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Dietitian recommends foods to boost your energy

Many Americans are exploring growing their own vegetables as they practice social distancing. Those same garden goodies can also help boost your energy levels. Photo: Getty Images

The pandemic has left many of us feeling exhausted! Let’s Get Moving Host, Maria Shilaos, speaks with dietitian, Laura Kohl, from the Utah Health Department about foods that boost our energy.

How important is good nutrition? 

“What we eat obviously effects how we feel and our long term health, but also short term day to day,” stated Laura Kohl. “It is also really important to think about all the little things you can do in your life to make you feel energetic.”

How should we eat? 

According to Kohl, it is important to eat regularly. Every 3-4 hours is best for most people.

“Skipping meals like breakfast or lunch will not help anything,” said Kohl. “Some may be eating more frequently at home or they may be forgetting it more often as more responsibilities keep us distracted.”

Eating regularly is one thing, but also eating balanced is another

According to Kohl, we need to eat at least three food groups, without skimping on carbohydrates. 

“They just have this idea out there that carbs are bad, and that is not true at all. Our brains need carbohydrates to function, said Kohl. “We can start feeling a little mentally foggy if we don’t get enough carbs.”

As stated by Kohl, our muscles prefer carbohydrates for energy.

“If we are depriving them of that energy our body has to resort to less efficient ways to get energy and we might start feeling more lethargic,” stated Kohl.

Good carbs vs bad carbs

Choose your carbohydrates carefully, Kohl advises. Look for carbs that are from whole foods and high in fiber:

  • whole grain bread
  • brown rice
  • whole grain pancakes

“My very own mother, who is quite health conscience, accidentally bought bread she thought was healthy whole grain bread, but the first ingredient is enriched wheat flour, which is not whole grain,” Kohl said.

“Whole” is the magic word when you are looking at that first ingredient. 

“Getting those whole grains are going to stick with you longer and help you digest them a little bit slower,” stated Kohl. “It is kind of that slow release of energy rather than the big spike and then the crash.”

What should you reach for when you need energy?

“It is always good to pair like a fruit a vegetable or a grain with some protein because that will help kind of slow the digestion and give you the slow release energy,” explained Kohl.

Examples of foods that boost your energy: 

  • fruits and veggies 
  • apple and peanut butter 
  • whole grain crackers, string cheese and carrot sticks
  • hummus + crackers
  • low sugar yogurt and berries
  • popcorn

“If you are looking for something a little more snacky, popcorn is great. Popcorn is a whole grain,” explained Kohl. 

Kohl suggested a light microwave popcorn or a healthier pre-popped popcorn.

“Part of the problem is we get bored with foods and we get stuck in a rut,” Maria Shilaos said.  

“When you are really hungry, it often will lead you to chips or candy or something sweet, if you are getting those cravings or urges frequently that is a sign that maybe you aren’t eating enough or you aren’t eating balanced meals,” said Kohl.

“It is good to kind of step back and plan your meals to make sure you are getting those balanced meals,” Kohl said.

Caffeine

“Caffeine can help on a short term basis so you do get that little burst of alertness,” Kohl said. “Long term it is not very helpful for us.”

“Regular caffeine drinkers tend to need more and more caffeine to get us feeling more and more alert because our body gets used to it,” Kohl said. “Then when you get to a point of drinking too much caffeine, that can start really inhibiting your sleep.”

According to Kohl, we start to go overboard with caffeine around 300-400 mg, which can compare to 4 cans of diet coke or 3 cups of coffee.

“It is not a great long term solution,” Kohl said. “One serving of caffeine with low sugar in it is not a problem at all, it is just when we overdo it.” 

What kind of foods should we be avoiding? 

We have gone over examples of what to eat, but we should we avoid when we are looking for foods to boost your energy?

Maintaining energy could be more than just what you are eating, but it is important to make sure we check all of those boxes, according to Kohl.

“I don’t suggest eating large amounts of refined sugar or carbohydrates, for example, candy corn, this time of year,” Kohl said. “You get that really quick sugar boost, but very quickly you are going to crash and possibly feel even worse.”

“Sometimes people respond poorly to a large lunch. If you are getting really sleepy in the afternoon, maybe go lighter on your lunch,” she added. 

Kohl explained that you may need to take a step back and think about what may be causing your fatigue. Is it because you haven’t eaten enough food? Do you need a pick me up snack? Maybe you just need to stand up and walk around the block.

“More often than not it is what we are missing in terms of nutrition rather than what we are doing too much of,” Kohl said.  

Food is not the only factor

There is much more to consider outside of just foods to boost your energy, according to Kohl. 

“If you are not getting enough sleep, no amount of perfect nutrition is going to help you feel your best in terms of energy,” she said. 

She said most people might complain they are too tired to exercise, but she knows people who exercise report more energy. 

Hydration 

“Just being 1% dehydrated can cause us to feel more lethargic. Literally our blood gets thicker and so it just takes us more effort to do what we are doing,” stated Kohl.

It is going to be different for everyone, but anywhere from 7 – 10 cups of water is a proper amount to drink in a day, according to Kohl.

“Easiest rule of thumb is you just want your urine to be light yellow in color and that you are urinating every few hours,” Kohl said. 

The bottom line: you should take into consideration that there are a lot of factors going into how we feel, such as: 

  • having balanced meals
  • drinking enough water
  • adding afternoon snacks
  • getting enough sleep
  • exercising

“These are not all easy things but if can kind of just start working on the little things you will probably notice a difference pretty soon in how you feel,” Kohl said. 

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