How to get better energy from food, naturally, without depriving yourself
Are you that person who wakes up feeling unrested, even though you’re almost 90% sure you slept the recommended 6-8 hours? Or, maybe, you’re the other person who wakes up feeling unrested because you know for sure you didn’t get enough sleep due to either tossing and turning all night, feeling restless, or couldn’t fall asleep right away. Either way, you are definitely that person who is, more often than not, always saying how tired you are throughout the day, regardless.
If any of this sounds like you, here’s some good news. You’re not alone! Being tired often is extremely common (especially if you’re a parent) but keep in mind that it isn’t necessarily normal. Just because it is common, doesn’t make it normal. Unfortunately, our culture has adopted the idea that being tired and busy is something to wear as a badge of honor and that simply isn’t the case.
In order to have adequate, sustainable energy, first we need to recognize this truth and that chronic tiredness is something that definitely needs to be addressed.
That being said, the chances are high that you’re just missing out on some essential nutrients that are causing you to deplete your energy faster than your body can keep up with. I’m talking about your macronutrients, or what may be better known as, “macros.”
We don’t often give too much thought about our macros unless you’re someone who counts them, because we generally are always eating them no matter what. Let’s break them down.
What are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are specific food components that are required for your body to function properly. We generally need these nutrients in larger amounts in our diet to create sustained energy and to maintain our body’s structure and major systems. In order to have enough energy to carry out everyday activities, it is essential that you have as much of your macronutrients in your diet, as much as possible.
There are three broad categories of macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, we absolutely need all three to not just survive but thrive.
In the nutrition world, how much and what type of proteins a person should consume is highly debated. Some say high-quality animal protein is needed for optimal health and energy, while others advocate for plant-based options. It’s important to know that what works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. It’s always best to experiment with different types to find what works best for your body so you can successfully guide yourself to better energy.
The Role of Proteins in the Body
Proteins play a major role in tissue structure. Think of proteins as the building blocks that make up the foundation of your organs, tissues, muscles, hair, skin, nails, bones, tendons, ligaments, and even your blood plasma. I call them the build and repair team.
Proteins are also involved in metabolic, transport, and hormone systems. They help make up the enzymes that regulate our metabolism and the acid/base balance to aid in homeostasis (neutral environment) in our bodies.
Basically, without proteins, we wouldn’t have a solid, foundational support system.
Major Food Sources of Protein
- Legumes – beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, peanuts
- Soy-based products – tofu, tempeh, soybeans
- Nuts and Seeds
- Whole Grains – brown rice, whole wheat, oats, corn, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth
- Meat alternatives products (often made with pea/chickpea protein, soy protein, etc. – seitan)
- Leafy Greens – Spinach, kale, broccoli, collards, bokchoy, romaine, watercress
- Animal Sources – meat, eggs, dairy, poultry, fish, bee pollen
Whether you like it or not, carbs are central to all cultures around the world and there’s a reason they exist as one of the three macronutrients. Just like proteins, how much and what types of carbohydrates are always the big debate and, very often, are at the center of many different dietary theories in one way or another.
Again, how much and what types will always depend on the person. Experiment and find what works best for your body.
The Role of Carbs in the Body
Carbohydrates are our body’s major source of energy. Think of carbs as fuel for energy. It’s what we need to fill up our “gas” tank, especially for high-intensity exercise or aerobic activity (endurance).
Carbs also help to preserve muscle mass during exercise and provide fuel for the Central Nervous System, aka your brain! Ideally, 45-65% of our calories should come from carbohydrate sources, and varies depending on the level of activity a person engages in. For instance, the higher the activity level, the higher amount of carbs needed may increase.
Main Food Sources of Carbohydrates
- Grains – prioritizing whole grains
- Some sugar* – raw, cane, honey, pure maple syrup are the best sources of sugar/sweetness
*Note: the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 6-9 teaspoons of sugar per day; 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon.
Trans. Saturated. Omega-3. Omega-6. Omega-9. Polys. Monos. So many fats to keep track of! And information in the media and science seem to conflict about which fats are healthy and which are not. It’s no wonder many people are confused about which types of fats they should be eating – and which types they should be avoiding.
I think it’s safe to say we all know by now to absolutely avoid Trans fats from highly processed foods. Foods with hydrogenated oils should generally be avoided, as best and as much as possible. Trans fats can be found naturally occurring in beef, lamb, butterfat, and some dairy products.
The Role of Fats in the Body
Fats are our body’s energy reserve. Therefore, fats are fuel and are also essential for protecting our vital organs and transporting fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. While protecting our organs, our body uses fats to help insulate the body to help maintain temperature.
Approximately 60% of the human brain is made up of fats, so it’s safe to say that fats, although often controversial just like carbs, are another essential macronutrient our bodies need to thrive. Without good quality, healthy fat sources in our diet we deprive our brain of integrity and its the ability to perform for us every day.
Food Sources for Good Healthy Fats
- Oils – preferably olive, avocado, coconut
- Nuts – walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fats which help raise good HDL cholesterol
- Seeds – flax, chia, pumpkin
- Meat, Fish, and Dairy*
*Those who follow a primarily plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diet/lifestyle may consider taking an omega-3 supplement, often made from flax or algae.
At the end of the day, if you want better energy, a great place to start is with your food. I recommend assessing your current intake and adjust accordingly based on your own, unique needs. Every person is different, and one person’s food can be another’s poison. Generate a good understanding of how your body feels eating different types of foods and then use that as your marker to determine which foods work best in giving you the most energy.
A general rule of thumb when eating for energy is to bring as many whole foods into your diet as possible, eat the rainbow, and eat fresh, local, seasonal, organic whenever possible, and always listen to your body. Your body is smart, intuitive, and will always give you the signs you need to make the best choices for yourself!