By Jenna McCarthy for I love my kids & Completely You
If you usually find yourself dragging through your day, you’re not alone. “Lack of energy is the No. 1 issue people come to see me about,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, registered dietitian, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw Hill, 2009). “They want to know, How can I get more energy so that I can really enjoy my life?”
According to Blatner, if you’re putting too much on your plate — literally or figuratively –you’re setting yourself up for chronic lethargy. In other words, eating too much and doing too much will put you on a fast track to burnout.
The good news: You can boost your energy every day in just a few simple steps. Following this plan will help you go from exhausted to energetic — and stay that way throughout the day.
Begin with balance. If your goal is all-day energy, breakfast isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. And a bowl of Sugar-Os won’t cut it. According to Blatner, to get and keep your engine humming, balancing your nutrients at each meal matters most. Starting with breakfast, aim for three meals a day that consist of 25% lean protein, 25% whole grains and 50% produce that has both a high water and fiber content (such as citrus and spinach). “Each food group is absorbed and releases energy at a different rate,” Blatner says. “The 25-25-50 balance ensures optimal, sustained energy with no crashes.” One caveat: You still have to watch your portion size. Even the most perfectly balanced meal can send you into a couch coma if you eat too much of it.
Ease up on caffeine. You don’t have to forsake your beloved latte, but for maximum get-up-and-go, down no more than 16 ounces of coffee a day, and consume all of it before noon. “Drinking caffeine any later absolutely affects sleep quality, even if you don’t realize it,” Blatner says.
Re-energize with exercise. For general health, an hour of daily movement is ideal; for optimal energy, break it up into two light 30-minute workouts. Try to fit in one of those workouts on your lunch break — even if it’s just a stroll around your neighborhood. “It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga or walking or some cardio plus resistance,” Blatner says. “Exercise is the vehicle through which oxygen is delivered to every cell in the body, so just moving means you’re energizing those cells.”
It’s also important to stay hydrated. Blatner calls coconut water the perfect natural sports drink (if you add a pinch of sea salt to replace the sodium and chloride lost through perspiration) because it contains only natural sugars. Look for brands such as O.N.E., Vita Coco or Zico that contain only one ingredient: coconut water.
Give yourself a healthy boost. Instead of hitting the vending machine for an afternoon pick-me-up, plan ahead for two protein-plus-produce snacks a day (celery and peanut butter, string cheese and a pear, almonds and an apple). In addition, drink some green or black tea, which has about one-third the caffeine of coffee and contains compounds that buffer caffeine’s jittery effects.
After you snack, maximize your energy by switching up your work environment. Your best bet: Head outside for a brisk stroll; fresh air and sunshine are nature’s most powerful energizers. If that’s not possible, try moving your desk closer to a window. A recent work-performance study by the California Energy Commission linked working by natural light with better concentration and short-term recall.
Move it or lose it (energy, that is). Squeezing in your second light workout before dinner can help decrease appetite and control portion size. Remember, overeating results in fatigue because digesting large quantities of food drains energy.
Gear up to wind down. Your body thrives on routine and rhythm, so getting to bed and waking up at the same as often as possible is key to unlocking optimal energy. Sleep is the time your body repairs itself, and you need a minimum of seven hours to accomplish that, says Blatner. A warm shower or bath makes an ideal segue from the day’s chaos to the rejuvenation that’s to come. Important: Make sure your last meal is at least two hours before bedtime to ensure the most restful night’s sleep.