How can I keep my energy up during the day without ruining my diet?

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On days when staying awake and focused seem nearly impossible, how can I keep my energy up during the day without ruining my diet with too much caffeine and sugar?

Before we talk about nutrition, we need to talk about sleep. Just cutting down your sleep by one hour will have a huge negative effect on your energy for the rest of day. Eating Free doesn't recommend a particular number of sleeping hours per night.  We all have our own individual sleep needs but it is very important to realize that if we don't meet them for a few days, no matter how good we eat, we will feel exhausted because of not getting adequate amount of rest. 

Aside from lack of sleep, there are chronic health conditions that can leave you constantly fatigued such as fibromyalgia and diabetes. Low-level depression and anxiety can also cause fatigue. These health issues may negatively affect your energy and focus throughout the day and it is important to discuss these issues with your doctor as soon as possible.

Assuming that you are sleeping enough and that you are addressing any health issues that can cause fatigue, proper nutrition can help you maintain a consistently high level of energy throughout the day.  Here are some key points.

A clear mind can boost your energy


Recent research shows that improving your cognition boosts your energy.  In other words, a clearer mind can make you feel more energetic.  Consuming foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can improve cognition.  In addition, the anti-oxidants in these foods can help your brain function and boost your memory.  Flax seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are particularly good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.  Eating Free suggests consuming six to eight ounces of salmon per week.  However, if you cannot get salmon regularly, you can supplement your diet with fish oil.  Eating Free also recommends eating extra servings of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.  All of these will help keep your mind clear and engaged and boost your energy.

Eat before and after working out


Skipping meals before and after exercising can deplete your sugar significantly and make you feel tired for the rest of the day.  This underscores the importance of having both pre- and post-exercise meals.  The difference between the two may be crucial for a bodybuilder doing resistance training or a marathoner doing endurance workouts but for the average person, a general pre- and post-workout meal plan is relatively simple to put together.  Eating Free recommends consuming 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 20 grams of protein an hour before working out.   For example, you can have a banana with yogurt or a slice of whole wheat bread with low-fat cheese before exercising. 


It is equally important to eat after completing a physical activity.  Eating Free recommends consuming 30 grams of carbohydrates and 25 to 35 grams of protein within 15 to 30 minutes after working out.  For example, plan to bring a turkey sandwich or a banana and cheese to the gym with you. If you are really pressed for time, a shake or smoothie can be good as long as it contains both carbohydrates and protein.  It is important to stress that the post-exercise meal should be consumed within 15 to 30 minutes after working out.

Eat enough of the right stuff


To keep your energy up throughout the day, you need enough of the right calories from a combination of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats, ideally in every meal.  Avoiding carbohydrates and fats or skipping meals entirely can adversely affect your energy level.
Eating Free strongly recommends that you have breakfast within an hour of waking up.  You fast all night while you sleep and so it is important to break that fast as soon as you can after waking up and to do so with a balance of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. For example, if you have yogurt, add a fruit; if you have bread, add egg whites or cheese.
As for the rest of the day, always remember to eat and avoid fasting for too long. Eating sensibly every three hours levels out blood sugar spikes.  In general, an average person should consume roughly 600 to 700 calories for lunch and 500 to 700 calories for dinner.  It is important to note that eating too much in a single meal may slow you down.   Dumping too many calories all at once takes a toll on your body and may make you feel tired. 
Finally, eating refined carbohydrates such as white bread, noodles and white rice may give you a sudden spike in energy because they raise your blood glucose.  However, a surge of insulin will knock down the sugar and will linger after the sugar is absorbed. This will give you low blood sugar and, consequently will make you feel fatigued and prematurely hungry again.