7 Energy Sapping Culprits and Ways to Prevent Them
What does “being full of energy” feel like to you? For me, it’s the ability to get up every morning and do whatever it is I want or need to do and feel good about what I’ve accomplished at the end of the day. Although you might have a different definition, most people know what their own optimal state of “energy” feels like and want to feel that way most of the time.
I think most of us have also experienced feeling too tired to focus and complete our work or exercise or even to fix dinner at night. It happens to everyone occasionally, but chronic “lack of energy” is a common complaint. Normal aging is often accompanied by a noticeable increase in fatigue and loss of motivation. The tiredness we feel reflects the impairment of the cellular functions which sustain us. Of course, this can happen at any age—even young people may complain of fatigue or feeling “tired all the time” if their lifestyle is using up energy faster than it is being replenished. Chronic illness and even occasional viral illness can sap our energy and require intervention to restore.
Here’s a review of the most common energy-sapping culprits as well as ways to combat and prevent the personal “energy crisis”.
1) Lack of exercise or activity
Exercise is honestly the most important key to all-around better health and longevity. Exercise increases your energy levels in general, unless you overdo it. Since it increases oxygen intake and circulation, all body systems benefit, including your brain, which has a huge impact on how you feel. And, you don’t have to go to the gym every day to improve your energy levels. Thirty minutes of daily activity, whether it’s walking, yoga or dancing, still makes a positive impact. Taking a 15-minute walk outside whenever a feeling of tiredness or fatigue creeps in will help reverse the energy slump. Lack of exercise is one of the biggest causes of fatigue.
First-year college nutrition students learn the most common cause of headaches and fatigue: dehydration. My kids will testify that whenever they came to me complaining they were tired or had a headache I always had the same (annoying) response: Have you been drinking enough water today? Adequate hydration is needed for optimal physiological function and needs to be a health priority for many reasons, including maintaining good energy levels and reducing fatigue.
3) Poor sleep quality or quantity
Lack of adequate sleep leads to many health issues, including daytime fatigue. For someone feeling tired all the time, the first question should be, “How did you sleep last night?” Caffeine and alcohol both can impact sleep quality. Caffeine can stay in your system for six hours, so if someone is not sleeping well, they may want to forgo that late afternoon cup of coffee or tea. Sleep apnea, restless legs, cortisol imbalance, pain or a noisy partner or roommate can prevent one from getting the restful sleep needed to regenerate energy. Too much light, too much TV and too much computer, phone or video stimulation all contribute to poor sleep quality, which in turn, contribute to fatigue and loss of energy and motivation. A lot has been written on “good sleep hygiene”, which can have a positive impact.
Like exercise, improving sleep hygiene takes discipline; but I can testify it has a big payoff. Preparing for bed earlier, going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding computer/phone screens for two hours prior to bedtime are important aspects of good sleep hygiene. Reducing ambient light sources through windows or from other rooms in the house (including night lights) can be very helpful. A quiet, dark room is often exactly what is needed for many people and blackout shades or heavy curtains can help significantly. More and more people are using earplugs as well, to help reduce interference from outside noise or from a snoring partner or roommate! The goal is eight hours or more of good quality sleep. Consuming caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime can prevent any gains from improving sleep hygiene and may need to be drastically reduced or eliminated depending on the sensitivity of the individual.
Supplements that may be of benefit: Melatonin, 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, GABA, L-Theanine, Melissa (lemon balm), honokiol from Magnolia officinalis, hops, valerian, scullcap and ashwagandha are some of the most popular supplements to help support restful sleep. I encourage people to try each one separately for a few days to see how they respond, before choosing a sleep formula, because everyone is different in what they need. My personal tip is to take L-theanine right after work, in the early evening before dinner. It is calming, relaxing and helps clear the mind, setting the stage for rest. Preparing both mind and body for a good night’s sleep begins hours before bedtime. And let’s not forget that calming herbal teas like chamomile, lemon balm and tulsi (holy basil) not only taste great, they are relaxing to body and mind as well.
4) Not getting enough sunlight
Sunlight triggers the brain to release energizing neurochemicals. Spending too much time indoors without access to sunlight drains your batteries. Sunlight can recharge them. A little daily outside activity, even just a 15-minute brisk walk, is an important way to keep energy up.
5) Unstable blood sugar
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if it’s energy you want, then stay away from sugar and refined carbohydrates, at least during the day. I know, we enjoy our oatmeal, pancakes, muffins and bagels in the morning, but they tend to spike blood sugar then send it crashing, and the body expends a lot of energy just trying to fix it. Keeping blood sugar from going too high or too low helps preserve and maintain a more consistent energy level. If someone feels tired after a high-carb breakfast, then the better choice is more protein than carbohydrates: scrambled eggs and veggies, an omelet or a protein shake (watch the carbs! berries are okay). Everyone is different as to what foods are best for them and how often to eat, but maintaining a food intake pattern that keeps blood glucose stable is critically important to feeling well. Reducing intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates in general (especially during the daytime before dinner) can decrease fatigue and increase feelings of alertness and energy. Save carbs for nighttime, because they can make you sleepy!
6) Underlying health issues
Health issues have a significant impact on energy levels. The body expends energy and nutrients dealing with the stress of illness or chronic health problems. Allergies often cause significant fatigue, even when there are no other overt symptoms. Indoor environmental allergens, including mold, perfumes and cleaning products, can be significant culprits as much as seasonal outdoor allergens. Anemia, hypothyroidism, cardiac issues, diabetes, obesity, viral illness, mental health issues, sinus or breathing problems, including congestion or sleep apnea, are some of the most common. However, any health problem can contribute to draining our energy and reserves. And, let’s not forget…Stress is one of the biggest energy busters.
7) Nutrient deficiencies—supplements can help
Not everyone understands what “healthy diet” or “eating healthy” actually means. But even when consuming a very healthy, balanced diet, it’s still often difficult to obtain all the vitamins, minerals and trace minerals that are needed within an optimal personal calorie level. In addition, there are many things that interfere with the proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients in food.
Since research has shown that stress depletes potassium, magnesium, B vitamins (especially pantothenic acid) and vitamin C, it’s especially important to maintain optimal levels of these nutrients in the bloodstream to support normal cellular metabolism. Many energy formulas will contain these nutrients. Cellular/mitochondrial support formulas have become more popular due to the need to support the very foundation of our health and well-being (our cellular energy metabolism). They’re a good idea for everyone, but especially for older adults.
The B vitamins comprise a group of eight water soluble vitamins that have essential, inter-related roles in cellular functioning, including energy production by the mitochondria.1 NAD+ is a central metabolite within each cell involved in energy metabolism. Known precursors to NAD+ include nicotinic acid (Niacin) and nicotinamide. A relative newcomer of interest, nicotinamide riboside is another form of vitamin B3 which has shown to be more potent than nicotinamide or niacin in elevating NAD+ levels. As we age, levels of NAD decline, affecting intracellular processes of communication. Over time, this loss of communication reduces the cell’s ability to make energy. A decline in natural NAD+ is a known cause of cellular aging.2 There is currently much research looking into the benefits of supplementing with nicotinamide riboside in addition to the standard nutrients found in many formulas.3
Adaptogenic herbs are wonderful allies in helping to rebuild and maintain energy and stamina. The best researched, most popular and very effective are the “ginsengs”, which include American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and “Siberian ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
These tried and true herbs protect against both mental and physical fatigue, improve mental alertness and work output as well as improve stamina during physical or athletic activity.4 Although there is much debate over which to use when, they are all effective in supporting the adrenal glands, helping the body systems adapt to stress and reducing resulting fatigue. For improving mental alertness and your sense of energy, my choice is Panax ginseng. My favorite adrenal formula contains Panax ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, and licorice root, which among other actions, supports healthy cortisol levels, healthy adrenal function and energy levels.
For many of us, healthy vitality is largely within our control if we correct the lifestyle habits that drain our vital force and know what elements we can add to our routine which can help regenerate our energy on a daily basis. Just like recovering from acute or chronic illness takes time, restoring energy may also require some time and a few new healthier habits.
By Lisa Murray, RDN, LD
Lisa is a Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist and Medical Educator for Emerson Ecologics. Herbalist, nutrition counselor, writer and educator, Lisa’s passion is teaching others how to integrate botanicals and nutrition supplements into a healthy diet and lifestyle, for optimal health and healing
- Depeint F1, Bruce WR, Shangari N, Mehta R, O’Brien PJ.Mitochondrial function and toxicity: role of the B vitamin family on mitochondrial energy metabolism. Chem Biol Interact. 2006 Oct 27;163(1-2):94-112. Epub 2006 May 1.
- David Cameron. A New—and Reversible—Cause of Aging. Harvard Medical School News.December 19, 2013 https://hms.harvard.edu/news/genetics/new-reversible-cause-aging-12-19-13. Accessed 11/30/2016.
- Bogan KL1, Brenner C. Nicotinic acid, nicotinamide, and nicotinamide riboside: a molecular evaluation of NAD+ precursor vitamins in human nutrition. Annu Rev Nutr. 2008;28:115-30. doi: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.28.061807.155443.
- University of Maryland Medical Center, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide, Asian Ginseng. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/asian-ginseng