“Ein li koyach” – or “אין לי כוח” (English – I have no strength/energy), might be something you would hear strolling down the streets of Israel. A more familiar term is the notoriously Jewish sigh “oyyyy (vey)”. This word carries a lot of weight with it, implying a feeling of exasperation, exclamation, exhaustion or pain. Today, the most common symptom that people complain about is being tired. Lack of sleep, too much sleep, lack of food, too much food, extreme heat, extreme cold, too much stress, not enough stress, boredom or just a conversation filler – the feeling of fatigue, lethargy and exhaustion pervades all of our worlds at some point.
So what does this all have to do with nutrition? Well, from the viewpoint of food and nutrition and all that other “health-freaky” stuff, there are a few ways to combat or avoid that feeling of constant tiredness.
1. Wash it down with water:
Our bodies need 2-3L of water a day (8-10 cups). (Seriously? Yes). Fluid helps to carry all the nutrients around our bodies to be used for energy. Lethargy, along with nausea, headaches, dark yellow urine and a dry mouth are some of the symptoms of dehydration. While tea, coffee, milk and other forms of fluid all count – water is the best. So remember – summer or winter: keep drinking. Carry around a water bottle with you and drink a few cups of water at every meal.
2. “Ironned” out:
Another cause of fatigue could be from a lack of iron in the diet – causing iron-deficiency anaemia. The best sources of iron are found in animal foods like red meat, liver, fish chicken and eggs. For vegetarians, plant foods like spinach, broccoli, nuts, lentils and wholegrain cereals contain iron that isn’t as easily absorbed by the body. Eating something high in Vitamin C like a tomato or lemon juice can help absorb the iron. There are also some nutrients that decrease iron absorption – like caffeine, tannins in tea, calcium and fibre. Women need more than double the amount of iron compared to men. If you think you might not be getting enough iron – take a blood test to check it out, and try and include more of these foods in your diet.
3. B for Vitamin B!
There are 8 B-group vitamins that play a huge role in energy production and making red blood cells. Being deficient in any of these Vitamins might result in fatigue. It’s important to remember – the B Vitamins do not provide the body with fuel, they help release energy from nutrients that do (like carbohydrates, fats and proteins). Vitamin-B supplements are available, but check your diet first.
4. Don’t forget to eat:
Skipping meals can also cause feelings of exhaustion. Food is like the fuel for our body, and if we don’t feed it regularly, we will run out of energy. It’s important to eat every 3 or 4 hours, so if you’re leaving 7 hours between breakfast and lunch (or skipping either meal all together) – it’s very likely that you will be feeling tired and finding it difficult to concentrate.
5. Crack onto complex carbs:
Another food myth that people haven’t seemed to be able to let go of, is that carbohydrates are “bad” for you. False. Our body needs glucose (the most simple form of carbohydrates) for energy. Out of all three major nutrients (fat, protein and carbs), our body uses carbohydrates first. More specifically, our brain need glucose for energy. This explains why people who eliminate all carbohydrates from their diet experience poor concentration. However, while carbohydrates are essential – it is ideal to be eating foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, like wholemeal breads and cereals, brown rice, sweet potato, oats and legumes. Complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly into the body, providing a slower release of energy. This means that you end up stretching out the release of energy into your blood over a longer period of time, compared to something like white bread which gives you a short burst of energy followed by – you guessed it – another feeling of lethargy.
6. Cut out the coffee:
Other then sleep, the tempting thing to do when you feel that wave of tiredness is grab a fresh, steaming cup of coffee to increase your alertness. Hate to break it to you, but caffeine is like a band-aid. You’ll feel extremely awake for a period of time, followed by yet another wave of exhaustion, followed by another urge for coffee. And the cycle repeats. Caffeine also affects your sleep, making it harder to fall asleep at night – and yet again, making you feel tired the following day.
7. Check for any food intolerance?
Certain food intolerances can cause the symptom of tiredness. This is because certain nutrients from the food that you may be intolerant to (e.g. lactose, fructose, gluten) aren’t getting absorbed properly. It might be worth writing down what you are eating for a week and checking to see if you have any other symptoms (such as bloatedness) after you eat certain foods.
8. Exercise for energy:
It’s a vicious cycle. You’re too tired to exercise, but then a lack of exercise makes you lethargic. Studies have shown that any form of regular exercise play a huge role in reducing fatigue. Even though it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, you’ll start to feel a whole lot better pretty quickly. Exercise released certain energy-promoting and mood-enhancing neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. More simply, it allows the oxygen to move around your body more quickly which is used in energy production. So – get moving, and your body will love you for it.
Then again, you might just need to sleep a little more…