The demands of modern day life leave many of us feeling constantly fatigued. Whilst it’s normal to feel tired now and then, the number of people reporting chronically low energy has risen sharply in recent years. Many of us just assume that this lethargy is our new norm, or even worse, don’t notice the exhaustion until we’re forced to stand still for a moment.

Though there are a host of reasons that can cause our energy levels to deteriorate, diet is often a major contributing factor. The good news is that a few small changes can help alleviate many of the common causes and restore productivity and balance. As well as ensuring we eat a diet full of clean, natural and nutrient-dense foods, here are 3 more specific steps to consider:

Pay close attention to the glycemic index (GI)

Low blood sugar is an extremely common cause of low energy. High GI foods contain carbohydrates that are broken down quickly by the body, resulting in a rapid increase in blood glucose. And what goes up must come down, leading to a “crash”. To avoid such rapid energy swings:

  • Keep the glycemic load (GL) of meals low by opting for carbohydrates that breakdown slowly (wholegrains such as oats, quinoa and brown rice rather than refined foods such as white rice, white bread or non-wholewheat pasta), and combining with protein to slow the sugar release further.
  • Snack between meals to prevent blood sugar dips. Choose your snacks wisely by selecting low GI foods and add protein with every snack.
  • Avoid all refined sugars. It’s important to check ingredient lists; you’ll be surprised at how many prepared foods contain hidden refined sugars.

Amino acid deficiencies

The importance of proteins cannot be over-emphasised: they are involved in virtually every cell function. Human proteins are built from 20 amino acids. Of these, 9 are essential amino acids, meaning that our bodies cannot synethesise them directly. These 9 must come from our diet and a shortage will impact our energy levels. So as well as ensuring an adequate amount of protein in our diets overall, we should focus on eating enough foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids (“complete proteins”) such as meat, fish, eggs, quinoa, buckwheat and spirulina.

  • Aim to get at least one portion of a complete protein source every day.
  • Aim to include some protein in every meal and snack. As well as the obvious high protein foods, foods such as nuts, beans, pulses and yoghurt are also sources of protein.
  • Add protein powders, nut butters or superfoods such as spirulina and chia seeds to smoothies to ensure significant protein content.

Top up iron

Iron binds oxygen to haemoglobin, and therefore a deficiency of iron means that the body is not efficiently oxygenated. Low energy, headaches, heavy limbs and trouble concentrating are common signs of low iron. Women (due to menstruation) and vegetarians and vegans are particularly susceptible.

  • Ensure sufficient high-iron foods in your diet, e.g. red meat, liver, seafood, kidney beans, leafy green vegetables, oatmeal, quinoa and chickpeas.
  • Prioritise foods which are not only high in iron, but provide it in a highly bioavailable manner, e.g. red meat, calf’s liver and mackerel.
  • Combine with vitamin C, which can increase the absorption of iron. Zinc and vitamin B12 also support iron metabolism.
  • Vegetarians and vegans should note that plant-based iron is not as readily available and so they may need to eat higher volumes of foods such as chickpeas, spirulina, spinach, kale, edamame, black beans and dates to ensure sufficient intake.