One of the most common problems reported through our Insights survey is that people feel they don’t have enough energy to get through the day. There are lots of reasons that could be behind this, and monitoring your energy levels can help you to understand what’s making you so tired, and how you can change it.
Staff that are energised are happier and more productive, so figuring out what’s making them sluggish can have fantastic results in the workplace!
Once they’ve figured that out, why not check out our guides to getting better sleep and eating for better energy?
This article from Lifehack looks at a simple way to get to know your own energy cycles through the day, and gives advice on planning your day so that you’re doing activities at the optimal time. This is a great place to start with your staff that are having energy issues.
For those who have a more serious or long-term problem with tiredness, ManageMyFatigue is a great app that helps individuals to manage their day, build on success, and feel more energised. It’s available on iOS and Android.
Fluctuating energy levels throughout the month can also be a symptom of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Clue is a cycle tracking app that measures energy levels among other factors, which can help users to identify patterns. In this blog, the makers explain why they track energy levels, and how it can help women.
Nudjed Health Resources are collections of online content and tools that offer simple, low-cost ways to improve specific areas of health. To discover which areas of health are affecting productivity in your organisation, check out Nudjed Insights.
The human body has two main energy sources: Fat and carbohydrate. Fat is by far the most efficient energy source, but it cannot cross the barrier between the blood and the brain cells. But carbs can…
The ‘Brain Blood Barrier’
It may sound a little gross, but it’s actually pretty simple science:
- Your body’s (and brain’s) cells need energy to function
- Blood carries this energy to them via the circulatory system (arteries)
- Unfortunately there’s a barrier around your brain that fat cells don’t fit through
- This means that only carbohydrates can give your brain energy
Avoid getting Hangry
Hangry – the anger associated with feeling hungry, is your brain crying out for energy, not your body.
When you are eating carbs, think of it as feeding your brain before you think of it as feeding your body
The brain uses only carbohydrate (sugar) as its energy supply, that is the only reason why carbohydrate is essential to the diet.
Fats are made up of groups of three fatty acids.
Each of those fatty acids is made up of a chain of molecules, just like carbs.
- short chains (0-6)
- medium chains (6-12)
- long chains (13-21)
- and very long chains (22+).
Three of these chains, attached to a glycerol, makes a fat.
The arrangement of molecules within each chain determines how saturated the fat is.
If there is a double bond in the arrangement then the fat is un-saturated.
The number of double bonds determines whether it is mono-unsaturated (1) or poly-unsaturated (2+), no double bonds and you’ve got a saturated fat.
What difference does it make if I choose a saturated fat over an un-saturated fat?
So let’s say we have the choice of two different fats for breakfast, sausage (high in saturated) or avocado (high in unsaturated).
It’s the world cup of fat, Sausage vs. Avocado.
- On first impressions, there is no difference, they all go down the same way and are broken up into fatty acids. They both contain 9 calories per gram. 0-0
- Whilst they can all be used for storage and energy, the avocado contains some essential fatty acids. 1-0 to avocado on quality of fatty acids.
- The sausage fat is associated with an increase in LDL and vLDL cholesterol, which are the types which carry fatty acids out into the bloodstream. On the other side, the avocado may increase HDL, which mops up excess fatty acids from around the body and bring them back to the liver to be disposed of. 2-0 to avocado for promoting a better HDL-LDL balance.
- High levels of circulating fat and high levels of LDL’s are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and some cancers. In particular, LDL’s and circulating fatty acids are found in atherosclerotic plaques which block the blood vessels. 3-0 to avocado for potentially reducing the risk of cardiac events.
- Fats from fish, shellfish and plants (like avocado) contain more vitamins and minerals than the sausage. These help to fight against disease, reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. 4-0 to avocado for providing more additional nutrients.
- New research shows that foods high in essential fatty acids are associated with better brain function and a reduction in the risk of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Can’t get that benefit from a sausage! 5-0.
- Unsaturated fats like those from the avocado are consumed in high amounts throughout the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Greece) where the average life expectancy is the longest in Europe, and almost the world (82-83 years). Countries consuming high amounts of saturated fat like the USA have a much lower average life expectancy (78 years). 6-0.
Final Score: Sausage 0 vs. 6 Avocado – I know which one I would go for.
Minerals are natural compounds found in the diet. At least 15 minerals are currently considered essential for health, though it’s likely there are more you require*.
Minerals are usually divided into two areas:
We usually require more of these, or our bodies use them faster, or store them less well, meaning we need to consume them more regularly. These include:
- Iron (Fe) – found in meat/poultry, beans, watercress, lentils, and chickpeas. It is essential for the formation of red blood cells. Very important for menstruating women.
- Sodium (Na) – found in salt (no more than 6g per day) and is important for nerve transmission and cell integrity.
- Phosphorus (P) – found in meats, milk, and soya products and is important for the formation of DNA and cell function.
- Magnesium (Mg) – found in spinach, pumpkin seeds, mackerel, soya beans, and avocado. Is vitally important for energy production/metabolism.
- Calcium (Ca) – found in dairy products, almonds, sesame, quinoa, beans, broccoli and kale, and is vital for cell signalling and bone/tooth formation
- Potassium (K) – found in parsley, almonds, dried apricots, bananas, avocado, and soya beans. Is important for normal cell function.
No less important, but our bodies require less of them to function well. You don’t need to go out of your way to try and get more, but it is good to know what they are. These include:
- Zinc (Zn) – found in oysters, lobster, crab, meat, beans, seeds, and nuts. Is essential for enzyme function (affecting dozens of body processes).
- Copper (Cu) – found in shitake mushrooms, oysters, kale, sesame seeds, cashew nuts and chickpeas, and is essential for respiratory enzyme function.
- Selenium (Se) – found in brazil nuts, tuna, wholewheat, sunflower seeds, and meats, and is essential for thyroid function
- Molybdenum (Mo) – found in green beans, eggs, sunflower seeds, and lentils, and is important for biochemical reactions in the body and tooth enamel maintenance.
- Chromium (Cr) – found in black pepper, broccoli, oats, green beans, and tomatoes, and may be essential for metabolism
- Manganese (Mn) – found in mussels, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, wholewheat bread and butter beans, and is essential for wound healing, nutrient absorption and bone formation.
- Iodine (I) – found in seaweed (nori in sushi), cod, potato skin, prawns and tuna, and is essential for the production of thyroid hormones which control growth and metabolism
- Fluorine (F) – found in toothpastes, mouthwashes etc. It helps in bone formation, and prevents tooth decay
- Cobalt (Co) – found in wholegrains, seeds and nuts, and is essential for enzyme function and is an important component of B vitamins.
A note on farming…
The concentration of minerals in your food depends on how much was in the soil it grew from. As less intensive farming methods leave more minerals in the soil, cheaper products sometimes have less nutritional value. So it’s worth investing in good quality produce, if you want to be super healthy.
*As with any science, our knowledge of how the body works is constantly expanding. There may well be minerals that we consume that are essential for various functions, we just don’t know it yet.
Vitamins are classed as micronutrients. This is because we require smaller amounts of them than any of the macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein). However, they are no less essential! Ignoring any one of them would eventually lead to very serious health issues.
Vitamins are divided into two main categories according to how the body absorbs them; fat soluble, and water soluble.
Water Soluble Vitamins
Water soluble vitamins are absorbed using water, with excess amounts being passed out when you pee. Water soluble vitamins are not stored, you must consume them every day.
The water soluble vitamins are:
Vitamin C – Ascorbic acid/Ascorbate
- Essential for: Immune system, absorption of iron, antioxidant defences.
- Good sources: Chilli peppers, bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, parsley, broccoli.
- Deficiencies: Low immune system, scurvy (yes, like a pirate).
B Vitamins – Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Pyridoxine, Biotin, folate/folic acid, B12
- Essential for: Normal cell metabolism, huge number of essential processes.
- Good sources: Wholegrains, lentils, beans, potatoes (skin on), chilli peppers, bananas.
- Deficiencies: Metabolic disorders and, Beriberi (B1), ariboflavinosis (B2), pellagra (B3), acne (B5), microcytic anaemia (B6, B9, B12) and depression (B6), impaired growth in infants (B7), neural tube defects in babies, brain ageing (B9), peripheral neuropathy, memory loss, brain decline (B12)
Fat Soluble Vitamins
As you’d expect, Fat soluble vitamins need fat in the diet in order to be absorbed. So it’s worth taking them into account before removing too much fat from your diet.
The fat soluble vitamins are:
Vitamin A – Retinol
- Essential for: Eye health/vision and a healthy immune system.
- Good sources: cod liver oil, meats (especially turkey and liver), sweet potato, carrots, butter, kale, spinach.
- Deficiencies: Poor vision, low immune response, blindness.
Vitamin D Cholecalciferol/ergocalciferol
- Essential for: Absorption of minerals (especially calcium), and bone formation.
- Good sources: Sunlight, mushrooms, fish, fortified cereals.
- Deficiencies: Rickets, Osteoporosis.
Vitamin E Tocopherol/tocotrienol
- Essential for: antioxidant defences, cell signalling
- Good sources: Seed oils, avocado, broccoli, seeds, nuts, nut oils.
- Deficiencies: Neurological problems
Vitamin K – Phylloquinone
- Essential for: Blood coagulation.
- Good sources: Kale, broccoli, cavolo nero, spinach, chard greens, brussel Sprouts.
- Deficiencies: Anaemia, bleeding gums, linked to Heart Disease and Osteoporosis
The glucose in your blood is generally referred to as your ‘blood sugar’ level. Diabetics have to pay close attention to it, but understanding how it works will help anyone to regulate their energy levels better.
So how do you get sugar into your blood?
Glucose is a form of sugar that your body can rapidly turn into energy when it needs to. Carbohydrates from your food are all broken down into glucose during digestion before being used immediately, or stored away for later.
Glucose is generally stored as a complex carbohydrate called ‘glycogen’ in either the liver, or the muscle. For instance, if you start running, the glycogen is converted into glucose in your leg muscles. This in turn converts into energy, powering your legs.
The body keeps an emergency level of glucose in the blood at all times, just in case it is needed in a hurry. Generally this is for your brain, which needs energy from glucose to work effectively (most people who start starving, make worse decisions due to the drop in blood sugar).
Managing your blood sugar to be healthy
Blood glucose goes up when we eat, and down again as it is stored or used. It is regulated by two hormones called insulin and glucagon.
Insulin helps to take glucose out of the blood, glucagon helps to put it back in again. It’s this regulation of blood-sugar that diabetics struggle with. They have a problem with their production or use of insulin and have inject it should their blood sugar rise too much.
Stored glycogen can only fuel your body for approx. 12 hours (or less if you’re very active). After it runs out, the body will start searching for other stored energies, i.e. fat. So if you’re looking to lose body fat, it’s important that you maintain enough blood sugar for your brain to work, but not so much that you don’t ever get to burn off your body fat.
Three good tactics to do this are:
- Don’t binge on sugary snacks, swap to fruit, spread your consumption out to flatten the energy curve.
- Pick slow release energy sources. Complex carbs like wholemeal bread have a lower Glycemic Index.
- Don’t starve yourself. You’ll find you make worse decisions, that leave your brain craving fast release energy.
Blood sugar can have a major impact on how you feel ‘in the moment’ as well as being a good way to manage your body fat for the whole of your life. Pay attention to the tips above and you won’t go far wrong.
Essential fats are ‘essential’ because your body cannot make them. These we need to get from our diet.
There are two essential fats, they are:
ALA or Omega 3
Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) belongs to a group called the omega-3’s. We get ALA (omega 3) from seafood and oily fish (mackerel, salmon, herring) and some seeds. We don’t eat enough of these.
Improving consumption of omega 3’s in particular has been shown to help with brain function, reduce inflammation and lead to a higher level of general health.
LA or Omega 6
Linoleic acid (LA) belongs to a group called the omega-6’s. We get LA (omega 6) from seed and vegetable oils, and generally, in western countries, we eat plenty.
In fact, the amount of omega 6 compared to omega 3 in our diet is a problem. Some nutritionist recommend we redress the balance by cutting back on our use of vegetable and seed oils and increasing intake of oily fish.
Changes in weight depend on altering the balance between calories in and calories out. That’s it
The concept of changing ‘calories in’ is relatively simple, you just eat fewer of them and bob’s your uncle. It may not be straight forward to achieve, but the actual aim is easy to understand. See ‘affecting calories in’.
The problem comes when you try to understand the other side of the equation; ‘calories out’. This is different for everyone and may be constantly changing.
Here’s our guide to understanding factors which affect ‘calories out’ so you can work out why you might not be shifting as many pounds as you would like, or why you might be shifting too many.
- BMR: Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories we burn just to exist. Everyone has a slightly different BMR and you may need to adjust your calories in to compensate for any of the following:
- Muscle mass – more muscle = higher BMR
- Age – as we get older BMR slowly decreases
- Body size – The bigger you are the higher your BMR
- Hormones – thyroxine, testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin concentrations all affect BMR
- Stress and anxiety – BMR increases with stress
- Sleep – BMR decreases when you are asleep
- Gender – men have a fairly stable BMR. Women often have a more variable BMR
- Exercise: Physical activity has a huge impact on the amount of calories we use. The more vigorous the exercise, the more calories we use.
- Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT): The body creates a bit more heat when we eat, eating spicy foods like chillies actually gives us a slight boost
“When you are thinking about calorie balance, you have to consider your lifestyle, not compared to the average person (or your friends), but just in terms of yourself and your balance”
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is created in the body. It is an important part of cells and your body couldn’t function without it.
Other animals also make cholesterol, and as such, animal products contribute to the total amount of cholesterol in our bodies.
Plants make a version called phytosterols which are not used in the body but do compete with animal cholesterol for absorption.
There are three main types of cholesterol, each one is made from fat (lipo) and protein, they are;
- HDL (high density lipoprotein)
- LDL (low density lipoprotein)
- vLDL (very low density lipoprotein)
In short, HDL is good, LDL is undesirable and vLDL is bad.
High LDL and vLDL (or low HDL) has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.
If you eat more saturated fats then you produce more vLDL and LDL cholesterol. If you eat more unsaturated fats then you produce more HDL. The balance between the two is the key.
“Eating more plants and less meat is a good way to correct the balance between LDL and HDL cholesterol”.
The glycaemic index of common foods is shown below.
It is relative to the GI of glucose mixed into water (which is the reference food), the GI of glucose would be 100.
For example: A food with a GI of 93 raises blood sugar at a similar rate to glucose, whilst a food with a GI of 10 raises blood sugar much more slowly than glucose.
Note of caution: “The GI is just about blood sugar, it doesn’t tell you anything about the nutritional value of the food”.
There are foods which have a high GI that are valuable in terms of their other properties, like being high in vitamins, minerals or antioxidants. This is why we will continually advocate a varied diet!
GI of common UK foods:
Baked Potato = 111
Fruit Roll-Ups = 99
Lucozade = 95-99
White Bread = 95
Cornflakes = 93
White Rice = 89
Pretzels = 83
Boiled Potato = 82
Pizza = 80
Wholemeal Bread = 70
Orange Juice = 70
Sweet Potato = 70
Special K = 69
Honey = 61
White Pasta = 58
Ice cream (avg.) = 57
All Bran = 55
Snickers = 51
Crisps = 51
Brown Rice = 50
Apple Juice (unsweetened) = 44
Wholemeal Pasta = 42
Apple = 39 / Orange = 40
Baked Beans = 40
Carrots = 35
Pearled Barley = 28
Chickpeas = 10
Hummus = 6