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The Quest for More Energy

Today Lindsay and I are going to talk about the seemingly endless quest for more energy, and Lindsay is going to create some recipes around this food.  After all, we could all use more energy right?

Coffees, energy drinks and supplements, sodas, and other quick energy fixes are everywhere.  I’m no exception in this quest, and after having two kids found myself needing more and more coffee to stay awake everyday.  The problem with these quick energy solutions, especially ones containing caffeine  are that more and more caffeine is needed to maintain the effects every day.  Our bodies quickly adapt to respond to the onslaught of these drugs and we need more to have the same effects.  This can lead to a viscous cycle where we are drinking more coffee or other energy drinks, and then struggling to sleep at night after finally waking up. 

The Importance of Sleep

I had this problem, and was starting to have trouble sleeping 2 or 3 nights a week, making me more tired in the morning and more in need of caffeine.   I finally decided something had to give, and I decided to try giving up caffeine for a bit to see if it helped.  I cut back gradually and eventually stopped drinking it pretty much altogether.  Now, I am able to sleep at night almost every night.  We try to go to bed at a decent hour and get at least 8 hours a night (easier said than done some nights).  We also try to limit TV right before bed, which tends to keep you awake for longer.  Getting enough sleep is the first step in having plenty of energy throughout the day.

Energy Sustaining Foods

So, what can we eat to help us maintain our energy levels?   After the high-protein fad diets several years ago, many people think of carbohydrates as being bad for you.  This isn’t exactly the case, not all carbohydrates are created equal.  So let’s talk a little bit about how our bodies digest and use carbohydrates.

Glucose is the main source of energy for all of the cells in the body.  Glucose is a simple sugar that is found in foods, but must be broken down from other longer chain carbohydrates by our digestive system to be delivered to cells.  Carbohydrates come in different lengths: monosaccharides (one sugar), disaccharides (two sugars), and polysaccharides (many sugars).  Most carbohydrates in our diets are disaccharides or polysaccharides.  Enzymes in our small intestines break the larger carbohydrates down into smaller sections and when they are finally broken into monosaccharides, our body can absorb them.  

Disaccharides that are common in our diet are sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar), and maltose (grain sugar).  These sugars can be quickly processed by enzymes lactase, maltase, and sucrase and taken up into the body quickly to be used as energy.  When we eat sugar, high fructose corn syrup (which is similar to sugar although does not have to be broken down), honey, syrup, or other sweeteners our bodies gets an almost immediate energy source.   When we eat a lot at one time, this is why we feel a sugar high, but this is also why we crash very quickly afterwards. The energy in sugar becomes available, we use what is needed, our blood glucose levels rise due to all of the glucose we have dumped into our body and can’t use all at once.  Our body then produces insulin to turn the excess glucose that isn’t needed right away into either glycogen (our storage form of glucose), or fat.  

If sustained energy is our goal, we need to provide glucose to our body, but at a steady rate.  Complex carbohydrates provide our body with a sustained energy source, because it takes our body much longer to break these foods down into their simpler forms.  As complex carbohydrates are slowly broken down, glucose (energy) is supplied to our body at a slower steady rate as it becomes available to be absorbed.  If we combine complex carbohydrates in a meal with some protein and fat, the rate of digestion is slowed even further, and adding indigestible fiber such as that found in fruit and vegetables again slows the rate of digestion, keeping us full, satisfied and energetic for longer.  

Simple Sugars to Avoid

Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Maple Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Agave Nectar

Other Quickly Digesting Carbohydrates to Avoid

Refined Flours and processed foods made from these (pastries, many dried breakfast cereals, white bread, cakes, pretzels), Refined Grains (especially white rice, refining gets rid of the indigestible fiber and causes your body to quickly digest these), White Potatoes (the branching structure of this carbohydrate allows for quick digestion), Fruit juice (fruit juice may have nutrients but is stripped of all of the fiber that slows down digestion of its sugars)

How to Choose Energy Sustaining Meals with Complex Carbohydrates

Beans, fruit, and whole grains are all good sources of complex carbohydrates.  These foods will give you long term energy. Combine these foods with protein (beans, whole grains, and vegetables are all good sources of proteins already) and fats (especially from nuts and seeds) for slower digestion and sustained fullness.

Examples of Meals with Complex Carbohydrates, along with protein, and good fats:

Whole Grain Crackers with Hummus

Smoothie with Flax Meal and Milk (whatever variety you use)

Whole Grain Waffle with Natural Peanut Butter

Quinoa with Walnuts, Berries, and Milk (whatever variety you use)

Brown Rice bowl with Steamed Vegetables and Avocado

Whole Grain Pita stuffed with Tuna and Vegetables

Lindsay’s Tasty Recipes

 Today Lindsay made an oatmeal dish, a lentil dish, a fava bean dish, and a banana “ice cream.”  All full of energy sustaining complex carbohydrates.  These recipes can be found on Lindsay’s blog.

Oatmeal with Berries 

A note on oatmeal:  If you need to eat gluten-free, buy gluten-free oats, not all oats are gluten-free.  In some patients (estimated to be 10-15%) with celiac disease the protein in oats still causes the same issues gluten does.  Unfortunately I seem to be one of those people and have not been able to tolerate even gluten-free oats.  I do not eat oatmeal, but this same dish could be made with quinoa or another grain.  The recipe can be found on Lindsay’s blog.

Oatmeal with Berries

NutritionLabel - Oatmeal

Lentils with Marinated Vegetables

 This recipe is free of the eight major allergens, and with the lentils and vegetables, it packs in a lot of vitamins and minerals for the number of calories, and will be energy sustaining.  The recipe can be found on Lindsay’s blog.

Lentils

NutritionLabel - Lentils

Fava Bean Dip

I can’t wait to try this recipe early this summer with fresh fava beans from our garden.  We love fava beans around here!  Canned fava beans are high in sodium so try to find fresh or frozen if you can (this may be tricky though).  If you leave out the cheese, this recipe is free of the eight major allergens. The recipe can be found on Lindsay’s blog.

Fava Bean Dip

NutritionLabel - favabeandip

Chocolate Chip Banana Ice Cream

 This recipe is free of the eight major allergens if allergen free chocolate chips like Enjoy Life brand are used!  The recipe can be found on Lindsay’s blog.  It is also featured on Cybele Pascal’s allergy friendly blog.  To find many more allergy friendly recipes see her great site.  P.S. She also has a great allergy friendly cookbook!

Banana Ice Cream

 

NutritionLabel - BananaIceCream

Other Dietary Causes of Low Energy

Low energy can also be caused by dietary deficiencies.  If you are anemic and low on either iron or B12 you are bound to feel tired most of the time.  Low sources of magnesium (see our post on sources of magnesium here) and omega-3 fatty acids can also make you feel tired.  

Other Things You Can Do

  •  Now that springtime is here, even if you aren’t a regular exerciser, try taking a walk in the sun in the morning.  The extra light will help you wake up, and the walk will help neurotransmitters in your brain start circulating and give you energy for the day.  It always seems counter intuitive that exercise (using energy) can make you feel more energetic, but it really does work as long as you listen to your body and don’t overdo things.  
  • Don’t let yourself get dehydrated, even slight dehydration can lead to low energy levels
  • Don’t skip breakfast – not only does breakfast help start your metabolism in the morning and start energy being burnt, consequently helping with weight loss, but if a good whole grain energy source is eaten it gives you energy throughout the morning and can help your brain function to its greatest capacity

 Please note:  The nutrition information in these recipes are estimates only.  Actual nutrition information will vary depending on exactly how large your filet of fish is, how much oil you use, etc.  Also, please verify all allergen information yourself!!

References

Myers, D. (2010). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Thompson, Janice L., Melinda M. Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. (2008). The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Other Helpful Web Pages

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/get-more-energy

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/040609p20.shtml

http://www.webmd.com/diet/fiber-health-benefits-11/fatigue-fighters-six-quick-ways-boost-energy?page=1

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  1. […] don’t know all the mechanics of this, you will have to head over to 3Squarenutrition.com to see why, I just make the food. I will say, this topic was a bit intimidating. I was working with […]

  2. […] to provide our body with the sustained energy we need throughout the day.  We talked about the foods to give us energy a couple of months ago, and these same foods are the carbohydrates that will help us maintain a constant blood sugar level […]

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