If you’re feeling tired, wiped out, drained, and you’re fairly sure you have no underlying medical problems causing your sluggishness, consider a thought from Jill Kilhefner, a registered dietitian with Porter Health System. “I think people tend to forget that food is fuel,” she says, “that nutrition is the basis of life and if we don’t eat well, our bodies don’t function well.”
This commonsense notion suggests that beating fatigue may be as simple as tweaking your diet. Local dietitians offer some dos and don’ts for optimal energy.
Trade bad carbs for balanced meals
JoAnn Franczek, a registered dietitian at the Hammond Clinic, advises limiting foods made with a lot of sugar and refined flour. She explains that while simple carbs like these may give you a quick burst of energy, they quickly leave your stomach, causing a roller coaster effect in terms of energy.
Instead, she says, we should be looking towards complex carbohydrates and balanced meals and snacks. Combining complex carbohydrates with protein and a little fat is a good way to ensure constant, stable energy.
Kilhefner says it’s critical to eat breakfast within an hour or two of rising to fuel your body through the day. “A lot of people eat a light breakfast or no breakfast, eat a light lunch or no lunch and eat a majority of their food in the evening to catch up for time lost when they should have been eating throughout the day.”
Ideally, Franczek says, it’s best to front-load your day with protein and taper it off more towards bedtime, when you should include more of the carbs. Her favorite before-bed choices include a low-fat dairy product like yogurt, cereal and milk.
What you drink matters, too
Both dietitians say caffeinated beverages can boost your mental alertness for the short term, but advise against heavy use, defined as six or more 8-ounce cups a day. “One or two caffeinated beverages a day is okay and can actually make you feel more alert,” Kilhefner says, “but using caffeine all through the day is probably going to work against you.”
And don’t forget about the water. Kilhefner says not getting enough can cause you to be lethargic. Hydration keeps your metabolism up, ensuring the body burns calories at a higher level.
Finally, if fatigue persists, Franczek suggests keeping a food diary in which you also record how you are feeling. This may help you determine how your dietary choices are affecting your energy level.
(based on one 8 oz serving)
|Iced Tea||9-50 mg|
|Diet Cola/Soda||23 mg|
|Energy Drink||70-85 mg|