Energy-Boost #2: Nutrition
You’ve probably already heard that drinking enough water will help you feel your best. This is true (study). Dehydration makes you feel worse in pretty much every way. It negatively affects your: energy, concentration, alertness, mood, memory, endurance, and more (study, study, study, study, study). And even with as little as 2% dehydration, your peak physical performance will suffer (study).
This makes “drink more water” one of the most popular feel-good tips out there. But what you might not have heard is that thirst is actually a very good indicator of whether you need more fluid or not (study). If you aren’t a desert triathlete* and you aren’t thirsty, you probably don’t need to worry about your water intake at all!
For curiosity’s sake though, how much water is “enough” water? That depends. Our kidneys are amazing at regulating our level of water use to match our typical intake, so your usual amount is usually enough. If you want to double check though, for optimum health and performance you should be aiming to pee clear by lunch, and then keep it clear for most of the day afterwards. If you’re having 4-5 clear urinations per day, you’re fine.
It’s also important to note that we can get water from many sources: fruits, soups, teas, juices—you get the idea. Just learn to listen to your body, and have some fluids on hand for when it beckons.
*The weird thing with hydration is that when we’re exercising, the air is hot and dry, or we’re sweating a lot… thirst as a guide might be a little slow (study). As a teenager I got heat exhaustion due to dehydration while haying in 35 C weather (it’s not as fun as it sounds). Drinking more water didn’t occur to me because I wasn’t even all that thirsty. This is a common issue among younger people, those in desert-y climates, endurance athletes, and city folks optimistically trying to lend a hand at their Uncle-and-Aunt’s farm.
Start The Day With Protein & Carbohydrates.
When breaking your fast, you’ll want to eat some protein and fibrous carbs (study). There’s research showing that those who eat a protein-rich or a balanced meal in the morning have the best attention, memory, judgement and energy (study, study).
By eating a good amount of protein (say 30g) in the morning, you’ll feel more satisfied after breakfast and stay that way for longer (study, study, study, study), helping you get to work without being bothered by hunger. This is also the optimum amount of protein to kickstart muscle protein synthesis, helping you stay lean, healthy and build muscle. There’s also research showing that meals with carbs that are high in fibre result in more energy and alertness than lower fibre or fattier breakfasts.
So starting the day with eggs and fruit (lots of protein, lots of fibre, moderate fat) might be better than starting the day with eggs and bacon (lots of protein, tons of fat). Perhaps better still, this research could be used to suggest starting the day with something like a protein and fruit smoothie. It’s quick and easy to make, easy on the appetite (appetite tends to be low when first waking) while not leaving you hungry, it’s full of fluid to help with hydration, and the protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals will be great for your longterm health, body composition and energy.
Eat Enough—But Not Too Many—Calories
Going lower calorie can temporarily spike stress hormones causing higher energy levels, which is why detoxes and diets all result in temporarily increased energy (and stress/euphoria/etc). Overeating can sap energy as well… because our energy goes towards digesting food. How much is the right amount? As with thirst, in the context of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, hunger is often a good indicator of how much you need to eat to stay the same weight. So if you want to build muscle, you’ll need to eat a little more than that, or choose foods that aren’t as filling.
Eat Enough Micronutrients
Macronutrients are protein, fat, carbs and alcohol. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (and we like to include fibre here too). An overview of all the micronutrients you need and what they do in your body could be its own article… or book… or book series… or even one of those encyclopaedia sets that fills up an entire bookshelf. They each serve their own role in the body, and if a deficiency is present your body won’t operate as it’s supposed to, and in the short-term you won’t feel as good as you could.
There are a few micronutrients that often affect our energy levels and mood though. For example, magnesium deficiencies are relatively common, and are known to cause anxiety and depression. This makes it important to eat foods that are rich in magnesium, like bananas, leafy green vegetables, seeds, nuts, and dark chocolate
This doesn’t need to be that complicated though. Getting your macronutrients right is about eating the right amount of food, getting your micronutrients right is about eating the right types of food. Eating the “right” type of food usually just means eating a mixture of minimally processed foods, mostly plants, that you aren’t allergic or opposed to. If you eat these foods in the right amount, i.e., enough to maintain a healthy bodyweight, then you’re eating pretty optimally. Problems usually come up when you eat a very processed, restricted or lower calorie diet.
The more processing your food goes through, the more vitamins and fibre you lose. The more restrictive your diet is, the fewer foods you eat, limiting the variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre that you’re getting. So if you’re dieting, eating “clean”, a vegetarian, vegan, eating paleo, etc., you need to be especially aware of what nutrients you’ll be missing out on so you can make up for them in other ways. For example, those eating a plant-based diet may want to check with their doctor about supplementing with iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12 (study, study, study) and creatine (study).
Should You Use Caffeine?
Everybody’s favorite drug! And with good reason—caffeine heightens your arousal and makes it easier to complete tasks (study). The arousal effects lasted about 30 minutes 25 minutes after ingestion (study). It reduces reaction time (study) and reduces fatigue and increases alertness (study). In fact, regular drinkers were found to have better mental functioning and most people were pretty good at controlling their intake normally (study).
But not everybody metabolizes caffeine well. If you feel it doesn’t agree with you, there is no need to use it. It can increase anxiety, panic attacks, and create a caffeine dependence. If caffeine does agree with you, it’s best to get it from a more natural source like coffee or tea rather than an energy drink. Aside from being warm and delicious and delivering your caffeine, coffee and tea both include super healthy micronutrients.
Lastly, we don’t want caffeine to interfere with your sleep, which should get priority when it comes to feeling energized. We also don’t want to need to use caffeine in the morning to wake up from a lack of sleep. This study found that taking 400mg of caffeine 6 hours prior to bedtime was still soon enough to disrupt your sleep by at least one hour. And you can’t trust yourself—the participants didn’t think the caffeine was even affecting them! Being able to fall asleep well is only one part of sleeping well overall so keep caffeine well away from your bed time.
Can herbal tea improve your sleep?
Many cultures drink potions before bed that are said to improve sleep. Of these, one seems particularly effective: chamomile tea. Traditionally it’s been used as a sedative to improve sleep, and recently two double-blinded studies have shown that having chamomile tea before bed improves sleep, reduces anxiety (in people who struggle with poor sleep and high anxiety) and seems to improve a few different health markers. Research still hasn’t pinpointed why it had these effects, but it seems like there’s something to it (study).
Don’t Fall for “Detoxing” for Energy
A common claim by “detoxers” is that detoxing will improve your energy levels. Our body already has a detoxification system. While it doesn’t have sexy marketing, your liver, skin, kidneys, and lymphatic and gastrointestinal systems are incredible at detoxifying your body.
If you want to get really nitpicky, since (fat soluble) toxins are stored in fat deposits, fat loss can also be a form of detox, although this releases the toxins into your bloodstream to be disposed of by your natural detoxification system… so that actually increases the amount of toxins you’re exposed to in the very short term.
It’s great to eat more kale and leafy greens but radically altering your diet to restrict certain foods, doing risky practices, or going on extreme calorie restriction are not healthy actions. While we don’t have space to fully discuss this point, if you’re not yet convinced, check out this great detox (debunking) article by Science Based Medicine.
This concludes our 3rd part of our 4 part sleep series, stayed tuned for the last post, coming soon.
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