The problem with low energy is that it makes it incredibly difficult to put anything into action. If you have very low energy, then the chances of you being able to commit to a new training program, to a new diet or to a new lifestyle are relatively slim. Motivation is unfortunately predicated on energy, so if your energy is low, so will your sticking power be.
In this article, we are going to look at all the things you need to do to start getting your energy back in a much more palatable form. You can glance over this to get the gist and you can then dive back in whenever you need a refresher.
Your Strategy: Kaizen
Taking what we just said about low energy into account, you should arm yourself with this piece of advice before going any further: Anything is better than nothing. What this means, is that when we say you should be eating more nutritious food and working out regularly, it isn’t actually crucial that you do. It’s the ideal situation but if you can only commit yourself to a ten minute workout and an extra piece of fruit a day… that’s fine.
Your strategy should be to only commit yourself to things that you think you’re going to be capable of doing and sticking to. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and add a 7-day workout routine if you’re already tired all the time.
If you add just a little and you stick to it, you will gain more energy that you can then use to do a little more. This concept is known as ‘kaizen’ and it’s a favorite among lifestyle coaches and self-help gurus.
Keeping that in mind, we’re going to now hone in on one of the very most powerful ways you can immediately improve your energy with very little work. Simply follow these three tips:
• Take 10-30 minutes at the end of each day to read quietly in bed with no phones, TV or computers
• Have a hot shower 30 minutes before bed
• Open the window a jar to keep your room at a generally cool temperature
There are many countless different tips that you can follow to improve your sleep but if you only follow these few, you’ll find that the reward is huge. You’ll sleep a lot better as a result of that hot shower and in the morning you’ll feel much more refreshed as such.
The next key is to try and wake up with more energy. One simple purchase can help you with this: a daylight lamp (such as the Lumie). These lamps simulate the sunset in the morning, they rouse you out of deep sleep rather than startling you and they help you to set your body clock more accurately.
Another tip is to try reaching for your phone to read something interesting in the morning. This is a very controversial tip but it can work well to encourage you to move just that little if you’re someone who struggles to motivate themselves out of bed.
For the first part of your day, you will be low on energy so don’t schedule anything too heavy here. A cold shower can help to wake you up, as can some exercise: why not cycle to work? This also has the added benefit of helping you to avoid the morning commute which is a great drain on our energy levels.
Now comes the diet. This is something else you can change relatively easily but you can also go a lot deeper if you’re willing to. The number one fix for your diet is just to start eating more fruits and vegetables as well as organ meats and other sources of nutrition.
This is crucial because many of the nutrients we get in our diet are used to help us produce more energy. Vitamin B6 for instance, CoQ10, creatine, PQQ, Lcarnitine and lutein all come from our diet and all help our mitochondria (the energy factories of our cells) to perform better and to produce more energy. You eat more of these things, you will instantly feel more energetic and healthy.
This can be a very small tip: just having a little more fruit makes a big difference so try adding a smoothie to your morning routine on the way in to work. Likewise, you can try supplementing your diet with a number of these substances.
Good supplements for boosting energy levels include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Omega 3 Fatty Acid
- Coenzyme Q10
- MCT Oil
- Vitamin C
On the other hand, you should also avoid eating lots of food with low nutrient density, which simply strains your digestive system and robs you of energy.
Also bad for your energy are ‘simple carbs’. Carbohydrates are the food group that the body can use more quickly to provide energy. While this might sound positive, it actually means that you can spike your blood with a lot of glucose, in turn triggering an insulin response causing fat storage and an energy slump.
What you ideally want to do instead is to provide your body with a steady release of energy so that you have lots of fuel to power you through the day. Complex carbs will help you to achieve this, as will saturated fats.
What you really want to avoid then are ‘low fat’ diet snacks, which actually leave you exhausted by providing nothing but low-nutrient, rapid digesting carbs! As a general rule, you want to avoid anything that you wouldn’t be able to ‘find’ in the wild. That means anything that is overly processed or overly man-made.
The diet you’re now looking at becomes very similar to the paleo diet or the ‘slow carb diet’. But note that there’s no need to go that far. While bread might not be natural, many of the top athletes in the world eat bread and still perform perfectly fine (and you can forget gluten being an issue unless you are a genuine Celiac).
Likewise, Einstein probably drank milk… And if you completely remove carbs from your diet, then you’ll end up lowering your own testosterone and feeling exhausted all the time. In other words? Perhaps being that strict with your diet will help to make you a little more alert. But ultimately the benefits are not enough to make the whole thing worthwhile for most people.
You’ll actually waste energy worrying about what you can possibly eat at a restaurant so instead just try to seek out healthy, fresh foods with lots of nutrition and avoid the ready-made meals and takeaways. You knew that really though!
Tip: To make it a little easier to move to freshly cooked meals, try preparing your meals at the start of the week and keeping them in the freezer/plastic containers.
No matter how good your diet and sleep are, there may be some things you’re doing that are damaging your energy levels and undoing all your hard work. One of the key culprits? Alcohol.
If you are drinking alcohol then you are literally sedating yourself. Alcohol is a ‘depressant’ meaning it suppresses neural activity and slows down your central nervous system. At the same time, it’s also a toxin meaning the heart has to work hard to get rid of it. You won’t sleep well after a night of drinking and in the long term it’s very bad for your health – even destroying brain cells. If you’re going to drink, keep it to a couple of glasses and try to stop a few hours before bed.
Your job may also be damaging your energy levels. If you are spending all day in an office chair, then you’re letting your heart weaken, you’re enforcing bad posture and you’re ruining your flexibility. Make sure you get up regularly, that you sit near a window (and try opening it once in a while) and that you keep your monitor at eye-level and your arms at right angles.
What’s worse for most people in work though is the stress that they face on a daily basis. Workplace stress is a very common problem and can lead to adrenal fatigue – a condition where the individual’s sympathetic nervous system has essentially ‘burned out’ making it very difficult for them to focus, to sleep, or to generally functional optimally.
If you find that stress is causing you to feel listless, low on motivation and concentration and low on mood, then you should seek to change whatever aspect of your day-to-day experience is causing that stress. Of course this is often ‘easier said than done’ but you should always put your health and happiness first.
If you can’t remove the source of the stress, then consider speaking to a cognitive behavioral therapist. These experts use a very effective series of tools in order to help you improve your ability to cope with sources of stress.
The last piece of this puzzle is exercise. You can use exercise to boost your energy levels by:
• Increasing your fitness, improving circulation and raising your VO2 max
• Adding more physical strength so that you can move around more freely and easily
• Boosting your mood through endorphins released when you train
• Enhancing your sleep via increased exertion during the day
• Staying slim and healthy
• Increasing the number of mitochondria and improving their function
One of the best types of exercise for upgrading energy specifically is HIIT. HIIT is ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ and is a type of training that involves alternating between periods of high exertion (sprinting for instance) and periods of relatively slow paced ‘active recovery’ (power walking or light jogging).
Also important is to make sure that you avoid ‘overtraining’. Training too much can actually be counterproductive and learning to tell when your body is ready to go again is an important tool.
Another point to keep in mind is that training too hard makes training unpleasant and exhausting and this can make you far less likely to want to do it. The solution then is to keep your training fun and to remember that it’s better to do a little than none at all.
Going With the Flow
Everything we’ve looked at here should help you to manipulate your energy levels and to boost them to some degree. When you combine all these techniques, you should start feeling better. But even when you raise your ‘baseline’, there will still be times when your energy is higher and when your energy is lower. The key then is to recognize the existence of these ebbs and flows and to time your habits accordingly.
For instance, most of us will have a low point in our energy at 4pm. A great idea then, if possible, is to try moving your working day forward one hour. This way, you will end the day when your productivity goes out the window and will be able to relax when you most need it.
Another tip is to remember that digesting food leaves you tired too. After you’ve just eaten is no time for productivity so if you plan on doing anything useful in the evening, do it before dinner. Want to tidy the house? Do it before dinner.
And note that these ebbs and flows can happen on a seasonal basis too. Sometimes you will have more energy for working out, other times you’ll have less. Don’t punish yourself – listen to your body and ride that energy wave!
Ultimately, this will result in you being much happier, much more productive and much higher in energy at all times.