First – what level of fatigue is normal throughout the day?
“It’s very normal to find that energy levels wax and wane throughout the day, and you may find you have days where you are more tired than usual. It is also normal to feel more tired in the evening as you wind down for bed, especially after a busy day. However, if you often notice feeling tired at any, or all times of the day, unable to function without stimulants such as coffee, sugar or cigarettes or are finding that exhaustion is stopping you from doing things you used to be able to do, then it’s maybe time to start thinking about why, and taking steps to improve your wellbeing.” – Alice Mackintosh, nutrition consultant and co-founder of Equi London
So, what isn’t normal when it comes to tiredness – and at what point should you speak to your GP?
“While it’s completely normal to experience gentle fluctuations throughout the day, if you notice bursts of energy followed by exhaustion, or you find yourself feeling tired all day long, this could signal disruption in energy and/or nutrient balance. Remember, fatigue can show up as both mental fatigue (e.g. poor concentration, poor memory, sleepiness and irritability) and physical fatigue. Signs of more serious fatigue that are worth keeping an eye out for include struggling to get out of bed in the morning; feeling unrested despite having had a long sleep; feeling ‘hangry’ before mealtimes; needing regular naps throughout the day or poor muscle recovery after exercise. If you’ve been following a plant-based diet for a sustained period of time and have noticed a dip in energy levels along with light-headedness, dizziness or dark circles under your eyes, it’s also worth speaking to your GP or a nutritionist for a check-up.” – Ellie Woodhouse-Clarke, nutritional therapist and yoga teacher
Why might you not feel rested after a good night’s sleep?
“Even if you are getting the recommended amount of sleep, it’s still worth considering the quality of your sleep. For example, blue light emissions from your phone, TV and laptop screens can have a significant impact on the production of your sleep hormones, your body’s natural circadian rhythm, and overall sleep quality. To improve your sleep quality, you want to think about a few different things, such as regulating your sleep-wake cycle, considering your sleep environment (e.g. noise, temperature, lighting), winding down before bed, and potentially supplementing with some natural sleep aids. Dimming your lighting in the hour before bedtime can really help, as can as products like Lumie’s Bodyclock light. These are especially brilliant for regulating your body clock during the darker winter months when daylight is reduced. Lumie’s lights have been cleverly designed to mimic a sunrise and sunset, helping you to wake up feeling naturally energised in the mornings and to fall asleep without the disruption from blue light.” - Ellie
If you're sleeping for around eight hours a night and are still tired, what else could be going on?
“Low levels of iron and vitamin B12, both of which can cause anaemia, are some of the most common causes of fatigue in women. Heavy periods, pregnancy and diets low in meat can also put women at an increased risk of low iron levels. Stress, anxiety, hormonal imbalances and issues with blood sugar are also common causes. Lastly, consider whether your body is creating energy efficiently on a cellular level. Within each of our cells are thousands of mitochondria, which are little energy factories where a complex series of reactions take place to create ATP, the energy that fuels our body. The problem is that when these processes don’t work optimally it can really impact on our energy levels.” – Alice
What effect does nutrition have on your energy levels?
“Food can have a huge effect. We often think of wholegrain carbs being the best fuel for energy production, and though this is the case, actually the right fats and protein can also help to fuel our body, so it’s important to get all three food groups from healthy sources, as well as an array of micronutrients from fresh, colourful, wholesome foods to stay healthy and function optimally. Also consider the time of day that you eat. Three regular meals will help regulate our daily cortisol pattern, our metabolism and also discourage energy dips. This is especially relevant to those who like to eat late at night because every single one of our cells has a circadian rhythm. Certain cells are wired to work at night, helping to recharge the body and restore critical systems. The digestive system, for example, should not be taxed with having to digest food at night and doing this can, over time, begin to impact your sleep cycles and energy production. Eating three to four hours before bedtime is a good idea and something to work towards on a few nights per week to enable your body to do the vital housekeeping it needs to do at night. This also helps you to do a 12-hour overnight fast, which is a good thing to work towards for general wellbeing.” – Alice
What should be we eating more, and less, of for optimal energy?
“It’s important to look at the fine print when it comes to eating foods that claim to be healthy, as many ingredients can unknowingly impact energy. Fruit and nut snack bars are a good example, as they often contain high amounts of sugar, which can cause issues with blood sugar, a common cause of energy fluctuations. Other ingredients that sap energy include palm oil, which can negatively impact mitochondrial function, so avoid grain-fed meat (instead go for grass-fed where possible), margarine, vegan cheeses, and also watch out for low-quality chocolate. Trans fats are also best avoided – this includes processed and low-fat foods, margarine, deep-fried foods, ready meals, junk food and processed sauces. On the flipside, these nutrients are important for mitochondrial function – it’s a good idea to get these in the diet regularly:
Omega 3: Aim to eat oily fish three times per week, ideally wild fish.
B vitamins: Found in wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats as well as eggs, mushrooms, dark leafy veg, beetroot, cauliflower and oily fish.
Vitamin C: Aim for at least six portions per day of colourful vegetables and two portions of fruit.
Iron: A good goal is to eat grass-fed beef once every week. Also consider dark poultry meat, beetroot, raw cacao, puy lentils, pumpkin seeds, black rice, and dried apricots and figs.
Magnesium: Found in organic dark green leafy veg, wholegrains, bananas, raw cacao/dark chocolate. Also consider having a bath with Epsom salts a couple of times per week.
Co-Q-10: Consider supplementing this at 50mg per day to support mitochondrial energy, or find in fatty fish, organ meats, pork, beef, chicken, spinach and cauliflower.
Vitamin D: Although found in oily fish, mushrooms and egg yolks, it’s impossible to get enough vitamin D through diet alone. In winter, the UK government recommends supplementing with 400iu D3 daily.
Curcumin: This is the active compound found in turmeric – eat fresh turmeric root in curries and add powder to other dishes, too. A bioavailable supplement can also help.” – Alice
What about caffeine – does this help or hinder energy?
“Caffeine stimulates the release of cortisol, our stress hormone, into the bloodstream. This helps us feel alert and gives us a hit of energy (as well as getting the gut moving) but can it can also suppress appetite and disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, which may impact sleep quality. The best way to manage this disruption is to make sure you eat three meals per day and limit consumption to one coffee and/or one tea per day. Consider replacing with green tea (which contains caffeine, but not as much, and has other compounds that have also been shown to boost concentration and mood, alongside many other health benefits), caffeine-free herbal teas, and infused water. If you currently drink a lot of coffee, cut down slowly (cut back by one for week one, then reduce by two on week two, etc.) to prevent withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. Replace with a nutrient and protein-dense snack if feeling low in energy to help nourish the body and give it a leg up.” – Alice
Are there any other lifestyle factors that are taking their toll on our energy?
“Yes – there is a huge amount of research demonstrating the effects of stress and anxiety on reduced energy levels. This correlation is well documented and explores how stress and anxiety can have detrimental effects on our wellbeing: from poor sleep to poor appetite, hyper-stimulation, muscle tension and fatigue, increased cortisol levels, and poor absorption and gut health issues. All of these can, in turn, have a knock-on effect on energy levels and fatigue. When the body is in a state of stress, it produces an ‘emergency’ response, which causes the release of hormones into the bloodstream in order to appropriately respond to the impending ‘threat’. This is an important natural response that helps us to avoid danger. However, in chronic stress or anxiety, the perceived threat is on-going, meaning the body continues to release cortisol. This is very typical of our highly connected, hyper-stimulated and round-the-clock lifestyles. Longer periods of chronic stress can result in longer episodes of low energy, as the body recovers and replenishes. Similarly, there is a huge amount of research on the correlation between anxiety and stress and disrupted sleep. Unfortunately, this becomes a vicious cycle, since when sleep is disrupted the body fatigues more quickly and you’re more likely to experience low energy and low mood.” – Ellie
Finally – are there any holistic options when it comes to managing stress to boost energy?
“Absolutely. Adaptogenic herbs have been used around the world, especially in Indian and Chinese medicine, to help revitalize and restore energy, and modern evidence shows they work by helping the HPA axis (the stress centre of the body) to work more efficiently, and in so doing aid sleep, anxiety, and energy. Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, schisandra, cordyceps and reishi are all well researched in this area and are worth a try.” – Alice
*Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.