A lot of us are not feeling as high-energy as we’d like to these days. We may be stuck at home and getting a little tired of our circumstances, or straining to keep up with increased workloads. Maybe we wake up feeling pretty good, but the day quickly saps us of energy, leaving us ready for a nap in the mid-afternoon.
Whatever the cause, you may be looking for ways to maintain a steadier level of energy throughout your day. It’s a great feeling when you can head into your evening knowing you had a productive day, and you deserve some relaxation time.
You already know to eat right and get eight hours of sleep. I’m not going to tell you that. Here are ten tips you may not know about that can help boost your energy levels:
1. Don’t Graze
In recent years, diet gurus have advised us to “graze,” or eat as many as six small meals a day. The idea is that this we’d keep blood sugar levels stable; eat less food over the course of the day; and burn more calories, since digestion is an energy-burning activity. But more recent research1 has found that eating three squares can have the same overall metabolic effect on your body as grazing.
A good way to have steady energy is indeed to avoid blood sugar fluctuations. But eating all the time means your digestive system is working all the time. There may be some benefit to allowing yourself to “rest and digest” in-between meals.
When you eat, blood moves to your digestive system2, so less available to transport oxygen to your brain, where it can help you feel alert.
A school of thought dating back to ancient Ayurvedic medicine says that there is a benefit to eating only a small number of meals a day and avoiding snacking. With the popularity of intermittent fasting, many people are eating this way when they fast overnight, eating only lunch and dinner.
If you do eat less often, make sure you get some protein, healthy fat and fiber in each meal. This will keep you from feeling hungry in-between meals. And if you do get hungry anyway, have a healthy snack that will refuel you—no candy or chips that will spike your blood sugar.
2. Experience a Short Blast of Cold Three Times a Week
This is not what most of us in northern climates want to hear when it’s finally springtime. However, studies show3 that short exposure to 32°F temperatures can help stimulate your mitochondria to grow in number and health. These “powerhouses” of your cells create ATP, the source of all your energy every day. The cold kicks them into survival mode, making them stronger, and you more energetic. You only need to do it for 904 seconds three times a week. End your shower on the cold setting, splash your face with cold water, or, if it’s cold enough outside, step outdoors.
3. Determine if Your Medication is Draining You of Nutrients
This is so poorly understood by doctors that it borders on malpractice: a great many if not all medications have an unintended side effect of depleting vitamins and minerals from your body. And you certainly can’t feel your best if you are deficient in any essential nutrients.
Doctors typically aren’t aware of this effect from medications, as medical schools require little or no coursework in nutrition. Traditionally-trained doctors are more focused on treating disease symptoms than keeping you well overall (Functional or Integrative Medicine physicians are more focused on nutrition). Here are just some examples of nutrient-drain caused by medications used by millions of people:
- Statins like Lipitor and Crestor inhibit the production of CoQ10, which is necessary for good energy levels
- Blood pressure medicines including loop diuretics can deplete magnesium, zinc, and many other nutrients (depending on the medication)
- Oral contraceptives reduce folic acid, iodine, magnesium, tyrosine, most of the B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc
The list goes on and on. DO NOT STOP TAKING YOUR MEDICATION; but find out what nutrients you may be low in. You can ask your doctor, but again, he or she is likely not well-trained on this. A great resource for researching you medication is this page at the website Chiro.org. It provides an excellent, more detailed list of nutrition-medication depletions and interactions (free registration is requested).
Two excellent books on this subject provide comprehensive lists of medicines and their nutritional impact:
If you find out you are low in any nutrients, take a high-quality supplement approved by the USP, NSP or other third-party seal of approval. Consumer Lab also rates supplement brands (but you have to pay for access). Be sure to let your doctor know what you are taking.
4. Consider Taking These Two Supplements:
- Magnesium – Even if you are not taking any medications, chances are high that you are deficient in magnesium. Approximately half (48%)5 of Americans don’t get enough magnesium. Magnesium protects mitochondria, among many other essential functions. This may be the single most important thing you can do to feel better every day. Take magnesium glycinate or threonate (for no laxative effect) per your doctor’s or package instructions; 150 mg/day is a typical dose.
- If you’re a vegetarian, supplement with vitamin B12 – This is mandatory. B12 helps create red blood cells, which deliver oxygen throughout your tissues. B12 is essential for energy and good health, and it can only be obtained from animal products. Follow your doctor’s or the package instructions. 1,000 mcg/day is a typical dose.
5. Drink Holy Basil Tea
This tea, also known as Tulsi, has been a staple of ancient medicine traditions for centuries. It doesn’t contain caffeine or any other stimulants, but it can help stabilize blood sugar levels6, which smooths out your glucose spikes, per tip number one. Have a cup or two a day.
6. Get Your Caffeine at 10 a.m. and Early Afternoon
Cortisol naturally spikes when you first wake up in the morning7, triggered by sunlight and your circadian rhythms. Ride this cortisol momentum until around 10 a.m., when is in free-fall. That is the perfect time to boost your energy with a cup of caffeinated coffee or tea. Another shot of caffeine around 2p can help carry you through the rest of the day (don’t take caffeine after 2 p.m. if you are sensitive to caffeine, or it will disrupt your sleep).
7. Don’t Drink Alcohol Within Three Hours of Bedtime
Alcohol reduces the time you’ll spend in REM sleep8, which is a critical time of repair for your body and brain. It’s also more likely that you’ll wake in the middle of the night if you have had alcohol before bedtime. If you want more energy, make sure you are not just getting seven to eight hours sleep, but that your sleep is also high-quality.
8. Set Your Thermostat to 71.6 Degrees (F)
One study9 showed this is the ideal temperature for productivity for office workers. Being too cold or too hot is distracting and both can slow your metabolism and make it more difficult to concentrate.
9. Hydrate Right
It’s easy to be dehydrated and not realize it; thirst only kicks in when you are seriously dehydrated. Your blood is 83% water, and that means delivery of oxygen to your cells is highly sensitive to how much water you drink. You feel less than energetic if you are dehydrated. And you need more water than you think: 13 eight-ounce glasses a day if you are a man, and nine eight-ounce glasses a day if you are a woman10. Drink more if you are working out or sweating a lot. This is a lot of water, but it can come from food as well as other beverages besides water.
10. Work According to the 52:17 Ratio
You may think that you’ll get more done if you power through your day. However, one study showed that the most productive people take breaks. Specifically, they work for 52 minutes, and then take 17-minute breaks, and they repeat this cycle throughout the workday. During your break, do something physical if you’ve been sitting; or sit down if your work was physical. Watch a funny cat video and don’t feel guilty. You need to refresh yourself, just like a racecar needs to take a pitstop. In spite of all that break time, you’ll get more done, and feel better doing it.
Phytonutrients can help your energy levels by contributing to your overall health and wellness in many ways. Read about the different benefits of each color family: yellow/orange, red and blue/purple.
Did you know there are health drawbacks to taking collagen supplements? Read one of my most popular blog posts on it to learn more.
An easy way to add more healthy nutrients to your diet is to use these natural and delicious mix-ins in your coffee.
- Campbell, B.I., La Bounty, P.M.; Wilson, J. et al. (2011). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 8, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-8-4.
- Waaler BA, Toska K. Fordøyelseskanalens store og vekslende behov for blodtilførsel [Digestive system’s large and changing needs of blood supply] (1999). Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 1999;119(5):664‐666.
- Chung, N., Lim, K., Park, J. (2017). The effects of exercise and cold exposure on mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle and white adipose tissue. Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry, 21(2), 39–47. https://doi.org/10.20463/jenb.2017.0020.
- Bas, C. J. M., Buijze, Geert A., Dijkgraaf, Marcel G., Sierevelt, Inger N., van der Heijden, Frings-Dresen, Monique H.W. (Aug 2 2018). Correction: The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0201978.
- Costello, R. B., Elin, R. J., Guerrero-Romero, F., Hruby, A., Lutsey, P. L., Nielsen, F. H., Rodriguez-Moran, M., Rosanoff, A., Wallace, T. C., Song, Y., & Van Horn, L. V. (2016). Perspective: The Case for an Evidence-Based Reference Interval for Serum Magnesium: The Time Has Come. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(6), 977–993. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012765.
- Iyer, U., Mani, U.V., Rai, V. Effect of Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) leaf powder supplementation on blood sugar levels, serum lipids and tissues lipids in diabetic rats. Plant Food Hum Nutr 50, 9–16 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02436038.
- Chan, S., & Debono, M. (2010). Replication of cortisol circadian rhythm: new advances in hydrocortisone replacement therapy. Therapeutic advances in endocrinology and metabolism, 1(3), 129–138. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042018810380214.
- Ebrahim, Irshaad O.; Shapiro, Colin M.; Williams, Adrian J.; Fenwick, Peter B. (April 2013). Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 37(4), 539-549.https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.12006.
- Seppänen, Olli; Fisk, William J.; Lei, QH (July 2006). According to a study by Helsinki University of Technology Laboratory for Heating Ventilating and Air-conditioning, Effect of Temperature on Task Performance in Office Environment. https://indoor.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-60946.pdf.
- Meinders AJ, Meinders AE. (210). How much water do we really need to drink? Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde. 154:A1757. PMID: 20356431.
- Study done by DeskTime app developer Draugiem Group. https://desktime.com/blog/17-52-ratio-most-productive-people/.