We’ve all felt it. That heavy-lidded, heavy-headed, dragging-your-feet feeling. Sometimes we know we just need to take a day to rest or get some extra sleep. But here’s the catch: we have responsibilities. We need to go to class or go to work or take care of the kids. So what do we do? We grab some coffee or a Red Bull and go about our day. We get stuff done! Everything is great… and then the crash hits. Coming down from a caffeine and/or sugar high makes you feel even more exhausted, so now what? More coffee? More Red Bull? This is how we get into a vicious cycle with stimulants. Don’t get me wrong here, coffee actually has its benefits and I happen to be a coffee-drinker myself. But if you’re looking for an energy boost and don’t want to turn to coffee or (even worse) sugar-laden energy drinks, then there are some natural energy boosters you can try.
What can cause a decrease in energy?
The goal of naturopathic medicine is to determine the root cause of health issues. So when a patient comes to me with the chief concern “lack of energy”, I always try to figure out why this is happening before I recommend a natural energy booster. The following conditions can cause a decrease in energy, and it’s important to see your naturopathic doctor or other primary health care provider if you think you may have any of them:
- Thyroid conditions
- Decreased sleep quantity
- Inflammatory processes
- Decreased sleep quality
- Poor nutrition
- Decreased glucose
- Decreased cortisol
- Food intolerance (especially if fatigue occurs after eating)
All-natural energy boosters
This is one of the best natural energy boosters. Yes, it does take energy to exercise, but the payout is worth it. Runner’s high is very real but doesn’t cause the energy crash afterwards that you get with other stimulants like sugar and caffeine. Regular exercise that is low to moderate in intensity can increase your energy by 20%. This happens because exercise increases the number of mitochondria in your body, and these little guys (which you probably learned about back in your middle school science class) are the powerhouses of cells. If you take a brisk 10-15 minute walk, the effects on your energy can last up to 2 hours.
In our first year of naturopathic college, I made a goal for myself to drink more water. I replaced any fruit juice I was drinking with water instead. I started out drinking 1 cup of water a day and gradually increased it until I was drinking 8 cups (2 Litres) each day. The effect on my energy was astounding. Suddenly I could make it through a whole day of classes without a cup of coffee and without feeling sleepy.
The easiest way to implement water-drinking into your daily routine is to bring a water bottle with you and fill it throughout the day. One method I’ve seen that seems to work is the elastic band method, where you place 8 elastic bands on your left wrist in the morning. Each time you drink a cup of water, move an elastic band to your right wrist. But if you have a drink containing caffeine or alcohol, transfer a band back over to your left wrist (since alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating to the body). Once your left wrist is empty, you should be properly hydrated. This is one of the least expensive and easiest to obtain natural energy boosters out there, so take advantage of it!
OK, this one may sound crazy, but I’ve experienced it for myself and it definitely works! Here’s what you do: when you’re taking your regular shower, start with the water as hot as possible (without burning yourself). Then switch it to the coldest temperature you can tolerate. Alternate between hot and cold water throughout your shower in a 4:1 ratio. For example, 1 minute on hot and 15 seconds on cold. End your shower on cold, as this helps to close up skin pores and hair follicles.
This method may sound a bit like torture, but here’s how it works: Heat has dilatory effects, meaning it helps to open blood vessels and pump blood more quickly throughout the body. Cold has the opposite effect, constricting blood vessels and slowing down the movement of blood. Alternating between the two extremes causes a pumping effect, enhancing circulation throughout the body and promoting detoxification. If all this sounds completely awful to you, you can just try ending your showers with cold water and eventually work your way up to a full contrast shower.
Magnesium is one of the most important natural energy boosters because it is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It actually helps to make glucose into energy. A study on women with magnesium deficiencies showed they had higher heart rates and required more oxygen to do physical tasks than after magnesium levels were restored. Some magnesium-containing natural energy boosters include: almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat, and fish (especially halibut). To see if a magnesium supplement is right for you, speak to a naturopathic doctor.
In the body, we measure energy in calories. How do we get calories (aka energy) into our body? Food! Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast. Make sure your meals are balanced and include protein as well as complex carbohydrates like whole wheat, quinoa, or brown rice.
Positive thinking has all kinds of health benefits, and is a natural energy-booster. We’ve all (unfortunately) had the experience of being around a negative person. After spending time with them, you feel completely drained of energy. This is why avoiding negative people would be beneficial, however, it’s not always possible to avoid certain people. Try keeping a positive outlook, even when you’re around this kind of person. Positive energy is contagious! Along the same lines as positivity, human and animal touch can also help improve energy levels. Whether you’re getting a back massage from an RMT, cuddling with your dog, or hugging a friend, there is a whole cascade of health benefits that occurs. In fact, just a 10-second hug stimulates the release of oxytocin and decreases cortisol (the stress hormone).
So if you want to boost your energy naturally, try starting your day with a contrast shower. Make sure you eat breakfast. At work, get up from your desk and go for a brisk walk. Make sure you’re drinking lots of water throughout the day and eating regular, well-balanced meals with enough magnesium. Think positive thoughts during the day. If you try all this and your energy doesn’t improve, make sure to book an appointment with a naturopathic doctor so they can assess for any possible underlying pathology.
Image courtesy of: Naomi August