Do you reach for coffee more often these days but still feel yourself dragging? “I feel tired all the time” is a top complaint of patients to their healthcare providers. If that rings true for you (and if you checked out fine at your check-up), here are a few strategies to help keep your energy steadier throughout the day.
#1 Cut down on processed carbs.
You probably remember from biology class that the energy centers of our cells are called mitochondria. These are essential to convert nutrients from our food into cellular energy. But what happens when we eat a diet that is full of sugar and processed carbohydrates? These foods produce free radicals, those nasty molecules that can damage the mitochondria and other parts of the cell, too—such as DNA. This process causes cells to run more slowly as the mitochondria get bogged down with free radicals.
It is analogous to putting fuel into a car: If you poured syrup instead of gasoline, you’d gunk up the engine. The miniature engines in our cells are the mitochondria, and they demand clean fuel (from a nutritious, vegetable-centric diet) in order to convert energy with maximum RPM. To support your mitochondria, be sure to fill your plate with fresh vegetables at every meal and limit processed foods. Take care of your cells, and they will take care of you!
#2 Eat more fiber.
Why should we eat fiber when we humans don’t even produce the enzymes to digest it? The answer has to do with your colon, which is at the end of your intestines. We have trillions of microbial passengers that normally live there. (Nice to know you’re never alone!) Collectively, they are called gut microbes or microflora. Unlike us, they CAN digest fiber, breaking it into molecules called short-chain fatty acids that serve as the primary fuel for the cells of your colon!
Most Americans get a paltry amount of fiber in their diets. We typically get 10-15 grams of fiber per day, but we should get double that. The result is our energy budget is stretched to keep our colon cells alive. Make your gut microbes happy and let them produce energy for your colon by eating more fiber, optimally from a variety of plant sources such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.
#3 Get adequate sleep.
During sleep, cellular housekeeping takes place (cleaning the mitochondria), and your cells go into downtime. This restoration period allows your body to recharge, which is why it’s crucial to allow for 7-8 hours of sleep. So, if you want optimal daytime energy, make sure you maintain a bedtime routine and catch plenty of Z’s at night.
#4 Move more.
It just makes sense that exercise circulates blood, which helps flush toxins and delivers fresh fuel and oxygen to all of our cells. Regular, moderate exercise is well known to increase stamina and strengthen muscles, bones, cardiovascular system, lungs, immune system, and more! Exercise can seem daunting if you’ve been out of shape for a while, but keep in mind that it will pay dividends in the long run by supporting your overall energy. Try to exercise earlier in the day rather than later, as it boosts your metabolism and keeps your energy up for the rest of the day.
#5 Minimize toxins.
Are you inadvertently short-circuiting your own energy production? You might be surprised at how many toxins we are exposed to (e.g., paints, cleaners, some plastics, and even certain medications). Many toxins affect crucial enzymes in our cells, and some toxins cross into and short-circuit the mitochondria. By avoiding toxins whenever practical, you will be protecting your cells and thus enhancing your overall health. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) can help consumers make smarter choices. Their EWG verified list suggests some toxin-free personal care and cleaning products, as well as baby products. Even small changes today can make a big impact in the long term.
#6 Reduce stress.
Physical, mental, and emotional stressors sap our energy reserves because stress induces hormonal changes that affect mitochondrial activity. Stress can also impact the immune system. Prioritize changes in your life that reduce stress. (Since this is “easier said than done,” you may need to do this incrementally — but keep chipping away at it.)
#7 Incorporate herbs into your daily routine.
A welcome surprise is that certain herbs called adaptogens are really useful in giving us steadier energy. Adaptogens tend to normalize various functions in the body. For example, two adaptogenic herbs that help to normalize our energy are rhodiola and shilajit.
Rhodiola root has long been used as an energizing adaptogenic herb in Siberia, Tibet, and Scandinavia. As a product of harsh, often high-altitude environments, rhodiola has special chemistry that allows the plant to survive tough conditions. Today it is a favorite among athletes for improving stamina and performance. It reduces fatigue, supports energy levels, and improves tissue oxygenation; it is also useful to help with stress and mood support. Learn more about rhodiola at our rhodiola ingredient page.
Shilajit is an adaptogenic herbo-mineral substance collected from the Himalayas and other select alpine regions of the world. It has been used throughout history in Ayurvedic medicine in India and Greco-Arabic traditional medicine (Unani-Tibb) for a wide variety of ailments and promoting longevity.
Modern research confirms many of the traditional uses for this adaptogen, including benefits for protecting mitochondrial function and optimizing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. The HPA axis affects the way we store and use energy, handle stress, and perform a wide variety of other neuroendocrine functions.
Taking adaptogenic herbs can do remarkable things to keep your cellular engines humming, optimizing your overall energy.
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Thought you’d see caffeine on the list?
Surprisingly, caffeine doesn’t create more cellular energy. It mainly works by interfering with adenosine, a chemical that builds up inside our cells all day and eventually produces sleep pressure, which allows us to fall asleep normally. In other words, caffeine keeps us alert by suppressing the urge to sleep—which you’ve likely realized when you’ve had an evening soda or coffee!
So before you reach for caffeine to keep your energy levels up throughout the day, consider these seven simple lifestyle changes to keep the energy vampires away.