Do you drag yourself through the day, looking forward to that moment when you can collapse on the couch and grab a nap, or better yet, go to sleep for 12 hours? Being tired is a common ailment in today’s modern society. There can be many things that can cause us to feel groggy, especially around two or three in the afternoon. Today I’ll outline three culprits for low energy and what you can do to reverse the effects so you feel like you can accomplish your to-do list in one afternoon. Let’s get down to business to increasing our energy.
We often don’t think about what we eat when it comes to figuring out what is making us drag our ass in the middle of the afternoon. Food is usually the number one suspect.
What we eat and when we eat it has everything to do with how our body generates and uses energy throughout the day. The number one culprit for triggering nap-time fantasies? Sugar – mostly processed sugar.
Why is sugar the enemy? There are many reasons, but for this post, I will focus on one – blood sugar levels.
You see, when we digest sugar, it has a direct impact on our blood glucose levels. When glucose enters our body, it sends a message to the pancreas to send out insulin to eat up the glucose and get it into our cells to create energy. In a typical situation, this is great because who doesn’t want more energy.
Unfortunately, the majority of us have some level of insulin resistance and our body no longer correctly responds to insulin surges, so the pancreas keeps producing way too much. When our blood sugar levels spike super high, the only place for them to go is down, which causes a metabolic crash. Eating meals that are full of sugar and processed foods (usually laden with added sugar) is a recipe for a fatigue disaster.
When this happens at the beginning of the day (think breakfast full of cereal, bagels, and muffins), we see ourselves land in a never-ending cycle of snack, spike, crash, snack, spike, crash. So what do we do about it?
While the solution is simple, it may take some practice and some withdrawal symptoms to get you onboard. If you’re a sugar addict you may find it unpleasant to cut out all sugar cold-turkey; however, I have found it is the best and quickest way to get your blood sugar back to normal levels quickly. It usually takes about 3-4 days to get your sugar cravings under control, but when you do, life will look bright again – as long as you stay away from the sugar spikes.
How do you do that you ask? At every meal focus on lots of non-starchy vegetables (at least half of your meal), high-quality protein (meat, poultry, fish, and eggs), and good healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, eggs, coconut oil, salmon). Limit fruit to low-sugar berries, grapefruit, lemons, limes, kiwi, and avocados, and ALWAYS eat them with a healthy fat or protein. Focus on foods that are low on the glycemic index, and your blood sugar will stay steady.
So, we’ve identified that what we eat is a leading culprit of our low energy levels. Now, let’s focus on the second reason we have no fuel in our pumps.
Physical activity, or what some people call exercise, is one of the best ways to help manage blood sugar and keep our energy reserves at a reasonable level.
Sedentary people who regularly complain of fatigue can increase their energy levels by 20 percent and decrease their fatigue by 65 percent by engaging in regular, low-intensity exercise.
University of Georgia (2008)
When our bodies have pumped out too much glucose, and our pancreas doesn’t know how to handle it, getting up and moving our bodies is a great way to use up that extra glucose. When we exercise and raise our heart rate, the muscles in our body start working harder, and they need fuel. Guess what they eat? Glucose!
When activated by exercise our muscle cells can better use the available insulin in our bodies to eat up the excess glucose. Even if excess insulin is not available, the muscles can use the glucose to create energy. According to the American Diabetes Association, “physical activity can lower your blood glucose up to 24 hours or more after your workout by making your body more sensitive to insulin.”
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Put your sneakers on and go for a brisk walk. Do some DDP Yoga after lunch to work off that client lunch (where they kept offering you bread!), or ride your bike around the neighborhood to get your heart rate into the fitness zone. Whatever you do, make sure you raise your heart rate (to a healthy level) for at least 30 minutes a day five days a week.
The key is getting your heart rate up so that your body releases some natural hormones called endorphins. These are the “feel good” molecules that lead to increasing our energy. Another positive side of this mechanism is that it boosts our mental mood and brain function – we become happier and more alert, both of which contribute to increased energy levels.
You will need to figure out how much aerobic exercise is necessary for you to release your endorphins, as everybody is different. Pay attention to how your workouts make you feel and adjust accordingly.
Note that if you are insulin resistant or have diabetes, be sure to monitor your blood glucose levels before and after exercise to ensure they remain at safe levels. Know your body and work with your doctor if you are not sure how to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle.
Yep, you heard it here; sleep can help you have more energy throughout the day. I bet if I asked you if you needed more sleep you would probably say yes. Am I right?
It is a no-brainer to understand that sleep helps us have more energy throughout the day. We run around all day trying to fit in everything and then some more without considering that we need to refuel our bodies through a sound, deep sleep.
Our bodies heal while we are asleep and the best time for this healing to occur is between the hours of 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM. And during that sleep time our most healing period is in the N3 stage of non-REM sleep (just before going into REM – rapid eye movement – phase). According to the Sleep Foundation, during the N3 stage, our blood pressure drops, muscles relax (including the heart), blood supply increases to muscles and organs, tissues grow and repair themselves, and essential hormones are released.
Sometimes getting to sleep is the tricky part. Here are a few suggestions.
You might be wondering how much sleep you need to get. That is something only you can answer. I did a little test to see how many hours I would sleep naturally without an alarm clock. It was nine hours. After nine hours of sleep I will automatically wake up refreshed and ready to go. Try and get the right amount of sleep for you. If you are lucky, you might have the DEC2 gene mutation that allows you to get by on six hours of sleep. Think of what you can do with a couple of more hours of awake time!
You may have noticed something as you read through the three different things that can help increase your energy levels. They are all connected. The food changes will help fuel your exercise, and the exercise will help you get ready for comfortable sleep. A healthy sleep cycle will reduce your sugar cravings, and you will eat healthier and less often.
Our bodies are magic capsules that can keep us going with the right amount of energy to help us do what we want to do and achieve our highest goals. Eat, move and sleep to better health.
What do you think contributes the most to your low energy levels? Share in the comments or join us in our Facebook group where I share resources, insights and go “live” with a variety of wellness topics.
Corrie Ann Gray is a writer, researcher, coach, and cookie enthusiast who lives in Los Angeles, CA. She started the Clean Body Project to share all of her knowledge and resources with others who are interested in running their own experiment into clean holistic living. She is also known as The Renaissance Soul Writer at www.corrieanngray.com.