The best way to eat to keep your energy levels up is to follow a healthy and varied diet. However, there are a few things in our diet that we can be more mindful of. Having said this, good sleep, regular physical activity and reducing stress levels can help combat fatigue. In some cases, always feeling tired may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If you always feel tired, please seek advice from a health professional.
1. Base your meals with starchy carbohydrates.
Starchy carbohydrates provide an important source of energy and essential nutrients. Starchy foods should make up just over 1/3 of the food you eat.
Try to include low GI (Glycaemix Index) options which include: brown rice, oats, museli, some bran-based cereals, wholemeal pasta, buckwheat, potatoes with their skin on, couscous, sourdough bread and granary bread. Low GI foods slowly release energy, helping to keep energy levels stable. Consider eating a portion at every meal.
2. Include good food sources of iron in your diet.
Being low in iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), which can make some people feel weak, tired and lethargic all the time.
Good sources of iron include: red meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts, wholegrains, fortified breakfast cereals, soy bean flour and most green leafy vegetables (like kale & spinach).
UK men over 18 years need 8.7mg of iron a day and women (aged 19-50) need 14.8mg of iron a day. Whereas, women over the age of 50 need 8.7mg of iron a day. Most people can get all the iron they need from their diet. However, some may need iron supplements but should speak to their GP first.
3. Include good sources of B vitamins in your diet.
There are different types of B vitamins and they all have different functions within the body. B vitamins like (Thiamine B1, Riboflavin B2, Niacin B3 or Cobalamin B12) help break down energy from food.
Good food sources include: meat, fish, eggs, some fortified breakfast cereals, wholegrains, dairy & fortified dairy alternatives.
Many people get vitamin B12 from animal sources. Sources for vegans are limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed. Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include: breakfast cereals fortified with B12, soya drinks fortified with B12, yeast extract like Marmite.
4. Ensure good hydration.
Not drinking enough fluids may lead to headaches, reduced alertness and fatigue. The UK government recommends that we drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Water is a healthy and cheap choice for quenching thirst. Plain tea, fruit tea and coffee (without added sugar) can also be healthy and count towards your fluid intake – try to opt for decaf options.
Low fat milk, sugar-free drinks, juices and consuming foods with high water content like soups and fruits also count!
5. Drink less alcohol.
You sleep less deeply after drinking alcohol. The next day you may feel tired, even if you sleep a full 8 hours.
Cut down on alcohol before you sleep. You’ll get a better night’s rest and have more energy. The NHS recommends that men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week. If you regularly drink alcohol, aim to have at least 2-3 alcohol-free days each week and don’t ‘save up’ all your units.
6. Eat regularly.
Eating at regular intervals may help to sustain energy levels throughout the day.
Try to eat regular meals throughout the day if you can. If you have low appetite, try to eat “little” and “often” throughout the day. You can try having 5-6 small frequent meals a day. Have a healthy snack, such as a piece of fruit, low fat yoghurt and a small handful of nuts in between your meals if necessary.
It is worth mentioning that there is no single food or supplement that can “boost” energy levels. Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy & varied diet. Some people may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies and may benefit from taking a supplement. However, they should speak their GP/health professional first.