By: Darrell W. Butler
ACE/NFPT CPT, Parisi/TFW Performance Enhancement Coach
People ask me on a daily basis what they should take for energy throughout the day. They complain about feeling extremely sluggish at times, and want me to recommend some magical pill that will make them want to run through walls like the Kool-aid man (OH YEAH)! No, they’re not talking about pre-workout formulas, which are an entirely separate topic, they just want extra energy to sustain them through a long day at school or at the office.
Of course I always start by asking how much sleep they’re getting at night, but most are getting more than enough rest so they can’t figure out why they still just can’t seem to get going. And while there are energy enhancing multivitamins, caffeine pills and fat burners on the market that might help temporarily, those dramatic dips in energy are most commonly traced back to a lack of food.
In nearly every case, the person asking for extra energy is only consuming one or two small meals each day and quite frankly, that’s just not enough. Sure there’s a time and a place for intermittent fasting but generally speaking, you should be eating every two or three hours for a total of five or six meals per day. Each of those meals should also include a source of protein, since your body will take longer to break that down so you’ll feel satisfied longer.
Anchoring your meal with a protein will also help to keep your blood sugar levels in check since consuming simple carbohydrates alone is likely to spike your insulin levels which will result in a larger crash when you come down from your sugar high.
Of course, nobody wants to hear my food answer, they just want pills. It’s actually kind of interesting that I could tell someone to swallow pills every other hour and they’d have no problem with that, but when I tell that same person to have a chicken breast and some veggies they look at me like I have 12 heads! That’s when the excuses start coming out: “Well I just don’t have time to eat.” Oh really? But you have time to play Candy Crush on your phone, gossip with your co-workers and update your Facebook status?
“But I can’t just carry food around with me all day!” Okay, this excuse is a little more valid but my response is “why can’t you?” I do, and so do millions of other people in the world. Sure prepping your meals for each day can take a little extra time, but in the long run it will save you money and save you a few extra notches on your belt. Make a bunch of extra portions when you do have time, and place them in storage containers for the week along with healthy snacks. If that sounds like too much work for you, then at bare minimum stock up on some protein shakes and bars.
Essentially the five meals break down to your traditional three with snacks in between them, so if you’re at home for breakfast, eat actual food. A few hours later, mix up a protein shake at work. People drink coffee at their desk, what’s the difference? Order a healthy lunch and then have another bar or shake a few hours later. When you get home you can make dinner. Simple right?
“Okay but I don’t want to get fat eating every couple of hours like that!” While this excuse is incorrect, I can understand the logic behind it. Remember though, when I say eat every two or three hours I don’t mean eat a doughnut for breakfast then a triple topping pizza at noon then a bag of chips! No, the type of calories matter too. Eating too much junk could be part of the reason for dips in energy as well, but I wasn’t giving you a license to consume garbage all day!
I also don’t want my statement about including a protein with each meal to be confused with only eating protein each meal. Instead, aim for a healthy balance of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Furthermore, not eating enough could also cause you to gain weight long term. Those of you only consuming one or two meals per day, have you noticed that while you may be getting skinnier in some areas, your stomach has actually gotten larger? That’s because your body has been forced to store extra cortisol and adrenal fluids in the exact area that you probably didn’t want to increase in size! Why? Because when you don’t eat enough, those are the chemicals that your body relies on to get you through those energy lows.
Think of the extra fat as your little battery pack…stored in your stomach like a kangaroo pouch. Not a good look eh? But if you actually provided your body with nutrients through food, it wouldn’t need to store as much and you’d start heading toward that flat stomach you may have dreamed of.
I’m trying not to over-complicate things by breaking out too many nerd terms such as macronutrients and adrenal fatigue, but long story short, you need to eat! Sure, energy drinks and fat burner pills exist for a reason, and there may be a time and place to include SOME of them – not all are safe, do your research – but without having your nutrition in check, you’ll never get the full benefit out of the fat burner anyway, so always focus on that first.
You’d be surprised how many complicated mental, physical and medical issues can be resolved just by changing the way that you look at food. So before you reach for an overpriced cup of coffee or a bottle of pills to cure your energy lows, first reach for your refrigerator and make something to eat!