Better Eating Habits: I Need More Energy!

Are you sleepy throughout the day? It may be your diet.

While trudging through the day, all of us have felt listless, tired or unmotivated. After reaching this point, most people reach for caffeine or their favorite sugary food. Hang in there: Don’t grab those calorie-laden boosters so fast; there are better, healthier ways to get your energy up.

Here are some things to look for to keep your momentum going throughout the day—naturally and sustainably.

Carbohydrates

Carbs should be your main source of energy and are broken down into two types: simple and complex. Simple carbs are basically just sugar. Small amounts of carbs are good, and are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Foods like candy bars, with added sugars, should be avoided. They’ll provide a short spike in energy but leave you feeling sluggish before too long.

Complex carbs are divided into fiber and starch. These carbs will be your best bet for keeping your energy up and weight down. Some great high fiber foods include: fruits, vegetables, pasta, cereal, nuts and seeds. High fiber foods are also a great option because their bulk keeps you feeling full on fewer calories. Some good starchy options are whole grain foods, such as brown and wild rice, popcorn, oats; potatoes; and beans.

Magnesium

A study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service showed that people with low levels of magnesium also reported having low energy levels. There are a lot of high carb foods that also have high magnesium levels, like whole grains, nuts and beans. Some good magnesium-rich, mid-morning/late afternoon snack options are pumpkin seeds, almonds and cashews.

B Vitamins

Contrary to popular belief, B vitamins don’t give you a burst of energy by themselves. Still, they are an important part of your diet since they help convert food into energy. Most people get plenty of B vitamins naturally through the foods they eat; however, vegans and strict vegetarians need to be aware that B12 is only found naturally in meat products.

Proteins

Like B vitamins, proteins are most helpful in converting food to energy, and most people with a well-rounded diet usually get all they need naturally. But again, vegans and strict vegetarians may need to combine foods—like rice and beans—to get the amount of complete proteins that their bodies need.

Also, many people find that a high-protein breakfast gives them more energy throughout the day. Just remember to supplement those eggs and sausages with some fiber-rich foods.

Some good protein choices are: almonds, beef, cheese, peanut butter, tuna fish and soy beans.

Fats

That’s right; fats can be a quick and efficient source of energy. Just remember that you should not get more than 10 percent of your energy needs from saturated fat, and your total fat intake should be between 25 percent and 35 percent of your total calorie intake. So eat fats sparingly, and try to limit yourself to mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Some great monounsaturated fat options are avocados, olive oil, sunflower oil and nuts. Polyunsaturated options include: soybean oil, corn oil, walnuts and many types of fish—like trout, herring, tuna and salmon, for example.

Caffeine

No real explanation is necessary here—caffeine definitely gives you a boost of energy. If you really feel you need your caffeine fix, stay away from sugary drinks. Opt instead for coffees or teas. Just remember, relying too heavily on caffeine can ultimately impair your energy levels more than help them. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it can dehydrate you. If you drink caffeine too late in the afternoon it will keep you up at night, and if you are not getting a healthy night’s sleep, no dietary change can give you the energy levels you want.

Water

No, drinking water won’t give you a burst of energy the way caffeine will. Letting yourself get dehydrated, however, has been shown to decrease energy levels, mood and concentration. So make sure you are drinking at least 8 oz. of water a day.

Other Good Options

If you feel like having small snacks between meals isn’t enough or find yourself getting tired after eating large meals, you might want to cut out the snacks and eat four or five small meals. This will spread out your calorie intake and give you energy to burn throughout the day.

Lastly, don’t forget to move around. If you sit down most of the day, try to stand up and walk around at least once an hour. At the very least, get your blood pumping by rotating your head and shoulders and flexing your wrist and ankles. These little moves work wonders in diving away mental sluggishness.

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