Talk to almost any woman about her health goals and, other than losing weight, the most common response is a desire for more energy. They share energy goals such as:
- Enjoying time with children, significant others, and friends.
- Taking a break without constantly having to take care of everything and everyone
- Feeling less mentally foggy and depending less on coffee
- Exercising regularly and to planning and preparing simple, healthy meals
- Lose mid-afternoon sugar cravings
Why are we in this tired condition? Well, clearly we’ve got too much on our plate and, perhaps, not enough of the right things on our plate. But what are some of the obstacles keeping us from fulfilling those energy goals?
Lack of water is the #1 cause of daytime fatigue, and an estimated 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. We ought to be drinking half our weight in ounces of water daily, but most of us don’t drink even half that amount! We wait until we’re thirsty to start drinking water, but by that point, we’re already dehydrated.
Without sufficient water, our metabolism slows down and headaches and fatigue occur. Dehydration decreases your blood volume and increases sugar cravings, which lead to lower energy levels.
How to combat dehydration:
- Drink 8-16 ounces of water upon waking. Then, drink a glass of water a half-hour before meals and throughout the day; have water instead of your afternoon coffee or soda; and drink at least 16 ounces of water during your workouts.
- Carry water whenever you go, including in your car, at work, and by your bed.
- Liven up your water by adding sliced fruit like berries or citrus.
A huge energy zapper that perimenopausal and menopausal women often cite is lack of restorative sleep. The hormonal shifts that accompany the change of life can rob us of good quality sleep.
If you hit the snooze button upon waking or you desperately need a cup of coffee, your sleep schedule might be to blame. But it’s not enough to get the often-touted 7-9 hours of sleep. You have to get that sleep at the optimum time of night. The hours of sleep BEFORE midnight are the most rejuvenating and much more important than the hours after midnight.
Your sleep is composed of 90-minute sleep cycles. Some are “deep sleep” or non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) cycles; others are rapid eye movement (REM) cycles. The deep-sleep (non-REM) cycles happen earlier in the evening, and the closer you get to sunrise, the more REM cycles you have. This means that if you go to sleep later, you have fewer deep-sleep, restorative cycles, so you may need to gradually shift your bedtime earlier.
Sugar highs and crashes
Refined, simple carbohydrates–like white pasta/rice/bread–are to blame for many of our energy woes. They’re not whole foods; rather, the refining process has stripped them of their fiber and nutrients. They break down quickly into sugar and cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Your body interprets that spike as an emergency and ends up using stored nutrients to process these refined carbs. The hormone insulin is then pumped out, which causes your blood sugar levels to drop rapidly. This explains the quick energy boost when you eat sugary foods or other refined carbs, followed by an ugly crash of energy.
You can crowd out your cravings for sweets and refined carbs by augmenting these four foods that will give you steady, sustained energy and blood sugar levels:
- Green and orange fruits and vegetables. Leafy green vegetables, for example, improve circulation, the immune system, and mood. They also provide minerals like potassium and magnesium that help build your energy.
- Nuts and seeds. Think walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and almonds. They’re great energy boosters and sources of healthy fats and protein.
- Beans and whole grains. They are the ideal complex carbohydrates and are great sources of fiber and micronutrients. They’re broken down slowly by the body and provide stable, consistent energy rather than peaks and valleys.
- Animal protein breaks down slowly and helps stabilize your energy and blood sugar levels. Eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, and grass-fed red meat are top choices.
Sometimes, even after conquering dehydration, sugar highs and lows, and sleep deficits, energy woes persist. The culprit may well be deficiencies in minerals and vitamins. Nutrient deficiencies reduce the production of energy inside cells, which leads to fatigue. Individual needs vary, so please check with your healthcare provider regarding supplementation and testing to ascertain your current levels. In some cases, these deficiencies might point to more serious disorders, such as hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and adrenal dysfunction.
B vitamins. Low-carb diets sometimes restrict B vitamins and other nutrients that provide the brain with energy. Also, women over age 50 do not absorb Vitamin B-12 well, and that can lead to mental as well as physical fatigue. Good sources: eggs, sardines, lamb, salmon.
Vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D can make you feel tired, anxious, and weak, all of which can lead to fatigue. Good sources: sunlight, mackerel, mushrooms.
Iron. Sometimes a low energy level is a sign of untreated anemia from iron deficiency. Adequate iron helps build hemoglobin inside the red blood cells. It delivers oxygen, a vital energy source for every one of the body’s cells. Good sources: spinach, liver, nuts, and beef.
Magnesium. Some 23 percent of adults in the United States have low magnesium levels and suffer from an increased risk of chronic fatigue. Proper magnesium levels in the body will supply an even flow of energy that will help alleviate fatigue. Good sources: almonds, avocado, banana, yogurt.
Unbalanced “primary foods”
Just as important as the food choices we make to bolster our energy is our cultivation of “primary foods”: our relationships, exercise, career, and spirituality. The choices we make in these areas can either energize or drain us.
Relationships: There’s a clear correlation between the relationships that wear us out emotionally and our energy levels. Choose, as much as you can, to cultivate nourishing relationships with those who build you up. Recognize the “energy vampires” in your life and DFC (decrease frequency of contact).
Exercise: The catch-22 of exercise is that we often don’t have enough energy for it; yet, exercising brings energy into the body and mind. Start with a practice you enjoy, whether on your own or in a group, and challenge yourself to slowly build up your strength and stamina.
Career: Work that you enjoy and that serves a valid, life-changing purpose is energizing. Seek balance between diligence in your work and ease, and pivot, as far as possible toward challenging tasks that bring the best out of you.
Spirituality: Your energy is buoyed as you pursue a strong relationship with God and by nurturing your spiritual health. Prayer, meditation, time in nature, and breathing exercises are equally replenishing and revitalizing.
So… what’s your energy level like? Which strategy are you ready to tackle first?