Let’s talk about natural energy boosters. If you read this month’s blog post about metabolism myths, you may remember the big takeaway: “metabolism is hard to change”. You can’t magically “speed it up” by eating anything in particular. Nor can you “slow it down” significantly by gaining or losing a little weight.
Your overall metabolism, or the rate at which your body expends energy (or burns calories), is largely based on your frame and genetics. The amount of lean muscle you amass can change this rate of energy use, but not much else can. Therefore, if you want to burn more calories throughout the day, you’ve got to do things that use more energy. In other words: move your body!
With that said, we understand that sometimes moving your body more is harder than it sounds. This is where natural energy boosters come in
Could more energy benefit your health?
There are so many good excuses for not moving your body. Our culture idolizes busyness and workaholism. So it’s no wonder that so many people feel they do not have time to exercise.
Jobs that require sitting at a desk for long hours can make regular movement inconvenient or impossible. If you can, set a (gentle) alarm for once an hour and just stand up to stretch. Walk down the hall, do some squats or jumping jacks, anything to remind your muscles you need them. It may seem counter intuitive, but not moving your body can actually make you feel more tired.
There are foods and certain nutrients that can give you a boost in motivation and the energy to move. There are also certain foods and eating habits that can slow you down further. Take a look at your diet to see how it is contributing to your energy level and motivation to move throughout your day.
Energy Boosting Foods
If you think of energy as a currency, glucose is the currency of energy stored in food. But, it is unusable in the body until it is exchanged for usable currency, ATP.
If you travel from the US to Mexico, you can’t buy anything until your dollars are exchanged for pesos. And similarly, when transforming glucose to ATP we want to get the best exchange rate possible. The best foods for a sustained energy boost are those made up of mostly complex carbohydrates.
Foods are made up of different proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Simple carbohydrates like sugar and refined flour are high in glucose but are digested very quickly. All of the energy substrate is available at once and then gone. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, like whole grains or starchy vegetables, provide a sustained source of glucose. Because they are slower to be digested, glucose is released over time as the structure of the food is gradually broken down.
When glucose is not readily available from carbohydrates in the diet, we can still make cellular energy. However, we must extract it from fatty acids and amino acids, which requires more work. To return to the currency analogy, the exchange rate is not as good.
There’s more to making ATP than glucose, however. Certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are necessary for the process that turns glucose sugar into ATP. Others are required to transport that ATP energy to where it’s needed.
Protein is a Natural Energy Booster
It may seem counter intuitive because proteins are not made of glucose, but some proteins and certain amino acids can give you energy too. It’s not going to be a boost like caffeine or sugar can quickly deliver, but consuming amino acids can help fight fatigue and prolong and stabilize your energy level .
When you exercise, your body uses amino acids, especially branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine, and valine), to build new muscle. As the levels of circulating BCAAs in your body go down (because they have been incorporated into muscles), it signals the body to produce more tryptophan. Tryptophan, in turn, promotes a feeling of fatigue.
By taking in more BCAAs, you can keep circulating levels high. This means there are plenty of building blocks for new muscle. And it means less tryptophan being made, thereby fending off fatigue.
BCAAs are readily available in meat, eggs, nuts, soy, and dairy products. A supplement is often a superior mode of delivery, especially if it’s right before a workout and you don’t want to feel full from a heavy meal.
Try starting your day with eggs.
Surely you’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, what you eat and how much you eat is more important than the meal itself, especially when it comes to feeling energized in the morning.
Eggs are a classic breakfast food for good reason. They are a complete protein source, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body can break down and rebuild into enzymes, hormones, or even new muscle.
The most abundant amino acid in eggs is leucine . Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA). BCAAs, and specifically leucine, stimulate protein synthesis and suppress the breakdown of muscle protein during exercise . Remember that, when it comes to metabolism, the more muscle you maintain, the faster your body will use the energy you feed it. Additionally, BCAAs may stave off the transport of tryptophan to the brain, which is a probable contributor to exercise fatigue .
If you’re not “an egg person”, try adding a balanced amino acid supplement (like BAM® – Balanced Amino Maintenance) to your breakfast for a similar boost.
Craving something sweet?
Have an apple.
Apples are a great snack choice or a sweet addition to a meal. While rich in glucose for an immediate energy boost, apples are also high in fiber, which gives an extended-release effect to an otherwise high dose of natural sugar. Apples are also rich in antioxidants. Several antioxidants have been noted to slow the metabolism of sugar, which would prevent the sugar rush/crash that can follow the consumption of sweet food .
Trade your rice for quinoa.
Although quinoa is a starchy grain and high in glucose, it has a very low glycemic index score. This means it also provides an extended-release dose of sugar, slowly absorbed over time . Quinoa is also high in protein, magnesium, and folate. The B-complex vitamins (including folate) are all required for the production of cellular energy from glucose. If you are not eating enough B-vitamin-rich food, adding a B-complex supplement to your diet may make a significant, noticeable difference in your energy level.
A slight tangent about folate: folate from food sources is indeed healthful, but unfortunately its bioavailability is fairly low. This means you have to eat quite a lot of folate-rich foods to absorb just enough for all of the processes it participates in within the body. In addition to this factor, much of the global population has genetic differences that cause inefficient processing of folate from food, even fortified foods that have been enriched with folic acid.
When possible, it is an all-around superior choice to supplement with L-methylfolate. L-Methylfolate is the activated form of folate that requires no enzymatic processing and is ready to use upon absorption (regardless of genetics). Metabolic Maintenance’s supplemental B-vitamin formulas contain this superior form of folate. as well as, our sister company, MethylPro® offering a selection of high-quality options with different formulations.
Is caffeine ok?
On a holistic level, there is nothing wrong with drinking coffee. In fact, according to the Dietary Guidelines published by the USDA in 2015, moderate coffee drinking (1-5 cups a day) is advised as part of a healthy diet . Moderate coffee drinkers tend to experience less cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver conditions such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and chronic liver disease . Of course, drinking caffeine in the afternoon or later can have a negative effect on sleep, so choose the timing of your coffee breaks wisely.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, tea might be a suitable alternative for a pick-me-up without the jitters. Green and black tea contain both caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine is not essential, but also not made in the human body. When ingested, theanine tends to promote a feeling of relaxation that may counter any jitteriness that would otherwise be brought on by the caffeine in tea. It has also been suggested to promote mental clarity and focus, along with some immune benefits .
Nutrients Supporting Energy Conversion
B-complex vitamins are among the most important nutrients for energy production, and they primarily act as coenzymes, substances that are required for the action of enzymes . Without B-vitamin coenzymes, metabolic enzymes cannot function in the body, and food cannot be broken down to provide the body with energy. Each of the eight B-complex vitamins has a unique function in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat, and protein from food.
Thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), and biotin (B-7) help extract energy from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Niacin is especially important for endurance activities and exercise, as the metabolic breakdown it participates in occurs for the most part at times of increased energy expenditure . Pyridoxine (B-6), folate (B-9), and cobalamin (B-12) assist red blood cells in the delivery of oxygen throughout your body, and oxygen is a key player in the production of ATP.
Food that contains the energy-producing B vitamin
Salmon is a great source of B vitamins containing B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, and B-12. Eggs provide B-2, B-5, B-7, B-9, and B-12. Leafy greens like spinach are an excellent source of B-9, folate. But as different types of B vitamins come from different food sources, a B-complex supplement is an efficient way to make sure you have all of these metabolic coenzymes in sufficient quantities without weighing yourself down with too heavy a meal.
Just remember that the B vitamins alone won’t give you energy. You still have to provide fuel for the machinery they make up in the form of glucose.
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is a powerful antioxidant that is ubiquitous throughout your body. In fact, cells cannot make ATP energy without this nutrient . Typically the more energy a cell needs or expends, the more CoQ10 it makes, so cells in the heart, liver, skeletal muscles, and other hard-working cells tend to make higher concentrations of CoQ10. Unfortunately, as we age, our cells produce less and less CoQ10, and this can contribute to the feeling of fatigue . Supplemental CoQ10 has been touted to improve exercise stamina and fend off muscle fatigue in athletes . Some foods, such as meat and nuts, can deliver a small amount of CoQ10, but the best way to increase the level of circulating CoQ10 in your body is to take a supplement .
Water is a Natural Energy Booster
Although water provides no nutrition, every single one of your cells relies on it. The fluid through which ATP and other cell signals must travel is made up of mostly water, and dehydration can slow their action. Scientists have known for many decades that hydration levels can affect an athlete’s performance, but recently it was demonstrated that the effects of dehydration are already significant, less than 30 seconds into an athletic activity . Even if you are not exercising, your hydration level may be directly related to your energy level. Dehydration can leave you feeling tired and unfocused during the day, but also prevent restful sleep, contributing to sluggish feelings the next day .
Women should be drinking approximately 91 ounces of water per day and men an average of 125 ounces , but don’t wait until the end of the day to chug it down or you’ll ruin your sleep with trips to the bathroom! Just like slow sustained glucose delivery, drinking water consistently throughout the day is a much better way to keep cells hydrated than guzzling too much at once between long time periods of no water.
If you need help establishing this habit, get a large water bottle and write the hours of the day on the side in increments like a ruler, reminding you throughout your day to drink just a little bit more each hour. You can find bottles with these markers already printed on them for purchase as well. If you love gadgets and technology, there are also now “smart” water bottles on the market that will track how much you drink through the day with a phone app.
Exercise is a Natural Energy Booster
When you’re already feeling tired, exercise is likely the last thing you want to do. And doesn’t exercise use energy not make more of it? Yes and no. Technically, moving your body will use more ATP than sitting still or taking a nap, but getting your body moving can wake up your brain and make you feel more energized.
What is the “runners high”?
When you do an activity that requires more energy to be available fast, the pituitary gland in your brain releases hormones called endorphins. Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever and tend to be associated with a feel-good effect, also known as “the runner’s high”. Biologically, the purpose of these hormones is related to the fight or flight response, as endorphins can help to make your brain focused and your body comfortable to run in an emergency situation, but we can capitalize on that biological response with exercise as well. Making a habit of exercise can also help with a pattern of fatigue by improving your sleep.
Breath Can be a Natural Energy Booster
If you’re sitting in the office when fatigue strikes, however, you may not have the opportunity to get up and go for a run or access an energy-boosting snack. This is a time when a breathing exercise might be your best option to help you wake up and focus. Diaphragmatic breathing not only boosts your energy but also helps to relieve stress and can strengthen your immune and circulatory systems .
Set an alarm for 10 minutes (or however long you can take for an uninterrupted time-out) and close your eyes. Breathe in slowly and deeply as you count to four in your head, pushing your belly out first, and your chest expanding last like an umbrella. As you breathe out, slowly count to six while pushing your belly in. If you prefer words to counting, you can say “calm” or “peace” on the breath in and a two-syllable word like “relax” on the breath out as a reminder that the exhale should last a little longer.
This works as an energy boost because deep breaths are bringing more oxygen into your blood and encouraging stronger circulation of that oxygen and nutrients to your cells for optimal energy production . Enjoy your break and get back to whatever you were doing with a little more focus and energy.