There are various reasons why an individual may wish to increase their energy; perhaps for fitness or a sporting event, or to overcome the sluggish post festive period, whilst for others continual fatigue may be the result of a health condition that creates a personal daily battle. While sugary foods and caffeine can provide a quick energy fix, their results are often short-lived and can lead to energy imbalances through the day.
Making positive lifestyle changes by incorporating these seven tips into your daily routine could help to support your energy levels whilst also benefiting your gut health, said nutritional therapist Claire Barnes.
1. Eliminate food intolerances and all processed foods
If you suspect you have intolerances to certain food groups it is important to remove them to reduce inflammation in the gut, said Claire, who’s the nutritional therapist at Bio-Kult.
She explained: “An inflamed gut is less capable of absorbing nutrients from the diet which may lead to nutrient and energy deficiencies. Undertaking an elimination diet for at least three weeks with the support of a registered Nutritional Therapist could help to identify the culprits whilst reducing the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
“Processed foods often contain artificial ingredients such as emulsifiers, sweeteners and preservatives all of which may cause sensitivities in some individuals, so it is important to cut these foods out altogether.”
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2. Improve absorption
The phrase, ‘you are what you eat’ would actually be better described as, ‘you are what you absorb’, said Claire, as our bodies need to be able to break down and absorb the nutrients from the food we eat in order to utilise them.
She advised: “In order to improve our body’s ability to absorb our foods better, we need to be relaxed as we eat and chew our food well. Whilst our bodies should naturally produce enough of the digestive enzymes we need, some individuals may require some help in stimulating enzymes and seek out foods which contain natural enzymes within them.
“A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted with water before meals may help improve digestion, as would lemon juice or Swedish bitters. Eating foods such as pineapples, mango, papaya and sprouted pulses could also help increase natural digestive enzymes.”
3. Increase beneficial bacteria in your gut
The microbes which live within our gut are understood to play many different functions in our overall health.
The beneficial bacteria feed on undigested food particles (predominantly fibre) and produce extra nutrients that our bodies can then absorb, explained Claire.
She added: “Certain strains of bacteria produce acids as they ferment foods in the gut, which helps lower the pH within the intestines and improves the absorption of minerals from the diet. Eating fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha can help to increase the levels of beneficial bacteria within the gut.
“Taking a daily live bacteria supplement such as Bio-Kult Advanced (www.bio-kult.com) which contains 14 different strains of live bacteria, could also help to support live bacteria levels.”
4. Swap coffee for green tea
Many of us rely on coffee for a quick energy fix. While there are some health benefits to drinking a good quality coffee, some individuals will be able to tolerate it better than others.
Claire said: “If you notice symptoms such as feeling jittery, restlessness or anxious after drinking coffee, you may find more benefit in drinking green tea.
“Green tea still contains caffeine (although generally less than half the amount of coffee) but it also contains antioxidants and an amino acid called theanine which helps to increase our calming neurotransmitter GABA and helps to decrease anxiety. Therefore, theanine from green tea appears to work synergistically with the caffeine, providing a boost of energy whilst also having a calming edge.
“Animal studies have also shown green tea polyphenol intake to benefit the microbes living in the gut.”
5. Eat whole foods cooked from scratch
Aim to increase healthy proteins and fats (grass-fed meats, oily fish, pulses, nuts and seeds) in your diet to keep energy levels balanced through the day and ensure each meal is made up of half a plate of vegetables, said Claire.
“Cooking and preparing meals from scratch allows you to use a variety of different coloured vegetables to gain various antioxidants and a rich fibre supply for the diverse gut microbes living in your digestive system,” she continued.
“Aim to eat three meals a day starting with a large protein-rich breakfast such as poached eggs and mackerel with spinach and avocado, a large dinner such as a spicy vegetable and beef or lentil stew and then a smaller meal in the evening such as hummus, chicken or falafels with a quinoa salad.”
6. Improve your sleep
Although it may not be possible for everyone, especially shift workers, we should aim to achieve a regular pattern of seven to nine hours of restorative sleep each night, advised Claire.
She continued: “So go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
“This should help to balance cortisol levels so that you start the day with high cortisol (full of energy for the day ahead), levels should slowly fall throughout the day so that by the evening cortisol levels have dropped, leaving you feeling relaxed and ready to fall asleep again.
“Your exercise routine should follow the cortisol pattern, undertaking intensive exercise earlier in the day and more relaxing stretching and breathing exercises later in the day.
“Ensure you switch off all electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed and set your phone on aeroplane mode or leave it downstairs through the night. Maintaining a regular sleep pattern, as well as eating meals at regular times through the day helps to keep the body balanced and improve our digestive function and overall gut health.”
7. Reduce stress
While it’s not always possible to avoid stressful situations, we do have the ability to adapt the way we cope with stress.
Claire explained: “While short-term stress increases energy in the body (fight-or-flight response); chronic low level stress means our adrenal glands remain activated releasing stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the bloodstream.
“Persistent adrenaline surges and elevated cortisol levels use up energy stores and increases appetite and storage of fat. Often this can lead to weight gain and low energy.
“Research is better understanding how the gut communicates with the brain and the importance of our gut microbes for modulating neurotransmitters and hormones. Additionally, certain strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus appear to reduce during stressful events.
“So as well as reducing stress levels through lifestyle changes such as exercise, yoga and mindfulness; looking after our gut health, through diet and live bacteria supplements could also benefit our ability to cope better with stress and improve our energy levels. “