Thank goodness for Health.com. According to an article I read online today, some of my dietary habits are draining me of energy. Let’s take a look:
Who doesn’t wish for more energy at least a few dozen times a day?
I don’t. (I hope I’m not alone in that regard. If most people are wishing they had more energy two to three times every hour they’re awake, those zombie movies aren’t as far-fetched as I thought.)
Of course, you know that a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, and effective stress management can give you a much-needed boost. But to further figure out why you’re slumping, you need to pinpoint the energy-sucks in your diet. (Hint: Those low-carb meals aren’t doing you any favors.)
Dangit! And here I thought my energy level was pretty high for a guy coming up on his 55th birthday. During the daylight hours last weekend, I spent my time sawing logs, tossing the sawed logs aside to saw more logs, and weed-whacking my way through some briar. After the sun went down, I programmed some updates to a software package I sell to law firms. Oh, and I also played 72 holes of disc golf while taking work breaks from the logs. Now that I know I did all that in an energy-depleted state, I feel kind of foolish.
Anyway, here are the energy-draining mistakes Health.com says I may be making:
You go long stretches without eating
Guilty as charged.
Food Fix: Snack early, snack often
Every time you go more than two hours or so without eating, your blood sugar drops — and that’s bad news for your energy.
Hmmm … as I write, it’s been six hours since my last meal. So out of curiosity, I pulled the glucose meter out of my desk drawer and checked my blood sugar. It’s 90 mg/dl. I’m pretty sure that’s not considered low. Once or twice per week, I do a 24-hour intermittent fast – dinner one day to dinner the next. I’ve checked my glucose at the 23-hour mark. It’s always in the 80-90 mg/dl range. So I’m thinking if your blood sugar drops to the point where you feel drained just two hours after a meal, it may have something to do with what you eat.
Food supplies the body with glucose, a type of sugar carried in the bloodstream. Our cells use glucose to make the body’s prime energy transporter, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your brain needs it. Your muscles need it. Every cell in your body needs it.
Time to dig out the books on metabolism again. I was under the impression most of the cells in our bodies can also burn fatty acids or ketones for fuel.
But when blood sugar drops, your cells don’t have the raw materials to make ATP. And then? Everything starts to slow down. You get tired, hungry, irritable and unfocused.
Tired, hungry, irritable, unfocused … yes, I remember that feeling. I experienced it rather often when I was on a low-fat diet and depended on regular infusions of carbohydrates to keep my blood sugar up. Back in those days, I would have been a sucker for advice such as:
Grab a bite every two to four hours to keep blood sugar steady.
I had to take a couple of business calls and answer some emails while writing, so now it’s going on seven hours since my last meal. According to Health.com, that means I’m at least three hours overdue for a snack . I’d better check my blood sugar again. Hang on a second …
… Uh-oh. My glucose has plummeted to 89. Anyway, on to the next mistake and fix.
Your breakfast is too “white bread”
Energy, thine enemy is a sugary breakfast: pancakes, white toast, muffins and the like. Instead, start your day with soluble fiber (found in oatmeal, barley and nuts).
“It dissolves in the intestinal tract and creates a filter that slows the absorption of sugars and fats,” explains Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center and author of “Disease Proof.”
In fact, research shows that choosing a breakfast with either soluble fiber or insoluble fiber — the kind in whole-grain breads and waffles — actually protects against blood sugar spikes and crashes later in the day.
Well, there’s my problem. I don’t eat whole-grain breads or waffles for breakfast. If I eat breakfast at all, it’s eggs and some kind of meat. But I often skip breakfast because I’m just not hungry. Part of the reason I’m not hungry is that my glucose is always in the 80-90 range when I wake up. Since Health.com has informed me that going without eating for more than four hours will cause low glucose, I’m considering setting up the video camera in our kitchen so I can catch myself raiding the refrigerator while sleep-walking.
A smart start: cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber a serving and whole-grain breads with 2g per slice.
Yeah, start your day with cereal or bread. Then grab a snack within the next two to four hours, because your blood sugar will be dropping. I wonder if there’s a connection?
The next two mistakes the article lists are eating the wrong kinds of vegetables and avoiding red meat entirely. No complaints there. But here’s the final mistake and suggested fix:
You’ve cut one too many carbs
Food Fix: Hello, whole-wheat pasta and potatoes!
Carbs help your body burn fat without depleting muscle stores for energy.
So if you keep raising your glucose every two to four hours so every cell in your body can burn glucose for energy without even tapping your glycogen stores, your body ends up burning fat. Makes sense.
The ideal diet is 50 to 55% complex carbohydrates, 20 to 25% protein and 25% fat.
In a Tufts University study, women on a carbs-restricted diet did worse on memory-based tasks compared with women who cut calories but not carbs. And when the low-carb group introduced them back into their diet, their cognitive skills leveled out.
I see. So here’s the advice in a nutshell:
- Start your day with cereal, bread or waffles.
- When your blood sugar plummets two hours or so after eating the cereal, bread or waffles, have a snack to raise your blood sugar.
- When your blood sugar drops two hours or so after eating the snack that raised your blood sugar, have another snack to raise your blood sugar. By constantly raising your blood sugar to make sure you burn glucose for fuel, you end up burning fat.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your next meal — which should be 50-55% carbohydrates to make sure your body produces enough blood sugar.
- When your blood sugar drops two hours or so after eating a meal that’s 50-55% carbohydrate (to make sure you produce enough blood sugar), have a snack to raise your blood sugar.
- Research at Tufts University shows that after conditioning yourself to require a carbohydrate snack every two hours or so to keep your blood sugar from plummeting, cutting back on carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar to plummet — which means you’ll do worse on memory-based tasks. So don’t cut back on the carbohydrates.
- If you accidentally forget to eat carbohydrates every two hours or so and your blood sugar plummets and causes you to do worse on memory-based tasks, eat more carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar and level out your cognitive abilities. But don’t forget to have a snack two hours later to raise your blood sugar after it starts dropping, or you’ll become stupid again.
That advice makes no sense to me. But that’s probably because it’s now been seven hours since my last meal, and my glucose has plummeted to 89 mg/dl.
p.s. – After I wrote this post, we had dinner: a chef salad with lettuce, onions, eggs, cauliflower, bacon, bits of cheddar cheese, tomatoes from the garden, Italian sausage chunks and a bacon grease/white wine vinegar dressing. My glucose an hour later is 105 mg/dl. I don’t expect to need a snack two hours from now.