Raise your hand if you have all the energy you could imagine. Wait…doesn’t anyone out there have all the energy they could want? OK, I’ll fess up – I don’t always have all the energy in the world either. Like you, my life is busy, and I don’t always do all the things I know help me stay energized (like sleep 8 hours every night)!
But I do follow a few simple rules that help me eat in a way that optimizes my energy. I call them The 4 B’s of Energized Eating. You’re probably using some of these rules already, but if you’re lacking energy, you may want to check these out and see if there are any improvements you can make to your own eating habits.
- BALANCE your macros – Macros are macronutrients, the nutrients we need in relatively large quantities which provide our bodies with energy. The key macros are carbohydrates, protein and fat – aim to consume a mixture of these every time you eat. Carbohydrates are the main fuel for our bodies, and are rapidly digested and absorbed, so they give you energy “now.” Protein and fat slow down digestion and help stabilize blood sugar, so they help that energy last for a longer time. You don’t have to get hung up on exact percentages of carbs, protein and fat in each meal – just make sure you combine higher carb foods like fruits, grains and vegetables, with foods containing protein and fat, like foods from the dairy group and the protein group. Bonus points if your carbohydrate choices are full of fiber, as that helps you get that steady energy too!
- Begin with BREAKFAST – ideally, eat within 1-2 hours of waking up. Assuming you aren’t sleepwalking to the fridge for a meal in the middle of the night, your body is in a fasted state at night and conserves energy at this time. Breakfast literally “breaks the fast” and restores blood sugar to levels needed for optimal brain function. There is also increasing evidence that eating breakfast can help with weight regulation. Studies of people who have lost weight and kept it off for a considerable amount of time show that most of them eat breakfast regularly. If you’re not hungry for breakfast, you may just need to get in the habit of eating it. Or, you may be eating too much the night before, so your body doesn’t really get into that fasted state (maybe you aresleepwalking for a midnight snack?!).
- BREAK every 3-5 – consume a meal or snack every 3-5 hours from breakfast through your waking hours. This is the average time needed for the stomach contents to empty into the small intestine after a regular meal. It helps you have steady blood sugar and keeps the body well fueled. Eating more frequently can cause blood sugar to rise higher than normal, while eating less often than 3-5 hours may drop your blood sugar a bit lower than preferred, leading to lower energy levels, an inability to focus, food cravings as your body wants to boost blood sugar up again, and that dreaded “hangry” feeling (is it me, or is that the best new word to be accepted into the English language, like, ever?). If you’re regularly hungry before 3 hours pass, look at your last meal and consider making it bigger next time. Also think about whether you are wanting to eat due to non-hunger cues like seeing or smelling food, or emotions that trigger you to want comfort food. If you aren’t hungry after 5, maybe your previous meal was too big. If you just plain forget to eat – well, give yourself a cue to re-fuel – put a reminder in your phone or a sticky note on your desk.
- BEVERAGES matter – hydrate, don’t over-caffeinate. Sure, caffeine seems like just what we need when we are low on energy. And to some extent, caffeine’s effects on the body will speed it up and make you feel more energized – IF you don’t overdo it. Too much caffeine can cause all kinds of symptoms that are not going to make you feel your best – like anxiety, irritability, nervousness, GI upset (reflux or diarrhea, anyone?) and headaches. Caffeine can also affect the amount and quality of the sleep you get at night. On the other hand, DO consume lots of hydrating fluids. Even mild dehydration can affect things like concentration, short-term memory, emotional regulation, mood, alertness and fatigue. The best drinks for hydration are caffeine free and low in sugar – if you don’t like plain water, try infused water, flavored sparkling water, decaffeinated iced tea, or diluted juice.
The key to making all the B’s work is to plan ahead. Stock your kitchen with the foods and drinks you need to help you prepare balanced meals and stay hydrated. Check out what’s available in the other places you spend a lot of time too, like work or school – if they don’t have what you need, bring it with you. If you’re always on the go, stash foods and drinks in your car or carry them in your bag. It may seem like extra work, but planning ahead will pay off in the end!
Want a printable reminder of the 4 B’s? Download and print the handout from my workshop on Energized Eating Made Easy!
Stay in touch! Look for a monthly email on nutrition as self care and nutrition education.