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Coping with the demands of a modern-day lifestyle is exhausting, and, after a long day at the office, or tending to the kids, very few have enough energy left to even enjoy a little ‘me-time’. Endless energy isn’t realistic, but sustained levels can be achieved. Kick tiredness to the curb with these nutritional guidelines.

Did you know coffee drinkers really do need their caffeine fix? According to research, the alertness levels of regular caffeine users are below normal when waking up. After their first caffeine shot, their concentration and alertness levels return to normal. This is thought to be because many caffeine users get less sleep than their bodies actually need.

Interesting fact: Cocoa beans contain negligible amounts of caffeine, but high levels of theobromine (very similar to caffeine) which is partly responsible for the stimulating effects of dark chocolate. Research indicates that cocoa powder’s potent antioxidant and stimulating properties may even encourage fat-burning.

Energy bites
Apart from caffeine, certain herbs and plants also provide us with extra power. Popular examples include tea leaves, ginseng, maca and guarana. However, these herbal energy boosters should be used with caution as they’re likely to increase blood pressure.

  • Green tea. Along with small amounts of caffeine, green tea (Camellia sinesis) also contains potent antioxidants that modify our energy metabolism. Initially, when green tea’s fat-burning effects were discovered, scientists though it due to the caffeine. However, through studies done on decaffeinated green tea extracts, it was identified the potent antioxidants found in green tea are more likely the source of these energy-modulating benefits. 4–6 cups of green tea daily are needed to benefit.
  • Fruit/antioxidants. Many people start their day with a fruit or vegetable smoothie – this makes perfect sense when considering their natural energy-providing sugars and antioxidant nutrients.

Voomah vits
Some people, especially females, feel tired, weak, drained, and even dizzy. This can be due to iron deficiency.

B vitamins are vital to energy conversion from foods – carbohydrates, fat and protein are transformed into glucose which powers our muscles, brain and body cells. This explains why so many people turn to multivitamins or potent B vitamin cocktails when lacking oomph

Interestingly, this hints at why some people who follow unbalanced diets dislike exercise. When increasing their activity levels, their bodies have sufficient energy stores in the form of fat, but insufficient levels of the B vitamins and other essential nutrients needed to convert stored energy into actual muscle power. They then run out of steam quickly, and stop exercising – needlessly, it seems.

GI fuel
The most widely-available source of energy is carbohydrates found in starchy and sweet foods, as well as fruit and vegetables. Each carbohydrate has a different glycemic index (GI) level. The GI level tells us how quickly something is digested and converted into glucose. High-GI foods are converted to glucose very quickly, boosting short-term energy, followed by plummeting energy shortly thereafter. Low-GI foods are better to support energy as they result in gradual and sustained energy release.

High (70–100)Intermediate (56–70)Low (0–55)
Instant oatsRegular oatsHealth rusk
PotatoesWhole-wheat couscousSweet potatoes
PolentaBeetrootLentils, beans
Banana (very ripe)Brown riceApples

GI classification of selected food items. Source: The South African Glycemic Index Guide.

Plan for punch
5–6 small meals daily are better for sustained energy throughout the day. But this doesn’t mean you can just add extra snacks to your 2–3 large daily meals. The secret is to have three small meals, and to enjoy fresh fruit, nuts, plain yoghurt, or other healthy snacks in between.

Did you know? Many people frown upon the idea of raiding the fridge late at night. However, if your last meal of the day is eaten fairly early, e.g. at 18:00, then a snack before bedtime can help sustain energy levels during the night and prevent hunger from waking you up.

Drink up
Through research in exercise science and sports nutrition, it has been shown that dehydration creates the sensation of fatigue. But too much of a good thing can be bad – unless you’re physically very active, resulting in excessive sweating, you shouldn’t drink more than eight small glasses of water daily. Include fresh fruit and raw vegetables in your diet – they also contribute to your water intake.

Did you know? Alcohol is one of the most significant energy thieves. A high alcohol intake in the evening is known to reduce blood glucose levels which could last until the next morning, contributing to the sensation of fatigue after over-indulgence.

Alcohol is broken down to harmless substances in the liver. This process uses up valuable B vitamins, important for energy metabolism. In addition, alcohol intake causes dehydration, which further exaggerates the sensation of fatigue.

Get moving to get more
Many fatigued people are unfit. A strong, fit body helps you to cope with the physical, mental and psychological demands of a pressured lifestyle. For the best results, work up a sweat for 30–60 minutes five times weekly at dawn rather than dusk. Early morning exercise is known to boost energy levels during the day, while intense exercise at night may result in insomnia.

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