You might think that with so many of us working from home, avoiding the early commutes and generally having less to do, we’d be less tired. But with the change in routine, less fresh air and sheer boredom of pandemic restrictions, not to mention all the extra anxiety over the past year, many of us are feeling sluggish.
A survey by Vitabiotics found 25% of adults, and a third of women, are ‘not feeling very energetic’ at the moment, with many turning to coffee, exercise and power naps for an energy boost.
But lockdown or no lockdown, some experts believe a lack of energy is often directly related to our diet and lifestyle – and two new books have just been published on the topic.
In I’m So Effing Tired, medical doctor and nutrition expert Dr Amy Shah says the key to feeling revitalised is tapping into a powerful energy trifecta (a situation where you achieve three things) relating to the relationship between the gut, immune system, and hormones.
Shah explains that by increasing your intake of fibre-rich, prebiotic vegetables, intermittent fasting, and using simple exercises to ease anxiety, within just two weeks, you’ll feel your energy surge. In three months, you’ll “feel like a whole new person”, Shah says.
Meanwhile in The Energy Paradox, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Steven Gundry says low energy is generally caused by chronic inflammation, an unbalanced gut, and dysfunctional energy production in our cells. And the way to tackle these problems? Simple dietary and lifestyle changes.
We checked in with both authors to talk tiredness and tapping back into our energy again…
Apart from insomnia, why might people feel tired all the time?
Shah says: “The common reason for feeling tired all the time is the disruption of our energy trifecta – the complex relationship between your gut, your immune system, and your hormones.” The way to tackle this disruption, she says, is by changing what and when you eat, and reducing anxiety.
Gundry says: “Surprisingly, the number one reason for being tired all the time is a leaky gut causing chronic inflammation that uses up most of our energy. The second reason is we’re ‘overfed and undernourished’. Our food no longer contains the important vitamins and minerals it had 100 years ago, and it’s been processed to overwhelm the energy producing organelles, the mitochondria, in our cells, so energy production grinds to a halt, similar to a motorway during rush hour – too many cars, no movement.”
When should you see a doctor for tiredness?
Shah says: “It’s essential to see a doctor if your fatigue has persisted for two or more weeks. And if you have other symptoms, such as coughing up blood, a change in the way your guts are working, heavy periods or a lump somewhere it shouldn’t be. If despite making an effort to rest, reduce stress, choose a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids, you still feel tired, call your doctor for an appointment.”
Gundry says: “Sadly, most of my fatigued patients have seen a doctor and have been told there’s nothing wrong, because the tests they use aren’t generally useful to help discover the underlying reasons.” Gundry suggests people with fatigue should ask for tests to measure inflammation markers in their blood, and thyroid function.
What should you eat to improve energy levels?
Shah recommends eating at least six-11 servings of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. Eat specific fruits like bananas, oranges, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries etc, and green leafy vegetables, butternut squash, carrots, beetroot, broccoli, mushrooms, etc.
It’s also important, she says, to include complex carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index and high fibre, seeds, nuts, healthy fats like olive oil, fatty fish like salmon, good-quality protein like grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, sardines and eggs. In addition, she suggests aiming to drink at least 3-3.5 litres of water a day: “If we don’t drink enough water, it can leave us feeling sluggish, fatigued and hungry.”
Gundry says: “Add more greens and tubers like yams to your diet, and supplement with ground flax seeds or psyllium husks to feed the good bacteria in your gut prebiotics. When you do so, they manufacture postbiotics, which literally turbocharge your energy production.”
What should you avoid eating?
Shah recommends limiting alcohol intake, and drinking caffeine only sparingly. “Although caffeine can temporarily increase your energy levels, once the effect wears off, you’ll be left tired and in some cases irritated, with a headache,” she says.
She also suggests keeping soy and processed snacks to a minimum, not using processed vegetable oils for cooking, decreasing white foods like pasta and bread, and limiting or avoiding gluten, sugar and processed dairy. Shah points out: “Everyone reacts differently to specific foods, but some foods can cause you inflammation and disrupt your hormones – and inflammation is an energy-leech.”
Gundry says: “Eliminate whole grains, especially wheat, oats and corn from your diet. They are the number one cause of leaky gut, despite you being told they’re essential for good health.”
What lifestyle measures will increase your energy?
Shah says simple energy-increasing measures include going to bed and waking up at the same time daily, sleeping seven to nine hours most nights, getting 10-20 minutes of sunlight every day before 10am, limiting exposure to blue light from screens in the evening as much as possible, and exercising mindfully.
Gundry says: “The most important thing to do is slowly reduce your daily eating window – the time you start eating to the time you have your last food later in the day. Limit that time to six to eight hours per day slowly, with weekends off. This is the most powerful energy-improving lifestyle change you can make. I call it timed controlled eating, but some people know it as intermittent fasting.”
Plus, he recommends ‘exercise snacking’ – short bursts of movement, as little as walking up and down stairs for a minute, or doing deep knee bends while brushing your teeth twice a day.
What lifestyle factors should you avoid?
Shah says people shouldn’t sleep really late, stress over little things, be sedentary, eat big meals at night, or socialise with people who are energy-drainers.
And Gundry simply adds: “Try not to eat any food within three hours of bedtime.”