Our hectic lifestyles can draw us into bad habits when we need a little extra energy, so Dominica Roszko looks at the alternatives that will give you a boost of energy.
Coffee, tea, sugary drinks and snacks, they are, for most of us, almost invisible when considering our diets, they are part of the furniture and we consume them without even a thought. Dominica Roszko looks at the effects of our complacency…
Would my workdays be as productive without coffee?
That was a question I often asked myself when working in the hustle and bustle of the city. Like many of us, the morning stop at Starbucks or Costa became a ritual that I couldn’t miss. A few hours without a coffee and my energy levels and productivity rate began to drop – I was sure of it.
The need for an energy boost is familiar to millions of workers across the country, indeed a whole industry has been built on the back of our insatiable demand. Coffee chains have grown rapidly, and the Red Bull juggernaut is seemingly unstoppable.
Yet when it comes down to it, this success is fuelled by two main ingredients – caffeine and sugar – both natural products with questionable health effects.
The caffeine conundrum
Limited caffeine intake is unlikely to do much harm, but moderate quantities can significantly inhibit iron absorption, which may prove problematic – one cup of coffee can reduce iron absorption from a meal by 39%. For those people who already suffer from low iron stores, regularly drinking coffee might push them into the red zone without them even knowing it.
Of course, iron can be supplemented, but should we really rely on a supplement to regain a natural balance, just so we can get a temporary energy boost? The stimulatory effect of coffee also means that our adrenal glands release adrenaline (part of the reason we feel good when we drink it), but over an extended period of time this can lead to adrenal fatigue, causing us to actually feel more tired… then you guessed it – we reach for another coffee!
If you ever feel trapped by your reliance on caffeine, this crash and burn cycle may be the reason why.
A small can of energy drink normally contains around 7 teaspoons of sugar (seven, as the football result text would add for ridiculously high scores), and as soon as we consume it the energy generation process begins. Sugar molecules swiftly enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc on our blood glucose levels by pushing them sky-high. We feel excited, hyper-active, and definitely energetic, before eventually the weariness and fatigue kicks in.
Again, sugar provides a temporary energy boost, with long-term health effects that can be serious. Diabetes and obesity have both been proven to occur because of a high-sugar diet, and regularly consuming energy drinks only hinders our body’s ability to stay healthy.
Drinking water… Really?!
When I tell people that water is the first energy booster they should drink, I normally receive a look of disdain! How can water give us more energy?
The explanation is actually pretty simple – every single one of our organs requires water to function properly and many of us drink little to no water throughout the day. Dehydration, even at low levels, will cause a noticeable physical and mental decline, leaving us feeling sluggish, tired and irritable. If you’re in need of a quick ‘pick-me-up’, try drinking a glass or two of water!
Besides giving us an energy boost and fighting fatigue, drinking water also produces other benefits, such as warding off headaches, increasing metabolism, and aiding clearer skin. Many of us confuse signs of dehydration with signs of hunger. As a result of this, we may eat when we’re just thirsty.
Herbal teas and coffees are an amazing, affordable alternative to the ‘cuppa’. They support our immune systems with their antioxidant compounds, and often lead to a reduction in stress levels.
Here are some of my favourite brews:
Ginger – known to stimulate the circulatory system, clear the mind and focus the brain. It is very beneficial for the stomach and is an effective natural remedy for all forms of nausea. You just need some fresh ginger and hot water, while adding bit of maple syrup will satisfy the sweet toothed.
Liqorice – a plant that has been described as ‘the universal herb’. For anyone suffering from fatigue, liqorice works to restore adrenal glands that have been worn out by too much stress (and coffee). It is also a mood booster and works to stabilise blood sugar levels, so you don’t experience an ‘energy crash’ in the late afternoon.
Coffee options – roasted dandelion root coffee may sound unappealing, but it tastes and smells just like regular coffee and has the ability to balance blood sugar levels. Containing potassium, iron and zinc, it boasts a host of health boosting nutrients. Orzo coffee is also an excellent alternative – it is a barley coffee from Italy that is 100% organic.
Adaptogens are a unique group of herbal ingredients that are growing in popularity. Commonly used to improve the health of the adrenal system, they can ‘adapt’ their function according to your body’s specific needs. Although the effects may initially be subtle and take time to make themselves felt, they are most definitely real. In short, adaptogens are amazing!
Ashwagandha is a herb that’s popular in Indian ayurvedic medicine, and shows incredible results for lowering the stress hormone cortisol, while schisandra is a Chinese adaptogen that helps improve fatigue and promotes recovery from nervous exhaustion. Both of these herbs come in powder form that is easily mixed into hot water or other beverages.
For optimum energy level support, we need to maintain our intake of B vitamins. Eating more mushrooms is a fantastic way to achieve this. Look out for these varieties; reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, and chaga. All are adaptogens with anti-inflammatory and hormone-balancing properties, which can make a real difference to your sustained energy production.
Although vegan alternatives are much better for the body than caffeine or sugar, our lifestyles are the foundation of the way we think, act and feel. If you’re not getting enough sleep or exercising, then the impact of consuming different food or drink will inevitably be limited.
Sedentary living is a vicious cycle that leads to our muscles and heart losing their ability to handle exercise. The resulting lack of energy means you’ll tend to stay inactive. To break out of this cycle, start with a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day or an hour three times a week, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise sessions.
Sleeping for 7-8 hours a night is necessary to allow our bodies to repair themselves. Repeatedly relying on 5 hours per night will have you running on empty in no time, as will eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet on a daily basis. Having more ‘natural’ energy really does mean committing to a healthier lifestyle!
It is also important to note that there could be a medical reason for a loss of energy. Consider a visit to your GP to check for anaemia, thyroid problems, depression, or other contributors should any energy issues persist.
Dominica is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and Medicinal Chef who dedicates her time to helping others understand the impact a plant-based lifestyle can bring to the mind body and soul. More info at www.vegerasta.com.