We talk to 15 of the world’s top experts for energising food and diet solutions that really work.
1. Chow on some carbs
“Don’t cut carbohydrates,” says dietitian Dr Kate Marsh. “Carbs are the main source of energy for your muscles and brain, and without them you are likely to feel fatigued and struggle to exercise. Instead, choose healthy low glycaemic index (GI) carbs, which are more slowly digested and absorbed and provide longer-lasting energy. Good choices are oats, barley, quinoa, legumes, corn, pasta, dense wholegrain breads, many fruits, milk, yoghurt and soymilk. A regular intake of low GI carbs, balanced with lean protein and lots of vegies, will sustain your energy throughout the day.
2. Choose the right fuel
“Just like petrol in a car, the brain needs regular top ups with fuel in order to function at its best. And, like the difference between premium unleaded and unleaded petrol, not all fuels are the same. The type of foods you eat every day can make a big difference to your energy levels,” says dietitian Jemma O’Hanlon.
3. Don’t skip breakfast
Breakfast, however big or small, gives the brain something to work with and has a positive effect on mood, concentration, and creativity. “Muesli, toast, fruit, yoghurt and eggs are all excellent fuels to start the day and boost energy,” adds Hanlon.
4. Eat regularly
“The easiest change that you can make is to eat regularly,” says dietitian Milena Katz. “We skip meals and snacks because time gets away from us or we forget. But by the time we feel that gnawing hunger pain, we are often so hungry that we end up overeating and then become bloated. Have approximate meal times that you stick to. For example, breakfast between 7-8 a.m., a snack at 10.30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., afternoon snack at 3.30-4 p.m. and dinner around 7 p.m. This will ensure that your blood sugar is boosted regularly and nutrients are readily available for your body to use as the bloodstream is enriched after each meal.”
5. Go nuts
“Swap your afternoon chocolate or biscuits for a small handful of almonds and walnuts,” says dietitian Chloe McLeod. “These nuts are rich in protein, healthy fats and fibre, plus other important nutrients, including calcium and vitamin E. Almonds and walnuts will keep your sugar levels even throughout the afternoon (no more 3 p.m. energy slump!), ensure your brain is functioning at top capacity, and keep you feeling full until dinner. A serve is 20 almonds or 10 whole walnuts.”
6. Pick low GI
Foods that rank low on the glycaemic index (GI) have a slower digestion time, and will produce longer-lasting energy throughout the day. “Grainy breads and crackers, wholegrain cereals, dried beans and lentils, whole fruits like bananas, apples and pears, and low fat dairy all provide a slower, more sustained release of energy after eating,” says dietitian Sonya Stanley. “This means the same amount of food lasts you longer and helps to boost your energy at a sustained rate. However, foods that are low in fibre and highly processed have a quick digestion time and so won’t keep you full.”
7. Iron out any problems
“One of the most common causes of tiredness and lack of energy in Australian women is low iron status,” says dietitian Emma Stirling. “There is good evidence to show that iron deficiency (without anaemia) causes symptoms related to fatigue, mental health and quality of life. So make sure you have at least 3-4 lean, red meat meals each week or from alternate sources if you’re vegetarian, and ask your GP for a blood test to check your levels.”
8. Skip sugar
“We often reach for something sugary for ‘energy’ – and technically, it is a form of energy. But it’s a bad type,” says fitness trainer James Duigan. “So yes, you will get a quick energy burst after eating a chocolate bar, but 10 minutes after that you’ll feel even tireder than you were before. That’s because sugar quickly hits the bloodstream, creating a rapid spike in blood sugar. Then – due to insulin being produced from the pancreas – you crash just as quickly, leaving you exhausted. A far better way of getting energy is to eat complex carbohydrates like low-GI fruits and berries, clean, lean proteins, and vegetables, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.”
9. Find food for thought
Concentrate on an energy-giving diet and your body and mind will reap the benefits. “Add these foods to your shopping list to ensure that you always have healthy, nutritious food in your cupboard. We tend to snack on junk food when we’re bored, or because it’s handy. Instead, eat these foods as regularly as you can: broccoli, steak, brown rice, almonds, water, organic salmon and parsnips,” says Liz Tucker.
10. Go to work on an egg
“Try scrambled eggs with salmon on wholemeal toast for the perfect start to the day,” adds Tucker. “An egg contains so many different nutrients it's a great nutritional all rounder, and provides the body with a lot of vitamins and minerals it needs.”
11. Check your vitamin B12 levels
“If you’re taking your multivitamin and eating a healthy diet, yet you’re still exhausted, get your vitamin B12 levels checked,” says women’s health specialist Dr Dawn. “Vitamin B12 is important as it helps the blood carry oxygen around the body, so it’s a must for creating and sustaining energy levels. Ask your doctor for a blood test to determine your B12 levels; injections may be prescribed, if required. You should be able to get all our nutrients from a balanced diet, so visit a nutritionist for a balanced diet plan tailored for your needs.”
12. Test your thyroid
“A common cause of persistent tiredness that is not directly diet-related is an underactive thyroid gland,” says nutritionist Natalie Savona. “The thyroid works by producing the hormone thyroxin, which helps to control metabolism and regulate energy levels. If your thyroid produces too little thyroxin, you begin to feel incredibly fatigued, will gain weight, your skin and hair will be dry, and you may also feel depressed. If you suspect you may have an underactive thyroid, ask your doctor for a thyroid test. If you do have an underactive thyroid, your doctor will prescribe synthetic hormones to help boost your hormone levels. You should also eat a diet high in seaweed, fish, fruit and vegetables, and avoid alcohol and nicotine.”
13. Drink more water
“Take a look at your forehead. If deep lines are developing, then your digestive system is sluggish,” says facial analysis expert Elizabeth Gibaud. “Aim to drink between 1.5-2 litres of water a day.”
14. Go fish
“Pile your plate high with salmon, mackerel, herring, kippers, sardines and tuna,” says nutritionist Patrick Holford. “Omega-3 fats – found in fish and nuts - are intimately associated with mood. And have an omega-3 fish oil supplement every day. The higher your blood levels of omega-3 fats, the higher your levels of mood-boosting serotonin are likely to be.”
15. Try timely exercise
The time of day when you exercise can have a direct effect on your energy and mood. For example, fitness trainer BJ Rule says, “Don’t do high impact exercise before going to bed, as your adrenalin will be pumping and you won’t be able to get to sleep. Instead, do energy-forming exercises such as running, walking or aerobics in the morning, and focusing on relaxing in the evening. I’d suggest a walk at the end of the day to wind down, or go to yoga to calm your mind and stretch your muscles out. Remember though, even if you’re worn out, doing no exercise at all will trap you in an eternal circle of tiredness. Even just 30 minutes of light activity will boost your energy levels and outlook.”