Posted: Aug 29 2018
This week's blog post is by Alice Mackintosh, a registered Nutritional Therapist based in West London’s Chelsea. She runs a thriving practice helping people to manage skin disorders and is a founder of nutritional supplement range Equi London.
Low energy is an incredibly common issue, and it’s no wonder when you consider just how busy the average person is. Juggling work, workouts, family, school runs, hectic social lives together with all the other elements of a 21st-century lifestyle means we don’t come up for air nearly often enough. Many people simply accept that this is how they feel and see it as normal; whilst others are so busy they don’t even notice how exhausted they are until they actually take a break or go on holiday. Either way, this is far from ideal, and only likely to get worse as one soldiers on. Thankfully, there are a lot of small changes we can make to get noticeable results pretty quickly.
We experience different types of low energy, and how we manage these is dependent on what the underlying issue actually is. Here are three of most common causes and suggestions for what to do and eat to get you back on form:
1. No More Sugar Lows
A classic cause of low energy is low blood sugar – and the problem is that when we feel like we need to eat something, we often choose sugar or caffeine for that fast boost, that inevitably drops again leaving us feeling even more drained. Jumping from peak to trough like this over the day is a classic no-win energy situation and so we must eat to get out of this cycle.
- Ensure meals have a ‘low GI’ (meaning they release sugar slowly) by always combining wholegrain carbs (oats, quinoa, rye bread, brown rice, spelt pasta and sweet potatoes) with protein (meat, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses) at every meal.
- Breakfast is crucial for keeping blood sugar balanced over the day, so choose protein/carb combos such as porridge oats with nuts; eggs on rye bread or nut butter on seeded toast.
- Cut coffee – it disrupts blood sugar and stimulates peaks that normally correspond with troughs. Limit to one per day and never replace meals with coffee.
2. Keep Your Adrenals Going
The adrenal glands, which sit on top of our kidneys are big hitters in the body – when they kick in, everything else stands to attention. These glands secrete cortisol, the hormone that wakes us up and keeps us alert, warm, concentrating and on the ball. If we are in stress mode (which these days isn’t difficult) the adrenals secrete more cortisol as well as adrenaline to keep us going. When we run on empty it’s the adrenals that supply the invisible fuel, however they can’t do this for long before they get tired and throw the towel in – leaving you sapped of energy with bad sleep patterns, big dips in blood sugar and cravings.
- Low blood sugar causes the body to release more cortisol so you can power through – so always make sure you eat to prevent this by managing GI (as above).
- Foods rich in nutrients that support adrenal function and help us produce hormones and keep up with demand. B vitamins (eggs, oats, beans, mushrooms, edamame), magnesium (green leafy veg, sweet potato, brown rice and rye) and vitamin C (fresh, colourful fruits and veg).
- Adrenal superfoods like maca that are adaptogenic meaning they normalise adrenal function and support energy production.
- Sleep well
- Drink herbal teas such as licorice, ginseng, and green tea.
- Take restful holidays and chill on weekends!
3. Top Up Iron
Iron binds oxygen to our hemoglobin, and so if we don’t have enough the body can’t be properly oxygenated. Low energy, headaches, trouble concentrating, heavy limbs, and fatigue are common signs of low iron and women are more at risk owing to menstruation. Vegans and veggies are also at risk, especially if they work out.
- Red meat (venison, lean beef) calves liver and mackerel have the best bio-availability (this means more of the iron is readily absorbed).
- For vegetarians and vegans consume chickpeas, spirulina, dates, tomato paste, green leafy vegetables (spinach and kale), edamame and black beans. However, be aware that plant-based iron is not as readily used and so you may need to eat more of these foods.
- Eat colourful fruit and veg, or drink lemon in water as the vitamin C can increase the absorption of iron
- Ensure you support iron in the body by eating synergistic nutrients – zinc and B12
- Get tested – ensure they look for iron and ferritin. Even if iron is normal, if ferritin is below 30ug/L then I recommend working on iron levels and then retesting 3 months later. You can also supplement, but never with ferrous sulphate (it can really aggravate digestion and rarely has a noticeable effect) and it’s best to speak to a nutritionist first.