Feeling Lethargic? This May Be Why…
All day you seem to battle energy crashes, and no amount of coffee can keep you awake and alert. Here are some reasons you may be suffering low energy/lethargy:
You are Undermining Your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR):
You are undercutting how much energy/calories it takes to keep your body living i.e. you are not eating enough. Do you know how many calories you need to fuel all your vital organs and keep your heart ticking? People are more likely to know the number of calories they are consuming, but ignore the other part of the equation which is how many calories they are burning at rest. Most people take for granted the efficiency of our body and forget it needs energy if we want our body to fire on all cylinders. How many calories you need depends on your height, weight, body fat % (how much of your body weight is fat), and lean muscle mass (how much of your weight is muscle), how active you are day to day (desk job/waitress/police/construction), and then what you do for workouts and how often.
I suggest taking the time to record a 3-5day food diary and calculate how many calories you are consuming per day. A healthy caloric intake should not be below 1200 calories, so you may be surprised to see how little energy you are consuming or how random the energy intake it day to day. Calories = energy, and if you are not providing your body with sufficient energy day in and day out, then it makes sense you will feel lethargic! Try eating more, not just one day, not just for one week, but for minimum 4 weeks stick to diet with minimum 1200 calories, consisting of clean and healthy foods. When you get down to it and feel this is too much food, then that is a sign your metabolism is not revving as efficiently as it should be.
Portions Are Too Big
Blood sugar spikes and drops may be causing your drowsy moments. When you eat something it raises out blood sugar and then insulin is released from the pancreas as a response to the sugar. Insulin binds to the sugar/glucose (energy), and carries it to depleted cells, our liver, and if not needed, stored as fat. Eating large portions of food (especially during most inactive times in the day), causes a massive spike in blood sugar so in response we get a lot of insulin to bind to all the sugar. You will get a temporary energy high, followed by a big low as blood sugar is vacuumed up by the insulin. If you have low lean muscle mass and especially high body fat, then you are at higher risk to become lethargic after a higher carb meal.
To combat this, aim to eat 5-6 meals per day, 3-4hours apart. Smaller portions spread out throughout the day will provide the correct amount of energy you will need to ride you out the next 3 hours until your next burst of caloric energy. If you are working at an office and grabbed a meal out, split the portion in half and have the other half around 3-4pm.
Make Breakfast King
I believe breakfast needs to be the biggest meal of the day. After sleeping for around 5-8hours, breakfast can serve as a “top up” after hours of depletion. On top of this, our brain cells are the most sensitive to low levels of glucose, so our breakfast serves as “brain power”, so you are more alert, receptive to information, and ready to take on the stress (positive and negative) of the day. I do find a common trend with those who skip breakfast also tend to have a slow metabolic rate, due to the fact they are demanding energy output in exchange for very minimal energy in. If your body is not regularly receiving energy, it will attempt to hoard energy by slowing down the speed at which it digests and uses food calories.
On top of this, I have noticed a bingeing trend in the afternoon or night in those who skip breakfast or at least avoid food calories for the majority of their morning. Blood sugar levels can drop very low making us feel lethargic, starving, and since our brain cells are more sensitive to glucose, our next meal will likely be a binge on carbs and fats. Carbs are our bodies #1 source of energy since all carbs digest/breakdown directly into glucose, making them the most prized for quick energy. Those who deplete themselves by avoiding food and yet push their bodies to work and function optimally, have poor eating habits at night which only throws off their sleep cycle, and they wake-up again not wanting breakfast.
If you are one of those people that “feel sick” when you try to eat breakfast in the morning, there’s a common-sense explanation for this. If you have trained your body to do one thing your whole life, it’s not going to behave exactly how you want when you make drastic changes. If you have not been digesting food in the AM ritually, it’s going to take a little bit for your digestive system to understand it needs to wake-up and get working a lot sooner that it’s used to. You have to re-train your entire system, and this will take time, patience, and an absence of a quitting mentality.
The Winter Blues
If you live somewhere like Canada where the cold months span 6-7 months out of the year, then the environmental conditions may have something to do with why you are feeling low energy. When people think winter they think cold, snow, ice, etc. but one of the biggest impacts on people’s energy is simply the shortened day light hours. It’s really tough waking up with a very low hanging sun (or no sun), spending the day inside, and then around 4pm it gets dark again. Wake-up in the dark and go home in the dark, it can be very depressing!
The sun exudes vitamin D, the happy hormone that makes up feel happy, alert, and energetic. When the sun is absent or low hanging during the day, we become very vitamin D deficient and this can play a large role in why we feel so blah and tired in the winter months. In the summer, the sun is high in the sky, and we can enjoy daylight until around 9pm. Supplementing with Vitamin D, around 2000-3000mg per day during the winter months can help boost your energy and mood levels significantly. By the time 4pm hits, you should feel more awake after you have been supplementing for a while. Always speak with your doctor if you are unsure of taking vitamin D.
Another suggestion can be to purchase a “Happy Light”, which is cute compact light that can sit on your desk and emits a bright light mimicking the beneficial rays of the sun without the harmful UV rays. This is called light therapy, and can be very beneficial for people who spend a lot of their time inside, and who may suffer from the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Purchasing a Happy Light for your office or home is a lot cheaper than buying a vacation to get some Vitamin D! Light therapy has been proved to work for many people, and amazon has lots of options at different price ranges.
Cut out Processed Crap Food
If you are eating a lot of man-made, processed, highly artificial foods then you will be lethargic. For one, the food you are consuming is not exactly real, so your body is not going to have the easiest time breaking down and digesting crap food. This process alone is going to make you feel heavy, bloated, and bogged down. By the time the food has broken down, it is not particularly high in nutrients so we are not absorbing anything beneficial. If anything, we are absorbing toxins, and chemicals which can throw off our endocrine (hormone) system.
When we are not able to breakdown, digest, and excrete (poop) out our meals, then where is it? Have you ever eaten a particularly big meal or maybe a lot in the day and you haven’t gone to the washroom in a day or 2? Ideally we should be eating, burning it off, then pooping out what’s left like clockwork. If you are not going to the washroom frequently, then food waste is likely just sitting in your intestines…and our intestines are massive and can hold A LOT of waste so just sit and think about that for a second. It should be a big concern if a large meal is eaten and very little is excreted, there needs to be some alarm bells ringing. Holding in wasted material will promote lethargy because overtime this releases toxins back into your system, which in turn can throw off your endocrine (hormone) system, causing poor gut health, foggy brain, and if this prolongs then a difficult time with weight loss. If you are holding in your waste, this will make you feel lethargic and really foggy in your thoughts.
Drinking tons of water, MINIMUM 2.5-3L per day (really it should be 3.5-4.5L), will help you go to the washroom. This doesn’t mean you drink 3L for one day or two days, and think you deserve a gold ribbon and a big poop. If you are critically dehydrated, it’s going to take some time for your body to be completely topped up and hydrated again. Drinking more water will ease the digestive process and will help rev up your metabolic rate making you into a pooping machine which is both equally gross and great.
Stress is on various levels and if you live a particularly stressful lifestyle, then adrenal fatigue may be something you could eventually experience, so you should at least be aware of what it is. Cortisol is our stress hormone and it is emitted from the adrenal glands which reside on top of our kidneys like cute little hats. We absolutely need cortisol to survive, because it helps us cope with everyday stressors on a conscious and unconscious level. Our adrenal health is absolutely CRUCIAL and our modern day lifestyle from how people party (chemical drugs, bingeing on alcohol, late nights, crap food, terrible sleep patterns), to how they work day in and day (screen time, no off-time, financial stress, cost of living) has really F***ed our adrenals big time. This means an avalanche of really shitty problems that will take an epiphany worthy lifestyle change to conquer. We would not survive without certain levels of cortisol, but too much cortisol is also harmful.
It does not have to be a stress you know about, feel, or think, it can be environmental, home situation, pollution, financial, relationship, toxic food, not enough sleep, crap/junk food, too much work, long commute, too much exercise, not enough exercise, too much food, not enough food, etc. Our natural levels of Cortisol have been recorded to be highest when we wake up in the AM because this is our bodies way of preparing us for our day ahead, and then dips back down in the evening. When cortisol is naturally higher this is intended to give us energy, and it naturally will lower as the day goes on intending for us to wind down and sleep. When we go through a fight or flight situation, cortisol is high and this is what gives us the animalistic energy to well…fight or flight. This is researched behaviour of natural levels of cortisol, so what happens if you have an incredible amount of stress you consciously go through every day ON TOP of this? This means levels of cortisol are going to be even higher when they are naturally highest, and still elevated when they should be low, so your adrenals are constantly churning and pumping out high amounts of cortisol constantly. This is a bad thing and eventually is what leads to total burn-out of the adrenal gland i.e. adrenal fatigue. You will feel constantly sleepy, low energy, burned out, because the natural cortisol levels intended to help you are completely shot. Adrenal fatigue is serious, and can cause the suffering person to go through even more turmoil, such as: rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, mood swings, anxiety and depression, impaired cognitive function (brain fog), disrupted thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances, poor sleep, lowered immune function, slow wound healing. None of those things are appealing are they? This is why it’s so incredibly important to be very aware of your conscious stress levels, and do anything you can to monitor and minimize them.
Supplementing with the herb Rhodiola or other natural adaptogens can help you combat physiological stress, as well as getting enough exercise to boost feel good hormones, yoga, meditation, clean and healthy food, a healthy work-life balance, healthy relationships, minimized screen time, and partying without ingesting toxic chemicals.