Getting More Energy from the Foods You Eat

At holiday time, some of us tend to experience a period of overindulgence. Parties and family gatherings often come with large meals and added stress. Having an understanding of how our body converts food into fuel may be just the thing we need to fire up our energy levels, instead of leaving us sluggish on the couch this season.

From Food to Fuel 

The first source that your body looks to for energy are carbohydrates and fats. Amino acids from proteins will be used for this purpose as well, but only if there are not enough carbohydrates or fats available. The food molecules are digested and broken down into smaller pieces. Mitochondria within each cell take in these food derived molecules, and oxygen comes in to help burn these fuel molecules, resulting in energy. The entire process is much more detailed, but let's talk about food! 

Not all Carbohydrates are the same

Carbohydrates can spike our blood sugar levels in different ways, leading to either fast, strong peaks that provide a quick burst of energy, or a longer, slower buildup for more sustained energy. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a known measure of how fast a carbohydrate is broken down into a simple sugar (glucose) and then absorbed and transported into your blood stream.

Foods that are high on the Glycemic Index, like foods made from white flour, or sweetened beverages, may give you a quick rush of feeling energized, but they can also lead to feelings of fatigue as soon as that rush is over. If you are feeling overly tired, high GI foods may be the culprit. Constantly spiking blood glucose levels can cause insulin sensitivity issues, like diabetes, as well. 

Foods that are lower on the GI will release energy slowly, providing a longer lasting and more steady energy boost, and with less harmful effects on blood glucose levels. Low GI foods, like legumes, nuts, seeds, and green vegetables also tend to be a good source of fiber. Fiber can slow the breakdown and absorption of sugars from carbohydrates. 

What else is needed for energy production? 

Micronutrients play a role in the process of breaking down foods to energy, as well. B Complex vitamins, like vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6, are needed for mitochondria to capture energy from food and break it down for your body to use. 

Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, and L-carnitine, are two other nutrients involved in the energy production process. Minerals such as magnesium, iron, and sulphur also play a role in getting (and keeping) you on the go.

Healthy cells need good fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids found in wild salmon or organic eggs, and quality proteins as well. The enzymes that perform a lot of the work transferring energy in your body are made of proteins. 

Tips to Get More Energy from the Foods You Eat

  • Eat foods lower on the Glycemic Index, and avoid foods higher on the Glycemic Index
  • Reach for high fiber foods like vegetables and legumes
  • Eat quality proteins and healthy fats for optimal cellular health
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, both of which can interfere with your natural energy levels
  • Eat smaller, lighter meals throughout the day to feel lighter and more energetic
  • "B" sure to get your vitamins. Make sure your daily multivitamin has plenty of B-complex vitamins, and a range of minerals

With these tips in mind, you can breeze through the holidays with an abundance of natural energy! 

Melissa Zimmerman

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