Food is fuel for our bodies, and our bodies reflect what we put into them. By learning how to eat in ways that boost energy and combat fatigue, you can do a lot to optimize your mental and physical performance throughout the day.
1. Make sure you’re getting enough iron
Iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States. An estimated 10 percent of women between 20 and 40 are iron-deficient. Iron is a crucial nutrient that boosts energy, combats fatigue, and enhances physical and mental endurance. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen through people’s bodies, and without sufficient oxygen, your body will become fatigued. Women need more iron because of monthly menstruation, and small children need a lot because their bodies are growing so quickly.
Focus on making iron-rich foods a part of every meal. Kale, spinach, lentils, beans, sesame seeds, prune juice, edamame, whole grains, red meat, and molasses are good food sources of iron. Here is a longer list from the Dietitians of Canada.
2. Cut the caffeine
Many of us turn to coffee as a way to boost energy instantly but, as a stimulant, it creates an artificial sense of energy that will eventually crash, leaving you feeling more tired than ever. While I’m a big fan of my morning latte and have no intentions of giving it up, it’s a good idea not to go too crazy with the coffee addiction. Restrict your daily intake to 1 or 2 cups a day, or cut it out completely.
3. Drink plenty of water
Keeping hydrated is absolutely necessary for optimal physical performance. Try starting the day off by drinking a tall glass of water to replenish the fluids lost during the night. A glass of water does wonders to wake you up during the early afternoon slump. Avoid sugary juice and soda, as well as caffeine-laden coffee and energy drinks, and make water your go-to beverage throughout the day.
4. Don’t forget the fat
Healthy fats can provide energy. Fat helps to absorb the antioxidants in other foods that you’re eating, which in turn are important for maintaining healthy cells. Fat also makes you feel full for longer, which means you don’t have to eat as much to feel satisfied at the table. I realize this goes against the U.S. and Canadian Food Guides’ recommendations for low-fat, high-carb diets, but there is mounting empirical evidence that that kind of diet is not so good for us after all and is a leading cause for high levels of Type 2 diabetes. Seek out healthy fats, which can be found in olive oil, coconut oil, avocadoes, raw nuts and seeds, and fatty fish.
5. Eat whole grains
Whole grains slow down the digestive process and burn more slowly than refined or processed foods, providing energy over a longer period of time. You’ll also get more nutrients since the individual foods will not have lost any ‘original parts’ in the act of the processing. Choose whole grains such as steel-cut oats, millet, barley, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, and buckwheat.
6. Balance your food intake
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” By properly balancing your daily food intake, you will ensure optimal energy throughout the day. A hearty, energizing breakfast that includes low-glycemic carbs and healthy fats gives you the fuel to start the day. As your metabolism slows before bedtime, it’s important to eat less. Be sure to eat healthy snacks throughout the day to maintain energy, such as raw nuts, seeds, and fruit.
7. Buy fresh and local
The fresher produce is, the more nutrients it has. By buying locally, you’ll minimize the amount of time wasted between harvest and consumption, and optimize the nutritional value for your body. The produce is fresher and usually has not been subjected to irradiation (getting zapped by radiation to kill germs), wax coatings, or prolonged refrigeration.