Feeling sluggish? Lethargic? Irritable? Finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning?
When we ask our Manchester personal training clients to tell us what their main goals are, getting lean is usually number 1, and increasing their energy is pretty much always a close second.
Their story is pretty is a common one: long working hours, too much stress, poor work-life balance.
Added to that, overuse of stimulants just to get through the day, too much sugar or simple carbs to provide short term energy, and consistent use of alcohol in the evenings as a way of unwinding.
Often, food and pro-active self-care get squeezed out of the picture too, as life becomes dominated by a sense of ‘holding with your fingertips’ rather than being on the front foot, maximising the opportunities that each day brings.
Here are 10 simple things you can do right now to increase your energy levels, and make the most of each day:
1/ Get at least 8 hours sleep
Get your sleep in complete darkness with as little artificial noise and light as possible.
The blue light emitted from phone and computer screens has a profound impact on sleep; it directly impacts your main sleep hormone, melatonin. It’s better to avoid digital screens before bed.
How we feel is partly regulated by our hormones, and the single biggest factor in causing hormone imbalances is poor quality sleep.
Poor quality and quantity of sleep has been shown to affect hormonal health, as well as results in increased carbohydrate and calorie intake.
2/ Drink at least 2 litres or pure, filtered water
Drink enough water throughout the day.
One of the first signs of dehydration is reduced energy levels.
The energy generated from water is used to manufacture more energy in the form of ATP and GTP (chemical sources of energy in the body).
Drink 35ml per kg of body weight, per day.
3/ Increase your good fats
We have become obsessed by ‘low fat’.
Supermarkets are stocking ‘fat-free’ products more than ever, and Weight Watchers are fat-phobic (let’s not get started on Weight Watchers, or we could be here a while).
What the food industry and many diet promoters have been ignorant about for decades is that not all fats are bad, and that fat is critical to health.
That’s starting to change, but many people, including many nutrition professionals, still see fat as the enemy because of its high calorie content (fat has 9 calories per gram vs 4 calories per gram for carbs).
Fatty acids produce more energy per gram than carbohydrates and are the body’s second choice for energy, after glucose. And essential fatty acids are essential for optimal cognitive function.
Include good fats with every meal; coconut oil, coconut milk, organic butter, ghee, wild oily fish, e.g. wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and herring, olives, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
While good fats are good for you, another dietary trend is to ‘go keto’, where a high percentage of your daily calories come from fats.
While that can be the right choice for some people, the best diet for most of the people we’ve worked with over the past 10 years has been somewhere in the middle.
4/ Ditch processed foods for REAL food
Eating real, unprocessed food unfortunately leaves only about 4 aisles in the supermarket you can shop from.
At least it makes life more straightforward!
Ultra-processed foods are generally low on nutrients and high in stuff that doesn’t feed your body and mind in any meaningful way.
Even worse, some food additives and damaged fats can disrupt the normal processes in your body.
For instance, damaged fats can be pro-inflammatory, and as we know, inflammation is at the root cause of much chronic disease.
These non-foods can leave you feeling sluggish and drained of energy an hour or two later. Opt for real, natural whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
Of course, there are always some comedy individuals on the internet who point out that uranium is natural and unprocessed and will kill you, while organic hummus, for instance, is pretty processed.
I think we all know what we’re talking about here though.
5/ Get enough protein
Modern diets are loaded with starchy, high GI carbohydrates and I see so many food diaries recording cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner.
Not so much protein.
Proteins break down into amino acids, the building blocks for life (and hormones!), and are used in millions of biochemical reactions including energy production.
Protein also keeps you fuller for longer; a carbohydrate dominant lunch, lacking in protein (and good fats) is the main reason for that mid-afternoon energy crash.
6/ Identify and remove heavy metal toxins
Many of us carry a toxic load in the form of heavy metals in the body, such as mercury, cadmium, aluminium and lead.
These come from foods we eat, exposure to toxic materials and our environment.
Toxic metals in the body are huge energy ‘stealers’ and leave us with impaired memory, concentration and mood, as well as low on energy.
7/ Take a multivitamin that’s high in B-vitamins
B-vitamins are essential to energy metabolism and modern day diets high in processed foods, caffeine and alcohol can leave you deficient.
8/ Do something that makes you feel good every day
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
I have Heather Small in my head right now!
But on a serious note, most of us are too busy trying to do the right thing for others, at work, in relationships, at home.
Taking time out something that makes you feel good about yourself is often not on top of our long To Do lists.
Even worse, in the crazy busy, super squeezed, overwhelming world we live in today, we can feel guilty about taking time out for ourselves.
Taking time out – even 5 minutes a day – to do something that energises, refreshes, and enriches you on an emotional level, can make a huge difference both to your energy levels and how you feel about yourself.
It doesn’t have to be a life changing, super-meaningful thing.
It’s the small things that you do on a consistent basis that add up over time and end up changing your life. Things like having 10 minutes of phone free time where you just breathe deeply.
Or taking 5 minutes to stretch.
Or stopping by a book shop on your way home to see what’s new.
Make a list of 10 things, and see if you can do one of those things every day.
9/ Reduce stress
Being low in energy often comes hand in hand with chronic stress.
Chronic stress is a real energy stealer.
In fact, it might be the number 1 energy stealer in life today.
Your adrenal glands produce hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and DHEA.
During periods of chronic stress, the cortisol and DHEA levels can fall as the adrenal glands run out of juice, resulting in sub-optimal adrenal function at best and pronounced adrenal (or more correctly HPA axis) dysfunction at worst.
Get your adrenal hormones tested and fix them.
Also try this simple exercise; list 10 things that give you energy (tying in with point number 8above) and 10 things that drain you of energy, think about work situations, relationships, colleagues, what we see, what we think about, what we do, things in our environment.
It could be a real eye-opener.
And I’m sure you’ll know where to go with it from there.
We all know we should do some, but when you’re tired, exercising could be the last thing you feel like doing.
But I’ll let you into a secret, it doesn’t have to be a full blown workout or a 10k run.
A simple walk in the park for 30mins could be all your body needs to release some energy-promoting and mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and endorphins.
When you’re absolutely crunched for energy, just start simple.
We have a tendency to think we need to ‘go hard or go home’ when it comes to exercise, but in our experience of training hundreds of people over last 10 years, a hard workout can be the last thing your poor stress hormones need.
Remember that exercise is just a form of stress for your body, so beating yourself with intense exercise can be counter-productive – swerving the spin class and swapping it for a Yin yoga class can be exactly what you need on some days.
When we have personal training clients who come into the gym on off days, we switch to doing a work-in rather than a work-out.
Intense work-outs, the kind where we’re really slamming it, deplete you of energy.
Work-ins, such as mobility work, technique work, or focusing on exercises that bring balance to your body, replenish you and still add value to your journey in achieving a lean, highly functional, life ready body.
Knowing when to work-out and when to work-in is a skill that can add a huge amount of value and energy to your life.
Human beings are not designed, from a fundamental evolutionary standpoint, to deal with our modern environment.
We live in world that depletes us.
To regain our energy, replenish ourselves, and live life to the maximum, we need to consciously employ the right strategies.
If we don’t, the chances are you’ll be stuck in a dysfunctional, low energy rut for years to come.
Here’s to your lean, healthy, optimised future,
Matt & the Optimised personal training team