Silence is golden – unless you have a toddler. Then, silence is very very suspicious.
If your life, like mine, involves a chatty baby, a toddler whose silence means anything from quietly watching cartoons to carefully painting every single tile in the lounge, a hectic job and little time for anything else, then we need to talk about sustaining energy levels. It’s an active concern. Working from home or living at work with kids requires a lot of energy. It is uniquely rewarding and exhausting. Since it has turned out to be the new normal, whatever energy one has needs to sustain as much as possible. I started cutting corners with eating well to avoid grocery store runs and I found myself running on empty. You know what feeling exhausted all the time also leads to? Feeling down. Something had to give.
A thorough dalliance with Google and some online nutritionists later, its clear that a big part of sustaining energy is what we consume.
Diets that contains a variety of fresh, nutrient-rich foods can help reduce feelings of fatigue. Such foods include kale, oats, watermelon etc. However, some processed foods such as white bread and baked goods can worsen fatigue in some people. FYI, “people” means me. I am people.
Foods for beating fatigue include:
Whole eggs contain plenty of nutrients. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a typical egg contains 7 grams (g) of protein. It also provides 4% of the recommended daily intake of calcium and 6% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Eggs are also a source of fats. According to the National Institute on Aging, fat provides energy and helps the body absorb vitamins.
Bananas are a good source of potassium, fiber, and carbohydrates. This combination of carbohydrates and fiber provides a long lasting source of energy. In fact, according to one small study, trained cyclists who ate bananas performed equally to those who consumed sports drinks during a 47-mile time trial. The researchers concluded that bananas are a good source of energy, specifically before and during long periods of exercise.
A staple in a lot of African homes (and ‘Mission’ boarding schools), Kale is a leafy green vegetable rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and iron. Red blood cells in the body contain iron. This mineral is essential for carrying oxygen around the body for cells to use as energy. For this reason, low levels of iron can cause a lack of energy. This vegetable is so commonplace where I’m from that even calling it Kale feels pretentious. All that confirms to me that eating healthy need not be special.
The Western world tends to use it in salads and we tend to steam or lightly fry it.
Spinach is Kale’s weird textured cousin. They are from the same family though so they have very similar traits. Spinach is another green leafy vegetable rich in iron. It is also high in vitamin K and magnesium.
Spinach and kale make an excellent combination in salads.
Chia seeds are rich in nutrients. For example, 1 ounce of chia seeds contains 4 g of protein, 11 g of fiber, and 9 g of fat. Fiber is useful for preventing blood sugar spikes around meal times. Rapid changes in blood sugar levels are another possible cause of fatigue. Chia seeds in plain yoghurt make for a quick snack that keeps you going for a while.
Oats appear on every single one of these types of lists for a reason. They are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. The body can easily break down refined carbohydrates and use them to provide a short-term energy boost. Sugar is one example of a refined carbohydrate. However, complex carbohydrates are more difficult for the body to break down. This makes them a longer lasting source of energy.
Foods and drinks to avoid
Some foods and drinks might increase feelings of fatigue. For example, foods that are high in sugar can temporarily boost energy, but this spike often leads to a dip immediately after.
Examples of foods that could increase fatigue throughout the day include:
- sugary foods (I have happily forfeited sugar in general but I can’t let go of honey in my tea)
- white bread (It always surprises people to find out that this could easily fall under the banner of sugary foods)
- baked goods (moderation is key)
- high caffeine drinks (Red Bull, Coffee, Monster, Coke etc)
- heavily processed foods, such as potato chips (I love a good, kettle fried potato chip. Again, moderation is key)
General diet tips for energy
There are also some general diet-related behaviors a person can try to help keep their energy levels up during the day. These include:
- avoiding skipping meals
- eating an afternoon or morning snack, such as a handful of almonds, if energy levels dip
- generally choosing healthier food more often
- staying hydrated with water, tea or other nutritious drinks
Other natural ways to beat fatigue
Making some other lifestyle changes can also increase energy levels throughout the day. For example, the American Council on Exercise suggest that regular exercise can prevent fatigue. A person should aim to exercise on 3–5 days per week. Remember 15 minutes of exercise a day is enough. We have talked about why this is so here.
Also, the National Sleep Foundation explain that a good night’s sleep helps the body with:
- regulating temperature
- maintaining a healthy appetite
- keeping the immune system strong
- regulating hormone levels
These benefits can help maintain energy levels throughout the day.
Managing stress is another way to fight fatigue. Over time, chronic stress can cause symptoms such as tiredness and exhaustion. There are many things a person can try to reduce their stress levels, including breathing correctly, meditation and exercise. I have just learnt this the hard way so take heed.
It all boils down to this: It’s less about these particular foods and more about looking for foods that are high in protein, iron, good fats, and fibers. Exercising a little often. Paying attention to your mental health. Then managing and adapting focus areas according to your lifestyle and needs.