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Get Back on Track
When some people – like motivated athletes – think of supplements for exercise, it is often to boost their performance. But what if you need extra energy even to get yourself on a treadmill or down a snowshoe hill? And then, after you do manage to get some exercise, what keeps you from collapsing in front of the TV for the rest of the day?
You know that a healthy diet and adequate sleep are vital to keep energy levels high. You also probably know your body needs carbs to fuel your engine (working muscles) and protein to help build and repair both before and after exercise. Drinking water throughout the day also nourishes your body in order to have energy for a workout. But when all you feel like doing is hibernating or heading south during winter months, you might need to boost your body beyond the basics. Certain foods and healthful herbs can help.
Nutrition for Energy
Pre and Post Workout
Here are five surprising boosters to take pre and post exercise that will kickstart your energy, and ease mental and physical fatigue. And if the New Year has motivated you to be more active, these helpers also increase alertness and build stamina during heavy workouts.
Maybe best of all, they’re super clean — meaning they don’t have negative side effects like coffee, cola and mainstream energy-booster drinks do. What’s wrong with caffeine? Nothing, if it’s taken moderately. But, too much can cause increased heart rate, anxiety, dependency and withdrawal symptoms.
5 Natural Energy Boosters
Whether you shred them into salads, liquefy them in your juicer or take them as a dehydrated powder, beets (especially the purple/red ones) are known to boost stamina. New research shows that beet’s natural nitrates reduce the amount of oxygen required by the body, making exercise, and even getting off the couch, less tiring. When you’re exercising, beets’ nitrates help increase blood flow and strengthen muscle contractions. A study showed red beet juice helped athletes exercise 16% longer.
Pumpkin seeds have more protein (29.8g protein per 100g) than nuts, including peanuts and almonds usually chosen for protein. They have less saturated fat and more omega-3 fat than nuts, and are higher in iron, magnesium and B vitamins. It’s best to eat them with their workout partner — carbs. Both are needed to motivate you (physically and mentally) pre-workout, and replenish lost nutrients and glycogen when you’re drained afterward, decreasing muscle breakdown. Pumpkin seeds “prime the pump” to make the right amino acids available for your muscles, but also rebuild and repair. Dried figs make the perfect complement to eat alongside since they’re one of the few fruits with high protein and fibre.
Coconut oil’s fatty acids (a healthy saturated fat) offer a quick energy boost because they’re immediately converted to fuel for use by the body. Most saturated fats, like what’s in dairy and meat, go through a long 26-step process to be converted for the body’s use. But coconut oil’s small particle size allows far easier digestion (3-step process) so, it’s sent directly to the liver for use, and is not likely to be stored. Over 1,500 studies prove benefits of this type of fat to build muscle, produce longer sustained energy and increase metabolism.
All caffeinated drinks are not created equally. What makes matcha tea more than just a trendy alternative to coffee is that its antioxidants slow absorption of caffeine, resulting in a gentle increase in alertness with no end “crash.” Matcha’s L-theanine, an amino acid, has relaxing effects that counteract caffeine jitters, and it contains less than 1/6 of the caffeine compared to a cup of brewed coffee.
If you’re a juicing or smoothie devotee, you know the tender leaves of grasses have been around since the ‘70s as a pick-me-up. Alfalfa, kamut grass and oat grass offer not only vitamins and minerals, but plant protein and live enzymes. You can buy fresh grass in some stores, but it’s usually wheatgrass. This is okay, but research shows that other varieties are better; kamut juice, for example, has 25% more protein, 148% more calcium, and 50% more iron than wheatgrass. If you’ve hit a wall, grass juices are said to help increase physical and mental energy, and their alkalinity helps recovery after exercise.
Carol Crenna has been a national health journalist for 20 years, and a certified holistic nutritionist for 10 years. She has written features for Reader’s Digest, Best Health, MORE and Canadian Living, and conducted seminars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Association, Stroke Recovery Association, GF Strong Amputee Recovery, Inspire Health, Capilano University and Langara College.