What sort of tired are you?

Young woman yawning at her desk at work

Diet and lifestyle play a hugely important part in enhancing or depleting energy levels, but what sort of tired are you? Understanding the weak points in your physical and mental energy is an important first step in identifying the diet and lifestyle strategies that might work best for you. There are any number of reasons why you might be feeling tired all the time, but here are some of the common factors.

1. Energy highs and lows

If you tend to rely on caffeine or sugar for a quick burst of energy to keep you going and the mid-afternoon slump is a familiar feeling for you, then the chances are that you need to focus on your blood sugar.

The body burns through sugary foods and refined carbohydrate very quickly which will send your blood sugar soaring and what goes up must come down. Blood sugar highs and lows can be exhausting for the body and you’ll feel tired, irritable, shaky and headachey. Other typical symptoms of a blood sugar imbalance include insomnia, poor concentration and mood swings.

3 ways to stabilise your blood sugar…

  • Eat a combination of protein (such as meat, fish, eggs, pulses, seeds) and fibre (wholegrains or vegetables) with every meal and snack.
  • Opt for slow-release carbohydrate such as brown bread, brown rice or brown pasta.
  • Avoid long gaps between meals: aim to have a meal or small snack roughly every 4 hours.
Woman opening fridge

2. Running on empty

If you feel as if you’re constantly running on empty and only sheer willpower is keeping you going, it could be time to take a look at your magnesium levels.Magnesium activates the enzymes that start the entire chain reaction of energy production in the body, so if you’re low in magnesium your internal engine simply won’t start.

Magnesium is the multi-tasker of the minerals and is responsible for a range of different functions, including calming the nervous system, regulating the stress response and supporting muscle function. Other signs that you may be low in magnesium include muscle cramps or twitches, headaches, difficulty switching off, irritability and palpitations.

3 ways to boost your magnesium levels…

  • Eat 2 handfuls of leafy green vegetables every day.
  • Add 2-3 handfuls of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to a bath and allow magnesium to absorb through the skin.
  • Make a point of choosing wholegrain foods such as brown rice or wholemeal bread.

3. Weakness and lack of stamina

If you’re low in iron, you’re likely to feel drained and weak and you probably won’t have enough energy to exercise. Iron is an essential component of haemoglobin which is the protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body, fuelling the brain, muscles, tissues and cells. Iron deficiency is especially common amongst women who regularly experience heavy periods and it can leave you feeling very low, because the oxygen you need to produce energy isn’t reaching your body cells

Other typical symptoms of iron deficiency include headaches, pale skin, palpitations, brittle hair, sore tongue and loss of appetite.

3 ways to boost your iron levels…

  • Try opting for more unusual forms of red meat, such as venison or liver, as they contain 2-3 times as much iron per 100g as beef or lamb.
  • Combine foods rich in vitamin C with plant sources of iron, as this will help to increase iron absorption e.g. green salad with lentil bake or roasted red peppers with tofu.
  • Avoid taking iron supplements with tea or coffee, as this will inhibit absorption.
Tired woman

4. Reduced concentration, memory and motivation

Do you feel as if your brain isn’t firing properly and you don’t have the mental energy you need to perform at your best?

This may be due to a lack of certain B vitamins which are crucial links in the chain reaction of energy production. A deficiency in B1 (thiamine) is associated with irritability, poor memory and concentration; low B9 (folate) can lead to apathy and a loss of motivation and a lack of B12 can result in reduced memory and confusion.

Even if you follow a balanced diet it’s still possible to have a deficiency because both chronic stress and regular alcohol consumption deplete B vitamins. B vitamins are water soluble and boiling vegetables can reduce the content by 40%. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal sources of protein, such as meat, fish or eggs, so following a vegan day may also cause a deficiency.

3 ways to boost your B vitamins…

  • Eat at least 5 portions of vegetables every day.
  • If you follow a vegan diet, opt for B12-fortified foods such as Marmite or some breakfast cereals.
  • Steam instead of boiling vegetable to conserve the B vitamin content.

5. Tired but wired

If you find it hard to switch off and relax because your mind is still buzzing, you may be overdoing the caffeine. While there’s no doubt that moderate amounts of caffeine can provide a quick energy boost, you can have too much of a good thing and an over-reliance on caffeine could have a very negative impact on your energy levels.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant which can disrupt the nervous system, causing restlessness, nervousness and anxiety. It’s a common cause of insomnia and high levels of coffee can also block the absorption of iron. It’s worth remembering that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine – strong black tea (brewed for about five minutes) contains almost as much caffeine as a single espresso; green tea contains the same amount of caffeine as black tea; colas and energy drinks also contain caffeine, as does chocolate!

ways to reduce your caffeine intake…

  • Opt for one shot of coffee instead of the standard two in a coffee bar.
  • Swap caffeinated fizzy drinks for sparkling water with cordial.
  • Intersperse tea and coffee at work with herbal or caffeine-free options.


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