Exhausted? You’re not alone. We asked a trio of experts to provide their top 10 fatigue-fighting tips for tackling the symptoms of tiredness
It's a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another. Whether at 8am or 8pm, weekday or weekend, why are so many of us lacking in energy on such a regular basis?
“There is a common misconception that energy ‘in’ automatically means energy ‘out’ but actually the process of producing energy is much more complex and also more vulnerable to malfunction than many might think,” explains nutritional therapist and Get The Gloss Expert Henrietta Norton .
“Our body produces energy from our food, via ‘power factories' called the mitochondria. These power factories are found in all cells in our body, in fact, some cells have more than one. However, a deficiency in micronutrients such as magnesium or vitamin B12 and iron for example, or insufficient macronutrient intake, such as protein or healthy fat from the diet can affect how well these factories work.
“The availability of these micro and macro nutrients can be greatly influenced by how effective our digestive system is in making these available to us as well as the way we cook our food. But they can also be affected by medication such as regular use of NSAIDS or statins for example. Irregular eating patterns and a greater ‘energy’ demand than the body can keep up with (think those especially stressful periods at work coupled with a demanding workout routine) can also affect our energy levels.”
A problem affected by both internal and external factors, we asked a trio of experts for their top diet, sleep and fatigue-fighting fitness tips to serve as a wake-up-call for all walking zombies among us (*sleepily raises hand. Presses snooze button*).
1. Switch up your exercise routine
“Exercise and movement help us to release ‘happy’ hormones called endorphins, but it can be best to avoid more vigorous exercise such as spinning, fast running or squash if you are going through a very stressful time or suffer from fatigue,” recommends Henrietta. “These types of activities tend to further over-stimulate the adrenal glands. Instead, try brisk walking, swimming, a dance class or yoga. These ‘calmer’ kinds of exercise are more likely to put the nervous system into a desirable parasympathetic state; away from the more ‘panic’ or anxiety-inducing mode of the sympathetic nervous system which is very energy demanding.”
Furthermore, opting for more high intensity exercise before bed could prove counterproductive for encouraging healthy sleep patterns. “Try and wind your body down, not up, at the end of the day,” recommends Founder of Clean and Lean and Bodyism James Duigan . “Think about doing Pilates or yoga rather than high intensity exercise after work. High intensity is great, but if you've had a stressful day, doing exercise which produces cortisol is only going to make you more stressed - the opposite of what you need to get you ready for a good night's sleep.” What does James personally like to do? “I like to do some yoga and relax before bed. As I always say, if it sounds crazy, it is crazy - so running around for 45 minutes a few hours before bed is exactly that!”
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2. Boost your B vitamins
“As well as magnesium, B vitamins are essential for energy production and for the normal functioning of the nervous system,” explains Henrietta. “Vitamin B5 in particular is needed for production of the glucocorticoid hormones in the adrenals, such as cortisol which supports brain function. Good sources include wholegrains, eggs, beans and lentils, a wide range of vegetables, fish and meats (choose good quality or organic meat).”
3. Get your vitamin C fix
“Vitamin C is another nutrient that is vital for the production of energy. Fruits and vegetables are the best source but, contrary to popular belief, oranges do not have the highest levels; better sources include peppers, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress and red cabbage,” highlights Henrietta.
Unwanted blood sugar highs and lows, which are triggered by cortisol, can leave us feeling very tired and foggy-headed
4. Re-stabilise your blood sugar levels
Blood sugar fluctuations can prove to be energy’s biggest slayer. How so? “Unwanted blood sugar highs and lows, which are triggered by cortisol, can leave us feeling very tired and foggy-headed,” explains Henrietta. “This stimulates appetite and cravings for high-sugar, high-carbohydrate foods (which can stress your body and adrenal glands further).”
To re-balance bloody sugar levels, Henrietta recommends the following:
• "Eat foods high in protein with every meal and snack. Protein slows down the breakdown of foods and absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. Protein foods include: eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.”
• “Healthy fats may also help to slow down the absorption of glucose. Good sources include oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocadoes; and good quality, cold-pressed oils such as olive oil, flaxseed oil and hemp oil (always use flaxseed or hemp oil on cold or warm foods, never for cooking with; and ideally use olive oil only at low temperatures)."
• "Always have breakfast, even if it is a bit later in the morning, and make sure it contains a good amount of protein. If we skip breakfast, blood sugar can drop very low by mid-morning. This puts strain on the adrenals, which have to manufacture more cortisol to get our blood sugar back up again; prompts us to reach for a sugary snack; and once more kicks off the blood sugar rollercoaster. This can also happen if we have a sugary or carbohydrate-based breakfast such as pastry, toast with jam, or breakfast cereal (even oats, without adding a source of protein to them). Good protein breakfasts include anything egg-based such as poached eggs or omelette; porridge oats with plenty of nuts or seeds added; grilled sardines or mackerel and grilled tomatoes and mushrooms."
• "Eat every 4 hours. This will help to stabilise blood sugar levels and if you are eating good quality meals every 4 hours, then there is no need to snack in between. However if for any reason you can’t eat every 4 hours, then choose good quality protein-based snacks between meals which can be helpful to prevent hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Examples of good protein snacks are two oatcakes or rye crackers topped with hummus, or a teaspoon of nut butter, or half a packet of sliced free range chicken with a few cherry tomatoes; or a whole boiled egg sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper."
Finding it extra hard to fight your sweet tooth? Try whipping up this energy-boosting smoothie by James Duigan. “Have a smoothie filled with protein and good fats - I always have a Body Brilliance , £50, in the afternoon with rice milk, cacao and cinnamon. It gives me a sweet fix without any of the horrible side-effects of sugar!”
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5. Support your adrenal glands and nervous system
“Taking care of your adrenal glands and nervous system also supports your thyroid gland health – another major area of energy control in the body,” says Henrietta. “The stress hormone cortisol can limit your capacity to convert thyroid hormones into their required active forms. The thyroid itself also requires special nutrients such as zinc, vitamin A, selenium and iron.”
6. Re-balance your bedtime regime
“Going to sleep before midnight is the key,” says Naturopathic Doctor, Dr Nigma Talib . “Getting into a routine of going to sleep early rather than sitting on your phone is best. If you can, get your phone out of your bedroom and into another room,” she recommends. “In terms of factors that affect the energy in room, keeping your phone by your bed really is the worst thing you can do.”
In terms of revising your pre-bed rituals, maximise your bath with a valuable macro-mineral. “Taking a bath with some magnesium salts in it is one of the most important things I advise for those who are stressed or fatigued," says Dr Talib. "If you prefer taking it in tablet form, taking it last thing at night is best."
get your phone out of your bedroom and into another room
"The following 15 minute meditation from my book – ‘Reverse the Signs of Ageing’ - is also hugely effective in calming the mind and keeping cortisol levels low at night.”
• Sit comfortably with your spine straight and your arms placed out in front of you, palms towards the ceiling. You can literally do this meditation anywhere you feel comfortable but you do need to speak out loud, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it on the bus or train! Repeat the following sounds out loud for two minutes in your normal voice: Saa...Taa...Naa...Maa...
• As you make each sound, touch your fingers in turn with the tip of your thumb:
- On Saa - touch the first/index finger
- On Taa - touch the second/middle finger
- On Naa - touch the third/ring finger
- On Maa - touch your last/little finger
• When the first two minutes are over, repeat the same process but as follows:
- For the next two minutes repeat the words in a whisper
- For the next four minutes say them silently to yourself
- For the next two minutes whisper them
- For the final two minutes say them in your normal voice
• To finish, inhale deeply as your stretch your arms over your head, and shake your hands, then bring them down in a sweeping motion as you exhale.
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7. Awaken senses with ashwagandha
“Herbs such as ashwagandha have been traditionally used to support energy and nourish organs that may be negatively affected by stress, so it’s a great herb to supplement for anyone feeling pressured or worn out. Wild Nutrition Food-Grown B Complex Plus , £22, combines B vitamins, minerals, CoEnzyme Q10 and organic ashwagandha to support energy during busy periods,” recommends Henrietta. “Medicinal mushrooms are also helpful, such as cordyceps and reishi as they also provide support for the immune system that can be affected by low energy production.”
8. Keep hydrated
Sounds simple, but how many of us have been guilty of prioritising our to-do lists above a trip to the water cooler? Upping your water intake could make for one of the easiest yet most effective ways to give energy levels a boost throughout the working day. “So many people underestimate water,” says James Duigan. “If we aren't drinking enough, it will affect our energy levels and our workout potential. Good fats and good protein will keep your energy levels high and don't be afraid of carbs either - it's what gives you energy!”
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9. Look after your gut
Does a healthier gut mean a healthier you? The evidence makes for a compelling case for the pro-biotic crew. “Most of our immune system resides in our gut, so anything unwanted inhabiting the gut will burden our system even more and will affect our mitochondria,” says Henrietta. “If you suffer from bacterial infections or a yeast overgrowth, then supporting your immune system is vital. A qualified nutritional therapist will be able to look into whether you require specific gut support and work with you to remove anything creating ‘gut dysbiosis’. Foods such as garlic have an antimicrobial affect and a type of fatty acid called caprylic acid has an anti-fungal effect.”
10. Re-calibrate your caffeine
Need your coffee fix first thing? We can relate. However, with plenty of negative press, are we better off without it? “Coffee gets a lot of flak, but actually one well-made organic expresso coffee can be part of a healthy diet,” says Henrietta. “It is a rich source of flavanols that can actually support cell, and therefore mitochondria, stability. It is also a ‘bitter’ that can stimulate digestive juices and therefore, a good expresso 30 minutes after a meal can be supportive.”
“There are a couple of caveats to coffee drinking however,” cautions Henrietta. “Don’t drink it on an empty stomach and preferably have it with a little fat and protein (i.e. cream, coconut oil or whole milk), as this supports energy levels better and can reduce the caffeine crash that some experience. I also recommend not drinking it first thing in the morning - mid-morning or just after lunch is the best option for most. This is because it will encourage a higher release of the stress hormone adrenaline which can be an energy drain later in the day.
“If you are drinking more than one cup of coffee a day though, try substituting the others with green, white or oolong tea.”
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While the above recommendations may go some way to increasing the quality of your sleep and decreasing tiredness, don’t be disheartened if you’re still finding fatigue a common daily occurrence. It could be indicative that something else may be responsible and a trip to your GP may be in order. “If your tiredness is unrelenting regardless of dietary changes, there may be something deeper at stake such as persistent iron deficiency anaemia, pernicious anaemia or low vitamin D,” says Henrietta. “These can be explored with the help of a nutritional therapist or functional medicine practitioner.”