If you are experiencing an energy slump during winter, and those extra few minutes between the sheets just aren’t getting the job done, then it may be time to give your breakfast a makeover. While your body will experience natural ebbs and flows throughout the day based on your sleep, stress levels and physical activity, the food you consume will play an equal if not greater role in sustaining your energy levels. For many of us, this starts with breakfast, that crucial meal that sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Whether you eat your first meal of the day early in the morning or later in the day (intermittent fasting devotees we are looking at you), whatever time you choose to break your fast, the food you reach for will have a significant impact on your energy levels throughout the day. So before you reach for a sugar-filled cereal or plain old toast, let us give you a few tips on how to eat for energy. And not just short-lived energy either! We’re talking about the kind of energy that will keep you alert all day long.
This means giving simple carbohydrates, sugar filled pastries, and those big breakfasts with bacon a miss. Save that for the fun weekend dates when your brain power won’t be required as much. But the good news is that you can eat equally delicious foods which will sustain your energy levels throughout the day, triple chocolate fudge smoothies included (we’ll get to that fun part below).
So where does one start and how can you ensure you help your body sustain your energy levels throughout the day?
Hydrate before you reach for your morning coffee
Did you know that our bodies are 60% water? Imagine depleting those reserves and expecting to function at your optimum level. It would be all but impossible. Studies have shown that even mild hydration, as little as 1% of fluid loss can severely impact on your brain function and energy levels. So wake up and drink up. It’s more important than reaching for your morning coffee. The recommended daily intake for water is 2.5 litres a day, however exercising, medications, coffee and alcohol may mean that you need more than the suggested 8 glasses of water a day. Invest in a reusable water bottle and watch your energy levels rise!
Know the importance of breaking your fast
Have you ever stopped to consider the true meaning of breakfast? Derived from the late Middle English verbs ‘break’ and ‘fast’, it quite literally means breaking the fasting period from the day before.
When explored within the origins of its true meaning, we begin to recognise the importance of ‘what’ we eat for this first meal of the day rather than the timing. This means that we don’t necessarily need to be eating our first meal of the day as soon as we wake up, with greater importance placed on what we eat after breaking our fasting period. Having experienced a fasting period, the blood sugar (glucose) needed to power our brains and muscles is usually very low. Studies published by Harvard have found that a healthy breakfast consisting of complex carbohydrates and fibre such as oats, eggs and wholegrain toast will not only kick-start your metabolism but will also boost your brain function and will help you keep focused throughout the day.
Keep it complex
If you are finding your energy levels are fluctuating throughout the day, it may have less to do with the type of food you are eating and more to do with the colour of your food. That means you don’t have to cut out an entire food group such as carbohydrates but you should be making it complex. That means really making your body work to breakdown those calories by sticking to wholegrain and high fibre foods such as oats.
As our body’s preferred source of fuel, carbohydrates play an important role in helping sustain our energy levels both at the gym and throughout the day. But not all carbohydrates are made equal with highly processed sources of carbohydrates prompting our glucose levels to spike and drop drastically. Biting into white toast, bagels and doughnuts for breakfast triggers a stream of insulin, which goes into overdrive to help clear the sugar from our blood stream. The effects of this are an unnatural surge of energy followed closely by a sudden drop. Complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain and oats are however digested slowly and have a lower glycemic load meaning they help sustain your energy throughout the day.
Don’t forget the protein
When it comes to protein, the benefits of adding this macronutrient to your breakfast repertoire far exceeds muscle repair and growth (although this is a very welcome bonus). Did you know that not consuming enough protein can be one of the main reasons people experience fatigue throughout the day? As the weather cools we naturally begin to crave comfort foods such as simple carbohydrates. This may be partly due to habit and partly due to natural chemical processes in our body. Research has shown that our body’s production of serotonin tends to decrease during winter, which means our body begins to crave sources of this happy hormone from other sources. Given that carbohydrates encourage the production of serotonin, it’s only natural for us to crave pancakes and pastries when the weather cools down.
That means those pancakes and toasted sandwiches you reach for during the cooler months may be adding little value when it comes to helping boost your energy levels.
While we know that protein helps keep our hardworking muscles in tip top shape, what we’re less aware of is the role protein plays in fuelling our body throughout the day. As the building block of all muscle, tissue and cells, protein is an essential part of our body’s fuel. This means that it’s not just gym and exercise devotees that need to replenish their protein stores. Aside from helping our body function at its optimum level, protein takes longer to break down than carbohydrates, in turn providing sustained energy throughout the day.