It’s always a joy to welcome back monthly columnist, registered dietitian, Laura Clark.
Here she tackles tiredness and being a sleepy Monday, I need her advice more than ever.
Over to Laura…
Vicki seems to be here there and everywhere at the moment – she’s a woman in demand. Indeed many of us are, as different commitments pull us in different directions. Life always creates pressure points, where our heads get filled with to-do lists; piles of ‘stuff’ mount up in the virtual world as well as on our desks or the kitchen counter and basic stuff, like what we eat often slips.
I frequently see people in clinic suffering with ongoing tiredness and looking to their diets to provide the answers so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some tips and bust some myths so that you can stay on top of your game!
Caffeine can be your friend but not always.
Let’s be honest it has its uses! Caffeine has been shown to aid performance in single tasks – hence why athletes use it to boost their sporting performance but it has actually been shown to hinder performance if you’re multi-tasking. The realities of parenthood and/or work often rely on this so beware that it might not help you as much as you hope.
Does the answer lie in the health food shop?
Maybe, but it’s a good idea to see your GP if you feel persistently tired despite getting a good night’s sleep. It could be the onset of anaemia, symptoms of which include extreme tiredness.
Your GP will also check folate and vitamin B12 levels which form part of this diagnosis and are easily treatable.
Iron rich foods are a good addition to the diet. These include lean red meat, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy veg, nuts and seeds such as cashews or sunflower are good sources, but in some cases a supplement might be necessary to get levels back up.
It’s worth remembering Vitamin C aids iron absorption so including fruit or veg such as peppers, kiwi’s or a small glass of orange juice with meals is helpful.
There can be other reasons for tiredness which your GP can screen for, for example your thyroid function, but if all comes back ‘normal’ then it’s time to review your diet.
Certain supplements may help. B vitamins for example, release energy from our food and can reduce tiredness and fatigue. Studies have also shown B complex supplements may boost work performance. Dietary sources of B vitamins include wholegrains, oats, green leafy veg, seafood and eggs.
Back to basics
Often tiredness can be the result of a lack of the right fuel in the body, not micronutrient deficiencies and no jar of pills is going to fix that. So can I just point out at this point that protein doesn’t give you energy.
Protein builds things and repairs things but it is not a preferred fuel. With an ongoing misguided fear of carbs, protein foods are often high on people’s agenda’s and some even look to supplement their diets with protein to improve energy levels. You will have increased protein requirements if you do a lot of training (particularly resistance exercise), are over the age of 60 or are looking to achieve weight loss whilst maintaining muscle mass and feeling full. But the muscles you are protecting and building also need to function and if there’s not enough carbohydrate you will feel tired and not perform, whether that be in the gym or the bar. And let’s not forget that your brain uses carbs as its primary fuel.
All too frequently I see people leading busy lives, failing to eat enough carb. Choose wholegrain, mix it up and don’t be afraid. Wholegrain carbs will regulate your blood glucose levels, literally feed your brain and your muscles and help sustain energy across the day.
Time is precious and a lot of people have busy mornings. But when does ‘later’ materialise and what do you ‘grab’? If you’ve started your day, let your digestive system do the same within the first couple of hours of the day. A lack of food when your body and brain are in high demand pulls on reserves and this will have consequences later on in the day. Research also shows those that eat breakfast tend to be in a better mood!
What do you really eat?
As a dietitian I often get asked if I eat healthily all the time. Aaaargh hate this question! Stock answer is I do the best I can to achieve a healthy balanced diet which includes a decent dose of chocolate!
There are however some days that I get to the end of the day and think I haven’t eaten any fruit today. Lunch tends to be quick and might not always have as much salad as it should as I cut corners to save time and get back to my desk. Terrible confessions – please don’t judge.
And I don’t reckon I’m alone – do you think you do better than you actually do?! If your diet was laid out in front of you on a bench, absolutely everything you’ve eaten over a week would it surprise you, horrify you or make you proud?
And what about your fluid intake – even a mildly dehydrated brain has to work harder to achieve the same output so you will feel more tired as a result. How much do you actually drink?
Life is going to keep being busy, I’m writing this at night when I should probably be in bed and I bet Vicki is still up too! Let’s remember the little things that can help then.
- Stick a fruit bowl where you can see it.
- Bulk prep veg so it’s there ready when you’ve less time another day.
- Keep fluids up by keeping water in sight and taking a bottle with you wherever you go.
- Be active because it does help to boost energy but fuel your day properly and if you’re more physically active then up your fuel intake!
- Try to balance meals by including some wholegrain, protein and veggies to regulate blood glucose levels and prevent bit surges and dips.