If you read this month’s blog post about metabolism myths, you may remember the big takeaway: “metabolism is hard to change”. As in, you can’t magically “speed it up” by eating anything in particular or “slow it down” significantly by gaining or losing a little weight. Your overall metabolism, the rate at which your body expends energy (or burns calories), is largely based on your frame and genetics. The amount of lean muscle you amass can change this rate of energy use, but not much else can. This means, if you want to burn more calories throughout the day, you’ve got to do things that use more energy. In other words: move your body!
With that said, we understand that sometimes moving your body more is harder than it sounds…
How could more energy help?
There are so many good excuses for not moving your body. Due to the way our culture idolizes “staying busy” and workaholism, it’s no wonder that so many people feel they do not have time to exercise. Any job that requires a person to sit at a desk or in front of a computer for long hours can make regular movement inconvenient or impossible. If you can, set a (gentle) alarm for once an hour and just stand up to stretch, walk down the hall, do some squats or jumping jacks, anything to remind your muscles you need them. It may seem counterintuitive, but not moving your body can actually make you feel more tired.
There are foods and certain nutrients you can eat to give you a boost in motivation and the energy to move. There are also certain foods and eating habits that can slow you down further. If you are looking for the former effect, it is time to take a look at your diet to see how it is contributing to your energy level and motivation to move throughout your day.
What to Eat
Try starting your day with eggs. Surely you’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, what you eat and how much you eat is more important than the meal itself, especially when it comes to feeling energized in the morning. Eggs are a classic breakfast food for good reason. They are a complete protein source, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body can break down and rebuild into enzymes, hormones, or even new muscle.
The most abundant amino acid in eggs is leucine . Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA). BCAAs, and specifically leucine, stimulate protein synthesis and suppress the breakdown of muscle protein during exercise . Remember that, when it comes to metabolism, the more muscle you maintain, the faster your body will use the energy you feed it. Additionally, BCAAs may stave off the transport of tryptophan to the brain, which is a probable contributor to exercise fatigue .
If you’re not “an egg person”, try adding a balanced amino acid supplement (like BAM® – Balanced Amino Maintenance) to your breakfast for a similar boost.
Craving something sweet? Have an apple. Apples are a great snack choice or a sweet addition to a meal. While rich in glucose for an immediate energy boost, apples are also high in fiber, which gives an extended-release effect to an otherwise high-dose of natural sugar. Apples are also rich in antioxidants. Several antioxidants have been noted to slow the metabolism of sugar, which would prevent the sugar rush/crash that can follow consumption of a sweet food .
Trade your rice for quinoa. Although quinoa is a starchy grain and high in glucose, it has a very low glycemic index score. This means it also provides an extended-release dose of sugar, slowly absorbed over time . Quinoa is also high in protein, magnesium, and folate. The B-complex vitamins (including folate) are all required for the production of cellular energy from glucose. If you are not eating enough B-vitamin-rich food, adding a B-complex supplement to your diet may make a significant, noticeable difference in your energy level.
A slight tangent about folate: folate from food sources is indeed healthful, but unfortunately its bioavailability is fairly low. This means you have to eat quite a lot of folate-rich foods to absorb just enough for all of the processes it participates in within the body. In addition to this factor, much of the global population have genetic differences that cause inefficient processing of folate from food, even fortified foods that have been enriched with folic acid. When possible, it is an all-around superior choice to supplement with L-methylfolate. L-Methylfolate is the activated form of folate that requires no enzymatic processing and is ready to use upon absorption (regardless of genetics). Metabolic Maintenance’s supplemental B-vitamin formulas contain this superior form of folate. as well as, our sister company, MethylPro® offering a selection of high-quality options with different formulations.
Have a coffee (or tea). On a holistic level, there is nothing wrong with drinking coffee. In fact, according to the Dietary Guidelines published by the USDA in 2015, moderate coffee drinking (1-5 cups a day) is advised as part of a healthy diet . Moderate coffee drinkers tend to experience less cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver conditions such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and chronic liver disease . Of course, drinking caffeine in the afternoon or later can have a negative effect on sleep, so choose the timing of your coffee breaks wisely.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, tea might be a suitable alternative for a pick-me-up without the jitters. Green and black tea contain both caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine is not essential, but also not made in the human body. When ingested, theanine tends to promote a feeling of relaxation that may counter any jitteriness that would otherwise be brought on by the caffeine in tea. It has also been suggested to promote mental clarity and focus, along with some immune benefits .
Thirsty? You may be dehydrated. So many of us are oblivious to living in a state of mild dehydration because the symptoms are not always obvious. One symptom of mild dehydration, however, is fatigue . If you are exercising, which involves heavy breathing and sweating, you are losing more water and must drink more water to compensate. A 1% loss in water weight has been shown to reduce muscle strength, power, and endurance .
Water is always the best choice for hydration. The added electrolytes in sports drinks do not outweigh the added chemicals and sugar content. This is especially true if you’re eating a healthy diet and taking a daily multivitamin.
The general rule of thumb is to aim for eight tall glasses of water a day. More specifically, your body needs about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for females and 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) a day for males. You may get about 20% of this amount from the food you eat, but your hydration levels can also depend on how hot, cold, humid, or dry your climate is, how much you are exercising, how healthy you are, and whether or not you are pregnant or lactating (among other factors). It’s very difficult to have “too much” water, so aim to drink more than you think you need. It can also help with appetite suppression, as sometimes thirst cues are mistaken as hunger.
What to Avoid
Mindless eating and overeating. That “turkey coma” that follows a Thanksgiving meal is often unfairly blamed on the amino acid tryptophan. Most likely it is a result of overeating. When you eat, both the chemicals in food and the physical expansion of your stomach signal certain responses from the body. One of those responses is to send more blood to the gut, focusing the body’s energy on digestion. This means less blood (and energy) for the rest of the body, which can leave you feeling sleepy.
Overeating often occurs when we are eating mindlessly or are distracted by conversation. Research shows we eat at least 33% more when we eat with one other person and almost 100% more when we eat with groups of six or more . Whether you are eating alone or with others, take stock of the portion on your plate when your meal is served, and check in with your body throughout the meal. When you aren’t hungry anymore, ask a server to take your plate or put your utensils somewhere inconvenient so you’re not tempted to keep eating just because you remain at the table.
Unbalanced, low-protein meals. Meals with an imbalance of nutrients (high fat or high carb) are associated with feeling sleepy. But this is not the case when nutrients are balanced or the meal is rich in protein.
High carb meals are where the tryptophan effect is more likely to be seen. When foods are rich in carbohydrates and have a high glycemic index (meaning all of their sugars are released into the bloodstream very quickly) the body releases a surge of insulin so that cells can take in glucose from the blood. You may feel a short burst of energy from the sugars absorbed, but it will soon be followed by a drop in energy and motivation. This is because insulin also triggers an increase in tryptophan uptake by the brain. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that create feelings of relaxation and sleepiness.
When meals are balanced and contain a higher proportion of protein (amino acids) and carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (that slowly release their sugars over a longer stretch of time), you are more likely to feel a steady stream of energy, rather than a rush and crash.
Skipping meals. What is worse than eating too much at once? Giving your body no substrate for energy production at all. If you have excess glucose stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, you can get by without food for a little while, but your metabolism responds when it senses fasting mode, by slowing down energy output. This will likely make you feel sleepy also. It makes a lot of sense for survival, biologically. When there is no food available, moving less and sleeping more is a great way to conserve the energy stored in your body.
By eating light, balanced meals, and protein-rich snacks when you are hungry, hunger will not be the cause of an energy slump.
Stress. Chronic stress is the enemy of healthy metabolism and energy partitioning in the body. The body’s reaction to acute stress (shutting down digestion and absorption to shunt energy towards muscles and limbs) is great for a quick getaway in a dangerous situation. If the stress continues, however, chronic exposure to stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine can lead to insulin insensitivity . As our bodies rely on insulin to signal when glucose should be absorbed from the blood, insulin insensitivity is a serious problem for a healthy metabolism. Insulin insensitivity can lead to both obesity and Type 2 diabetes .
Take a look at your self-care practices and make sure that stress management is addressed by your daily routines. Whether that be exercise, meditation, or a hot bath, letting go of stress –and thereby quelling stress hormones– may seriously benefit your metabolism and energy level.
- Duan, Yehui, et al. “The role of leucine and its metabolites in protein and energy metabolism.” Amino Acids 48.1 (2016): 41-51.
- Shimomura, Yoshiharu, et al. “Nutraceutical effects of branched-chain amino acids on skeletal muscle.” The Journal of nutrition 136.2 (2006): 529S-532S.
- Cordeiro, L. M. S., et al. “Physical exercise-induced fatigue: the role of serotonergic and dopaminergic systems.” Brazilian journal of medical and biological research 50.12 (2017).
- Orhan, N., A. Gökbulut, and D. Deliorman Orhan. “Antioxidant potential and carbohydrate digestive enzyme inhibitory effects of five Inula species and their major compounds.” South African journal of botany 111 (2017): 86-92.
- Vinoy, Sophie, et al. “The effect of a breakfast rich in slowly digestible starch on glucose metabolism: A statistical meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Nutrients 9.4 (2017): 318.
- USDA. “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.” Prepared for the Committee by the Agricultural Research Service. February 2015. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf
- Poole, Robin, et al. “Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes.” bmj 359 (2017).
- Williams, Jackson, et al. “L-theanine as a functional food additive: Its role in disease prevention and health promotion.” Beverages 2.2 (2016): 13.
- Zhang, Na, et al. “Effects of Dehydration and Rehydration on Cognitive Performance and Mood among Male College Students in Cangzhou, China: A Self-Controlled Trial.” International journal of environmental research and public health 16.11 (2019): 1891.
- Goulet, Eric DB, et al. “Impact of mild hypohydration on muscle endurance, power, and strength in healthy, active older men.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 32.12 (2018): 3405-3415.
- De Castro, John M. “Eating behavior: lessons from the real world of humans.” Nutrition 16.10 (2000): 800-813.
- Seematter, G et al. “Stress and metabolism.” Metabolic syndrome and related disorders vol. 3,1 (2005): 8-13. doi:10.1089/met.2005.3.8