Spring is around the corner! The days are getting longer, sunnier and brighter. What if, instead of full of energy, you feel rather fatigued and lethargic? Is even your favourite cup of strong coffee is not helping?
The reason can be in the springtime lethargy.
It’s a state of lowered energy, or even depression, associated with the onset of spring as a reaction to warmer temperatures.
The way you feel can be also a result of diet and lifestyle. What can we do to maintain consistent energy at the end of winter?
We believe that food is the foundation of our wellbeing, so we asked Nutritional Therapist Georgina Robertson what healthy eating and lifestyle habits can we establish to keep
our energy levels up.
Georgina is a West London based Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in women’s health. As a mum of four, she clearly understands the effect that stress, anxiety and poor sleep can have on our health. She also has extensive experience in supporting women with hormone issues from pre-conception to menopause as well as gut, immune and weight management related issues.
NM: Georgina, a lot of people start the New Year with a resolution to live healthier and experience an energy boost at the beginning but not that many stay consistent.
Now at the end of winter, we might feel fatigue and tired. What would you recommend to avoid that?
GR: At this time of the year mid-afternoon slumps can be more significant resulting in people turning to coffee, carbohydrates or sugar to get an energy boost. However, this actually results in energy dips afterwards. One of the key things we need to do if we want to maintain consistent energy levels is to balance blood sugar using diet and lifestyle.
NM: How can we balance the blood sugar levels and why is it so important?
GR: Blood sugar levels may vary throughout the day from being very high after a meal, stimulant or stress, to being very low, for example, if missing breakfast or after exercise. Insulin is a hormone responsible for returning blood sugar levels to within a normal range resulting in consistent energy levels throughout the day. Increased/imbalanced blood sugar levels over a long period can lead to less energy, diabetes, gestational diabetes, obesity, heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, middle weight gain and ageing.
NM: Is it just food that can influence our blood sugar levels?
GR: Different factors can affect energy balance. Foods like refined carbohydrates, sugar and foods low in fibre as well as stimulants like tea, coffee, chocolate, fizzy drinks, energy drinks and alcohol can all lead to energy imbalances. There are also other factors such as family history of type 2 diabetes, stress, insulin resistance, recreational drugs or being overweight for example.
NM: When we have a busy life, we often don’t pay attention to the signals our bodies are giving us. Can you name some symptoms of energy imbalance, which should make us aware something might be wrong?
GR: The following symptoms could be signs of energy imbalance:
- Need more than 8 hours of sleep
- Feeling thirsty
- Frequent need to urinate
- Need a coffee or tea to get going
- Heavy sweating during the day
- Mood swings
- Craving for sweet foods/ carbs
- Energy dips (especially mid-afternoon)
NM: Do you have any diet tips that could be helpful in supporting our energy? What are the Dos and Don’ts?
GR: There are a few basic things that can be done, such as:
- Eat 3 meals and a snack in between main meals if hungry
- Consume protein with every meal and snack – This slows down the absorption of carbs.
- Eat dinner earlier at least 2 hours before going to bed
- Focus on a low glycaemic load (GL) diet. GL takes into account the carbohydrate content of a food, the portion size and glycaemic index, which is a food’s effect on blood sugar levels. Ideally, you should consume energy foods with GL of 15 or below – see www.nutritiondata.com.
Try to avoid the following foods as much as possible:
- Sweets, chocolate, artificial sweeteners
- Hidden sugars in processed foods e.g. cereals, sauces, dressings.
- Fruit and dried fruit – enjoy them with a portion of nuts * or seeds to temper the sugar spike
- Refined carbohydrates: white bread, white pasta, white rice, potato
- Puffed rice cereal or rice cakes
- Processed meats e.g. bacon, salami or high-fat content e.g. red meat
- Hydrogenated fats e.g. biscuits, cakes, packaged food, margarine
- Drinks – squash, fruit juices or smoothies (unless with some protein), fizzy drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, alcohol
ENERGY FOODS TO INCLUDE:
- Complex carbohydrates e.g. wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, oats, barley, millet, sweet potatoes, vegetables
- Sugar alternatives like cinnamon or fruit.
- Protein – Chicken, turkey, oily fish and white fish, eggs, quinoa, legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas), quinoa, protein powders, greens powders, nuts *
- Fibre – Oat bran, flaxseed, vegetables with skin on (organic if skins on), legumes, whole grains, psyllium husk, pectin found in apples
- Good fats (Omega-3s) – Olive oil (cold only), coconut oil (for cooking), avocado oil, nuts * and seeds, oily fish (wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovy, herring), avocado
- Drink 1.5-2 litres of water/ day or herbal teas like liquorice, holy basil, or fenugreek.
There are some key nutrients, which support energy production:
- VITAMIN C – Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, sprouted seeds, black currants, tomatoes, peppers, leafy green vegetables
- B-COMPLEX – Poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts* & seeds and leafy green veg, avocado, citrus fruit
- CHROMIUM – Eggs, chicken, whole grains, fruit and veg, nuts*, cinnamon, black pepper.
- MAGNESIUM – Fish, lentils, cacao, nuts* and seeds, dried fruits, beans, leafy green veg
- ZINC – Oysters, poultry, seafood, eggs, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms.
- MANGANESE – Pineapple, nuts*, brown rice, beans, sweet potato
*Nuts are nutrient dense and an excellent source of protein and omega 3 fats which all play an important role in blood sugar balancing. Activated Nuts though allow your body to absorb more nutrients and are easier to digest than raw and are simply delicious.
NM: Is there anything else apart from food that we could do to improve our energy and wellbeing?
GR: Making some simple lifestyle changes with a particular focus on stress management is really important. Stress releases hormones, cortisol and adrenalin, which provides the body with extra glucose for ‘fighting or fleeing’ from a stressor.
However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose and if this is not then used blood sugar increases.
Some stress management techniques include avoiding technology (smartphones, tablets etc.) 90 minutes before bed and doing something relaxing instead e.g. having a bath, cooking, watching easy-going TV, reading. Practising stillness every day for at least ten minutes by doing 3-4-5 breathing or mindfulness is also really important in our non-stop lives. There are a few apps like Calm and Headspace that help with mindfulness even if you are new to it.
Being active reduces obesity, insulin resistance and stress, which can all imbalance blood sugar.
If you sit all day at work, try to include regular movement breaks.
Moderate exercise is also important, for example, 30 minutes 3-4 times a week.
However, avoiding high cardio activity is critical if stressed as this requires stress hormones to rise to the challenge and can imbalance energy more if someone is already struggling with low energy and can also make losing weight more difficult.
Instead replace it with strength/resistance exercise and restorative classes such as yoga, Pilates and body balance.
A very important part of stress management is sleep because the lack of quality sleep increases blood sugar.
Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep. To reset your internal sleep/wake clock (circadian rhythm), spend at least 20 minutes outside (even if cloudy) within 1-2 hrs of waking. Equally, in the evening, set your phone onto ‘night-time’ mode and create absolute darkness in bedroom e.g. with blackout blinds to boost melatonin that keeps you asleep. Removing all screens from the bedroom and use rather an old type alarm clock for waking or gro-clock is also an idea.
Boosting your energy can be done through making diet and lifestyle changes but maintaining this requires long term consistency.
It is therefore important to start by making a few small changes at a time. Once energy levels improve, you’ll feel motivated to try and incorporate more changes into your daily routine. The combination of a balanced diet, quality sleep, an appropriate movement regime and stress management are key to optimising our wellbeing. However, given that no one solution fits all it’s important to listen to your body about what feels right for you.