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  health > diet & fitness > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Energy boosters and energy drainers

June 10, 1999
Web posted at: 10:16 AM EDT (1416 GMT)

In this story:

High-quality fuel

Breakfast is best

The breakfast rules are simple:

Midday energy boosters

In-between-meal boosters


By Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.

Too busy to rest and too tired to fix a meal? Energizing snacks can be quick and easy. For example:
  • Graham crackers and peanut butter with a glass of orange juice
  • Whole wheat fig bars with a glass of nonfat milk
  • Raisin bagel topped with fat-free cream cheese and served with raw baby carrots
  • Bran muffin topped with apple butter
  • Soft microwave pretzel with honey-mustard dip and a glass of V8 juice
  • Whole wheat pita bread stuffed with shredded jalapeno cheese and grated zucchini
  • Crepe filled with fat-free ricotta cheese and fresh fruit
  • Cheerios, raisins, nuts and a cup of nonfat yogurt
  • Pears, cantaloupe, strawberries and bananas dipped in vanilla-flavored nonfat yogurt
  • (WebMD) -- Are you wondering where your energy went? Do you blame your lack of "oomph" on your busy schedule or just assume it's part of getting older? Think again. While fatigue is one of the most common health complaints, the answer to waning energy could be as simple as what and when you eat.

    High-quality fuel

    You wouldn't expect your car to run on sand, so why assume that the more complicated "body machine" can keep going on anything but a high-quality fuel mix?

    Erratic eating habits, fad dieting or skipping meals will undermine your energy level. Blood sugar levels begin to drop within four hours of eating, so frequent small meals and snacks rather than two or three big ones are the best bet for maintaining a constant energy supply and avoiding fatigue.

    Complex carbohydrates in whole grains and starchy vegetables -- from breads, rice and pasta to lima beans and yams -- are the fuel of choice, since they are digested gradually, provide an even blood sugar level and serve as a constant fuel supply for the body and brain.

    Breakfast is best

    People who skip breakfast struggle more with fatigue later in the day than do people who take time to eat. Ironically, skipping breakfast to save calories backfires, since you are likely to overeat as the day goes on by falling prey to "night-eating syndrome." This is a phenomenon in which once you start nibbling, you don't stop. In contrast, eating breakfast boosts energy and fends off mood swings and food cravings later in the day.

    The breakfast rules are simple:

    Avoid sugar.

    Limit caffeine. One cup of coffee can kick-start your day, but more than three cups and you're likely to spiral into caffeine withdrawal and need more coffee to pep up. You may also sleep poorly at night and wake up tired the next morning.

    Choose foods with a mix of protein and starch (preferably whole grains) to maintain blood sugar and energy levels throughout the morning.

    Examples include:

  • Scrambled egg substitutes, whole-wheat toast and orange juice
  • A whole-grain bagel or English muffin with low-fat cheese and fruit
  • A bowl of instant oatmeal, low-fat milk and a banana
  • A toasted frozen whole-wheat waffle topped with fat-free sour cream and fresh blueberries
  • A low-fat bran muffin with applesauce and yogurt
  • Midday energy boosters

  • What and how much you eat at lunch can make or break your energy level by midafternoon.
  • Keep it light. A light meal of 500 calories or less will fuel your energy without leaving you drowsy.
  • Keep it low fat. Fatty meals will prime you for a nap rather than a get-things-done afternoon.
  • Combine protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods. All-carbo meals, such as a salad and french bread, raises brain levels of a chemical called serotonin, which leaves you feeling relaxed and drowsy. In contrast, a turkey sandwich and a bowl of minestrone soup raises levels of another chemical called norepinephrine that increases alertness and mental clarity.
  • In-between-meal boosters

    Maintaining high energy requires frequent stops for fuel and nutrients. That means dividing your daily food intake into mini-meals and snacks. Remember, when it comes to snacks: Simplify: A nutritious snack must be convenient. That is, it must be readily available, take little time to prepare and taste great.

    Eat at least one fruit, vegetable or whole grain food when snacking, plus one or more of the following:

  • nuts and seeds
  • nonfat milk products, such as yogurt or cheese
  • cooked dried beans and peas or extra-lean meats, which are a great source of iron, the energy-boosting mineral that many women don't get enough of.
  • Avoid sugar: Cookies, candy, colas and other sugary treats give you instant energy but are followed by an energy crash. Instead, snack on bagels, fat-free crackers and cheese, fresh fruit and cottage cheese or low-fat tortilla chips and bean dip for sustained vitality.

    Plan ahead: Pack your purse, briefcase, glove compartment, desk drawer and office refrigerator with fresh fruit, bagged raw baby carrots, pita bread, dried fruit, boxed juice and yogurt. Eat a nutritious snack at the first signs of hunger to avoid overeating the wrong foods once you're ravenous.

    Drink water: A classic symptom of mild dehydration is fatigue, which often goes unnoticed since thirst is a poor indicator of fluid needs. Drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Drink even more if you exercise intensely or consume coffee or tea, which act as diuretics to aggravate dehydration.

    Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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