menstrual cycle.

So as we move into a new year, along with all the hope we have to feel, look and perform better each day, here are some proven strategies to incorporate into your day so you can power through no matter how busy your schedule is.

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Get your meal timing right

What we eat directly impacts blood glucose control, so getting meal timing right is crucial to maintaining energy levels throughout the day. While every person will be different, in general eating balanced meals every 3-4 hours will ensure that meal size is regulated while avoiding that dreaded energy slump many of us experience late morning and afternoon (for which we often reach for a sweet or caffeinated treat).

Remember, this is not a one-size-fits-all model, and some people find that fasting until lunchtime, or only eating a meal or two each day helps them to avoid energy fluctuations throughout the day.

Get your meal balance right

One of the easiest ways to keep your energy levels tightly regulated is to tick the box on key nutrients at each and every meal you enjoy. When meals contain a mix of carbs, proteins, dietary fibre and good fats—such as avocado and egg on toast—digestion is slowed, as opposed to carb-rich meals such as plain toast with jam which will result in relatively large fluctuations in blood glucose levels.

These fluctuations can leave you feeling tired and lethargic an hour or two after eating. A simple rule of ‘always eat carbs and protein together’: yoghurt and fruit, cheese and crackers, nuts and fruit and meat with potatoes will help to achieve this balance at each meal and snack.

Time your caffeine

While caffeine-rich drinks and supplements are the go-to energy boost of the masses, they can also be our worst enemy. While they will give you a hit of energy for 60-90 minutes, as the body metabolises the caffeine they will also result in a subsequent energy dip.

This is not to say that caffeine cannot be used to manage your energy levels, but rather timing is key. Ideally consume caffeine with food, to help buffer its response and know your tolerance. For example, a regular coffee contains roughly 100mg of caffeine, while a large double this, and especially large amounts of caffeine will be more likely to result in an energy low. Also remember that diet cola soft drinks, which can offer up to 60mg of caffeine will have their effects exaggerated as there is no sugar or fuel consumed with this caffeine, and as such you will be best to eat something if you choose to drink these diet drinks.

Move after meals

The more you move, the more blood circulates around the body, facilitating digestion and metabolism. Not only will increased blood flow instantly make you feel more alert, but facilitating digestion will help to reduce feelings of heaviness and discomfort which is common after eating.

Moving will also stimulate the muscles to utilise glucose, helping to further regulate glucose levels in the bloodstream. Even if you can only manage to move for a few minutes after eating, it will make a significant difference to your energy levels for the next few hours.

Utilise the right stimulants

There are a number of natural stimulants including green tea, matcha, chili, ginseng and L-Theanine (naturally occurring in tea) which have been shown to increase perceived energy levels along with improvements in focus, memory and concentration.

While some of these do contain some caffeine, it is in much smaller amounts than found in a typical latte or cappuccino. Utilising these natural energy boosters at key time points throughout your day, for example enjoying a matcha or black tea late afternoon are simple strategies to support energy regulation throughout the day.

Get the blood pumping!

It goes without saying that few of us are as active as we need to be and is it any wonder we feel so tired and lethargic when we spend much of the day sitting? This means that incorporating some vigorous activity into your day, even if it is just 5-10 minutes each day is a crucial step towards optimising your energy levels.

This may translate into an interval exercise class at lunchtime, 10 minutes of home gym exercises each morning or grabbing a skipping rope a couple of times each day, but doing more not less is ultimately the key to super-powering your daily experience of energy in 2021.

Susie Burrell holds two honours degrees in nutrition and dietetics, and psychology. She is especially known for her practical, easy to understand approach to diet, nutrition, and wellbeing.