What we eat affects not just our health and well-being, but how well we “perform” on a day-to-day basis. Nutrition doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so other key lifestyle habits affect your energy levels, too. Here are 10 from registered dietitian nutritionist Carrie Dennett.
Do you have days when you feel energetic and productive, but others when you’re tired and spinning your wheels — or feeling busy without much to show for it? Making smart choices throughout your day can help boost your creativity and productivity at work and home while reducing fatigue and stress — especially helpful as the hours of daylight are decreasing and holiday stress might be increasing.
We eat for many reasons, but the bottom line is that food is fuel for our bodies, so what we eat affects not just our health and well-being, but how well we “perform” on a day-to-day basis. Nutrition doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so other key lifestyle habits affect your energy levels, too. Here are 10 ways you can help your body run better every day:
Choose quality fuel. An energy-optimal meal or snack includes a mix of high-quality carbohydrates for energy with some lean protein and healthy fat for staying power. Pick slow-digesting carbohydrates (“slow carbs”) like whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables or beans for a steadier supply of energy. On the flip side, many fast-food and takeout meals are high in added sugar, salt, white flour and low-quality fats and proteins, which can leave you with post-meal fatigue (aka a “food coma) in the short term, while not doing your health any favors in the long term.
Honor your hunger. When you’re busy, it’s easy to ignore your body’s hunger cues, if you even notice them at all. When you finally come up for air midafternoon (or worse, on your way home from work) you realize that you’re ravenous and ready to eat whatever’s quick, filling and close at hand — regardless of taste or nutrition. Over time, ignoring hunger cues can mute them, making it harder to figure out if you’re actually hungry even during more relaxed times. With that in mind …
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Don’t run on empty. Eating every three to five hours supports steady energy by encouraging a series of gentle rises in blood sugar (the body’s energy source) instead of a few large spikes. Going too long between meals can leave you running on fumes — and trying to satisfy a raging hunger with a large meal can leave you lethargic while your body works overtime to digest it. Eating three meals — with snacks if you have a gap of more than five hours in between — is a pattern that works for many people.
Eat mindfully. While eating a balanced, adequately sized meal will help you feel satisfied, the sensory aspects of eating — taste, aroma, texture, color and temperature — are also important. If you quickly inhale your lunch without noticing it, you deny yourself the full eating experience. This may leave you feeling like you need to eat something else, even if you don’t actually feel hungry. Try slowing down a bit — maybe start the meal with a few deep breaths to set the stage — then devote your complete attention to that first bite. Because it’s not common or practical to eat with zero distractions, at least turn your attention back to your food several times during the meal. Is it still tasting good? Are you starting to get full?
Stay hydrated. Even minor dehydration can make you feel fatigued, headache-y and unable to concentrate. That’s not good for your productivity or your well-being. There are no hard-and-fast rules about optimal fluid intake, so it’s best to let thirst be your guide. What if you’re in the habit of ignoring thirst — or never really feel thirsty? If your urine is clear or very light, you’re probably doing just fine.
Don’t count on supplements. Vitamins and minerals don’t give us energy, per se. Energy comes from calories. What nutrient-rich foods do is help your body run optimally and make the most of that food energy. What about claims that B vitamins, B12 in particular, will boost your energy? B vitamins do play an essential role in helping your body release energy from the food you eat, so if you are deficient in them, it can indeed affect your energy levels. But taking in more B vitamins than your body can use won’t make you “super-energized.”
Move often. Our bodies are meant to move frequently, and that includes more than just a planned walk, run, spin class or gym workout. If you sit at a desk all day, make a point to move at least every hour. Get up to fill your water glass, do a few stretches, or step outside to take a short rejuvenating walk. This is good for your body, and also your productivity — research shows the brain loses focus after spending more than 60 to 90 minutes on the same task.
Take a breath. Your body has a built-in energizer and stress reliever — deep breathing. Simply taking a few deep breaths can help you feel calmer. However, if you have time to sit and focus on your breath for a few minutes, that’s even better. This can be an especially powerful tool to pull out whenever you notice you’re feeling stressed or tense. But even on a “normal” day, taking a few short breathing breaks will help you relax and recharge.
Minimize multitasking. You may think you’re being super-productive by doing three things at once, but studies show that multitasking wastes more time than it saves — and reduces your brain function over time. When you allow yourself to focus on a task or project without distractions, you’ll complete it faster and more effectively. Then you can have the satisfaction of checking it off your to-do list.
Honor personal boundaries. Nurturing some degree of balance in your universe will help you function at your best professionally and personally. If you habitually let work — whether paid or volunteer — bleed into your home life, your performance will suffer in both domains. It’s important for your physical and mental health to spend quality time with friends and family, and have enough personal time to exercise, prepare nourishing meals and simply relax.