Find yourself asking “Why don’t I have any energy?” You’re not alone, and if you constantly feel like you’re dragging, it may be time to take a closer look at your routine.
If you don’t have a related health condition and are getting enough shut-eye each night, there may be something else to blame for your constant fatigue. “Feeling low on energy may be common, but it’s certainly not normal,” says Stacie J. Stephenson, a certified nutrition specialist and author of Glow: 90 Days to Create Your Vibrant Life from Within, based in Barrington Lakes, Illinois.
“For most people, the problem is their lifestyle, and unfortunately, modern life is full of energy zappers,” Stephenson says. Fortunately though, we can change these habits, and potentially boost our energy levels in the process, she adds. Here’s how to potentially gain energy fast by avoiding these common mistakes. And be sure to see a medical professional if your symptoms are severe or limiting you to rule out anything more serious.
You’re Eating Too Much Sugar
While the cookie jar is an obvious culprit, refined carbohydrates like white bread and rice, chips, and cereal are a major source of sugar too. “When you consume sugary foods, they often provide a quick surge in blood sugar levels. This can lead to a feeling of increased energy and alertness shortly after consumption,” explains Mia Syn, RDN, author of Mostly Plant-Based.
Unfortunately though, the good vibes don’t last, and this spike results in a “sugar crash” when blood sugar levels swiftly fall. “This crash can leave you feeling tired, irritable, and fatigued,” Syn explains. While these foods can fit into most eating plans, it’s also important to limit them and “balance your meals with fibre-rich carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats,” she says.
You Aren’t Exercising Enough
It may seem odd that exerting energy will actually increase it, but adding a workout to your daily routine will give you a short-term energy boost. “It might sound counterintuitive, but the more energy you expend on physical movement, the more energy you will have,” says Stephenson. Plus, regular exercise improves sleep quality, reduces insomnia symptoms, and boosts daytime alertness in adults, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis.
During times of fatigue, get up and walk for five minutes outside. And at the same time, make a concerted effort to fit in some type of enjoyable physical activity every day. “It is regular daily exercise – something that gets your heart rate up, something to strengthen your muscles, something to stretch you so you can stay limbre – that will really make the difference in your energy levels over time,” Stephenson explains.
You’re Skipping Breakfast
“Skipping breakfast can definitely contribute to low energy in the morning,” says Johannah Sakimura, RD who is based in the New York City metro area. “It’s important to give your body good fuel to start the day after an extended period of fasting.” Without this fuel, your body is running on empty leaving you famished by lunchtime and more likely to make unhealthy choices that will cause that mid-afternoon dip in blood sugar.
“Try to combine healthy carbohydrates, like fruit, veggies, and whole grains, with a protein source such as eggs, nuts, or dairy. The carbs give you an initial boost, and the protein helps sustain you until your next meal,” says Sakimura.
You’re Sitting Too Much
Not only is sitting for prolonged periods of time harmful to your health research shows, it’s a major energy zapper as well. Standing up and moving for even a few minutes helps get your blood circulating through your body and increases the oxygen in your blood, ultimately sending more oxygen to your brain which improves alertness, mood, and memory, per the findings of one study.
If you work a desk job, make it your mission to get outside during the day – even for a brief period of time. “Nature therapy is an excellent energy booster,” says Stephenson. “Research has shown that being out in nature, or even just looking at the colour green, makes people feel better,” she says.
You’re Drinking Too Much Caffeine
Whether it’s a can of soft drink or constant refills of your coffee mug, many of the beverages we reach for when we feel tired are packed with caffeine, a stimulant that will give you a quick jolt, but may also leave you crashing soon after if you ingest too much. As a result, you may feel fatigued, irritable, and have trouble concentrating, explains Syn.
What’s more, beware of how your body can build up a tolerance for caffeine, which means you’ll increasingly need to consume more of it to feel those uplifting-at-first effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds that for healthy adults, 400 milligrams (mg) per day is safe – the equivalent of four or five cups of coffee – although they’re not recommending you consume this much. (If you’re a fan of energy drinks, read the label to know how much it contains so you can ensure you’re not overdoing it.)
Also, pay attention to how caffeine affects you, depending on how much you’re drinking and the time you’re drinking it. Late afternoon cups of coffee may reduce your sleep by more than one hour, according to past research, but you may find that for your best night of z’s, you have to cut yourself off long before that.
If you’re a coffee drinker, consider switching to water or herbal tea in the afternoon and replace soft drink with seltzer for a bubbly afternoon pick-me-up without the crash.
We all know the importance of drinking enough water, and even mild dehydration can have adverse effects on your energy level, mood, and concentration, suggests past research. Aim for at least one glass of water per hour while sitting at your desk, and be sure to fill your bottle up even more if you’re doing strenuous activity or are outdoors in high temperatures.
You’re Stressed Out
Many of us have reasons to feel burnt out day-to-day. Stress is a completely normal experience. However, too much stress or long-term stress that’s not resolved, aka chronic stress, can contribute to lower energy levels and feeling fatigued more often.
“Stress may be the biggest energy drain of all,” says Stephenson. “You can be eating well, exercising, and going to bed early every night, but if you’re chronically stressed, none of that is going to help as much as it could,” she says.
Taking 15 minutes to bookend each day for relaxation, reflection, or getting yourself organised can help you feel more in control of your schedule and circumstances.
That might involve walking, journaling, lingering in the shower for just a few extra minutes, or doing a short meditation. Whatever you do, make sure that it feels nourishing to you and brings a little calm in the midst of a hectic day.
Additionally, if you feel like lifestyle tweaks aren’t helping you manage your stress levels, talk to your doctor or mental health professional for guidance on how to tackle stress and avoid long-term health issues.
You’re Not Snacking Smart
If you’re running to the vending machine for a quick afternoon snack, your selection – most likely high in simple carbs and sugar – will send your energy levels in the wrong direction.
Rather than relying on between-meal bites that contain a lot of excess sugar or are sources of ultra-processed carbs, Syn recommends choosing snacks that provide protein and fibre, as these nutrients are digested slower in the body for longer-lasting energy. Examples include a piece of cheese and fruit, a slice of whole-grain toast with almond butter, or a few slices of turkey and baby carrots.
You’re Eating a Large Meal
Yes, you want to eat enough to feel full and satiated, but at the same time, overeating at a meal can also sap energy levels.
“Eating a very large meal, regardless of its composition, can divert a significant amount of blood flow to the digestive system to aid in digestion,” says Syn. “This can leave you feeling sluggish and less alert as your body focuses on processing the food,” she explains. This is especially true of higher fat meals, since fat is digested slowly by the body. If that meal in question was lunch, this means a midday energy slump.
To build a meal that provides energy, stabilises blood sugar, and isn’t too heavy, Syn recommends a portion-controlled, balanced meal that contains lean protein, complex carbohydrates (such as starchy vegetables, whole grains, or beans and lentils), healthy fats, and lots of vegetables.