Change Your Eating Habits for Higher Energy Levels

When you’re passionate about leading an active and fulfilling life, feeling energized is key. However, many healthy people experience energy loss as they reach middle age.

Fortunately, fine-tuning how you eat and supplementing with the right nutrients can make all the difference. Here are tips to improve your daily nutrition habits, discover a sustained energy boost and reclaim your vitality.

Increase Meal Frequency

Nutrition plays a significant role in helping us manage our energy levels. From how often we snack to the foods we reach for, how and what we eat either helps or hinders the way we feel.

Eating too much—or not eating enough—can send the wrong message to our bodies. Nutritionist Tara Gidus Collingwood says that it’s best to eat every three to four hours. This can help maintain metabolism and muscle mass while curbing unhealthy cravings. It’s also important that these meals are well portioned for your personal needs. Rather than eating until you’re too full, it’s best to eat until you’re comfortably full, not stuffed, each time.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast

Skipping breakfast seems like an easy way to maintain a healthy weight. However, foregoing this important meal actually contributes to the epigenetic factors that cause telomere shrinking. Without breakfast, you’ll get fewer of the important nutrients you need and experience unhealthy cravings later in the day.

Nutritionist Resource explains that without breakfast, you’ll likely feel tired. In turn, you might reach for high-sugar foods to give yourself a boost. Inevitably, you’ll experience a sugar crash and additional cravings for unhealthy foods—this vicious cycle is one of the most common forms of vitality theft.

Instead of waiting until noon to eat your first meal of the day, eating protein and whole grains in the morning sets the tone for increased physical and mental endurance. “Eating breakfast is like starting a fire in your body by kickstarting your metabolism,” explains nutritionist Amy Goodman. Even if you’re not big on breakfast, consider adding a small meal that includes eggs, peanut butter or fruit to your morning routine. Eating the right breakfast protects you against aging because it helps you eat healthy and feel energized throughout the day.

Cut Down on Caffeine

Refining your morning routine to include a balanced breakfast will keep your mind and body sharp. However, too much coffee in the morning can negate these positive effects.

Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, warns against the effects of over caffeination: “Caffeine blocks brain receptors for adenosine, a molecule that induces fatigue. Over time, your body responds by producing more adenosine receptors, resulting in stronger, longer lasting fatigue.”

Apovian adds that caffeine from coffee and tea can be healthy and helpful—but in moderation. She suggests only drinking coffee before noon, sticking to two cups or less and omitting sweeteners.

Hands of a young man holding a mug of tea or coffee

Know Which Nutrients are Energizing

It’s also important to ensure that your smaller, more frequent meals are balanced with energy-boosting nutrients. Healthline journalist Brian Krans explains that proper nutrition allows your body to remain free of the diseases and infections that become more common with age.

So, what nutrients do we need in order to stay healthy and combat fatigue? According to nutrition experts, fiber, fatty acids, protein and iron can all boost your energy levels.

Fiber

Fiber helps stabilize your blood sugar and keep energy levels consistent. Writer Bianca Mendez points to foods such as lentils and berries as great sources of fiber.

Fatty Acids and Protein

This same stabilizing effect can be achieved by eating more fish and nuts, which provide essential omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Additionally, registered dietitian Jim White suggests balancing these types of protein-rich foods with whole grains to prolong energy levels throughout the day. However, when you reach for whole grains, White advises you avoid pastries, cereals and breakfast bars—these often contain hidden sugar.

Iron

Nutritionist Elaine M. Hinzey notes that an iron deficiency can make you feel tired and cause you to experience weakness, headaches and shortness of breath. To make sure you’re getting enough iron, Hinzey recommends adding iron-rich vegetables like brussels sprouts, potatoes and peas to your diet.

Nutritionist Leslie Beck also suggests amping up your intake of animal-based protein. For example, you may try eating more beef, chicken, turkey and pork loin. She also recommends a variety of fish and seafood that can boost iron levels, including halibut, tuna, oysters and clams. Vegetarian proteins like soybeans, tofu and beans are also helpful for increasing iron levels in those who don’t eat meat.

Using this meal-balancing strategy is one of the best ways you can ward off fatigue and keep your mind clear and strong.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a common cause of fatigue, and it’s inextricably tied to our eating and drinking habits.

UK-based general practitioner Dr. Roger Henderson says many of the patients he sees for fatigue are in fact experiencing dehydration. Henderson stresses that it’s important to take a proactive approach to hydration. This will keep you hydrated, alert and active before symptoms of dehydration start to occur.

Why? Because thirst and hunger share similar symptoms, clinical psychologist Danyale McCurdy-McKinnon explains. Failing to drink enough water can cause you to feel hungry and tired, even when you’ve eaten enough. This can result in overeating and continued dehydration, which can cause you to feel even more tired.  

New York City-based food and nutrition writer Susan Learner Barr agrees that dehydration plays a major role in our our energy levels. Without enough fluids, she says, it’s possible to experience light-headedness, dizziness or confusion.

If you feel hungry and tired shortly after you’ve eaten, you may actually be experiencing thirst. To differentiate between these symptoms, McCurdy-McKinnon suggests drinking some water first. If you’re still hungry after hydrating, it’s probably time to reach for a healthy snack.

Variety of frosted donuts with blue, chocolate, and strawberry icing

Reach for Healthier Snacks

We are all guilty of turning to some chocolate or a sweet snack whenever we feel tired. These sugary fixes give us an energy boost—but only for a short period of time.

Health.com Editor at Large Amy O’Connor explains that foods high in refined sugar can actually deplete our energy stores. Even if you don’t eat candy on a daily basis, there could be added sugar hiding in your daily diet. For example, soda in mixed drinks and sweetened coffee creamer are common culprits.

Snacking smartly isn’t just a short-term fix for fatigue—it’s a healthy habit that can improve your life for years to come. Health writer Karen Appold explains that healthy snacks are essential to curbing the negative effects of sugar cravings. Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes and other harmful conditions—all of which threaten vitality and shorten telomere length.

To avoid the rapid blood sugar crash associated with eating sweets and other forms of unhealthy food, turn to protein-rich snacks. Wellness writers Stacey Colino and Tehrene Firman suggest dried edamame, a handful of nuts, or Greek yogurt topped with berries. Swapping your regular junk food cravings for more filling foods will provide the nutrients you need to keep your energy levels high.

images by: Brodie VissersMatthew HenryBrooke Lark