Advice from 31 Experts: How to Maintain Energy Throughout the Day
A problem that most of us face is simply trying to conjure the energy and drive to be at our best all day long. Sometimes, just trying to make it over the 3 o’clock post-lunch hump on a workday is exhausting.
The things that sap our energy are numerous: Our bosses, our diets, our lifestyles, our myriad stressors. That’s why we have rounded up advice from a number of experts that cover multiple facets of exhaustion on how to overcome them.
Here is advice from 31 different professionals on how to keep up your energy levels on even the most hectic days.
Things You Should Be Eating and Drinking
Nutritionist Kate Geagan says drinking water is one of the best bang-for-your-buck sources of energy. “As little as 2% dehydration can leave you crankier, less able to concentrate, and feeling more sluggish,” she writes at CamelBak.com
Jason Fitzpatrick writes in LifeHacker that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it comes exactly at the time of day you need to eat the most. “When you wake up in the morning, 6-8 hours without food or water is when you would most benefit from a hearty meal, not when you’re cruising towards bedtime.”
Jenny Sugar at FitSugar notes that chronic fatigue is a symptom of iron deficiency, which could be a root cause if you struggle to find the energy to make it through the day. “Our bodies need iron to make hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen,” she writes. “If your cells aren’t getting oxygen, then aside from feeling like you need a nap, you may also have pale skin, dizziness, and frequent headaches.”
Mark Sisson, formerly an elite endurance runner and now a health and fitness blogger, writes on his own blog that omega-3 acids help the body more efficiently store glycogen, one of its primary power sources. Sisson recommends adding salmon, tuna or any other fatty fish to your diet for more omega-3s. Also, you could consider prescription-grade fish oil supplements.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick points out on the WellnessFX blog that most American adults get an insufficient amount of magnesium, which is an important mineral for energy production at the cellular level, in the mitochondria. “Your mitochondria … supply fuel to every single type of cell in your body, from muscle to neuron, to keep your cells functioning at their best,” Dr. Patrick writes.
High-fiber foods tend to get digested more slowly, which allows the energy from those foods to be introduced to your body at a more moderate, sustained rate. As Dr. Samantha Heller notes in Men’s Fitness, “Cardiff University [UK] researchers found that men with high-fiber diets have less fatigue than men with lower-fiber diets.”
Small Meals in General
Internal medicine specialist Dr. Jeremy E. Kaslow writes on his own blog that eating five small meals a day allows the body to pace itself, as digestion itself puts the biggest energy demands on most people’s bodies.
“Give your energy generator a chance to keep up with digestion by not overwhelming it when you eat a large meal,” Dr. Kaslow writes. “Avoid overwhelming your body with too much to do at one time.”
Things You Should Avoid
UCLA researcher Aaron Blaisdell found in a 2014 study that junk food consumption clearly correlated with fatigue (and laziness.) “Our data suggest that diet-induced obesity is a cause, rather than an effect, of laziness,” he wrote in a press release when the study was published. “Either the highly processed diet causes fatigue, or the diet causes obesity, which causes fatigue.”
Kris Gunnars writes on his blog, Authority Nutrition, that processed carbs cause your energy levels to spike temporarily, then when you crash you begin to crave more of those carbs. It’s a downward spiral trying to power yourself with these kinds of foods (white breads, pastas, etc.). “This phenomenon is also called the ‘blood sugar roller coaster,’” he says.
Too Much Caffeine
Maria Konnikova at The New Yorker writes that not only is caffeine a penny-wise/pound-foolish energy source, it also inhibits creativity. But leave the creativity problem aside for now, as well as the spike/crash nature of caffeine energy. The biggest potential problem for those who drink too much caffeine? Sleep deprivation.
“In one study,” she writes, “consuming two hundred milligrams of caffeine significantly increased the amount of time it took for people to fall asleep later that night.” And how do many sleep-deprived people get an energy boost in the morning? More coffee!
Too Many Energy Drinks
Energy drinks in moderation and at appropriate times, say before a workout, are fine, says nutritionist Natalie Johnson in a post at Breaking Muscle. Problems arise, however, when you drink an immoderate amount of the stuff, especially if you have an underlying condition such as high blood pressure.
“Insomnia, anxiety, headache, dehydration, rapid heart rate, seizures, and even cardiac arrest have been associated with energy drink consumption,” she points out, though these side effects are mostly limited to abuse of the drinks. As with simple caffeinated drinks, just don’t overdo it or base your energy supply on these drinks.
Also at Breaking Muscle — a good site to bookmark, by the way — fitness professional Jeff Kuhland recommends that the average person stay away from energy bars. These are not a good way to get over the 3 o’clock workday lull.
“Energy bars should not be a snack during the day,” he writes. “You wouldn’t put jet fuel in your car, so don’t use jet fuel when you plan on sitting on your butt.”
You probably already know that exercise is a great way to keep your energy levels up. But simply saying, “Go workout!” isn’t very helpful. Instead, here is some useful expert advice on incorporating regular exercise into your week so that you can develop a sustainable energy reserve.
Get a Routine and Stick to It
Fitness expert Roger Lawson tells LifeHacker that people who are struggling to get into an exercise routine need to just aim for one or two exercise days per week at first. The key is to build a positive feedback loop and develop good habits.
“Set the bar low so that you can build up initial success and build the self confidence and examples of winning that you’ll need once things get harder.”
Group Exercise for Accountability
Peer pressure can be a positive thing. Running or training with a group can actually motivate you AND help you achieve better outcomes. As sports psychologist Dr. Cindra Kamphoff tells Runner’s World: “When you run with others, you tend to give more effort. You get caught up in the pace, and you might not recognize how fast you’re going.
UK-based yoga teacher Justine Glenton offers a handful of yoga postures on Health And Fitness Travel that actually combat fatigue and boost energy levels by releasing a specific chemical that naturally occurs in your body, cortisol.
“Some yoga poses are excellent to reduce fatigue and adjust the hormone cortisol, too little of which can zap your energy,” Glenton writes.
Make Time For Friends
Personal finance author Greg Go writes on Zen Habits that we humans draw energy from being around our friends. “Turn off the Internet and go socialize with friends,” he writes. “Humans are social animals, and we need regular socializing to keep ourselves in peak health and energy.”
When you are at work, apply the same idea above to break time: Hang out with some coworkers around the water cooler or the coffee machine, even if just for a few minutes.
Make Time For Intimacy
Former Forbes writer (and current editor at BusinessInsider) Jenna Goudreau spoke with hormone specialist Dr. Eva Cwynar in 2012, and Dr. Cwynar told her that sex is a great way to boost energy levels.
“It stimulates brain function, burns calories, increases oxygenation, boosts immunity and relieves stress and depression,” Dr. Cwynar said.
Manage Your Workday Routine
Wear Something Bright
Wearing colorful clothes give us a jolt of energy. Women’s Health Magazine senior fashion editor Thea Palad tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that colorful clothing motivates and reinforces energy levels. “We have an instinctive, positive reaction to bright colors, whether we’re picking strawberries or sports bras,” she says.
Take Small Breaks During the Day
Kansas State researcher Sooyeol Kim found that even taking a “microbreak” to play with your phone — to message a friend, to play a quick game — improves the well-being of employees.
“We need to understand how we can help people recover and cope with stressors,” Kim said. “Smartphones might help, and that is really important not only for individuals but for an organization, too.”
Don’t Work Through Lunch
Michael Kerr, speaker and author of the book Humor at Work, tells Forbes.com that people need to be vigilant about their lunch breaks and not to let work concerns creep into that precious time.
“It’s critical to make the most of lunch and remind yourself that by taking a proper break you will accomplish more in the long run, and that productivity and creativity will increase, while your levels of stress and fatigue will diminish,” Kerr says.
In Fact, Go Get Some Fresh Air During Lunch
Employee management professional James Adonis says that business lunches and trips downstairs to the deli counter don’t cut it, either.
“The whole idea of a lunch break is that you get out, breathe in some fresh air, do a bit of exercise, read a book, listen to music, anything,” he tells Australian newspaper The Age. “Just don’t work.”
Fight the Urge to be a Perfectionist
Easier said than done, sure, but realize that perfectionism is a self-limiting tendency. In particular, writes retired rehabilitation therapist Rekha Shrivastava, perfectionism tends to leave people feeling ill at ease, or not at peace.
“When you are at peace, your energy level [is] different, and you will also have more enthusiasm in doing your assignment or project,” she writes on her blog, Cognitive Healing. “This will also ensure better results and also facilitate satisfaction with the outcome of your project or assignment.”
Be Able to Say “No”
Life coach Celestine Chua nails the downside of people-pleasing perhaps as succinctly as anyone can: “When you say yes to something you don’t enjoy, you say no to things that you love,” she writes on her company blog.
Clean Up Cluttered Spaces at Home or Work
Psychologist Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter tells Psychology Today that clutter actually has many negative health effects … but let’s just focus for now on what it does to your stress levels, and thus your energy reserves.
“Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done,” is one of the key points she makes.
Take Time to Relax
There are whole books written about this topic. “Just relax” is one of those commands that is often much easier said than done because relaxing is such a personal thing. We recommend the post “40 Ways to Relax in 5 Minutes” by writer Shana Lebowitz at Greatist as a starting point for anyone who is having trouble relaxing.
Bedtime and Sleep
One of the pillars of good health in general is making sure you get enough quality sleep at night. Here are a few habits to either adopt or kick to help ensure that seven or eight good hours of sleep are available to you each night.
Avoid Alcohol Late in the Evening
“Part-time insomniac” Ethan Green at No Sleepless Nights points to research that suggests while alcohol will help a person fall asleep faster, it ultimately interrupts the restorative phase of sleep, the rapid-eye-movement phase.
“When the first cycle of REM sleep is delayed, there could be an impact on the level of quality ‘restorative’ sleep you get,” he writes. “This is then linked with lower mood and energy levels the next day.”
Don’t Check Emails On Your Phone in Bed
It’s not just the stress from being tethered to your smartphone that affects your sleep, though that is certainly a problem for many people. Health researcher and author Chris Kresser points out that the actual light from your cell phone can inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you regulate sleep cycles.
“The sleep disruption caused by these light emitting devices is significant and potentially harmful to your health,” Kresser writes on his blog.
Dim the Lights as Bedtime Approaches
Similarly, don’t have your lights on full-blast up until the moment you hop in bed. The light coming from your lamps, ceiling lights, etc. also suppress that melatonin you need to sleep well. “So, the takeaway here is to turn off your screens at least an hour before bed … and keep the lights dim during the same time period,” fitness writer Lisa Johnson implores on her blog.
Pets Might Need Their Own Sleeping Places
Having a pet is a great way to reduce stress … at least in the big scheme of things. This is not quite so apparent, though, when your boxer or golden retriever jumps up on the bed with you at 3 a.m.
Maintain the Same Sleeping Schedule During Your Weekends
You are not likely to make up an accumulated sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekends, Dr. Michael Breus, “The Sleep Doctor,” writes in Psychology Today.
“Relying on weekends to make up sleep lost during the week won’t fully restore health and function,” he writes. “In particular, you should not expect your attention and focus to bounce back after a couple of days of extra sleep.”
A Little Cold in the Face to Wake Up
As Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness point out, even Roald Amundsen and his crew, the first explorers to reach the South Pole, had to contend with what Amundsen called “morning peevishness.” His solution? A nice blast of Antarctic wind to the face.
Absent a polar chill, you can always splash a little cold tap water on your face whenever you’re feeling groggy.