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By Chris Egan
I don’t drink much anymore. The bad times —related to alcohol—started outweighing the good times long ago. So I cut the weekend benders out of my life. I still enjoy the occasional craft beer but the stereotypical frat-style binge sessions are gone.
Then there are weddings. While I do not imbibe to the point of humiliating myself anymore, I still consume more than my poor liver can process in 3 hours. (The beer is free after all, and it would be rude not to partake, right?). The result then is not an apology to whomever I offended with my shenanigans —as it often was in my twenties—but an overwhelming lack of energy for the next 48 hours.
This exact scenario played out in my life just a few days ago. I’m finally feeling like my energy levels are back to normal, but two days of low energy caused stress, loss of focus and quality family time (I laid on the couch “resting” instead of interacting with my family) and possibly even lost business at work.
Energy is the forgotten ingredient in most people’s recipes for success.
Studying for that big test? Don’t cram every night the week before taking it. You’re better off studying a moderate amount and prioritizing sleep.
Working through lunch to get ahead in your career? Expect your energy levels to drop, irritability to rise, and brain function to become foggy. You’ll probably get more work done at a higher quality by taking a break and refueling your body.
With no energy to play with the kids, prepare for a test, work on household chores or personal projects, these things are left ignored. And ignoring these kind of things—things that require energy— over weeks, months, or years can have significant effects on your life.
But energy isn’t just needed to get us through the physical functions of the day, it’s also needed to handle the mental challenges that we face. Without mental energy we are prone to poor decisions and more susceptible to bad habits.
Some people seem to have an unlimited gas tank—they enter the office in the morning with that annoying gusto while everyone else peers over their coffee cups with half-glazed eyes full of disdain.
What makes the guy with gusto different than the guy with bags under his eyes? Energy.
Here are four areas to examine if you find yourself lacking the energy to get from sunup to sundown with vigor.
There are two main questions to consider in this area:
Are you eating enough of the right foods?
Are you eating too much of the wrong foods?
Which foods are the right foods and which ones are the wrong foods? That is still up for debate in some regards, but a good place to start would be Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules. The book is short enough to read while standing at the shelf in the bookstore and aims to simplify the complex and often contradicting advice we get in today’s age of information regarding diet and nutrition.
In it Pollan says simply,
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”
By “food” Pollan means real food or whole foods not processed “food like substances” as he calls them.
For people feeling a little more hardcore, try the Whole 30 program.
What’s the first thing you drink every morning? I know this is an article about energy, but if you said an energy drink you fail. Our bodies become slightly dehydrated when we sleep. The first thing you should do each morning when you wake up is drink a big glass of water, or two. This will help wake you up too.
Being even a little dehydrated can wreck your ability to focus and stay energized. Get a water bottle. Drink water throughout the day.
There is some debate over how much water we should drink throughout the day, but a good place to start is with the 8×8 rule—eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day—then you can adjust the amount to fit your body’s needs.
Learn even more about how much water to drink each day here: HealthAmbition.com.
Some people don’t have a lot of control over this one. I know how it is to have a little one with an uncanny ability to wake up screaming just as your head hits the pillow. But if you are one of the lucky ones with full uninterrupted control over your sleep, count your blessings, count your sheep, take full advantage of the freedom, and get your beauty rest.
First—quantity—how much sleep do you really need?
You may think you can function just fine on 5 hours of sleep, but if you crash in the afternoon without your midday espresso, then you may need to reevaluate your sleep needs. Most adults need 7-9 hours. How much are you getting?
Second, what is the quality of your sleep?
Consider using blackout curtains, avoiding caffeine after noon and all screens (smart phones, tablets, laptops) for an hour before bed. Make sure your mattress isn’t causing back pain or restlessness and keep your room at the optimal temperature for deep sleep—65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Need more help with your sleep? Check out Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. (I haven’t read this one but it was recommended to me by a trusted source).
Do you get enough exercise? Do you get any? Exercise not only increases energy levels but also improves sleep quality. If your objection is that you don’t have enough energy to start exercising well…just do it! Find a way to get started even if it is hard. The energy will come. Your life will be better. You will be happier.
Acefitness.org makes the following recommendations to healthy adults looking to increase energy through exercising:
“To gain health and wellness benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exercise guidelines, healthy adults need to engage in 2 ½ hours of weekly moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or gardening.
For more physically fit adults, 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, such as swimming laps, hiking uphill or race-walking can offer similar benefits in half the time. Sedentary people should consult their physician before engaging in vigorous physical activity.”
How much sunlight are you getting each day?
Our bodies produce vitamin D3 when our skin is exposed to the sun, which is then converted into Vitamin D. Studies show show that Vitamin D may help increase energy throughout the day. Working predominantly in office buildings and fear of the “evil sun’s dangerous cancer causing rays” are resulting in widespread Vitamin D deficiencies. If you are not getting much sunlight, consider talking to your doctor about taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Additionally, getting sunlight first thing in the morning helps our bodies produce melatonin earlier making it easier to fall asleep later that night. And we already know, more high-quality sleep equals more energy.
If you’re killing it in all five of these areas but find you are still unreasonably tired throughout the day, then it may be time to see your doctor. Low testosterone in men, depression, thyroid issues, and diabetes are all possible causes of fatigue.
Energy is necessary if you want to optimize your family life or succeed in anything. Without energy we resort to the paths of least resistance—we get lazy.
Our bodies are amazing and incredibly resilient even in the most toxic environments—like when we drink too much keg beer at a friends wedding—but supply yourself with real food, plenty of water, quality sleep, regular exercise, and good old fashioned sunlight and you’re body will spring to life like you just got a fresh set of batteries. You’ll finally feel the energy that you body is capable of and you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.