What to Eat When You’re Low on Energy
After a night of tossing and turning, do you find yourself reaching for a muffin for breakfast and sugary treats throughout the day? Don’t be so quick to blame poor self-control.
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Research shows that we have a natural tendency to seek out sweets and foods high in carbohydrates for energy when we’re sleep-deprived. On top of that, a night of poor sleep can leave your hunger hormones out of whack, tricking you into thinking you’re hungry even if you aren’t.
While those indulgent comfort foods may provide a short-term energy boost as your blood sugar spikes, the inevitable crash that follows will leave you feeling worse than before. However, Stanford researchers found that eating a wholesome diet the day after short sleep can help lessen those feelings of grogginess, irritability, and difficulty concentrating that come after a sleepless night.
The next time you find yourself facing a long day after an even longer night, opt for healthy, energizing meals—look to meals with good-for-you carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) since they are the body’s main source of energy —to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation. Here are some ideas for energizing meals to help you feel happy, fortified, and unstoppable—all day long.
Toss some cheese and spinach into your scrambled eggs. Pair them with a side of apple slices topped with nut butter.
Why: Eggs are packed with protein, which is a sustained source of energy, and they also contain leucine, an amino acid that helps convert food into energy, says Rachel Caine, MS, RD, LDN. “Spinach contains iron, which helps your body make healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells,” she says. Although apples are high in carbs—your body’s main source of energy—the fiber they contain provides a slow and steady energy release, especially when paired with a healthy fat, says Caine. “The nut butter is an extremely nutrient-dense food and can help increase energy levels and decrease fatigue,” Caine says.
Pair this hearty breakfast with a cup of hot green or black tea, which can boost mental acuity and help you focus when you aren’t well rested. “Tea contains caffeine and L-theanine, an antioxidant that increases feelings of relaxation,” says Caine. “The combination of the two has been shown to improve attention and accuracy, which will help you stay sharp after a long night!”
Grill, bake, or broil salmon and serve with brown rice and a baked sweet potato.
Why: Salmon is high in protein, as well as omega-3 and vitamin B12. “Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning you need to get it from food,” says Juliana Dewsnap, RD, LDN, CPT. “It can support cognitive function after an all-nighter and works with B12 to provide sustained energy while helping to decrease stress.”
Brown rice contains manganese, which helps break down carbohydrates and proteins to create energy, says Dewsnap. As a complex carb, brown rice contains more fiber for long-lasting energy and is more filling than white rice, a simple carbohydrate that can cause a blood-sugar spike, leading to an energy crash and long-term negative health effects down the line, Dewsnap says. Sweet potatoes are also high in manganese and complex carbs to provide sustained energy. “By pairing these complex carbohydrates with a protein, your body will digest them throughout the day, helping you feel fuller for longer.”
What to Eat Before Bed to Sleep Soundly Tonight
Pair a small salad with a 3- to 4-ounce grilled, seasoned chicken breast and a baked sweet potato.
Why: This dinner is light but filling and has a balanced mix of lean protein, carbohydrates and a variety of nutrients. One study found that normal sleep duration was associated with greatest food variety in subjects’ diets and those meals included a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Just as some foods can help you shake off morning sluggishness, the right meal can help you sleep better. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try pairing whole-grain complex carbs with a lean protein, healthy fat, and fruit at dinnertime. “Fiber from complex carbs, along with healthy fats and lean protein helps you relax,” says Dewsnap.
“Lean proteins are high in tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin,” says Caine. Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you feel happy, relaxed and ready for sleep. “Healthy fats improve serotonin regulation while unhealthy fats negatively affect your levels,” Caine says.
Spicy foods and fattening fare can interfere with sleep. In addition, meals heavy in white carbs, such as refined pasta, can reduce the serotonin levels that help you fall asleep later. In addition, if you have acid reflux, it’s recommended you stop eating at least three hours before going to bed to avoid discomfort.
And you might want to skip that second glass of wine—alcohol can make you feel sleepy at first, but can lead to wakefulness later, in the middle of the night.
Healthy options include the following:
- A banana with some almonds
- A small piece of dark chocolate with a plum
- Pineapple and cashews
- Low-fat Greek yogurt topped with berries
By making smarter nutrition choices, you can do a better job of getting your body into a healthy cycle of rest and energy.
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