When you’re low on energy or facing regular fatigue, it’s easy to blame it on how you’re sleeping. And it’s even easier to reach for quick-fix solutions like coffee and energy drinks. But you may be able to boost your energy and lessen fatigue by tweaking the food you eat.
Stephanie Nelson, MS, RD, a Registered Dietitian and MyFitnessPal’s in-house nutrition expert and nutrition scientist, shares her expert insight on how to potentially improve fatigue through nutrition with these five simple tips.
- Know how you react to different foods The first step in figuring out why you’re fatigued? Take a closer look at what, exactly, you’re eating each day and how it might be affecting your energy levels.
“For those trying to fight off fatigue, I always recommend you log your meals first and foremost to identify which foods make you feel sharp, sluggish, or on top of your game,” Nelson says. “Some people will react differently to certain foods, like whole grains, which some say boosts their ability to concentrate, while others will feel foggy - in particular, those with a gluten sensitivity.”
As you log your meals, make note of those that might be tied to slumping energy levels, reduced focus, and other signs of fatigue. You can also highlight those that give you a boost or help you feel brighter and more energized.
- Make your meals balanced Here’s another reason you should look critically at what you’re eating each day: Your fatigue might be caused by unbalanced nutrition. Lacking certain key nutrients can leave you feeling sluggish and perpetually exhausted. Similarly, over- or under-eating can also play a role.
“The single most important thing you can do to fuel your focus is to eat a nourishing meal balanced with carbohydrates, proteins and fats - and [eat] just enough to support your energy. If you eat too little, you’ll likely be too hungry to concentrate. If you eat too much, you may feel sluggish and sleepy,” Nelson says.
- Feed your gut bacteria probiotics and fiber You probably already know that keeping your microbiome balanced, full of diversity, and fed with pre-, pro-, and postbiotics is a smart idea. But did you know that your gut can make you tired? Your gut can influence your energy levels, how fatigued you’re feeling, and your overall mental wellness.
“Your gut health supports your brain health. Compounds produced by the bacteria living in your gut help regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that are associated with better mental health,” Nelson explains.
So, don’t overlook the nutrients your gut needs - like fiber. “It’s important to support your gut health by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh,” says Nelson. “You should also eat 25 to 38g of fiber daily to feed the bacteria in your gut through lots of different sources (which keeps a diverse gut bacteria profile). Try mixing different kinds of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans to get a wide variety of fiber and support different kinds of bacteria.”
- Eat more leafy green vegetables If frequent fatigue is leaving you unfocused, unproductive, and mentally sluggish, you can also fight some of these effects by choosing foods that better your brain health.
“Green, leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, collard greens and spinach are high in folate and vitamin K, which can help improve healthy brain function over time,“ Nelson points out. “Folate promotes healthy cell division, which is necessary for optimum brain health. Vitamin K reduces cell death by protecting your nerves, helping to decrease how quickly your brain ages.”
And while we’re talking about veggies, you shouldn’t forget about fruit. Nelson points out that flavonoid-rich fruits, like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, can reduce brain inflammation and slow cognitive decline as you get older.
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Changing your diet alone may not completely solve fatigue While the above tips - and foods - have the potential to fight fatigue, they aren’t cure-alls by any means.
“Overall, diet is not the only factor at play when it comes to energy and focus,” Nelson points out. “It’s important to prioritize these outcomes when making diet changes, and recognize which foods work best for you. However, if you’ve changed your diet and haven’t seen the desired effects to energy and focus, please speak with a doctor or dietitian because there might be more serious health issues at play.”
Wondering if your fatigue might be something more serious? There are differences between regular exhaustion and health concerns like chronic fatigue syndrome. If diet changes aren’t working for you, make sure to see a medical professional to get to the bottom of what might be sapping your energy.