This is not a blog entry about energy drinks. I find that when I start to talk about food and productivity, people instantly start asking me about energy drinks.
How can I get energy to work when I have not taken care of myself, haven't gotten enough rest, and am exhausted?
Answer: if you are that tired, your strategy needs to be power napping. Try 20 minutes and see what that does for you.
Let's suppose, though, that you are not quite in that state of emergency yet. Instead, you want to know what foods to include in your diet so that you have a steady supply of energy that stays with you all day long, most days. (Please stop laughing. This is not an impossible goal!)
Here are the basics that you need to make sure are covered:
First, eat... period. Too many busy people feel that they have no time to eat. Eating is something they regard as optional. Not if you want to have any energy, it isn't. You need to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a little in between pick-me-up that I like to call, a snack. Eating is important for several reasons: your body needs fuel, eating revs up your metabolism (while fasting slows it down and makes your body think you should be asleep), and eating sends glucose to your brain, which uses about 20% of the glucose that is available in your body at any given time. Yes, your brain is a glucose hog. Feed it. And if you don't eat well (though you should!), then at least include a good quality multivitamin with your breakfast to reduce your likelihood of having marginal vitamin or mineral deficiencies that add to your fatigue.
Don't bother with empty calories, such as donuts or heavily processed cereals. Instead, start with fruit (not juice, unless your juicer juices the entire fruit, fiber and all). Fruit will send glucose to your brain right away, and is easy for most bodies to digest, which means that you won't be wasting valuable energy trying to digest something that is indigestible (like the preservative-laden cinnamon roll you found wrapped in plastic at the newsstand on your way to work). Oranges and berries (especially blueberries, cranberries, and acai) are particular powerhouses, as they will give your body the vitamins and antioxidants that it needs in order for your cells to do their work (hey, you're not the only one being productive around here -- your cells have stuff they need to do too -- and if you don't give them the raw materials they need, they will make you hungry and stop you from doing what you need to do.)
Have an egg -- not just for the protein and fat that will keep your stomach from growling all morning, but for the choline. Choline helps your brain to work more efficiently by speeding up the process of sending signals from one brain cell to another.
If you don't like eggs, at least have some other form of protein (and include protein at every meal you have all day): beans, nuts, lean meats, peanut butter, or even a nice big salad full of kale, parsley, broccoli and other nice green vegetables (you'd be surprised how much protein is in green vegetables, and that way you are getting your calcium and folic acid too). Why do you need protein? Not just to fill you up, but because your body uses amino acids in protein to make the neurotransmitters that your brain uses. Some of those neurotransmitters are soothing and will help you to stay calm (not panicking is always a good thing when you are trying to be productive), while others will help you to focus. You need them for your brain to work properly, so don't neglect your protein.
Bread or cereal? Make it whole grain bread (unless you have a medical reason not to -- some people with IBS have trouble with too much insoluble fiber, so if that's you, proceed with caution). Whether or not you include grains, include some kind of fiber (beans, fruits, and vegetables are even better choices) in your diet. If you are going for the grain, oatmeal and bran are good choices.
And yes, you can have a cup of coffee or green tea. If you're into superfoods, try matcha, a ground tea that includes the entire green tea plant and gives you more than 33 times the antioxidants that you'll find in blueberries. The caffeine in coffee and tea does stimulate the brain, and it will help you to focus and concentrate -- as long as you don't overdo it. If you overdo, your brain will try to compensate by making you sleepy (sad, but true).
But don't drink so much coffee or tea that you forget about water. Drinking water will help your body to produce less of the stress hormones that tend to make most people sleepy. Try for 80 ounces per day. Keep a water bottle at your desk all day to remind you to drink it. At some point during the day, include a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish or flaxseed oil or seaweed. The omega-3s won't help you right away (sorry!). But including them over the long run will give your brain the materials it needs to keep the myelin sheaths (which are made of fat) around your nerve cells in working order. That's important if your brain is one of the tools you need to have honed and ready in order to be productive. Maybe you should bring a tuna fish sandwich or some salmon salad along for lunch -- cold water fish are your best possible source for omega-3s, though they are also in a few plants.
Speaking of lunch, eat a large one to give you energy to carry you through the afternoon. Then eat a light dinner so digestion doesn't interfere with you getting a good night's rest (that's planning ahead for your productive day tomorrow). Dinner should be your lightest meal of the day. You might want to have a spicy meal with curry or turmeric in it at lunch or dinner -- the curcumin in curry and turmeric helps to clear amyloid-beta, the substance that gets made into brain plaque in people with Alzheimer's, out of your brain.
Trust me. I know what I speak.
I used to be a junk food junkie -- especially while writing on a deadline. And I could never understand why all that junk food just would not wake me up. Even coffee started putting me to sleep after a while.
That was a major clue. If you have reached that point, where sugar, carbs, and coffee all knock you out instead of revving you up, it's time to overhaul your approach.
Try mine and see where it gets you.
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