By By Ashley Brigham, RD HealthTrust Wellness Advisor
Do you often feel like you are dragging, unmotivated, or apathetic while at work? Feeling lethargic during the workday is common; in fact, a study of three large companies done by Virgin Pulse reported 76 percent of employees feel tired most days of the week. Fatigue can creep up on anyone at any time and can negatively impact your quality of life. Feeling tired can impede your productivity at work, increase stress levels, and make seemingly simple tasks seem overly complicated. Of course, getting enough sleep at night is important, but the food you fuel your body with every day is also a large, but often overlooked contributing factor to your energy levels. Fueling your body with the right amounts and types of nutrients during the work day can help boost your brain power, rejuvenate your body, and refresh your energy.
Before you reach into the candy jar or grab that extra cookie, hoping for a fast surge of energy, consider some of the following tips for energy boosting success in the workplace.
Include protein in your breakfast.
Eating breakfast is like starting your body’s engine each morning. It can kick start your metabolism, which has been linked to improved food choices throughout the day. Incorporating protein sources such as Greek yogurt (which has twice the amount of protein per serving as regular yogurt), a hardboiled egg or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter into your first meal of the day will help keep your energy level consistent throughout the morning. Pairing your morning protein with a piece of fruit, and a healthy, fiber-rich whole grain such as oatmeal or whole grain toast, will balance your meal and provide your body with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Bulk up the fiber content.
There is nothing worse than having blood sugar (glucose) highs and lows throughout the day. When your glucose goes through these peaks and valleys, your energy levels often follow the same path. Thankfully, incorporating fiber into all meals and snacks will help mitigate the blood sugar roller coaster, and help provide an even energy source throughout the day. Current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 30 grams per day for men. Actual consumption of fiber for the average American is about 15 grams per day—so many of us have room for improvement! Remember to always consume water with fiber rich food sources. Without water, fiber may leave you feeling uncomfortable and bloated. Legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains all are good sources of fiber. To maximize your fiber intake, add legumes to your salads, soups or casseroles, eat fruits and/or veggies with each meal and substitute whole grain foods for refined grains whenever possible.
Try a handful of almonds, or hazelnuts.
Although nuts are known for their high fat content, they are rich in healthy, unsaturated fats, which have been shown to help improve heart health and lower cholesterol. They are also rich in protein and magnesium—a mineral that our bodies need to utilize the sugar in our bloodstream to create energy. Having low magnesium levels can perpetuate fatigue. Other food sources of magnesium include beans, whole grains and dark, leafy greens.
Drink coffee in the morning—But don’t overdo it.
Many Americans eagerly await their morning cup of coffee, and the good news is there is nothing wrong with that! Caffeine, a stimulant found in coffee, can temporarily improve mental sharpness and also has been shown to have other long-term benefits, including possibly delaying onset of Alzheimer’s Disease—according to an article published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Coffee drinkers should be aware that caffeine can stay in the body for up to four to six hours, so enjoy your coffee sparingly in the afternoon and evening hours so you can sleep soundly at night. Note that it is best to drink your coffee black or with a small amount of skim or low fat milk. By adding sugar, cream, and dollops of whipped cream to your caffeinated beverage, you may end up increasing your waistline-not your energy.
Step away from your desk at lunch.
Fewer than 20 percent of American workers regularly step away for lunch, and 39 percent usually eat at their desks, according to a survey done by Right Management. Incorporating a midday break into your schedule to provide new visual stimulation throughout the day can actually increase productivity. A 2008 study, done by the University of Illinois, confirmed that the brain responds better to change, which is why prolonged attention to one task can actually impede performance.
Include lean meats at lunch.
Lean pork and beef, and skinless chicken are sources of complete protein that include the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine, which are both chemicals in the brain that can help alertness and focus. Meats also contain vitamin B-12, which may help ease insomnia and depression.
Drink water throughout the day.
The average adult human body is 60 percent water. Your body uses water to digest food, lubricate your joints, regulate your body temperature, and deliver oxygen to your body parts, among many other functions. Consistently hydrating your body can help ensure your essential bodily functions are running the way they are supposed to which will help increase energy and relieve fatigue. Keeping a bottle of water or other unsweetened/decaffeinated beverage within grasp at all times during the day will serve as a reminder to sip frequently. If you don’t look forward to drinking water, try seltzer water or decaf herbal tea for a different flavor. Spice up your beverage even more by adding a few slices of fresh or frozen fruit, or fresh herbs (lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, mint, and raspberries all work well). Adequate water intake should be half of your weight in ounces, so if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces each day. (Note: this number is for individuals in a “normal” BMI range and numbers may vary depending on presence of some medical conditions).
Consume plenty of fresh produce.
Another way to stay hydrated and energized is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, which are naturally full of water. In the summer, we unknowingly lose water through our skin because of the warmer temperature, which can put us at risk for dehydration. Snacking on apple slices, watermelon, cucumbers or celery, can help replenish some of this lost water and improve our alertness during the day. Other hydrating foods include soup, oatmeal and pasta, which soak up their cooking water.
Eat dark chocolate.
The good news is that consuming a square of dark chocolate after lunch—or any time of day—can have mood elevating effects. Chocolate contains a natural stimulant called theobromine which is similar to caffeine, but does not act as quick or as strong, giving chocolate a mild, lasting energy improving effect.
Don’t forget to exercise!
Try to take a 20-minute walk during the day to boost your levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all brain chemicals which will give you more energy when you get back to your desk. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, swimming or mowing the lawn) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (running or dancing) each week.
The type and amount of food you eat each day can make a lasting impact on daily energy levels, but the hours of sleep you get each night continues to be the primary way to refresh your brain and rejuvenate your energy. Pair a good night’s sleep with smart food choices and you can keep yourself mentally sharp, highly productive, and full of energy all day.
Ashley Brigham, RD, CWWS, is a Wellness Advisor at HealthTrust. Ashley can be reached by phone at 603.226.1306 or my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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