I am always prompted to write blog posts based on my own current experiences.
A few days ago I was out for a long training run before the sun was up.
Awake at 6am, out the door by 6.30am, after throwing on my kit and drinking a large glass of water and espresso coffee. Three hours of relatively easy running (in arctic winds and snow no less!) and I felt great. Adrenaline fired me up for a productive few hours of researching client case reports and writing articles, followed by an afternoon of playing and chatting with my 9 yo daughter.
It was a long, full on day so needless to say, by 10pm I was shattered and ready for bed. Ideally, a solid 8 hours of sleep would provide me with required rest and recovery, but life has a habit of not always going to plan. 2am and I was woken from deep sleep by my daughter having had a bad dream. An hour later and I was still struggling to get back to sleep, 5.30am and I was awake again, only dozing from then until my alarm went off at 6.30am.
Zombie like state is not ideal for any day, but after such a long physically and mentally tiring day the day before, lack of sleep really was taking its toll. Several years ago I would have relied on a concoction of coffee and sugar to get me through a tired day, which always did the trick but left me feeling bloated and more stressed and not really ready for a restful nights sleep come bedtime. The poor sleep and tiredness roller coaster would continue for a few days, making me irritable and moody and much more impatient than necessary.
Nowadays I am so much better informed of what best to eat and drink to encourage me through a tired day. I am able to be mindful and considerate of my needs and to manage my food and drink in the best way to serve me. This is a huge breakthrough for me and critical in managing my mood and relationships.
So which food and drink work best on a day you are feeling tired and exhausted?
Here are my do's and don'ts that can help:
Minimise the coffee. Yes, you read that right, even from me, a well known coffee addict. One espresso is good, two over the course of the morning can help, but any more and I become a jittery and anxious wreck. Something about the overtiredness seems to make me process caffeine differently. Instead of coffee or other caffeinated drinks, herbal teas are a great choice for days when you are feeling exhausted. Rooibos is invigorating, peppermint refreshing, lemon and ginger warming, beetroot energising (although I admit it's a bit of an acquired taste!). Plain old water too helps with tiredness by hydrating every single cell of your brain and body.
Avoid refined sugar. Yes, I know we should all be avoiding refined sugar every day but living in the real world, most people have a little (some a lot) at some point in any given week. When tiredness hits, reaching for a biscuit or other sugary snack is so tempting. We know the sugar boost can help us temporarily feel more alert. But 'temporarily' is the key word. Simple sugars are not sustaining, they are quick releasing and can leave you feeling more tired and reaching for another sugar fix once the effects have worn off. This morning I had a little bowl of snacks to munch on with my coffee while I worked and without thinking three little amaretto biscuits made their way in. One I ate, mindlessly, but I noticed the intense sugar taste and put the other two back. I could easily have eaten them (and more!) but I know from experience they were not what I really needed and would, leave me feeling worse later.
Instead, I filled my snack bowl with Brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and apple quarters. Still tasty and satisfying, without the refined sugar.
More protein and complex carbs.
Protein, from foods such as fish, meat, eggs, and nuts, is satisfying. Protein fills you up and gives sustained energy for several hours.
Carbohydrates on the other hand are a little more complicated.
Some carbs are 'simple' meaning they are broken down by the body quickly, providing an immediate energy boost. However, they are not sustaining so you will find your energy levels falling again soon after eating simple carbohydrates. Such foods include processed foods, sugar, fruit and milk.
Complex carbohydrates, from foods like beans, pulses, vegetables and wholegrains, also provide your body with energy, but are longer lasting and sustaining than simple carbs, so are a much better choice.
Combining protein, complex carbs and a little bit of fat will make a energy giving meal that won't leave you feeling worse in a few hours time.
A few tips to get you started in making helpful food and drink choices on days your energy levels are below par. Start by choosing whole, natural foods (vegetables, pulses and beans, fish and meat, whole grains) and drinking more water and you'll be well on your way to an energised day.
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Helen Morton, registered Nutritional Therapist. sports nutritionist, runner and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.