Article: Feeling Low on EnergyApril 25th, 2012 | by Pam Stuppy
Published in: Articles
Printed in Seacoast Online
Have you been noticing that you are tired all the time? Is it difficult to motivate yourself to do the things on your list for the day? Are you feeling a little more emotional or do you get frustrated or angry more easily? Has exercise become the last item on your list of goals?
There are numerous factors that can affect your “get up and go.” Some of these are physical issues, while others might be emotional.
Poor sleep habits are the obvious possibility. This can mean the actual number of hours of sleep, but can also be the quality of sleep you are getting. Many people think they can get away with fewer hours, but often this will drain your energy over time.
Sleep quality can be improved by not consuming caffeine closer than 6-8 hours before bedtime, not eating a large amount of food within two to three hours before bedtime, limiting alcohol intake several hours before bedtime, doing something relaxing starting about a half hour before bedtime, limiting fluid intake within about 30-60 minutes before bedtime, and by being more consistent with the times you go to bed and wake up. You can also make your sleep environment more conducive to better sleep (temperature, sounds, lights, etc.).
If you are overweight, you have a greater risk of having sleep apnea — when you frequently stop breathing during sleep. This can be a safety issue as well, since the risk of a car accident is increased by sleep deprivation. Being overweight can also increase the risk of reflux, which can interfere with quality sleep. Consider losing weight and finding other ways to address these issues.
The types and timing of your food intake can also affect energy levels. Breakfast is a key time to kick-start your daily fueling (sorry, your morning coffee is not really fuel…;). Eating smaller, more frequent meals can then provide a steady flow of energy throughout the day. Healthy carbs are the primary fuel source for your brain and body, so need to be included each time you have a meal or snack. Sources include whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, milk, yogurt, beans/hummus, nuts and seeds.
If you include a source of protein and fiber along with the carb sources, these slow the rate of digestion so the energy from the carbs lasts over a longer time. Examples might be a snack of yogurt and fruit or a trail mix of a high fiber cereal with some nuts/seeds. Each of these snacks contains healthy carbs plus protein plus fiber. This also means that having just a vegetable-based salad for lunch will not provide enough fuel for your afternoon workout.
Frequent intake of high sugar foods or refined carbs can cause fatigue as well. This may be due to the blood sugar surge with a resulting drop in blood sugar levels, but it can also be due to a lower intake of healthy nutrients that keep your body running efficiently. Try to include adequate amounts from all the healthy food groups and limit the “extras” (high sugar foods, high fat foods, foods with minimal nutritional value).
Adequate calorie intake is needed for fueling the brain and body, too. Restrictive dieting can cause fatigue and work against a goal of being more active to lose weight. Also, do not leave big gaps of time between meals.
Dehydration is another source of fatigue. Drink fluids consistently throughout the day with a daily goal of close to 64 ounces. If you sweat heavily, are in a warm, humid space, or are exercising, increase your intake accordingly.
Being less active can promote a feeling of fatigue. Many people hesitate to exercise when they are feeling tired. Exercise can actually improve energy levels. When your blood is moving faster, you are getting more oxygen and nutrients to your brain and muscles. Make sure you get a meal or snack within about an hour or so before you work out to fuel you during the exercise. After exercise, get a “recovery” snack or meal to replace the stored energy you may have drained. Remember, exercise is also a great stress buster.
On the other hand, excessive exercise can cause fatigue. Your body needs time to recover from exercise and does not do well when pushed to its limits on a regular basis. Always take at least one day off each week if you are doing strenuous exercise.
Speaking of stress, emotions can drain us just as much as physical stress. Besides normal daily stress, depression and anxiety can cause fatigue directly, and can also reduce the desire to exercise or eat well. The result is low energy. If these emotional issues become too problematic, a professional mental health provider can be helpful.
In general, however, finding ways to relax should be an ongoing goal. This can involve changes you make in your everyday activities to lessen your commitments. It can mean becoming more organized or multitasking so that you have time for some pleasurable activities each day. Cardiovascular exercise and/or yoga are good ways to de-stress. Deep breathing, meditation and many other relaxation techniques can be very beneficial.
Some medical conditions and medications can also promote fatigue. Low iron levels, unregulated low thyroid hormone levels and some autoimmune diseases are a few examples. When it comes to medications, consult your pharmacist to find out if any cause fatigue.
So if your “get-up-and-go” is gone, step back and take a good look at your daily habits to see what action steps you can take towards better energy throughout the day!
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, Maine, and Portsmouth. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy. Visit www.pamstuppynutrition.com for nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas.