As busy and productive people with over-scheduled, stressful lifestyles (sometimes combined with little quality sleep and poor eating habits), it is no wonder so many of us feel drained. Saying that you feel tired usually describes a symptom of our body being out of biochemical balance. It could mean that we’re feeling emotionally burned out. We may have brain fog. Or, it could be actual physical fatigue from not getting enough sleep. All of this has its roots in chronic stress, and it leads us to not feel as engaged and focused as we want to be.
By managing inflammation, stress, and oxidation and improving nutrition we can boost our energy levels. Anti-inflammatory foods boost energy because having too much inflammation in your body can cause the brain to experience mental exhaustion and burnout.
The two best anti-inflammatory foods to add to your grocery list are dark chocolate and blueberries. Dark chocolate contains both theobromine for sustained mental energy; and a small amount of sugar, for reducing sweet-cravings induced by the stress hormone, cortisol. Blueberries are packed with potassium, vitamin C, and flavonoids, which activate the body’s internal production of antioxidant enzymes for profound anti-inflammatory benefits, especially for the brain.
When the body is exposed to chronic stress it produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol, which leads to muscle loss, immune system suppression, and both mental and physical exhaustion. Two of the most effective anti-stress foods are pumpkin seeds and green tea. Munching on roasted pumpkin seeds can have a relaxation effect form both the “crunching” action and because they contain a high content of the amino acid, tryptophan, which has a relaxing effect in the brain. Green tea contains another amino acid called theanine, which has a physical and mental relaxation effect, yet also improved mental focus and improves a state known as “relaxed alertness.”
For a direct injection of energy, be sure to get your Bs, C and Omega-3s! Whole grains are a rich source of the entire family of B-complex vitamins, which are essential for the metabolism of food into cellular energy. Eating more healthy omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish or fish oil supplements have been shown in numerous research studies to support mood and reduce inflammation. Brightly colored fruit and veggies provide cell-protecting phytonutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, flavonoids and carotenoids that reduce oxidation and inflammation – both of which can cause cellular damage, drain energy levels and accelerate aging.
Avoid traditional high-caffeine and sugar energy drinks. The high levels of caffeine and simple sugars in most energy drinks can cause a blood sugar spike and then an energy crash a couple hours later. Likewise, refined carbs and processed foods cause inflammation and lead to destruction of collagen and elastin in the skin – so you’ll look as bad as you feel. Instead, look for the new generation of “feel good” drinks like that contain concentrated servings of flavonoids and other polyphenols such as New Zealand pine bark along with other nutrients like theanine to maintain sustained mental and physical energy levels with the added benefits of stress resilience, improved mood and sharp mental focus.
Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN
Nutritional Biochemist and Author
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–The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
–Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic
–The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House)
–The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House)
–Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House)
–Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books)
–The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)
–The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens)
–A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)