Boosting Energy with Food

Some days you feel great, like you can do anything. You are full of energy and ready to conquer the world. You feel like you can go out and get things done.

Other days, you don’t feel the same, just dragging along, not really feeling the energy you once did. Perhaps you didn’t get enough sleep, have been working too much, not eating right, or all of the above.

What’s the difference? What makes those times you feel full of energy different? What is going on internally when you are full of energy—when you feel energetic? When I feel full of energy, what’s going on inside me to produce such a feeling of abundant energy?

There are numerous sources on the web that will tell you how to have more energy, but most of them fall into the “eat this, not that” variety, or “do this, not that.” I think we need to dig deeper—to figure out the conditions we need in our bodies and in each of our cells to produce more energy.

Feeling more energetic requires the actual production of more energy. Energy is produced in your cells, by the mitochondria in your cells. There must be a biological and biochemical reason why I feel energetic, right? What regulates our energy metabolism?

After some research and consultation with my biologist friend, here’s what I learned. To have your body produce lots of good energy, you need to have all these factors in place:

Good energy depends on

  1. Good oxygen supply
  2. Lots of available energy nutrients (carbs or fats)
  3. Good thyroid hormone levels
  4. Good levels of B vitamins
  5. Good (low) level of insulin
  6. Adequate water

Other factors may play lesser and transient roles in affecting energy metabolism. For example, adrenaline (epinephrine) may be released in acutely stressful situations—the fight-or-flight response—which will yield quick energy but not sustained energy. I doubt this is what you want. You want a feeling of good energy that lasts.

1. Get enough oxygen — breathe well

This should be a no-brainer, right? But it helps to make sure you have good breathing, originating from your diaphragm, not short, shallow chest breaths.

  • Relaxed, deep breaths from diaphragm, not shallow chest breathing
  • Get adequate dietary iron and other micronutrients to maximize oxygen transport
  • Typically, oxygen supply is not a problem

2. Eat enough energy nutrients (fuel) — carbs or fats

Your cells need fuel to burn to produce energy. You can run on carbohydrates or fats. If you run on carbs, you will likely need to refuel often. Eating a lot of carbs quickly can raise insulin levels leading to less available fuel to burn. For example, carbohydrate burners often experience the dreaded afternoon slump—that drowsy, low energy, sleepy feeling you get a few hours after a high-carb lunch. That’s why I prefer to get my body to run on fats when I can. It’s a much more steady and dependable supply.

  • Eat lots of good fats
  • Or, eat carbs often
  • Keep insulin levels low to burn energy nutrients

3. Ensure good thyroid hormone levels

Thyroid hormone is known as the master regulator of metabolism. It regulates the production of energy. Thus, it’s crucial to give your body what it needs to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormone.

  • Iodine, Selenium, and Zinc are needed for good thyroid hormone production
  • Copper is also suspected to be important to thyroid production
  • Eggs are a good source of iodine, selenium, and zinc, along with the highest quality protein and other vitamins and minerals

4. Get enough B vitamins every day

“The importance of B vitamins…vital vitamins. All B vitamins play a role in converting your food into energy that the body can use. Therefore, making sure you get your recommended daily amount will ensure your body has a reliable source of energy to call upon. Avoid deficiencies by eating a diet rich in whole foods” —BBC, How to eat for more energy

  • B vitamins are vital enzymes and coenzymes in the production of energy from food
  • Get a good daily supply of all B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folic acid, B12)
  • Especially be aware of getting enough vitamin B12, which is only found naturally in animal products
  • See this excellent guide to the B vitamins, Vitamins and minerals – B vitamins and folic acid

5. Keep your insulin levels low

You want to keep your insulin levels low so your fat cells can release body fat and burn it for energy. Not getting adequate sleep can also result in elevated insulin levels, so try to get as much good sleep as you can.

  • A low carb diet is a good way to keep insulin levels low
  • Get enough sleep to prevent chronic elevated insulin levels

6. Stay hydrated

“Water makes up the majority of your blood and other body fluids, and even mild dehydration can cause blood to thicken, forcing the heart to pump harder to carry blood to your cells and organs and resulting in fatigue. Also, ample fluids keep energy-fueling nutrients flowing throughout the body. Monitor how often you urinate. You should be going every two to four hours, and your urine should be clear or pale yellow in color.” —WebMD, Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again

  • Drink enough water – often
  • Avoid sugary soft drinks and fruit juices
  • Go easy on coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeine drinks

So, what foods do I eat for better overall energy?

Each of us have different situations and needs, but here’s what works for me:

  • Liver — it’s called a superfood for good reason, delivering excellent amounts of vital B vitamins (especially B12), minerals, and protein
  • Eggs — highest quality protein with iodine, selenium, and zinc to keep your body supplied with what it needs to make thyroid hormones
  • Red meat — for iron, protein, potassium and other vital nutritents
  • Butter — delivers concentrated energy nutrients (good fats), and a recent Time magazine cover story said “Eat Butter”

Eating the right foods—the foods that work for you—is always the best choice. Knowing what conditions are required to produce energy in the body is useful, though, because sometimes food alone will not get you there. You may sometimes find supplements useful to help your body produce the energy you want.

What do you do for better energy? Let me know what works for you!


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