Would you like to have more energy?
There could be any number of reasons why you’re feeling tired. Stress, kids waking you up, light sleeping patterns, a full on toddler or life just might be making you feel really frazzled right now.
When you’re low on energy you may find you can’t concentrate, forget things, feel grumpy, drained, and stuck. You want to break the tiredness cycle but your responsibilities to work and family life are too overwhelming to work out how to do this exactly. You may feel that you don’t have time to prepare healthy meals and you always put your family’s needs before your own.
When we’re tired it can feel ‘easier’ to grab a coffee with a pastry or lunch ‘on-the-go’. This may give you an instant lift, but it is short lived and may start a roller coaster cycle where you find yourself experiencing energy crashes and ultimately feeling more fatigued and irritable than you did before as well as feeling bloated, craving sugary foods, and concerned about your weight.
The science behind it
When we eat, food is digested and broken down into sugars. The sugar is then absorbed into the blood stream and used by the cells in our body for energy. Insulin is the hormone that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates for energy, or to store glucose for future use. Insulin is often described as a “key,” which unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter and be used for energy. After you eat, your blood sugar levels rise, your cells are signalled to release insulin into your bloodstream and insulin tells your body to absorb sugar from the bloodstream.
So, the key to long-lasting energy may be to control your blood sugar levels. This may avoid those energy highs and lows and keep you out of that cycle of eating sugary snacks and a short-lived energy boost. But exactly how do you do that?
The key to improving your energy levels is to understand how your food choices will make you feel, and how they will impact your blood sugar levels.
1. Include protein and fat with your meals
Make sure you are including a source of protein with each meal and snack. Protein takes longer to digest, so this may help balance blood sugar levels by reducing a blood sugar spike and keep your energy levels stable. As well as reducing blood sugar spikes, protein can also leave us feeling full and satisfied and my help reduce snacking.
Sources of protein include meat, fish, Quinoa (grains or flakes), eggs, lentils, beans (chickpeas, black bean, kidney beans, butter beans etc), green peas, edamame beans, soya, tofu, tempeh, beans, nuts, seeds, cottage cheese or Greek yoghurt.
It is important to include a small amount of healthy fats over the course of your day. These come from nuts, seeds, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, meat and fish, especially oily fish such as salmon or mackerel. Compared to unhealthy processed fats, healthy fats help us feel satiated. They help with our energy levels by keeping us alert and focused as well as balancing your hormones.
2. Eat the right type of carbohydrates
Carbs are not ‘bad’ for us and we do need to include them in our diets, but it is important to eat the right type. Carbohydrates can be classified as ‘whole’ or ‘refined’. Whole carbohydrates are considered to be unprocessed, these include: vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, and whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat. Refined carbohydrates include sugar-sweetened or sweetener-sweetened beverages, white bread, white pasta, and white rice.
Refined carbohydrates can have an impact on blood sugar levels. They are digested very quickly and absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a sharp rise in blood sugar levels followed by a quick drop. This may drive those feelings of hunger and food cravings which may lead to fluctuating energy levels. Whole carbohydrates are slow releasing and may help sustain your energy levels.
It is important to be aware of your portion size when eating, pasta, rice and potatoes. I normally recommend 40g of dry weight pasta or rice and 75g of new potatoes. I advise my clients not to eat these every day as it may experience an energy slump in the afternoon. You can swap pasta for vegetable based pastas such as lentil, pea or buckwheat pasta. You could also swap starchy carbs (bread, rice, pasta and potatoes) to beans, pulses and lentils. Tinned pulses and ready cooked lentils and quinoa are handy to have I the cupboard. They save time and contain, protein, fibre and B vitamins.
3. Eat more fibre
Fibre is a form of carbohydrate and is obtained from fruit and vegetables. The fibre found in fruit and vegetables is known as soluble fibre. And the fibre from whole grains, nuts and seeds is called insoluble fibre. Fibre is associated with many health benefits and can aid digestion and helps us feel full.
Fibre may also help us balance our blood sugar levels. Soluble fibre may slow down the absorption of sugar. This means our blood sugar levels are stable and helps maintain our energy levels over the course of the day.
By eating a lot of different coloured plant-based foods which includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and pulses (beans, lentils and peas) you are getting a good variety of vitamins and minerals. This supports not only your general health and well-being, but also your gut bacteria. By eating a variety of plant-based foods you are encouraging a diverse range of beneficial bacteria which helps keep you healthy.
Put steps 1, 2 and 3 together in one meal and you’ve got long lasting energy for the whole day! Perfect.