Ways to boost your energy with plant-based foods

Guest post by Coral Sirett, a vegan weight loss coach

During the summer months we can feel a renewed sense of energy, but with restrictions being in place for such a long time our energy levels may have taken a bit of a hit.

Feeling more energised can have an impact on so many areas of your life, which many of my clients have discovered.

How have they done this? By making just a few simple changes to their lifestyles.

Here are a few things you can do to boost your energy throughout the year, helping you to get your get-up-and-go back.

Limit coffee and alcohol

It’s tempting to think of alcohol as a good way to help you relax and sleep. Or you might see it as your reward or part of your coping mechanism after a hard day.   

Even though alcohol can make you feel sleepy it’s not going to help you to have deep, restful sleep. If you’re using alcohol to help you get to sleep, you can find that you need more and more to have the same effect. And of course, there are the potential health issues with drinking too much on a regular basis, not to mention how you can end up feeling in the morning. This can have a massive impact on your energy levels and your ability to concentrate.

With caffeine, in particular coffee and energy drinks, you’re running on borrowed energy – energy you don’t ever get to pay back, meaning it isn’t stored energy you can draw on when you need it later.  

Caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing because we’re all affected by it differently. But if you’re drinking a lot of coffee and not sleeping well or it’s made you feel jittery or wanting sweet stuff like biscuits and cakes then you’re too sensitive to it. Try cutting back, switching to decaf or cutting it out completely and see if it makes a difference.

Drink enough fluids

It can be so easy to overlook, but drinking enough fluids is crucial, especially when it comes to energy levels. It’s so simple, which is why its importance can so easily be overlooked.  

Dehydration can cause tiredness and concentration problems, even if you’re only slightly dehydrated.

It’s a great idea to start your day first thing in the morning – with a large glass of fresh water to rehydrate your body and your brain. Continue to drink water regularly throughout the day.

We need, on average around 2-2.5 litres a day. If you’re drinking a lot less than this increase the amount gradually. Aim for half this amount to start with and increase as you can. Your wee should be a clear, pale, straw-like colour.

If you don’t like plain water, consider adding some real fruit to it. You can also get ‘tea’ bags now designed to flavour cold water, as well as lots of herbal teas.

Another great option is a green smoothie, with lots of veggies in as well as fruit, to give you a natural energy boost.

Boost your energy with these foods

We need certain nutrients to help us sustain our energy levels. It’s a good idea to focus on eating as many whole foods as possible. These are foods that haven’t been processed or have only been minimally processed. They contain vitamins, minerals, fibre and other naturally occurring nutrients that our bodies recognise and can absorb and utilise for things like energy.

Eating foods rich in iron can help with fatigue. Good sources include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, seeds, cashews, pumpkin and dried apricots and raisins.

Ensure you have a source of vitamin C at the same time to aid absorption. Foods such as cauliflower, red peppers, berries and citrus fruits are all good sources.

Avoid drinking tea and coffee less than an hour before or after eating foods which contain iron. This is because the tannins can reduce the absorption of iron. 

It’s important to consume foods containing B vitamins, to help sustain your energy levels. Good sources are beans, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy veggies, broccoli, peas, wholemeal bread, quinoa, millet, tempeh, tofu, seeds, nuts and dried fruit.

Carbohydrates

Eating foods that keep your blood sugar stable will also help to reduce the peaks and troughs in your energy levels throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, oats, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are digested slowly. This means they provide a steady and readily available supply of energy for the brain and the central nervous system. They also contain fibre and nutrients that fuel us, such as magnesium, which is required to convert food into energy within the body.

Protein

Consuming the right amount of protein will help with stamina and help prevent you becoming tired, although we don’t need as much as people often assume.

You should aim for approximately 10-15% of your daily calorie intake to be made up from protein. This works out at approximately 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight, so if you weigh 60kgs you need 60g of protein.

Most foods contain protein and if you’re eating a wide variety of foods you will be getting enough. Protein is not a single thing though and food variety is important to ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.

Fat

You can also use your fat reserves as a source of energy. Healthy sources of fat include nuts, seeds, olives and avocados, so it’s a good idea to include these in small amounts.

Limit processed and junk foods

Relying a lot on packaged snacks, ready meals, junk foods and takeaways can mean you end up not getting the nutrients you need. These foods don’t give you the nutrition and goodness for those very important processes in your body which help your energy levels.  

Reduce sugar and simple carbs

As well as making your blood sugar levels go up and down, if you’re consuming a lot you’re putting your body under additional stress.

Get into the habit of checking food labels of the things you buy the most often and look how much sugar is in them. There are many names for sugar, so look out for these:

glucose, fructose, sucrose, caramel, lactose, maltose, dextrose and maltodextrin.

A snack such as apple with nut butter will give you a more sustained energy boost. This is because as well as the natural sugars in the apple you also have the fibre from both and the protein from the nut butter, which slows down the sugar release.

Avoid what are known as simple carbs. These are foods such as white bread, white pasta, cakes, doughnuts and biscuits. These can make you feel even more tired, even though these may be what you crave when you need an energy lift. This is because they tend to give you a sugar rush, followed by a slump, leaving you feeling tired. Think of a rollercoaster!

If your blood sugar fluctuates too much, it can leave you feeling tired and irritable and making you want to reach for a sugary snack. It’s natural for your blood sugar levels to go up and down a bit but you want to keep them as even as possible.

Other ways to boost energy

There are a few other things you can address, as well as the type of food and drink you’re having, so it’s worth seeing if there are any changes you can make:

Don’t skimp on the shut-eye

Aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep per night if you can. We’re all different of course and we all need differing amounts of sleep, so this is just a guide. An indicator as to whether you’re getting enough sleep is how you feel in the day. Also, do you always need an alarm clock to wake you up?

Your brain and body do a lot of important functions when you’re asleep, so you need to allow your body the time to do that. 

Not only can a lack of sleep affect your energy levels it can also impact on your food choices. If you’ve ever craved something sweet when you’re tired, it’s because your body is telling you it needs some energy.

Get moving!

Whilst very strenuous exercise may leave you feeling tired, a lack of activity as well as exercise can make you feel lethargic.

Make a point of getting up regularly if you’re sat at a desk all day. Try doing some stretches or a few star jumps, or dancing round your living room! Do whatever gives you an energy boost.

By sitting a lot we’re not using our muscles and not exercising our heart. This can result in weak muscles and being out of condition. This in turn means it’s more tiring to do any exercise. We’re meant to move!

If you struggle to find the time, think what you could do when you’re doing something else, such as waiting for the kettle to boil, or watching tv.

Get more daylight

Low levels of vitamin D can make you feel tired and getting enough can be crucial for a healthy mind, not to mention your bone health and immunity.

The best source of vitamin D is sunshine. During the summer months try to get out for around 15 minutes a day when the sun is at its highest. But please do not risk burning.

If you’re very sensitive to the sun you may want to consider supplementing all year round.

In the UK we’re advised to supplement through the autumn and winter months. Please check your country specific guidelines if you are outside the UK.

Spending some time outside can also help with your sleep. It helps your brain to register when it’s day and night and to regulate this natural cycle.

Find ways to manage stress

Being stressed can also affect how much energy we have and even lead to chronic fatigue. Stress can affect how your body absorbs nutrients, including the ones that are good for energy levels.

Your sleep can also be affected if you’re stressed. Which means your energy levels can be affected and this in turn can affect your ability to manage stress. Leading to a vicious cycle.

In terms of managing stress find whatever works for you. Whether that’s getting out in nature, talking to a friend, or just taking a few minutes to really enjoy a cup of tea.

If after making lifestyle changes you don’t notice a difference you should consult your GP. There can be many reasons why you may be struggling with your energy levels, so it’s best to get checked out.

Bio

Coral Sirett helps people to lose weight and eat healthily with a plant-based diet.

Coral is a vegan weight loss coach, qualified nutrition adviser, workplace wellbeing consultant, speaker, contributor to Plant Based News and the founder of Zest Health.

Based in the UK, she works with clients worldwide offering private health coaching and consultations, a personalised nutrition report, and an online programme.

Coral adopts a gentle and sustainable approach with clients as she believes lasting healthy change should be an enjoyable and positive experience.

Download your free Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based here.

Website: https://www.zest-health.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zesthealthliving

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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/coral-sirett/

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