Editor’s Note: Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, author and CNN health and nutrition contributor.
Are you struggling with a midafternoon energy slump lately? Or maybe it’s during a midmorning meeting or before dinner prep when you feel you need a push.
We have all experienced times when we feel we are dragging, both physically and emotionally. The good news is, there are lots of ways to healthfully rejuvenate to get you through your daily tasks.
“There are a number of ways that we can boost our energy, including focusing on the right combination of foods and the timing of meals and snacks,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Elizabeth DeRobertis, who is director of the Nutrition Center at Scarsdale Medical Group, White Plains Hospital.
To feel your best, it’s also important to avoid energy saboteurs. For example, a lack of sleep and increased stress can drain you of energy, according to Yasi Ansari, registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson.
Here are 10 simple ways to give your energy levels a needed boost:
1. Eat every 3 to 4 hours
“People feel like they have more energy when they eat something every three hours or so during the day,” said DeRobertis, who is also the creator of the GPS Weight Loss Program, an online self-paced weight loss program. Going too long without eating, like if you tend to skip breakfast or lunch, can cause a dip in energy, according to DeRobertis.
“I generally recommended that the average person eat every three to four hours,” Ansari added. “That is what is typically seen when it comes to hunger starting to present itself.”
Of course, how often you should eat varies from person to person.
“It is important to listen to your own hunger and fullness cues to determine the right way to space out your food,” said DeRobertis.
If you are very active, you might find yourself hungry more often. “Someone who is taking part in more physical activity or is constantly on the go may need to be eating more frequently such as every two to three hours,” Ansari said.
2. Pair protein with meals
Including a healthy protein source at meals sustains people for longer, as it takes our bodies longer to break down protein, DeRobertis said.
“I often ask my patients if they feel more satiated and have more energy after eating a higher carb breakfast or a higher protein breakfast,” she said. “The higher carb breakfast is often something like cereal or a bagel, and the higher protein breakfasts often contain eggs. Most often they say they feel better after having the eggs versus the higher carb breakfast, as (the eggs) holds them over for longer and they feel more stable.”
Adding protein also contributes different tastes and textures to the energy boost. “Think an apple with peanut butter or yogurt with fresh berries,” said Melissa Majumdar, Atlanta-based registered dietitian and certified obesity and weight management specialist.
3. Eat fiber-rich carbohydrates
“Foods high in fiber like fruit and whole grains provide energy from carbohydrates, which is the quickest fuel source for your body. The fiber slows the energy stream down, like a dam, instead of simple carbohydrates that flood the body with sugar,” said Majumdar, who is also the metabolic and bariatric coordinator at Emory University Hospital Midtown. “In other words, carbohydrate foods high in fiber provide long-lasting energy.”
Eating too many refined carbohydrates in a sitting without having any fiber or protein to slow rises in blood sugar can contribute to reactive hypoglycemia, where our blood sugar spikes and crashes, and this can cause a dip in energy, according to DeRobertis.
Oatmeal with berries and an ounce of nuts or a whole-grain English muffin with 2 tablespoons of almond butter are good examples of fiber-rich carbs, Ansari said.
4. Choose nutrient-rich snacks
Another way to ensure more sustained energy throughout the day is to choose nutrient-dense foods instead of foods with empty calories. “If we had two snacks to choose from, and they both had the same number of calories, but one had more protein and more fiber, there is a good chance that (the protein and fiber-rich snack) will give us more energy and hold us over longer than the snack that is not as nutrient dense,” DeRobertis said.
Think about having a 100-calorie portion of pretzels versus a 100-calorie portion of nuts, Greek yogurt or fruit. “The nuts, fruit and yogurt each have so much more to offer in terms of nutrient density, that they will provide you with more energy than empty calorie snacks like pretzels or chips or cookies,” she said.
5. Stay hydrated
“Inadequate fluids can cause the heart to work harder to help support blood flow, and this can cause fatigue,” Ansari said. Not being adequately hydrated can also interfere with metabolism and the delivery of nutrients throughout the body, and this can prevent us from feeling our best and energized, she said..
“If we are even the slightest bit dehydrated, it can decrease our energy level,” DeRobertis added. To see if you are well hydrated, check the color of your urine. You should feel the need to urinate every few hours during the day and urine should be clear in color, according to DeRobertis.
6. Get adequate sleep
Getting enough sleep, as well as having a good-quality sleep is critical to energy levels, according to experts. Interestingly, there is some research to support that inadequate sleep can increase insulin resistance. While the mechanism requires more research, the result of not getting enough sleep can affect glucose metabolism and decrease energy throughout the day, causing us to eat more to help keep energy levels up, according to Ansari.
While adequate sleep is typically considered seven to nine hours for the average person, competitive athletes including adolescent athletes taking part in heavy training and those who are highly active may need an additional two hours of sleep to support recovery, according to Ansari.
7. Avoid caffeine for energy
Caffeine can help boost short-term mental performance and provide an energy spike, but it can decrease energy afterward. “Aim for a moderate amount of 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is the amount in about two cups of brewed coffee,” Ansari said.
“There is nothing wrong with starting the day with some caffeine as a ‘pick me up,’ but if you find you rely on multiple cups of coffee spaced out during the day to maintain your energy level, you may want to take a look at how you are spacing out your food intake as well as your hydration level,” DeRobertis added.
8. Increase your exercise
Increasing exercise can actually boost your energy level, according to DeRobertis. The increase in energy takes place for a number of reasons: For one, you produce more feel-good hormones, known as endorphins; plus, you also increase your heart’s pumping volume, which strengthens circulation. “Your cells become more sensitive to your insulin, so your blood glucose becomes more stable,” DeRobertis said.
9. Stress less
Too much stress can drain you of energy. It can also contribute to poor sleep quality, which can make you tired and irritable, and worsen stress. Aiming for at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night can help to decrease cortisol and stress levels.
Finding a hobby you enjoy and listening to music can also help to reduce stress levels. There are many other ways to de-stress – the key is finding which strategy works best for you.
10. Engage in self-care
Energy comes from two sources: physical energy and emotional or psychological energy. Before turning towards the afternoon cookie, identify whether you need a physical boost, or an emotional lift.
“If you just finished up a hard meeting or grounding the kids, food won’t provide the energy boost you need, but self-care might,” Majumdar said.
“Choosing an activity that resets the negative energy can help balance those energy needs. Think a quick walk outside for fresh air, some deep breathing exercises, or a quick dance session.”