Diet Mistakes That Steal Your Energy

Yawning koala bearBy Dana Sullivan

What’s wrong with skipping breakfast (or any other meal) if I’m not hungry?

When you wake up in the morning you’ve probably gone about 11 hours without eating, and since your body uses calories as fuel, you’ll need to refill your tank right away. While it’s tough for your body to get going when you’re running on empty, skipping breakfast is even harder on your brain. Most of the cells in your body can store energy up for lean times, but your brain cells need a constant supply of carbohydrates to function, and your reserves are certain to be low after an all-night fast. Lunch and dinner are just as important. Without food in your system, stress hormones will kick in to keep you going but at a high cost–you’ll be exhausted later. And when you make a habit of missing meals, your body starts conserving calories and your metabolism slows down. Not surprisingly, you end up feeling sluggish.

Why do I feel sleepy after a big lunch?

Large meals force your body to use precious energy stores for the huge task of digestion. Blood rushes to your gut, robbing the rest of your body of oxygen and nutrients. Afterwards, you may not feel like eating again for several hours. If you wait too long for dinner, you’re more likely to overeat again. Soon you’re stuck in a cycle of feast or famine in which your cells, like your body, are always either overloaded or starving, leaving you constantly fatigued. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can keep your digestive system humming along steadily and your energy level consistent.

What kind of snack is best for a quick boost?

Eat snacks that contain members of different food groups. Pretzels and crackers may be convenient, low-fat snacks, but they won’t get you very far when you’re feeling poky. These processed carbohydrates are broken down almost instantly, giving you the same brief blood sugar spike that candy does. Fiber, protein, and fat take longer to digest, evening out your metabolism and protecting you from those energy highs and lows. Nuts have all three; they’re the perfect mini-meal. Fruit and yogurt are other good choices. Also try adding a slice of cheese to a whole-wheat cracker or dipping a carrot stick in peanut butter.

Try to stay away from coffee and candy, though. Neither one will give you sustained energy. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, but it doesn’t contain calories, which are your body’s fuel. And sugar breaks down quickly in your system, giving you only a brief pick-me-up.

References

Jakobsen MU, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycemic index. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;91(6):1541-2.

Roberta Larson Duyuff, MS, RD, CFCS, The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Chronimed Publishing, 1996, 1998.

Sally Lehrman. Energy. Health March 1998: 81-84.

Jane E. Brody. People Who Skip Breakfast Pay a High Price. New York Times October 6, 1998.

Last Updated: March 11, 2014

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