How To Use Food To Keep Off Of The Energy Roller Coaster

Does this sound like your day?

  • You drag yourself out of bed grumpy and fuzzy
  • A large coffee and muffin or donut perks you up
  • Around 10:30 you grab another coffee when you start to drag
  • 3PM is snack time — you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open
  • After dinner you settle down, exhausted, snacks in hand
  • You fall asleep in front of the TV or computer, drag yourself to bed, sleep fitfully, and wake up tired – only to start the cycle all over again.

Hippocrates Would Have Said, “I’ve Got A Solution”.  Almost 2,500 years ago Hippocrates, the father of medicine and author of the Hippocratic Oath, thumbed his nose at the superstition involved in healing and prescribed food to prevent and treat disease.

He famously said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” a statement as insightful today as it was then.

Following Hippocrates’ line of thinking – and much of what current scientific research shows to be true: it seems logical that food is both the culprit and the treatment for a big part of our lack of energy, muddled thinking, and mid-afternoon drowsy eyes.

What Food Does For Your Body
Food is your body’s fuel – it’s the gas in your tank that gives your body the energy it needs to function.

Your cell phone needs to be charged, your car needs gas, and your body needs food.

Food boosts your energy by giving your body enough calories and hydration to function and it stokes your metabolism so that it functions efficiently.  And, you know what?  We eat a lot of food.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, a typical American eats around a ton – actually 1,996 pounds of food every year.  Now, I’d bet this is no where typical for the remainder of the world, but for arguments sake, that breaks down to about:

  • 630 pounds of milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream
  • 31 pounds of cheese
  • 185 pounds of chicken, turkey, pork and beef per person
  • 197 pounds of wheat and other grains
  • 273 pounds per person of fruit (a lot of water weight)
  • 415 pounds of vegetables with the most popular choices being corn and potatoes
  • 141 pounds of sweeteners
  • 85 pounds of fats and oil

But is all that food the premium, high-test variety – or is it the cheaper version – the kind that creates sludge in the gas tank?

How To Use Food To Boost Your Energy
Food doesn’t only charge your body’s batteries. The type of food you eat affects your metabolism and your brain chemistry – which then affects your energy level and your mood. When and how frequently you eat plays a big role in your energy levels throughout the day.

Your body has the easiest time digesting carbohydrates: starches, sugars and dietary fiber. It turns them into glucose, the body’s preferred fuel, the form of sugar that travels in your bloodstream, and the only fuel normally used by brain cells. Because the neurons in the brain can’t store glucose, they need the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply.

Why Carbs Are Important: A Simple And Complex Answer
Carbohydrates come in simple and complex forms. Simple carbs, often called “simple sugars,” break down easily and give you a quick and brief burst of energy. Simple carbs include table sugars, syrups, and most of the sugars found in refined and processed foods – like baked goods, bread, and pasta made with white flour; many packaged cereals; candy; soda; and sweetened drinks (including sports drinks).

Unfortunately, the sugary snacks and drinks that quickly raise your blood sugar give you a boost that’s short-lived. Sugary food causes your pancreas to secrete insulin, which triggers your cells to get the excess glucose out of your bloodstream. That means there’s less glucose available to your brain and neurons. They can’t store glucose so they end up with an energy crisis – which leaves you struggling to concentrate and feeling spaced-out, weak, confused, and irritable.

The Slower Burn
Complex carbs take longer to breakdown. Your body digests them more slowly so they supply energy at a slower and more sustained rate than simple sugars. You can get complex carbs from whole grains and cereals, beans, and vegetables.

Fruit and dairy contain simple but nutrient-rich carbs. The fiber in whole fruit helps to slow down digestion but fruit juice, like soda and other sweet drinks, lacks fiber and is filled with rapidly digested simple sugar. A piece of fruit, like an apple or a pear, will give you more gradual and sustained energy — unlike the quick spikes and dips you get from sweetened beverages. Dairy, especially low fat dairy, gets its energy sustaining power from the combination of its simple carb, lactose, with some fat and protein.

Healthy Fats Can Be Energizing
After carbs, fats are a big source of energy. Feed your body healthy fats from foods like avocados, olives, fatty fish, seeds, nuts, and vegetable and nut oils. A healthy energizing snack with good fats might be one ounce (14 halves) of walnuts or other nuts, which also contain some protein and complex carbs.

Protein For A Longer Lasting Energy Boost
Because of the time it takes to break down its component amino acids, protein also supplies longer-lasting energy. Prime protein sources are poultry, lean meat, certain types of dairy, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and lentils.

Many protein-rich foods have other energy-boosting benefits, too. Poultry, red meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds contain iron and B vitamins. Iron helps to transport oxygen to your organs — which helps with fatigue. B vitamins help release energy. To prevent energy crashes try combining a low-fat protein with a complex carbohydrate, like turkey or grilled chicken on whole wheat bread or pita.

Tired? Have Something To Drink
Dehydration causes fatigue. Even mild dehydration can slow your metabolism, drain your energy, and make you feel tired. Water is the main chemical component in your body and accounts for about 60% of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on it.

You need water for the chemical and metabolic processes to take place in your body; for body fluids like tears, sweat, and urine; to flush toxins out of your vital organs; and to carry nutrients to your cells.

There’s no easy answer to the question: “How much water should I drink?” The answer really depends on many factors including your health, your age, how active you are, and where you live. For the average healthy adult who lives in a temperate climate, the Institute of Medicine recommends around 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total water intake a day for men and 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total water intake a day for women.

Total water intake includes drinking water, the water in beverages, and the water in food. All fluids count toward your daily total. On average, food supplies about 20% of total water intake. Many fruits and vegetables, like watermelon, grapes, lettuce, and tomatoes, are 90% or more water by weight. Food from grains like oatmeal and pasta are also hydrating because they swell up with water when they’re cooked.

Keep A Full Tank
To keep off of that energy roller coaster you need to eat the right food at the right time. Skipping meals isn’t a good idea. Your body needs fuel, preferably high-octane fuel, just like a performance car. If you don’t give it the right gas it certainly has trouble running smoothly.

Start the day off right. If you want to boost your energy and mood, don’t skip breakfast. The best breakfasts have plenty of fiber, nutrients from whole-grain carbs, good fats, and some type of lean protein. Try some low fat Greek yogurt with fruit and a sprinkling of whole grain cereal.

Energy sustaining snacks can be peanut butter or low-fat cheese with whole grain crackers, veggies with hummus, whole-grain cereal with milk, or a small portion of nuts with some fruit. Be prepared and carry some snacks with you so you don’t go for a long time without fuel. Stash some in your car or desk so the good stuff is always readily available and the allure of the vending machine isn’t so great.

Don’t let your tank hover on empty — to keep your blood sugar stable and to have well fed brain cells have something to eat (a meal or a snack) every three to four hours. Meals or snacks made of complex carbohydrates, protein, a small amount of healthy fat, and accompanied by something to drink (preferably water) provide the type of fuel your body needs to stay off of the energy roller coaster.

Written on 5/29/2012 by Penelope M. Klatell. Penny is a nurse; writer; speaker; educator; eating strategist; and life, health and wellness coach. She blogs about “eating well . anytime, anywhere, and at any age” at My Food Maps. Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral
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