In all my years working with people on an individual level or in a group, regardless of their age, sex or current health status there is often one thing that unifies people’s health and wellness goals – energy and the desire for more. When you ask someone how he or she is these days the most common response I tend to hear is ‘tired, so tired’. And hence our reliance on caffeine and refined sugars or anything that gives us more energy increases. So how do you intrinsically produce more energy? What drives energy production and what interferes with or depletes our energy?
Food is essential to nourish our bodies providing vital nutrients and minerals to drive the thousands of biochemical reactions in the body; it also supplies us with energy. Any food we eat is converted to energy, in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP.)
There are many nutrients involved in the body’s ability to produce ATP. The most important group of nutrients for the conversion of food into ATP is B vitamins. Thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) are three B vitamins that are essential in the conversion of food to energy. Without sufficient B vitamin consumption energy conversion can be slow, leaving us feeling sluggish and tired.
The best place to get B vitamins is from our food, when vitamins are obtained through food they are easily absorbed and utilised because you are also consuming co-nutrients that assist with the uptake and absorption. Thiamine rich foods include lentils, nuts and seeds and pork. Leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, almonds and eggs are a good source of Riboflavin. Niacin is found in the highest concentrations in meat such as beef, chicken and fish. Some can also be found in quinoa, a gluten-free ‘grain’, which botanically is actually a seed.
Is feeling exhausted a constant for you? It has been estimated that up to 20% of women and 3% of men in New Zealand are iron deficient. Without healthy red blood cells, your body can’t get enough oxygen; the consequence of not having sufficient oxygen in the body is constant fatigue. This fatigue or exhaustion can affect everything from your ability to fight infections to your brain function. Iron deficiency anaemia occurs frequently among women of childbearing age. It can be caused by not consuming enough iron rich foods, poor absorption of iron by the body, or loss of iron due to menstrual blood loss. It can be extremely beneficial to get an iron test to determine your iron status.
Fighting infections is a sure fire way to zap energy – especially chronic low-grade infections. The immune system expends energy when it gears up to fight a virus or an infection. Coupled with this increase in energy expenditure, when you’re not feeling well the tendency is to eat anything quick and easy but often with little or no nourishment, such as bread, pasta, or fried foods. The immune system is in dire need of support in the form of nutrients when fighting any infection – it particularly loves vitamin C and zinc to name a few. Including a variety of fresh whole foods will help boost your consumption of these vitamins and minerals but it may also be beneficial to add a supplement, especially when you’re fighting an infection.
The old adage you are what you eat isn’t quite correct; you are what you eat, absorb and assimilate. There are a number of factors that can affect the ability to digest and absorb the nutrients from food including stress, caffeine and medications such as antibiotics. What and how you eat are also critical to your ability to absorb nutrients and obtain energy from food. The key to sustained energy from food is in the energy release. When you eat foods that contain fibre such as fresh vegetables and lentils you help to slow the release of glucose into the blood – the result being your energy release is sustained. Real foods naturally contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals and thus provide better digestive system health as well as a slower release of energy. Think of a piece of white bread when it’s cooked in a toaster, it burns readily – it does essentially the same in your body. You want slow burning fuel – fat and protein are two slow burning fuels; complex carbohydrates such as kumara and quinoa are also slow burning fuels.
Muscle building or resistance exercise is incredibly important especially for women as they age. We lose muscle mass from 30 onwards unless we actively maintain/build it.By building muscle, using regular resistance training with your own body weight (yoga and pilates) or weights such as dumb bells, barbells and kettle bells, you’re actively supporting your posture, bone health and your ability to feel energised. Then there’s the effect of strength training on hormones such as human growth hormone and testosterone (small amounts are important for women.) Recent studies suggest that resistance training raises levels of these hormones in both men and women. More muscle also means more energy-producing mitochondria in our cells – and that means we have a higher metabolic rate, which assists with body fat management. Naturally you gain better energy reserves as your glycogen (glucose stores) increase, as well.
Consider this as an analogy, we all know that our computer or smart phone slows down and burns more battery, the more programs we have open. For example 23 open tabs of web pages, spreadsheets, documents and presentations, the photo editing, movie playing, music, software updates… our mind can feel very much the same. The more things we have open and unresolved, the bigger the drain on your mind power and energy, from all of these open loops.
How many times across a day, a week, a month, a year, decades even, do tasks or situations open up, yet they are never resolved, finalised, or closed? How many emails do you read that you don’t immediately reply to, and they hang in your mind and add to your task load of what’s not yet done? It’s as if you walk around each day with so many tabs open – like websites sitting open on your computer screen – that you never feel like you’ve got it all handled. How can you close your tabs? Begin by scheduling these reoccurring thoughts into your calendar so you can stop looping over them.