If you feel fatigued most of the time, you are not alone. Many people today have hectic schedules, long work hours, family obligations, and an inability to get enough sleep each night. It’s no wonder we’re tired during the day.
Before you turn to a sugary, highly-caffeinated energy drink to get a boost, consider your diet and other lifestyle factors. The way you live your life, but particularly what you eat, impacts your energy level on a daily basis. With the right foods, your morning smoothie can give you a boost for the rest of the day, and add to your overall nutrition, health, and well-being.
What Causes Fatigue?
It’s normal to feel drained of energy sometimes. In most cases, lack of sleep, high activity, stress, diet, and other lifestyle factors can be blamed for low-energy. These are easy to correct, but if you have chronic fatigue you could have an underlying health problem. If you are always tired and no amount of rest seems to make you feel better, you should see your doctor. It may be a symptom of a mood disorder like depression or physical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, or anemia, just to name a few.
Another possible reason for fatigue is a general dysfunction of the adrenal glands. These glands sit on top of your kidneys and release hormones in response to stress. They are involved in the fight-or-flight response, which is a reaction to a threatening situation, a case of extreme stress. The glands release the hormones necessary to get you ready to fight off a threat or to run from it. Chronic stress leads to a situation called adrenal fatigue in which your adrenal glands are overworked and can’t keep up with required hormone production. As a result, you feel worn out and fatigued.
Diet and Energy: Eat Your Adaptogen
An adaptogen is an herb or food that help the body better cope with stress. When your adrenal glands are worn out from battling stressors, adaptogens can restore balance, or homeostasis in the body. The result is that you feel energized again. The concept of adaptogens isn’t new and many of the plants that act in this way have been used for energy in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Here are a few examples of adaptogens that you can use as supplements in your smoothies:
- Siberian ginseng. Also called eleuthero root, Siberian ginseng has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and is not the same plant as American or Asian ginseng. Siberian ginseng is used in Chinese medicine to stimulate the immune system, which is related to the adrenal glands, and to increase energy, vitality, and longevity. Although it has been used for thousands of years, it is now thought that this plant boosts energy by stimulating the adrenal glands.
- Maca. Another plant that has been used for thousands of years, but on the other side of the globe. A native of the Andes Mountains of South America, this root is known for boosting energy within seconds of eating it. Powdered maca root is easy to find and can be used in smoothies as an adaptogen supplement. In addition to increased energy, maca improves memory and sex drive, helps heal wounds, supports the immune system, and more.
- Ashwagandha. From the ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine in India we get the adaptogen ashwagandha. It comes from the plant called Withania somniferaand is used to combat stress and fatigue, and to treat conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and skin infections. As well as being an adaptogen, ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties. This is another great supplement that can go into any smoothie.
- Other adaptogens. Not as potent at stimulating the adrenal glands as the above adaptogens, both green tea and ginger have similar properties. Both reduce stress and support the functioning of the adrenal glands. Powdered or fresh ginger can be added to smoothies to give a kick of flavor and green tea can be the liquid ingredient in just about any recipe, thanks to its mild flavor.
Other Foods to Boost Energy
If you are struggling with low energy, adaptogens are a great choice, but there are other foods that will also put a kick in your step. These may not be adaptogens, but they are foods that have all the right nutrients to help keep you alert and awake. If you can eat more of these, and they go great in smoothies, avoid energy-draining foods, and make other good lifestyle choices, you shouldn’t have to worry about low energy again.
- Nuts and nut butters. Nuts are little powerhouses of energy and a little bit goes a long way. They are high in calories because they are packed with protein and healthy fats. In addition to these nutritional sources of calories, nuts are also rich in micronutrients your body needs to utilize its energy sources. These include magnesium, and if you throw a couple Brazil nuts in the blender, selenium as well. You can overdo it on this mineral, so stick to only a few Brazil nuts per day. Nut butters give you the same nutrients and a creamy texture, but look for organic and all natural butters only.
- Bananas. The classic smoothie base is a great food for energy. Bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins, both of which are needed for energy. They are also good at stabilizing your blood sugar levels to keep your energy steady throughout the day.
- Coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is a superfood for many reasons, including its ability to give you an energy boost. Like all oils, coconut oil is made up of fatty acids. Unlike most other oils that we use in food, coconut oil is made up mostly of medium chain fatty acids. These are smaller molecules that your body can use quickly and easily for immediate energy. While other fatty foods might make you feel sluggish, coconut oil gives you quick energy.
- Citrus fruits. Lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits are rich in vitamin C, which supports your immune system. A healthy, functioning immune system is critical to having enough energy. When it isn’t working right, you feel run down. Citrus fruits are also a good source of natural sugar that can give you a quick pick-me-up.
- Leafy greens. The darker the green, the better, but any leafy green will give you a burst of vitamins A, C, K as well as the B complex. Iron, folic acid, and fiber are also found in your greens. All of these nutrients work together to give you lasting energy.
- Greek yogurt. Richer in protein than other types of yogurt, Greek yogurt gives you sustained energy. A good source of protein is essential if you want to feel energetic throughout the day. Without it you will feel drained. As a bonus, yogurt has plenty of probiotics, which support your immune system.
Foods to Avoid
There are plenty of nutritious, energy-boosting foods and supplements that you can add to your smoothies, but there are many more that do the opposite. In addition to adding better foods, take out some of these energy-zappers.
- Sugar. A quick energy source, but it also causes you to crash. This effect is particularly pronounced when you eat a lot of sugar. Stick to the natural sugars found in the fruits that you put in your smoothies. Be careful not to overdue it with the sweet fruit in your smoothies and create what I call a sugar-bomb. If you need an additional sweetener, stick to honey, maple syrup, and stevia.
- Caffeine. Yes caffeine is an energy booster, but if you rely on it to get you through the day you aren’t helping your overall energy levels. Caffeine is no substitute for sleep and healthy habits. In fact, your caffeine habit could be preventing you from sleeping well at night and may be perpetuating your lack of energy. You don’t have to cut it out entirely, but cut back. Switch from coffee to tea and you can reduce your intake by more than half.
- Energy drinks. You might be tempted to use an energy drink as your smoothie liquid, but it’s not a good idea. Most energy drinks give you a boost through the two above energy drainers. They are packed with sugar and caffeine. These are not a reliable source of good, sustained energy.
Other Lifestyle Changes to Increase Energy
How you fuel yourself is important to overall energy, but you also need to consider your other lifestyle habits. To have lasting energy and to avoid that drained and fatigued feeling, evaluate how you live day to day. The most obvious factor is probably sleep. You should get between six and eight hours of quality sleep every night, with no exceptions. It helps to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including the weekends.
Staying properly hydrated is also important for your energy levels. Water doesn’t have any nutrients, but is essential to life and without enough of it you can feel drained of energy. Stay hydrated by drinking between six and eight glasses of water a day. For every cup of caffeinated beverage you drink, such as a cup of coffee, add another glass of water. Caffeine is a diuretic and drains your body of fluids.
Finally, learn to manage your stress in healthful ways. Constant stress takes a toll on your adrenal glands and your ability to cope. It’s easy to turn to unhealthful ways of managing stress, like alcohol or staying out late partying with friends. These will just make you even more tired, so try other options. Meditation and exercise are great ways to battle stress. Other good choices are quiet activities that you enjoy and that make you feel relaxed. This might mean reading a good book, going to the movies, or just sitting outside on a nice day.
Being constantly fatigued is a side effect of modern life, but it doesn’t have to derail you. Taking steps to make better choices about what you eat and how you handle stress can reverse your fatigue and give you back the energy you need.