We have all been there, where we may feel a little burnt out. Perhaps we’ve been working or studying a little too hard, whilst taking on the additional challenges that life gives us.
Many of us have been “firing on all cylinders” for too long, often sacrificing sleep to keep up with our busy lives and “burning the candle at both ends” so to speak. This can eventually catch up with us and we find ourselves in a state of exhaustion and fatigue.
Rest assured, once we make some necessary and simple changes it’s possible to break the cycle.
Here nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly, owner of Nutrition by Laurann, provides us with some useful and practical nutrition and lifestyle tools to help combat fatigue and regain our energy so we can perform at our very best in work and life.
1) Realise That You Are Only Human - Let’s face it, life can be very demanding and does expect you to be functioning at top form whilst attempting to balance your family, work, social life and all the stresses in between.
You are not super human so don’t be so hard on yourself, it is ok to feel tired. It is also important to take note of when you are fatigued as an indicator or red flag. Tip: Fatigue can be an alarm bell which is telling you to slow down and rest. It is vital to look after yourself so you can continue to function at your best and to prevent yourself from becoming unwell.
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2) Fatigue & Stress - A little amount of stress is actually good for us, it keeps us motivated and gives us the fire to get tasks done. Psychology Today discusses the “Theory of Mental Toughness” and how “experiencing some manageable stressors, with recovery in between, can make us more mentally and physically tough and less reactive to future stress”.
The key here is “recovery in between”. Think about it, when you train your body in the gym your body needs to recover.
Just like you rest your body after a heavy training session you must rest your mind also (we wouldn’t run with a pulled muscle). What happens if we don’t take the opportunity to recover? We burn out. Tip: Allow yourself some guilt free time to rest, particularly during stressful times.
3) The Importance of Sleep – Many of us are well aware of the importance of sleep. Just like food is our fuel, sleep is our battery. Our ability to function also becomes impaired if we’re not getting enough sleep. The American Psychological Association describes how poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood which can prevent us from functioning at our best.
Tip: The body loves routine, so aim to have a set bedtime and wake up time where possible and see how this makes a difference to your energy levels as well as a minimum sleep goal of 7-9 hours.
4) Reduce the Caffeine - Caffeine is a stimulant and has a half-life of 4-6 hours which means it can take twice that amount of time to leave our bodies.
Tip: To increase your chances of a good night sleep, be sure to limit the amount of caffeine (tea, coffee, colas) that you consume later in the day.
5) Avoid Eating Before Bedtime – Yes, it’s true, eating before bedtime is not good for you, not alone will it disrupt your sleep but it also disrupts your digestive and healing processes. Our bodies are meant to go into a state of starvation whilst we sleep. This allows our organs to rest, recover and heal. If we eat before bedtime your body must go into the process of digesting instead of repairing. We also need less energy to sleep as we are at rest and as we are lying down gravity goes against us (being horizontal) and we are less efficient at digesting our food. Tip: Avoid complex meals late in the evening or at night (with the exception of those doing shift work of course), to allow your body to recharge and repair.
6) Choosing Our Fuel - We’re all aware at this stage that we get our energy from food. But it’s important that the energy we consume is also nutritious and provides us with sustainable energy.
- Carbohydrates - Are our main source of energy but it’s about choosing the correct types. 1) Avoid High Sugar Foods: These contain empty calories with little or no nutritional value. These include sugary treats, white breads, white pasta and sugar sweetened beverages - these can cause our blood sugars to crash and lead to sugar cravings. 2) Include Low Sugar & High Fibre Foods: These foods include brown and wholegrain foods such as wholegrain/brown bread, pasta and rice which slowly release sugar into our bloodstream and keep our energy sustained for longer (this is particularly important for any diabetics too and a key to stabilising blood sugar levels).
- Protein - Just like we need our carbohydrates for energy we need a variety of good quality protein for recovery and repair. In fact, virtually every cell in the body is made up of different protein combinations such as muscles, hair, skin and bones at a basic level and hormonal function, immune health, metabolism and oxygen transport to name a few. Tip: The key here is to get a wide variety of protein to meet all the different functions. Good animal based sources would be lean meat, turkey, chicken, oily fish, dairy products, cheese as well as eggs (one of the most bioavailable sources of protein). With plant based sources including lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, rice, oats, soy products and Quorn.
- Healthy Fats - Again, we need some fats in our diet to absorb our fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. Tip: Include nutritious fats in your diet such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, grains, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocados.
These nutritious fats are not alone great for hair, skin and nails (which often suffer with stress) but also circulation, concentration and joint health, an allrounder for supporting your health.
7) Other Nutrients To Help Boost Our Energy
- Magnesium - Can play a major role in combating fatigue. Many of us underestimate the importance of this nutrient (just because it’s a micronutrient it doesn’t mean it’s not important), in fact it’s essential.
It plays so very important roles including energy metabolism, aiding in the absorption of calcium and potassium, muscular, heart and bone health. Magnesium as also been nicknamed “the chill pill” or “natures natural sedative” as it’s been shown to help with anxiety, depression, irritability, headaches, sleeping issues and muscle cramps to name a few. Tip: Dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Recommendation: Magnesium can also be purchased in supplement form in your local pharmacy or health store. I like both the Pharma Nord BioActive Magnesium and the Terra Nova Magnesium Complex
- CoQ10 - Is something we make within our bodies which plays an essential role in converting our food energy (calories) into energy our body can use (ATP), without this we can’t make energy, so it’s kind of important.
Unfortunately, our production of CoQ10 reduces as we get older resulting in a reduced metabolism (making of energy) and increased fatigue. It’s also a powerful antioxidant which can help to protect our cells from oxidative damage. Recommendation: I like The Pharma Nord CoQ10 due to its great absorption levels.
- B Vitamin Complex: The B vitamins play an important role in the production of energy in our body as well as maintaining a healthy nervous system. They’ve also been shown to improve memory and concentration!
Tip: Dietary sources of our B vitamins can be found in meat (especially liver), seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, legumes, leafy greens, seeds and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.
Recommendation: I like the Solgar Vitamin B Complex, however your pharmacist can help you choose the best version for you.
8) Self Care - Okay, so what we’ve started to do here is to fill a toolbox for combating fatigue and improving our energy levels. So far, we have sleep and nutrition but we also need some other tools to help prevent and combat fatigue.
- Schedule Time For Yourself - When your stress is spilling over, your energy levels are low and you’re not able to cope, you may need to practice saying no.
This can be a lot more difficult than we think.
Tip: A great way to practice this is to keep a schedule or diary, put a little time aside per day even if it’s to get some exercise, as it’s important to book time in with yourself too.
- Lists - Can take the pressure off of the already over-functioning brain to try and having to try and remember everything.
Tip: Try freeing up some brain space by keeping the list beside your bed, if there’s anything you begin to think of as your dropping off to sleep (naturally that’s when most of our amazing ideas come) write it down, that way you don’t have to worry about remembering it in the morning.
It also helps to create a list of “urgent” and “not urgent” and you’ll get great satisfaction ticking off each task.
- Talk - It’s so important to talk, fatigue can be stressful, the smallest stress when bottled up can become the biggest problem and you’ll often find when you’ve said it out loud it’s not as bad as you think it is.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know there are plenty of confidential helplines (in Ireland call Samaritans on 116 123 or Aware on 1800 80 48 48) for full support.
So now we have a full tool-kit to help prevent and combat fatigue and boost our energy levels through nutrition and lifestyle strategies to keep us strong in the face of stress and allow us to take on the world.
Laurann O’Reilly is a qualified and experienced nutritionist with a BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from University of Nottingham and an MA in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin.