Tired All The Time? These Are The Best Ways To Naturally Boost Energy
Fatigue and lack of energy can sabotage your health and happiness in so many ways. You might feel that energy nose-dive midafternoon at work when you need to be most productive. Perhaps you're seldom in the mood for sex with your partner. You might simply lack the motivation to hit the gym, which then snowballs into more fatigue.
It's too simple to say "just sleep a couple hours more" to combat fatigue because ironically, lack of energy even affects your sleep. Fatigue could mean wanting to pull the covers over your head even after a full night's sleep, or you might have a wired-but-tired feeling, where you want to sleep but can't.
Understanding energy levels and mitochondrial health.
To feel good and attack your day with vigor, you want steady, sustained energy. And that all starts with managing the little power plants within your cells, called your mitochondria. These organelles are tiny energy plants that even carry their own DNA. Every cell has hundreds or even thousands of mitochondria, depending on its location and how much energy it needs.
Energy production in the body is a complex process, but the main thing to know is that your mitochondria produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your main energy currency that keeps your body functioning. "A large amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) must be produced by the mitochondria every second of every day because ATP cannot be stored," says Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., who adds the average cell uses 10 billion ATP per day.
This also means that when your mitochondria crash, so does your ATP production. Translation: Goodbye, energy and hello to lethargically watching Friends reruns on your couch. "When mitochondria falter, cells lose power, just as a flashlight dims when its batteries weaken," says Charles W. Schmidt, M.S. Mitochondrial dysfunction creates fatigue, but it also contributes to almost every chronic disease including cancer, autism, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and cardiovascular illness.
The bad news is that our mitochondria start operating less optimally with age. At the same time, many things we get exposed to daily—including environmental toxins, pesticide-loaded conventional foods, and drinking water that can sometimes carry unsafe levels of toxic chemicals—are also a hit to your mitochondria.
Why inflammation and oxidative stress cause fatigue.
There are two major problems that often underlie mitochondrial dysfunction: oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. While a certain number of free radicals are normal and even healthy, when those free radicals overpower your body's antioxidant defense, a condition called oxidative stress occurs that can damage your mitochondria. Mitochondrial-related oxidative stress can contribute to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers also connect oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction with obesity, insulin resistance, and other conditions that accompany what we call metabolic syndrome.
Chronic inflammation is another big driver for mitochondrial dysfunction and plays a role in nearly every disease. Researchers called inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction a "vicious circle in neurodegenerative disorders."
Finally ready for the good news? There's plenty you can do to stay in control and keep your mitochondria in top condition. And when you have supercharged mitochondria—meaning you have optimal amounts of mitochondria that function awesomely—you think better, perform better in the gym, maintain your ideal weight, and have steady, sustained all-day energy.
Steady energy starts with your diet.
The best way to support your mitochondria begins with your fork. Choosing nutrient-rich foods that optimize your mitochondria keeps your blood sugar levels steady. You don't have those miserable spikes and crashes that make you want to take a midafternoon nap at your desk.
Among those mitochondria-supporting foods should be:
1. Healthy fat
Protein steadies your blood sugar and supports cellular health. If you eat animal protein, always select from organic and naturally raised sources. One animal study found that whey protein stimulates mitochondrial activity and decreases oxidative stress.
The best way to increase antioxidant intake to balance those nasty free radicals is through a diet full of rich, colorful vegetables and fruits.
Just as importantly: Avoid the foods that impair your mitochondria and sabotage your energy. These include grains, processed foods, and foods that we commonly develop sensitivities to like soy and corn. I recommend keeping a food journal to track your energy levels. That way, you can pinpoint specific foods that boost or zap your energy.
These lifestyle factors support healthier mitochondria.
Even the healthiest diet can only do so much to provide steady, sustained energy and optimize mitochondria if you're not incorporating these lifestyle factors:
1. Get great sleep.
Getting great sleep becomes crucial to optimize your mitochondria. Getting insufficient or poor-quality sleep, on the other hand, can really mess with your mitochondria and crash your energy. Aim for eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep nightly.
2. Manage your stress levels.
Chronic stress is a surefire way to drain the quantity and quality of your mitochondria. One review of 19 studies found "significant adverse effects of psychological stress on mitochondria." So whether that means you invest some time in yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or other de-stressing techniques, your mitochondria will thank you!
3. Minimize environmental toxins.
Everything from the air you breathe to the food you eat to the household cleaners you use can interfere with the function and overall quality of your energy-producing mitochondria. That includes pharmaceutical drugs such as antibiotics, which can stall ATP production, increase oxidative stress, and impair mitochondria.
4. Exercise correctly (and consistently).
5. Minimize or eliminate energy thieves.
I'm talking about the toxic people and situations in your life that can drain your battery faster than an iPhone with 20 apps running but also many substances we use daily. "Alcohol and mitochondria: a dysfunctional relationship" was the title of one study. (Do I need to say more?). While caffeine seems to support your mitochondria, this effect is dose-dependent. Overcaffeinating to compensate for low energy is a surefire formula to crash and burn.
Supplements for energy: the basics.
Once you dial in your diet and the right lifestyle factors, a few well-chosen supplements can support your mitochondria so you minimize fatigue and maintain all-day energy. They include:
A well-designed multivitamin/mineral should be your nutrient foundation to cover the gaps you might not—let's be honest, probably aren't—getting from food. Especially for at-risk groups for nutrient deficiencies (including physically active folks), supplementing with vitamins and minerals can support energy metabolism and well-being.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Look for a supplement containing 1 to 2 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to manage inflammation levels, especially if you're not eating cold-water fish regularly.
Unless you're lucky enough to live in Hawaii year-round, you're probably not making sufficient amounts of vitamin D, so supplementing becomes ideal. Low vitamin D levels contribute to fatigue, but getting sufficient amounts can correct this problem.
12 supplements to optimize energy levels.
Once you've dialed in the right diet and lifestyle factors, a few well-chosen nutrients can further help optimize energy levels. While you'll find many "energy-enhancing" supplements on the market, many lack the scientific support to recommend them. The following 12, however, do meet those criteria. They have been well-studied for their energy-supporting benefits, including peak mitochondrial performance.
A few caveats. We call these supplements for a reason: They should supplement a healthy diet and lifestyle. You'll likely get less-than-stellar results if you use these nutrients without the other factors I've described here.
Quality matters too. If you're buying poorly absorbable or otherwise-inferior supplements, you're wasting money. Always buy professional-quality supplements and read labels carefully for artificial sweeteners and other problem ingredients!
As for dosage, I've provided ideal amounts of most supplements based on studies, although individual results vary. Some of these nutrients work synergistically, so you might find them combined in certain supplements. Overall, I highly recommend working with a qualified health care professional to optimize doses and determine the best supplements for your condition. When working with a practitioner, your presentation (or even better, specific testing) may cause him or her to suggest that you try any of the following:
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10 improves energy, supports your immune system, and makes a powerful antioxidant to quash free radicals. CoQ10 functions as a fundamental energy transfer molecule that's especially high in organs that demand energy including your heart, kidneys, and liver. That's because CoQ10 serves as a cofactor to help synthesize ATP. Researchers find CoQ10 deficiencies in chronic diseases including heart disease, and (as with most nutrients here) aging naturally decreases levels. Conversely, supplementing positively affects mitochondrial deficiency syndrome. As a powerful antioxidant, CoQ10 can also lower inflammation levels. To support energy levels, you can use anywhere from 30 to 200 mg of CoQ10 daily. Always take CoQ10 supplements with a meal containing fat.
2. Nicotinamide riboside (NR)
The Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain both help create ATP. The cofactor nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide—which exists in both an oxidized (NAD+) and reduced (NADH) form—plays a part in both processes. As a supplement, nicotinamide riboside (NR) is a direct precursor for NAD+. Supplementing with NR can optimize NAD+ to support your mitochondria and ATP levels. One recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover clinical trial found regularly supplementing with 500 mg of NR twice daily effectively stimulates NAD+ metabolism in healthy middle-aged and older adults.
Over 300 enzymatic reactions require this undervalued mineral for numerous metabolic pathways including energy production. There could very well be a connection between lagging energy levels and nearly two-thirds of the Western world who are deficient in magnesium.
Magnesium also helps manage stress levels and optimizes sleep, further supporting healthy energy levels. You'll find several types of magnesium supplements. I recommend magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate. Start with 200 mg and gradually increase. Take it before bedtime for a calming effect.
4. B complex
The B vitamins—including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid, pyridoxine (B6), B12, biotin, and folate—all play roles in energy production: They help convert the energy you derive from food (calories) into ATP. One study found deficiencies in B6 can increase oxidative stress while supplementing could replenish levels of your master antioxidant glutathione. B vitamins work as a team, and all eight are essential for peak physical performance and brain function. Even if you're eating an optimal diet, supplementing with a B complex could support energy levels. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, your body will use what it needs and excrete the rest.
This molecule has been well-studied extensively for energy production: L-carnitine helps shuttle fatty acids into your mitochondria, which oxidizes that fat for energy. L-carnitine can also help remove the toxic compounds that occur when your mitochondria generate ATP. Short-term animal studies show even with caloric restriction (that can crash your energy levels), L-carnitine supplementation can enhance performance capabilities. (Bonus: L-carnitine can also help you lose weight.)
Your body synthesizes L-carnitine from the amino acids lysine and methionine, and some foods (especially red meat) contain carnitine. Certain conditions can inhibit synthesis, making L-carnitine an essentially conditional nutrient. To optimize energy levels, I recommend starting with 1 to 2 grams (in divided doses) in the morning and gradually increase until you notice a difference.
Turmeric's active compound carries a double claim to fame: Curcumin is a very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient, making this an ideal supplement for a variety of conditions, including metabolic syndrome but also to optimize energy levels. In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 healthy older people, researchers found curcumin supplements improved working memory, mood, and general contentedness, all while reducing overall physical fatigue.
Sprinkle organic turmeric onto your food, but to get therapeutic doses of curcumin you'll need to supplement. Unfortunately, most curcumin supplements absorb poorly. Look for a curcumin supplement that also contains black pepper, which research shows can increase bioavailability 2,000 percent. To further enhance absorbability, take curcumin supplements with a fat-soluble meal.
Your mitochondria contain this naturally occurring monosaccharide (a five-carbon sugar) that's essential for energy production: D-ribose is an energy-producing substrate of ATP that researchers call the "molecular currency" because of its energy transfer role. For people with mitochondrial dysfunction, supplemental D-ribose can improve energy production. Among its therapeutic roles, supplementing can improve various conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome. D-ribose also supports athletic performance by reducing exercise-related symptoms like cramping, pain, and stiffness. Try 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of D-ribose powder around your workout. Gradually increase until you feel more energy.
8. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)
This specialized form of the amino acid L-cysteine provides mitochondrial-protecting anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits while helping your body detoxify and making a fantastic precursor for the master antioxidant glutathione. All of these benefits make NAC a great supplement to support your mitochondria and optimize energy levels. "The key role of NAC is to increase intracellular glutathione, which is then pumped into the mitochondria," says Pizzorno. "This glutathione is critical for protection of mitochondria from oxidative damage." NAC comes in capsules or powder. I recommend 500 to 600 mg twice daily.
9. Lipoic acid
Alternately called alpha-lipoic acid, this nutrient has been well-studied as a cofactor in mitochondrial energy metabolism. Talk about a workhorse supplement: Lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that also helps manage metal chelation, inflammation, detoxification, and glucose metabolism, all of which affect energy levels.
Lipoic acid can also help recycle other antioxidants including glutathione. Researchers have studied its benefits on a wide variety of diseases including metabolic syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases. Your body makes some lipoic acid, and very few foods contain it. Supplementing becomes ideal to get therapeutic amounts of this "antioxidant par excellence." I recommend 100 mg two or three times daily.
10. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
These three amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—can increase muscle mass, which makes sense considering they make up about 35 percent of the essential amino acids in muscle protein. BCAAs also reduce exercise-related muscle damage and post-exercise fatigue. Other research shows that BCAAs can increase resistance to fatigue and (for glycogen-depleted people, such as those on a ketogenic diet) utilize fat for fuel. You'll need to use a powder that contains about 5 grams of BCAAs to get therapeutic amounts. Most of them taste terrible or contain nasty ingredients like artificial sweeteners. Read your labels carefully!
Perhaps best touted as the polyphenol abundant in red wine, resveratrol makes a very potent antioxidant that lowers inflammation and activates the SirT1 gene (that provides resveratrol's anti-aging benefits). Researchers also find that resveratrol benefits mitochondrial energy production. "Resveratrol increases mitochondrial ATP production, protects from ROS, up-regulates sirtuin 1, and so forth," says Pizzorno. "Human studies are now confirming animal studies showing improved mitochondrial [function] at surprisingly reasonable dosages."
Short-term, high-intensity exercise can impair your body's ability to maintain ATP. Supplementing with L-creatine can potentially increase phosphocreatine, which your body uses to make new ATP during exercise. While most studies focus on creatine monohydrate, other forms of creatine are available in powder or capsule forms. Research shows you need 20 to 30 grams of creatine to get those benefits, but I strongly suggest starting with 5 grams. Better yet, be wary about this popular ergonomic supplement. While some organizations like the International Society of Sports Nutrition argue creatine "as a nutritional supplement within established guidelines is safe, effective, and ethical," other researchers feel concerned about long-term use of this supplement.
Low energy levels can sabotage nearly every area of your life, including work productivity, sleep, and ability to manage stress levels. A healthy diet combined with good sleep, managing stress, and other lifestyle factors I've discussed here can provide a solid foundation to optimize your mitochondria, minimize fatigue, and create vibrant energy that keeps you healthy, happy, and productive.
While I've addressed many energy thieves, fatigue can sometimes be a multifaceted problem that requires an individualized approach addressed by a health care practitioner. At its worst, low energy levels and constantly feeling lethargic can indicate illness or disease. If you're doing everything correctly yet struggle with steady, sustained energy levels, please confer with a professional.
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