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There’s no shortage of drinks, foods, and supplements promising a quick burst of energy. Problem is most give you a jolt and follow with an energy crash. An occasional extra cup of coffee may not be harmful, but if you’re constantly reaching for a sudden energy boost, it’s time to look beyond the quick fix.
“If you’re tired and fatigued, look for the underlying cause instead of going for caffeine or supplements,” says registered dietitian Nancee Jaffe, UCLA Digestive Health and Nutrition Clinic.
Figuring out what depletes your energy can be very obvious, or it can take some investigation. Jaffe recommends the following questions as a guide to help you determine your particular cause of fatigue:
- Am I getting seven-plus productive hours of restful sleep per night?
- How is my stress level on a scale of 1 to 10?
- Am I making enough time in my life for play, family, friends, enjoyment?
- How is my diet quality?
- It’s a simple thing, but do you normally stay well-hydrated?
Let’s take a closer look at ways to make sure we can answer “yes” to the five questions above.
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1. Choose foods that provide a natural energy boost
What you eat can make a huge difference between feeling energetic and feeling fatigued. An energy-boosting diet includes a balance of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. If you’re just nibbling on dry toast in the morning or eating mainly convenience or fast foods during the day, those choices deplete energy.
For example, heavy foods—such as pasta slathered with cream sauce and meatballs—can be difficult to digest, causing you to feel sluggish. Fried and convenient foods are typically highly processed and contain a lot of fat, sugar, and salt. Those foods lack nutrition, and hence deplete rather than boost energy.
If you’re not very hungry during meal times, try eating smaller meals throughout the day to keep your energy steady. Nutritious high-energy snacks include those that have both protein and fiber. Examples: carrots, string cheese, sugar-free yogurt topped with berries, or a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter. (See also our post “Natural Energy Boosters: Keep These Snacks Close By.”)
Be sure to vary the foods you eat. If you always eat the same foods, you won’t nourish your body properly. A poor diet leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can cause a cascade of health issues.
2. Avoid dehydration
Not getting enough fluids is a common cause of fatigue for seniors. Water is an ideal hydration choice for an energy boost, though unsweetened fruit teas, juices, and milks also provide appropriate hydration. Foods with high-water content—watermelon, celery, and citrus fruits, for example—also help. Avoid such beverages as soda, energy drinks, and coffee, all of which cause dehydration. The same is true of alcohol.
While the rule of thumb has been to drink 64 ounces of water per day (eight 8-ounce glasses), it really does depend on your body size, how much you perspire, and where you live. People who live in hot climates may need more water than those in colder climates.
3. Reduce stress levels
What else can rob your energy? Bottled-up anger, irritation, and even depression. It’s important to take time out to notice how you feel. Some people aren’t aware they’re stressed until they stop and mentally scan their bodies to check for tension. A tense jaw and elevated shoulders are common places for holding stress.
Stress drains energy and is harmful to overall health. Chronic stress leads to excess inflammation. Rampant inflammation contributes to a number of health problems including the common cold, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
To reduce stress and increase your chances of getting an energy boost, find ways to relax your mind. For some people, mindfulness meditation works well. There are numerous free online resources in this area, among them UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center website. Prayer can be another way to calm your mind.
And while being physically active may seem counterintuitive if you’re lacking in energy, a brisk walk around the block or a vigorous weight-lifting session provide an energy boost by increasing circulation and endorphins—the body’s own feel-good chemicals. (See also our post “Got a Weekly Exercise Plan? Focus It on Aerobic Fitness.”)
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Lack of quality sleep can certainly drag down energy. More than half of Americans experience sleep problems, and older adults are especially prone to sleep issues. Insomnia affects almost half of adults over age 60.
Before reaching for sleeping pills, try some these simple adjustments:
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Turn off all lighted screens (computers, cell phones, TVs).
- Establish a regular sleep schedule.
5. Leave time for fun
Lastly, Nancee Jaffe emphasizes the importance of assessing joy. “Ask yourself if you’re making enough time for play, family, friends,” she says. “Spending time with those you love and doing activities that bring you joy can be a significant way to boost energy and mood, too.”
For further reading, see these University Health News posts:
- “7 Natural Ways to Boost Energy”
- “High-Energy Diet: 5 Ways to Fuel Your Body”
- “Extreme Fatigue Causes: The Common Culprits”
This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated.