Modern life can burn us out if we dont keep our eye on things and actively look after ourselves. Our body and our physiology is still right there in the days of living off the land in a cave somewhere. Our brains grew at an alarming rate and created a world that has put demands on us that evolution has not allowed us to catch up with or cope with.
The pressures of modern life is obviously inescapable, unless you choose to join an Ashram and shun material existence, so how can we help our bodies better cope with the insane demands placed upon them that zap our energy. Well, this is a big subject and I wouldnt be daft enough to pretend that diet is the be all and end all that has all of the answers and is your ultimate saviour. Personal development, mental and physical development, all have a huge part to play. That being said, there ARE some nutritional strategies that can give us a head start.
This is a pretty simple starting point but one most people arent even aware of. Blood sugar peaks and troughs can zap our energy quickly. Our blood sugar levels need to be stable and consistent for our energy levels to remain consistent. Unfortunately what tends to happen with modern dietary patterns is quite the opposite. When we eat a food that is high in simple sugars or that can release its sugars rapidly – think white bread, white rice, chocolate bars etc, then our blood sugar levels can rise rapidly. This gives us an initial high. A sugar rush.
Blood sugar that is very high is potentially very problematic for the body, so It has a very effective way of dealing with it. When blood sugar rises, we secrete the hormone insulin, which tells our cells there is additional glucose available and opens the gateways in the cells that allow this sugar in. The higher the blood sugar, the more aggressively this takes place. When this happens in an aggressive manner eg after a sugary coffee and a croissant, then the result is that after the initial rush, everything comes crashing down as the excessive glucose enters the cells and leaves our blood stream. Ever experienced the afternoon energy dip?
You can remedy this by ditching all the fast release carbohydrates. Swap white bread for brown or multigrain, swap your breakfast cereal for a protein based breakfast like eggs. Swap white rice for brown, and white pasta for whole wheat pasta. You get the picture. Also foods like dried fruit and confectionary should be kept to an absolute minimum.
To take the blood sugar balancing a step further, the way in which you combine your meals makes the world of difference. The simple rule is – always consume protein with carbohydrates. By doing this every time you eat you basically create a meal that takes much longer to digest. In doing so you cause it to release its energy much more slowly and you end up drip feeding your blood sugar rather than carpet bombing it. This basically keeps your energy levels nice and consistent without the peaks and troughs of the blood sugar roller coaster.
To put this into practice, think brown rice with chicken/fish/tofu/beans plus non starchy veggies. Think, wholewheat pasta with a meat/quourn ragout, and a side salad. A chicken sandwich on wholemeal rye bread, peanut butter on multigrain toast etc etc. Its an easy step to take, and one that will have a big knock on effect.
When it comes to individual nutrients for energy, then B vitamins rule the roost here. When our cells take in glucose, they need to convert the glucose into something else before they can use it. They need to convert it into ATP which is the fuel source that every cell runs on. Glucose goes through different stages of transformation, through many metabolic pathways in order for ATP to be produced, and specific nutrients are needed for different stages of this conversion.
This conversion takes place in the mitochondria – little power stations in our cells. The first stage of this conversion is called the krebs cycle. During this stage 2 of the B vitamins are VITAL for conversion – Niacin and Riboflavin. Niacin is found abundantly in turkey, chicken, peanuts, and mushrooms. Riboflavin is found in offal, dairy products, mushrooms and spinach. Personally I choose to take a high strength B complex daily.
The second step of the conversion of glucose into ATP is known as the Electron Transport Chain. A nutrient called Co Enzyme Q10 is vital during this stage. Co Q10 is found in organ meats, and is fairly scarce in plant foods, at least in levels that will have any significant value. A daily supplement here is a great idea.
The final and seemingly obvious part of the picture is sleep, recovery, and repair. Get insufficient sleep and you will know about it in a couple of days. Sleep is vital for repair and rejuvenation. So many things can influence sleep, and diet can certainly offer some help. Two nutrients in particular are very valuable – magnesium and tryptophan.
Magnesium is a mineral that is used in over 1000 chemical reactions in the body, and it is also a mineral that we dont get enough of in the Western World. In terms of sleep, magnesium helps to physically relax us. It relaxes our muscles and relaxes the nervous system. This will help us to wind down, switch off, and drift off to sleep. Magnesium is found in all green leafy vegetables. If it is green, there is abundant magnesium there, as it is part of the chlorophyll molecule.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that crosses our blood brain barrier and is then turned into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which we often associate with elevated mood. Serotonin, when our brain perceives darkness at night, will convert into melatonin. This is the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep patterns and helps us drift off into a deep refreshing sleep. Tryptophan is found abundantly in turkey, tuna, bananas, and peanut butter. We also need a small amount of carbohydrate with tryptophan rich foods to create a small insulin spike, as this drives the tryptophan across the blood brain barrier. The perfect bedtime snack could be a tuna open sandwich on half a slice of multigrain bread for example.
These simple strategies are going to make a massive difference to how you feel and your energy levels. Of course other things will impact this – our life schedules, or genetics, a million other influences. But, we do have the ability to engage in our own self care, and diet is the place to start.