7 a.m.: Gulp down a cup or two or coffee. Scarf down a piece of toast. Turkey sandwich for lunch at 2 p.m. Immense desire to take a long nap at work a half-hour later.
If this sounds familiar, the fatigue could be the result of how and what you eat. Are you guilty of any of the following?
- Not eating all three macronutrients at every meal (protein, natural dietary fat, and slow-burning, low-starch carbohydrates)
- Waiting too long in between meals to eat
- Not eating enough or too much
- Eating too much sugar
The good news is that small changes in nutrition and eating habits can make a huge difference. Here are some ways to maintain energy throughout the day.
Eat balanced meals
Food and drink should not make you hyper or tired. If you feel an energy crash within two hours after eating, it's usually a sign that what you ate was either the wrong food or the wrong combination of foods, or not enough of a certain food.
Although it sounds near impossible to know which culprit is to blame, eating three or four meals a day — at the same time every day, if possible — will help regulate your blood sugar levels and prevent energy crashes. For example: 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., 8 p.m. (the last one can be a snack).
Combining the three macronutrients at each meal — even snacks — in the right amount will provide you with rock-steady energy throughout the day.
Take the typical American breakfast mentioned at the beginning of the article. The piece of toast is a quick-burning carbohydrate. The energy it supplies will burn out fast. Adding a protein-rich source that also combines natural fat, such as two eggs, would be a more complete breakfast.
Don't go 5 hours without eating during the day
Even if for breakfast you eat two eggs and a piece of toast with a dab of butter (more natural fat to slow down the burning up of the toast as a source of fuel), which supplies better energy than just one piece of toast, waiting until 2 p.m. or later to have lunch will make you crash. This is true even if you eat a perfect, balanced lunch of steamed vegetables, salmon and a side salad with olive oil.
Think of your body as a high-maintenance vehicle that needs a fill-up every four hours. Having a snack consisting of all three macronutrients such as apple slices with almond butter (which supplies both protein and natural fat) will keep you from crashing until your next meal.
Eat more to lose weight?
Although it sounds counterintuitive, eating more — or more accurately, eating less but more often — is an excellent strategy for both losing weight and preventing feeling tired after eating. The "SAD" (standard American diet) typically does not get enough calories for breakfast and lunch and overcompensates by gorging on foods, typically unhealthy ones, late at night.
Eating balanced meals and going no longer than four to five hours without eating will help limit cravings and thus avoid overeating and subsequent energy crashes.
Don't pour sugar in your body's gas tank
Two hundred years ago, Americans ate about two pounds of sugar per capita per year. Today, that figure has soared to more than 60 pounds. It's no wonder the rates of chronic diseases have exploded. Excess sugar, besides potentially leading to Type II diabetes, can place a toxic load on the liver, creating a vicious circle of body systemwide sluggishness such as weakened immunity and digestion.
Cholesterol isn't as bad as you think
Eating enough natural sources of dietary fat is helpful in preventing energy fluctuations. Many mainstream medical practitioners and organizations recommend avoiding cholesterol, a type of fat derived from animal sources and also produced by your liver.
But all-natural sources of animal fat, in moderation, may have some health benefits, not to mention keeping you full for longer. Cholesterol is bad for health once it becomes oxidized (which occurs when cooking food in oil at high temperatures), so avoid eating blackened meats. However, food like hard boiled eggs and raw cheese in moderation are great options.
The yolks in eggs contain cholesterol, but also much of the nutrients of the egg and raw cheese provide probiotic and omega-3 benefits. Whatever you choose, think "minimally processed."
(Too tired to cook? Here are some ideas from MNN blogger Kimi Harris.)
Judd Handler is author of "Living Healthy: 10 Steps to Looking Younger, Losing Weight and Feeling Great." He can be reached at CoachJudd@gmail.com.