Low Energy? Here’s Why, and What to do About it

It’s normal to feel tired when you haven’t had enough sleep or after a long workout.

But if you’re constantly tired and lacking in energy — even when you’re getting enough shut-eye — another culprit might be lurking. Whether it’s your diet, a deficiency or something else, here are some common causes of fatigue and how to fix them.

Diet and Low Energy

Many fatigue problems boil down to what you’re eating and how much water you’re drinking.

Dehydration
The first culprit to rule out is dehydration. Most people understand the link between dehydration and low energy levels, but according to health and fitness writer Cindy Kuzma, you still may not be getting enough water. Everyone’s water needs vary depending on factors like weight and exercise, so even if you’re sticking to 8 glasses a day, you might need to up your intake.

Aside from drinking more water, you can also rehydrate by eating more fluid-filled foods. Daily Burn writer Emily Faherty recommends watermelon, celery, cucumbers and strawberries as foods that can help you hydrate.

Hidden Sugars
Sugars are the enemy of long-lasting energy. While candy, sugary drinks and desserts will provide an initial burst of happiness (hello, sugar high), they’re not a great way to sustain energy.

According to FitDay, consuming sugary foods increases your blood sugar, causing your pancreas to flood your bloodstream with insulin. The insulin then leads to a rapid decline in blood sugar. This crash leaves you tired and lethargic.

Even if you try to eat healthy and avoid sweets, you still might be consuming excess sugar. As health editor Mandy Oaklander explains, some foods that we think are healthy, like fruit yogurt and granola bars — are very high in sugar.

To avoid hidden sugars in your food, you should always read the nutrition label. Damon Gameau, creator of the documentary That Sugar Film, tells consumers to look at a label and divide the number of grams of sugar by four. This will tell you how many teaspoons of sugar the food contains.

Processed Foods
Processed foods are another common source of fatigue. Donna Gates, founder of the body ecology diet, says that processed foods often contain ingredients that are harder to digest. These require more energy to process, making you tired.

High Energy Foods
If your diet contains a significant amount of processed foods, it may be time to start eating healthier. According to strength and conditioning coach Nate Palmer, this starts by eating foods that work with your body’s natural rhythms.

Palmer recommends eating light, high-protein, high-fat foods throughout the day. This helps you avoid the crash that’s typically associated with carbohydrates and refined sugars.

The timing of your meals can also have an impact on energy levels. Nutrition professor Dan Benardot says that it can help to have two moderately-sized snacks in addition to two large meals throughout the day. He also advises against going too long without eating, which can cause your blood sugar to drop and make it harder to stay awake.

Macronutrient Imbalances
Macronutrient imbalances could be another reason you’re feeling so sluggish. According to wellness expert Dr. Will Cole, fat deficiencies are common in the western diet. Because fat is your slowest-burning form of energy, Cole explains, maintaining a balance of healthy fats helps keep your brain sharp and energy levels high.

Loading up on coconut oil, eggs, avocados and wild-caught salmon are all ways to boost your healthy fat intake.

Lifestyle Habits

In addition to diet, your daily lifestyle habits may be negatively impacting your energy levels.

Exercise, for example, is key to maintaining high energy levels. According to Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, bodies have a “use it or lose it approach.” This means that a prolonged sedentary lifestyle can lead to decreased energy. Wearing a pedometer and setting a step goal can help keep you moving throughout the day.

Stress
Zahra Barnes explains that stress is also a common culprit of exhaustion. Stressing over things can make it harder to fall asleep, which makes you even more stressed and tired the next day. Barnes suggests meditation to help manage stress and get the shut-eye you need. We agree.

Clutter
If you’re feeling tired when you wake up in the morning and come home from work, your living space might be draining you.

Isabella Silvers explains that a messy space can stress out your brain and make it difficult to focus. This wears you down and uses up essential energy even when you’re not thinking about it. So, try tidying up your desk, closet or other space that needs attention.

Caffeine
According to Jason Littleton, MD, relying on artificial energy may cause you to crash more often later in the day. And if you drink coffee or soda on a daily basis, you’re more likely to feel tired as the day wears on.

To wean yourself off of coffee and find energy from a more natural source, Tiffany Tse of Shape Magazine recommends drinking green tea, chai or lemon water. She also adds that lemon water is a great way to stimulate your senses and help you maintain energy throughout the day.

Vitamin and Mineral Imbalances

If you’re constantly lacking energy even though you’re active and you eat healthy, you might be lacking in a certain vitamin or nutrient.

Iron
Many people believe that their tiredness is simply a result of being busy. But as K. Aleisha Fetters points out, fatigue accompanied by other symptoms could be a sign of an iron deficiency. If you also feel weak and irritable, or if you have trouble focusing, you may need more iron in your life.

To incorporate more iron into your diet, try stocking up on poultry, fish and lean meats. If you’re vegetarian, Caroline Kaufman MS, RDN advises eating beans, dark green leafy vegetables, enriched rice and whole-grain breads. Kaufman adds that adding vitamin C to these sources can also support iron absorption.

U.S. News health editor Michael Schroeder explains that after iron, it’s common for people to be deficient in magnesium, potassium, vitamin B12 and folic acid. Supplements can easily remedy this problem, as can simple diet changes.

Zooming in on Vitamin B12
In fact, fatigue is often one of the first symptoms of a B12 deficiency. Since this vitamin is vital to good health, it’s important to be aware of initial warning signs.

“Your body relies on the vitamin to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your organs,” Lisa Cimperman explains. “And without enough oxygen in your cells, you’ll feel tired no matter how long you sleep.”

So where can you find more B12? Food and nutritional organization Oldways explains that B12 is generally found in animal products such as eggs, dairy and meat. Most omnivores don’t struggle with a B12 deficiency, but if you’re vegan, it’s much more common. In that case, taking a regular B12 supplement may be the best way to ensure you get what you need.

When all else fails and you still can’t stay awake during the day, it might be time to consult a doctor. Melanie Pinola suggests keeping track of your fatigue patterns (for example, if you’re tired in the morning or if you face the afternoon slump) to help your doctor determine the cause.

images by: Ann San, Wokandapix, Terri Cnudd

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