We work, plan, organise, and go, powering ourselves with coffee and sheer willpower. Until we pass out on the couch in a haze. Experts suggest that more of us are dealing with energy concerns as a result of the poor economy, which has us working more and plugged in longer, and the belief that we can have it all (so what if we’re up until midnight doing it).
“Like houseplants, our energy reserves require frequent replenishment,” explains Michelle Segar, PhD, associate director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls.
To the rescue: techniques that will keep you going—and, thankfully, don’t require much effort.
Stay energised throughout the morning.
What works against your morning karma: “We’ve been virtually starving all night,” says Gregory Dodell, MD, a New York City endocrinologist.
Dr. Dodell adds, “At the same time, we experience spikes in cortisol and testosterone, key chemicals for energy that help start us going.”
You want to refuel and get the most out of your hormone high. Lights, please! Breakfast action!
Don’t put it off any longer.
When your alarm goes off in the morning, it’s so tempting to push snooze. The problem is that “falling back asleep could disrupt the hormone cycle, making it more difficult to get up,” according to Dr. Dodell.
Set your alarm for 15 minutes later—and keep your clock across the room so you can’t silence it.
Allow light to enter.
“Light, whether artificial or natural, helps enhance the body’s wake-up processes,” says Michael Terman, PhD, director of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center’s Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms in New York City. Roll up the shades or turn on the lights if it’s still dark outside.
Terman suggests using “cool white” or “daylight” compact fluorescent bulbs. “CFLs with these colour temperatures emit a white light closer to outside light than the yellowish sort from incandescents,” he adds, adding that they’re not just excellent for Mother Earth.
Take things slowly.
“You’re fatigued right out of the gate when you roll out of bed and into the frenzied pace of getting everyone ready,” says Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-mail in the Morning.
Shower and get dressed 15 minutes before the kids get up. “Facing an onslaught of to-dos can be a significant drain if you haven’t cleaned your thoughts first,” says one expert.
Make a move.
Not a morning person? Rethink your workout routine. People who practised low-intensity aerobic activity (imagine a leisurely walk) three times a week had lower fatigue levels than those who did higher-intensity workouts (think a faster-paced walk with hills) for the same period of time, according to a University of Georgia study.
A rigorous workout can be more tiring than energising if you tend to drag in the morning or are generally weary. “A high-intensity workout requires you to waste a lot of energy, leaving your body exhausted,” explains exercise expert Michael Bracko, EdD.
Regular exercise raised energy levels by 20% on average, according to the study.
Increase your breakfast consumption.
“You get a short stimulant from the caffeine and a quick boost from the carbs—a prescription for a crash,” says Ashley Koff, RD, coauthor of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged.
Instead, choose a combination of unrefined carbohydrates (for quick energy), lean protein, and healthy fats (which take longer to digest, giving you more staying power). Consider scrambled eggs in a whole-grain tortilla or nut-topped oatmeal.
Work in sections.
Don’t sit in your desk chair all day—your body requires mobility to switch channels and get oxygen flowing (so you can respond to request No. 5,739 from the boss).
“Most of us can’t focus on one work for more than 90 minutes anyhow,” says Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of the Energy Project, a business productivity organisation.
Instead of emailing, get up and chat to people—or at least stand when on the phone.
Maintain your enthusiasm throughout the afternoon.
It’s official: You’re human if your energy level drops between 2 and 4 p.m.
“The morning burst of hormones is levelling out, and many individuals eat a huge lunch and then stay at a desk for the remainder of the afternoon, all of which can lead to a slump,” Dr. Dodell explains. A little exercise and some strategic eating will help.
At lunchtime, take a multivitamin.
Add a B-complex supplement for added energy. “We do receive an energy boost from vitamins,” Koff points out, “but we normally don’t notice since most of us wash them down with coffee or tea.”
This isn’t an excuse to have a multi and a soda for lunch; you’ll need some calories, preferably from a well-balanced meal, for sustained energy throughout the afternoon.
Carbs aren’t your enemy.
Salad greens with chicken are delicious, but without carbohydrates, there is no rapid energy. Add a piece of fruit or black beans for added carbs and protein.
Avoid fatty foods.
You’ve heard of the Cheeseburger Effect, the cloud that follows a big lunch.
“When blood samples are tested after people consume heavy meals, they almost seem creamy,” explains Donald Hensrud, MD, a Mayo Clinic preventive medicine and nutrition specialist. “The fat in this blood may displace oxygen.” In a nutshell, ugh.
If you’re one of the 34% of workers who eats lunch at work, consider this: Vitamin D is increased by exposure to sunlight, and studies suggests that optimal amounts may aid in energy maintenance. Experts believe D aids in the regulation of metabolism and insulin production, both of which affect energy levels.
“Do arm circles in the middle of the afternoon,” Bracko suggests. “Even ankle circles will help circulation if you’re stuck in a cubicle.”
Accept the snack attack.
Protein and fibre will help to prolong the blood sugar rise. Koff’s trail mix recipe includes nuts, high-fiber cereal, hemp seeds, coconut, and dark chocolate chips.