What to Eat when you’re feeling Fatigued
Fatigue is a common problem in most civilized countries. More than half of all adults who seek medical advice complain about fatigue. But it doesn’t have to be this way. According to experts, making even small changes in your diet can have substantial effect on your energy levels.
Fuel for the brain Some foods can make you sleepy and droopy, while others can give you energy. Only in recent years, scientists began to understand the underlying reason. The answer has to be found in the brain. Our moods, feelings and energy levels are controlled by neurons. These are nerve cells in the brain which communicate with the help of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. According to recent studies, changes in the levels of neurotransmitters, caused by dopamine and norepinephrine, can have a significant affect on energy levels. That’s why they are sometimes called wake-up chemicals.
Our diet provide the raw materials needed for the production of these neurotransmitters. What we eat or don’t eat can play an important role in how we feel. “We’re talking about a whole symphony of brain chemicals that ebb and flow throughout the day,” says Elisabeth Somer, RD, author of ‘Food and Mood’ and ‘Nutrition for women’.
The building block for dopamine and norepinephrine, for example, is the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine levels go up when you eat high-protein foods, such as fish, chicken, and low-fat yogurt.
“Make sure to eat some protein along with carbohydrates at each meal or snack,” says Molly Kimball, RD, a sports and lifestyle nutritionist at the Ochner Health System’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.”For instance, in stead of having whole-wheat toast with jelly or fruit with juice for breakfast, have whole-wheat toast with peanut butter or fruit with cottage cheese. The carbohydrates cause a rapid release of blood sugar and a rapid drop in energy, but the protein helps even that out.”
It’s not necessary to take big amounts of protein to get the energizing effects. When you eat just 85 to 115 grams of protein rich food, like a broiled chicken breast or a hard-boiled egg “feeds” your brain enough tyrosine to get the dopamine and norepinephrine flowing.
While the protein-rich foods can help to boost your energy, the fats that is often included with them can drag you down. The digestion of fats causes to diverts blood from the brain, which can make you feel sluggish. For example, don’t overload a turkey sandwich with high-fat cheese and mayonnaise; instead, dress it with mustard, lettuce, and tomatoes instead, recommends Somer.
Back to the Fundamentals Although much research has focused on the intricacies of brain chemistry, eating for energy can also be done by simply eating more fruits and vegetables and essential minerals like iron.
A study of 411 dentists and their wives found that those who consumed at least 400 mg. of vitamin C a day reported feeling less fatigue than those consuming less than 100 mg. In both cases, of course, the amount of vitamin C was considerably higher than the Daily Value (DV) of 60 mg.
It’s easy to boost the amount of vitamin C in your diet. An 8-ounce glass of orange juice, for example, contains 82 mg. vitamin C, or about 132% of the DV. A half-cup of strawberries has 42 mg. or 70% of the DV, and a half-cup cooked chopped broccoli has 58 mg, or 97% of the DV.
Iron is also essential for energy. This is specially true for women, who can lose large amounts of iron from menstruation. In fact, 39% of premenopausal women may be iron deficient. Indeed, even small iron-deficiencies can leave you weary.
Fortunately, iron is very easy to obtain from your diet. For example, when you eat a half-cup of quick-cooking Cream of Wheat provide 5 mg of iron, 10% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for women and 50% of the RDA for men. Red meats are another good source of iron. You only need 3-ounces servings of broiled flank steak, which contains 2 mg. of iron, which is 13% of the RDA for women and 20% of the RDA for men.
Characteristics of Carbohydrates When eating high-protein food you can feel energized, however, eating starchy foods like pasta and potatoes before lunch can make you sleepy. When you eat high-carbohydrate food, an amino acid called tryptophan will get into the brain. This in turn activate the production of serotonin, a “calm-down” chemical that regulates mood. And you need only as little as 1 ounce of rice, for example, to get the serotonin flowing.
During a study researchers in England gave people different type of lunches to see how their energy levels reacted. One lunch was low-fat, high-carbohydrate; another was medium-fat, medium- carbohydrate; and the third was high-fat, low-carbohydrate. As you might expect, the people eating the high-carbohydrate (and also the high-fat) lunches felt more drowsy than those getting the lower-carbohydrate lunch. “What you want to do is balance your arbohydrate-protein mix so that the bulk of your diet comes from complex carbohydrates, laced with a bit of protein,” according to Somer. “That’s how most people will improve their energy levels.”
Paradoxically, the opposite is true in people known as carbohydrate cravers. Experts aren’t sure why, but these people tend to get an energy boost after eating high- carbohydrate meals or snacks. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute os Technology in Cambrige speculate that carbohydrate cravings are the body’s attempt to boost low serotonin levels.
“If you’re one of those people who seem to get energy after eating starchy foods, don’t fight it”, Somer advises. Enjoy a baked potato, bread, pasta or other starchy food for lunch. While you’re at it, feel free to eat a starchy snack- like whole-wheat crackers or a banana to fight off fatigue at midday.
By the way, generally speaking, it’s better to eat several small meals a day instead of two or three large meals. Smaller meals will help to keep blood sugar levels more stable, which in turn helps to fight off fatigue, according to Dr. Wahida Karmally, DrPH, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian at Columbia University Medical Center.
Foods that make you Snooze Do you know where your energy level is at 3 PM? Not at the coffee cart. Although a cup or two of coffee early in the day has proved to boost alertness and mental functioning, drinking large amounts day in day out tends to lower energy levels. The same thing is true with sweet pick-me-ups like doughnuts. The quick surge of energy for some people, is often followed by an equally quick – and longer lasting – brake down. “Sugar can contribute to feelings of fatigue, particularly if you’re sensitive to it,” according to Larry Christensen, PhD, chairman of the department of psychology at the University of South Alabama in Mobile,and an expert on the effects of sugar and caffeine on mood.
While starches gradually release their energy into the blood stream, sugars (called glucose) careen in all at once, which causes blood sugar to spike. The body releases insulin in order to cope with the sugar surge, which quickly removes sugars from the blood and carries them into individual cells. The result, of course, is a lower level of blood sugar, and the lower your blood sugar level, the more fatigued you become.
Sugar can also be the cause of fatigue as it indirectly stimulates the production of serotonin, which is as we have seen, the brain chemical that plays a calming role. That’s exactly what you don’t need when you’re fighting off fatigue.
“Experts aren’t sure why caffeine tends to sap your energy”, says Dr. Christensen. They do know that the caffeine buzz caused by drinking cups of coffee, one after the other, or tea, cola or other caffeine containing drinks, is often followed by the caffeine crash.
To get reenergized, many people simply drink more coffee. This creates a cycle that can leave you alternately jittery and heavy-lidded. In one study, people with a history of fatigue, depression, and moodiness were put on a caffeine- free diet for 2 weeks. Not surprisingly, many of them quickly improved on this diet. More interesting is what happened later. When they resumed taking caffeine and sugar in their diets, 44% got fatigued all over again.