Nourishing Your Energy Levels: The Do’s and Don’ts in Our Diet

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by Vanessa Monteiro

The afternoon slump is an all too familiar feeling, but there are many ways in which we can improve our energy levels to climb out of our tiredness rut. Leave the yawning behind and go forth with full energy, even at the end of the day. Don’t ever feel like your shoulders are weighing you down and you are ready to sleep at 4pm – know how you can keep your energy levels high!

Food and diet impact our health in a variety of ways, and energy and alertness are not excluded from this. Ensuring that our body has the right nutrients will help it to do its best throughout the day.

Food and diet impact our health in a variety of ways, and energy and alertness are not excluded from this.

DO: Keep Your Body Hydrated

When we’re dehydrated, it can affect our cognitive ability and science shows dehydration can be a predictor of deteriorating mental performance. The Food and Nutrition Board sets a general recommendation of 11 – 15 cups of water per day. This includes our beverage and food intake, with food contributing to about 20% of our daily hydration. Some healthy food options to keep you hydrated include watermelon, celery, strawberries, and cucumber.

If you are relying on caffeinated sources such as coffee, tea, or energy drinks as a source of hydration, think twice! Caffeine is a diuretic, a substance that triggers more frequent urination. This means a cup of coffee may help keep your eyes open in the morning but, it could also contribute to dehydration later in the day!

DON’T: Rely on Caffeine

A coffee or tea is the standard go-to for a jolt of energy when we are feeling tired. These caffeinated drinks prevent our body from feeling tired by blocking the brain’s receptors from receiving adenosine, a neurotransmitter that causes fatigue. The downside of this initial pick-me-up is that once the caffeine in the body wears off, the build-up of adenosine rushes in, causing sleepiness all over again!

The effects of caffeine are slightly different with each person and it is good to understand how your body responds when you drink a coffee or tea:

  • What do your energy levels feel like?
  • How long does it last?
  • When does tiredness tend to set in again?

With this knowledge you can use caffeine wisely throughout your day as a pick-me-up, timing the expected downturn in energy appropriately for your day. Dietary guidelines suggest avoiding caffeine in the evenings so it does not negatively impact your sleep, and in general it is best to have less than 400 mg per day of caffeine as part of a healthy diet. So, when thinking about going for coffee number 5 on a Monday, it might be best to make it decaf!

DO: Choose the Right Snacks

When you review your options at the grocery store, try to stay away from chips and cookies, and choose foods with a low-glycemic index (GI). With high-GI foods, there is a rapid increase in blood glucose (sugar) levels that creates an initial energy spike followed by fatigue, almost 25% more than when you eat low-GI foods. Lean proteins, healthy fats, and green foods are great low-GI options that satisfy your stomach while supporting continued energy levels.

DON’T: Skip Breakfast

“Putting breakfast in your body will give you more sustained energy through the morning,” says Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. When you skip your morning meal, your body slows down to preserve energy causing sluggishness later in the day. Kickstart the day by including whole grains and proteins in your breakfast as a healthy way to boost your energy levels. If you find you’re not hungry in the morning, it could mean your body is still running off the previous night’s meal. In this case, consider reducing portion sizes or reviewing the timing of your dinner.

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Legumes, green leafy vegetables and whole grains as part of a well-balanced diet can ensure you have healthy levels of B vitamins.

DO: Review Your Magnesium and Vitamin B Levels

Magnesium is an element used by all organs in our body, contributing to over 600+ processes including those responsible for energy production making it an instrumental component in the fight against fatigue. Generally speaking, a healthy diet can provide sufficient amounts of magnesium with the inclusion of foods like legumes, whole grains, nuts, leafy green vegetables, meats, or even water with a high mineral content (“hard water”).

Similar to magnesium, vitamin B’s assist in energy production by converting the dietary energy we eat into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the form of energy the cells of our body use. Legumes, green leafy vegetables and whole grains as part of a well-balanced diet can ensure you have healthy levels of B vitamins. Vitamin B12 is found primarily through animal-based foods but if you follow a vegetarian-type diet you can adapt by looking to foods fortified with B12, adding nutritional yeast to meals, or taking a dietary supplement.

DON’T: Use Alcohol as a Sleep Aid

Many people use a nightcap – an alcoholic drink before bed – to help them get to sleep more quickly. The effects of alcohol may initially help us fall asleep, but in the end, it interferes with our deep sleep. As a result, this can cause an increase in daytime sleepiness. Additionally, over time our bodies develop a tolerance to alcohol and so it becomes less beneficial for its sedative effects. If getting to sleep is something you struggle with, you can try drinking a warm glass of milk instead to help induce tiredness.