In the previous posts about energy, we looked at some of the multitude of nutrients involved in the production of energy as well as a way of combining food groups to maintain energy levels. In both, I used the specific analogy of glucose as fuel, used in the cells to make energy, much like that of petrol in a car engine. But that comparison is limited, as unlike a car, the production of energy and how energetic we feel is equally reliant on wider issues as it is on fuel.
These include factors that have a direct impact, such as sleep but also things that have an indirect influence, such as stress, hydration, meditation and mindfulness.
It's no surprise that we might feel lethargic after a little sleep, but the lack of energy caused by poor sleep quality and duration goes further than just the effects of a late night. Whilst we sleep muscle repair takes place, bones grow, hormones such as testosterone are largely released whilst energy is conserved.
Given that muscle cells contain higher number of mitochondria than most others, the repair and renewal process that takes place in the deepest phase of sleep is especially relevant for overall energy levels.
A full night’s sleep differs for all of us, but we do know that getting 7-9 hours a night, regularly, will help enhance daytime energy.
7 hours might seem like pipedream for many people and I will be writing more about it's importance and the role of nutrition in the coming posts.
"If you doubt how stress can be useful, consider that caffeine is a stressor in that it triggers the same hormonal response, and having a double espresso before a meeting, busy morning or a workout is commonplace."
Stress has been cast as a villain, blamed for all sorts of ills, when in truth some stress can be quite useful. The increase in heart rate and blood pressure, caused by adrenaline and cortisol, delivers more oxygen and nutrients around the body whilst at the same time the liver releases glucose, which as you will know from earlier posts in this series, provides fuel for cells. This response might be welcome in the short term, and certainly during the day, when the hormonal response can drive focus and drive. It's prolonged and repeated stress that can cause issues, as the short term burst of energy is often followed by fatigue.
But in times of stress and anxiety, it is quite possible for the same response to occur at night when you’d think that the stresses of life are lost while safe in bed. But the brain is busy processing thoughts which may mean reliving ongoing situations that are causing us stress.
You may be familiar with waking in the small hours, heart pumping and thoughts racing as adrenaline interrupts sleep, which is physical response to this, and of course reduces sleep quality and duration, which in turn leads to more daytime fatigue.
There’s also a post on stress coming soon, but in the short term it is possible for high stress levels to contribute to greater magnesium excretion. Bearing in mind that magnesium plays a role in sleep, the effects of stress on energy are potentially two-fold. Magnesium is found in dark green vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, fish and some legumes, as always, think food first.
If you choose to supplement your diet with a magnesium supplement, then try 200mg last thing at night, increasing to 300mg or even 400mg, preferably keeping a note of how you feel, perhaps grading your sleep so that you can track any changes.
"All liquids contribute to overall hydration, accounting for 80% of what we need, with 20% coming from food."
Hydration is important in maintaining energy levels as well, albeit indirectly. Poor hydration can lead to lower blood pressure which reduces oxygen and nutrient delivery, and as a result can induce muscle fatigue.
"In practice it makes little difference, but taking time out to meditate, sit quietly or focus on something unchallenging and personal, such as reading, is certainly of great use in overall wellbeing."
I have had periods of my life in which I have meditated regularly but can’t claim any special knowledge of the results other than it helped me. Some research shows that regular meditation can enhance energy levels, although it is unclear whether the benefit comes from a reduction in stress hormones, ie reducing a negative influence or actually enhancing energy production (I suspect the former).
A last word on energy levels – low energy and fatigue shouldn’t be ignored, as they might be indications of poor thyroid function or blood glucose issues. If symptoms cause you concern and persist then you should consult your doctor.
Ian Marber’s interest in food and nutrition was piqued when diagnosed with coeliac disease in his late twenties. He soon after gave up a successful career in investment to study nutrition at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, graduating in 1999 and founding the now-globally recognised nutritional consultancy, The Food Doctor.
Departing the Food Doctor in 2012, Ian now advises individuals and industry alike. He has since worked with over 8,000 clients, leads seminars, workshops and lectures and works closely with brands such as Innocent Drinks to formulate new ranges. His expertise has lead him to be recognised as go-to contributor within the press, writing regularly in The Times, The Spectator and The Telegraph, as well as making regular appearances on both TV and radio.