We can’t change the number of hours we have in a day. But we can change the energy we bring to those hours. That’s why I do my best to get a good dose of quality sleep (more on that to come) and make sure I exercise every day.
But I’ve noticed there are days when I can tick both the sleep and exercise boxes and still be struggling to find the energy to concentrate and be productive—especially in the afternoon.
When this happens, it’s usually because I’ve missed another crucial piece of the puzzle—good nutrition.
Of course, thanks to the media and the internet it’s hard to even know what ‘good nutrition’ is these days. Is it eating Paleo? Ditching gluten? Fasting two days a week?
Forget all those things. Good nutrition for a maximum energy day is much easier to achieve than you might think. Here are my eight best tips:
1. Start your day with two big glasses of water
This might seem pretty random but it was part of a health challenge I once did, and it made such a difference to my life it’s now a habit.
The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is head to the kitchen and have two really large glasses of water. Rather than trying to knock them back in one minute, I spend 10-15 minutes scrolling through Instagram or Facebook while I drink. It’s a chilled way to start the day, and those fluids seem to get my whole system going (in a good way).
And even if I forget to drink any more water for the rest of the day (which can happen), those two big glasses really seem to go the distance.
2. Have a green smoothie for breakfast
If there’s one great thing you can do for both your health and your energy levels right now, it’s to stop having cereal for breakfast. Every breakfast cereal on the market (other than rolled oats and Weet-Bix) is loaded with sugar. And chances are you add sugar to rolled oats and Weet-Bix for taste anyway.
The other problem with cereal is it’s not designed to get you through to lunch. By 10:30am you’re running out of energy, and need a snack/morning tea to keep you going. So much so, we all think needing a snack around 10:30am is ‘normal’.
Enter the green smoothie. The beauty of these (when they’re made well) is that they tick so many boxes. Even the most basic recipes provide plenty of fluids and 1-2 serves of vegetables. If you add good-quality protein powder and some healthy fats, you have a more ‘complete’ meal that can get you all the way to lunch. (Well, once you break the habit of heading to the biscuit jar at 10:30am every day.)
What do you put in a green smoothie?
Head to swishdesign.com.au/green for a helpful guide and free download.
3. Always take a lunch break
By this I mean ‘get away from your desk at lunchtime’. While we all tend to eat lunch, too many of us eat it at our desks—one hand holding a sandwich while the other taps away on the keyboard.
That’s not great for our energy levels later in the day.
It’s really important to move away from your desk and try to eat your lunch in a mindful fashion. All you need is ten minutes to give your brain a rest and ensure it picks up on the fact you’ve actually eaten. Believe me, you’ll get those ten minutes back many times over in the afternoon.
4. Don’t buy your lunch from the lunch bar
I’m not saying there aren’t any healthy options at that lunch bar. There probably are. But when you’re faced with the choice between delicious hot chips and a healthy salad, the hot chips will generally win out. Then you’ll spend so much time berating yourself for your lack of willpower over those chips that you’ll struggle to get all your work done in the afternoon.
5. Understand that it’s okay to feel hungry
The ready availability of food in the modern world means it’s very easy for us to ‘graze’ our way through the day. Which means that if you’re anything like me you’ll head for the pantry or fridge at the first grumble of your stomach.
The problem is that the more food choices we have to make over the course of a day, the harder it is to make them all good ones. And another thing: if our stomachs spend all day processing food then guess what? We’re going to feel sluggish and slow all day.
So learn to understand the difference between being peckish and being hungry. If you’re eating three truly nourishing meals a day (more on that in a second), any tummy rumblings outside your regular meal times are most likely peckishness—something that can be quickly banished with a big glass of water.
6. Stop eating from packets
If you’re eating something from a packet, there’s a good chance it contains added sugar, preservatives and half a dozen ingredients you can’t even pronounce.
None of these are good for your health. They adversely affect the way your body functions, and anything that does that will affect your energy levels too. So try and eat food you’ve made from scratch as much as possible.
And for those times when it isn’t possible, stick to packet foods that:
- Have less than 5% sugar
- Don’t contain preservatives
- Have a minimal number of ingredients
- Don’t contain ingredients with numbers, or names you can’t pronounce.
7. Embrace good fats
Ah, fat. The mortal enemy for as long as I’ve been alive. Thankfully, most of us have now caught on to the fact that it’s not fat that’s making us fat. It’s our penchant for packaged and processed foods that are high in sugar and other weird things (such as those ingredients with numbers and names we can’t pronounce).
So, why should you embrace good fats? Well, one of their many benefits is they make you feel fuller for longer and stop you running to the pantry every five minutes.
How do you get more good fats into your diet? Eat full-fat dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter) rather than the low-fat alternatives. Add half an avocado and/or a handful of nuts to your salads. Make your own salad dressings from olive, macadamia or avocado oil rather than using commercial dressings. And add a tablespoon of coconut oil to your green smoothie.
8. Time your caffeine hits for maximum effect
If you’ve been a coffee drinker for any length of time, it probably has very little impact on your energy levels and mental alertness (unless you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine). But with the right timing, even the most habitual coffee drinkers can get a caffeine boost.
How do you time your caffeine hit right? By having it when your cortisol levels are at their lowest. So, rather than having a coffee first thing in the morning when your cortisol levels are naturally high, time it for mid-morning and mid-afternoon when they’ve taken a dip.
But limit yourself to just coffee or tea. Having a sugar-filled biscuit as well will cancel out the energy boosting effect of your well-timed coffee break.