Let’s Talk about an Energy Boost!

A Metabolic Maintenance blog, sourced here

How to Boost Energy Naturally-On the smallest scale, energy in your body is made by turning glucose molecules into ATP, and this process happens most efficiently in the presence of certain important nutrients and plenty of water and oxygen. This means the best way to give your body a sustainable boost of energy is to feed your body with a steady flow of glucose and the nutrients that participate in the process of transforming glucose to ATP energy, all while staying sufficiently hydrated. You will also want to refrain from eating foods that deliver too much simple sugar too fast, causing a crash, or overeating foods that require too much energy to digest, causing lethargy (a “food coma”).

What should I eat for more energy?

If you think of energy as a currency, glucose is the currency of energy stored in food, but it is unusable in the body until it is exchanged for usable currency, ATP. Just like if you travel from the US to Mexico, you can’t buy anything until your dollars are exchanged for pesos. Similarly, when transforming glucose to ATP we want to get the best exchange rate possible. The best foods for a sustained energy boost are those made up of mostly complex carbohydrates.

Foods are made up of different proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Simple carbohydrates like sugar and refined flour are high in glucose but are digested so quickly that all of the energy substrate is available at once and then gone. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, like whole grains or starchy vegetables, provide a sustained source of glucose because they are slower to be digested and glucose is released over time as the structure of the food is broken down.

When glucose is not readily available from carbohydrates in the diet, we can still make cellular energy, but it must be extracted from fatty acids and amino acids, which requires more work. To return to the currency analogy, the exchange rate is not as good.

There’s more to making ATP than glucose, however. Certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are necessary for the process that turns glucose sugar into ATP, and to transport that ATP energy to where it’s needed.

Nutrients Supporting Energy Conversion

B-complex vitamins are among the most important nutrients for energy production, and they primarily act as coenzymes, substances that are required for the action of enzymes [1]. Without B-vitamin coenzymes, metabolic enzymes cannot function in the body, and food cannot be broken down to provide the body with energy. Each of the eight B-complex vitamins has a unique function in the metabolism of the carbohydrates, fat, and protein from food. Thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), and biotin (B-7) help extract energy from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Niacin is especially important for endurance activities and exercise, as the metabolic breakdown it participates in occurs for the most part at times of increased energy expenditure [1]. Pyridoxine (B-6), folate (B-9), and cobalamin (B-12) assist red blood cells in the delivery of oxygen throughout your body, and oxygen is a key player in the production of ATP.

Food that contain the energy producing B vitamin

Salmon is a great source of B vitamins containing B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, and B-12. Eggs provide B-2, B-5, B-7, B-9, and B-12. Leafy greens like spinach are an excellent source of B-9, folate. But as different types of B vitamins come from different food sources, a

is an efficient way to make sure you have all of these metabolic coenzymes in sufficient quantities without weighing yourself down with too heavy a meal. Just remember that the B vitamins alone won’t give you energy. You still have to provide fuel for the machinery they make up in the form of glucose.

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is a powerful antioxidant that is ubiquitous throughout your body. In fact, cells cannot make ATP energy without this nutrient [2]. Typically the more energy a cell needs or expends, the more CoQ10 it makes, so cells in the heart, liver, skeletal muscles, and other hard-working cells tend to make higher concentrations of CoQ10. Unfortunately, as we age, our cells produce less and less CoQ10, and this can contribute to the feeling of fatigue [2]. Supplemental CoQ10 has been touted to improve exercise stamina and fend off muscle fatigue in athletes [2]. Some foods, such as meat and nuts, can deliver a small amount of CoQ10, but the best way to increase the level of circulating CoQ10 in your body is to take a supplement [3].

Protein for Energy?

It may seem counter-intuitive because proteins are not made of glucose, but some proteins and certain amino acids can give you energy too. It’s not going to be a boost like caffeine or sugar can quickly deliver, but consuming amino acids can help fight fatigue and prolong and stabilize your energy level [4]. When you exercise, your body uses amino acids, especially branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine, and valine), to build new muscle. As the levels of circulating BCAAs in your body go down (because they have been incorporated into muscles), it signals the body to produce more tryptophan which in turn promotes a feeling of fatigue. By taking in more BCAAs, you can keep circulating levels high, meaning that there are plenty of building blocks for new muscle and less tryptophan being made, thereby fending off fatigue. BCAAs are readily available in meat, eggs, nuts, soy, and dairy products, but a supplement is often a superior mode of delivery, especially if it’s right before a workout and you don’t want to feel full from a heavy meal.

Can water give you energy?

Although water provides no nutrition, every single one of your cells relies on it. The fluid through which ATP and other cell signals must travel is made up of mostly water, and dehydration can slow their action. Scientists have known for many decades that hydration levels can affect an athlete’s performance, but recently it was demonstrated that the effects of dehydration are already significant, less than 30 seconds into an athletic activity [5]. Even if you are not exercising, your hydration level may be directly related to your energy level. Dehydration can leave you feeling tired and unfocused during the day, but also prevent restful sleep, contributing to sluggish feelings the next day [6].

Women should be drinking approximately 91 ounces of water per day and men an average of 125 ounces [6], but don’t wait until the end of the day to chug it down or you’ll ruin your sleep with trips to the bathroom! Just like slow sustained glucose delivery, drinking water consistently throughout the day is a much better way to keep cells hydrated than guzzling too much at once between long time periods of no water. If you need help establishing this habit, get a large water bottle and write the hours of the day on the side in increments like a ruler, reminding you throughout your day to drink just a little bit more each hour. You can find bottles with these markers already printed on them for purchase as well. If you love gadgets and technology, there are also now “smart” water bottles on the market that will track how much you drink through the day with a phone app.

Are there exercises I can do to increase my energy level?

When you’re already feeling tired, exercise is likely the last thing you want to do. And doesn’t exercise use energy not make more of it? Yes and no. Technically, moving your body will use more ATP than sitting still or taking a nap, but getting your body moving can wake up your brain and make you feel more energized.

What is the “runners high”?

When you do an activity that requires more energy to be available fast, the pituitary gland in your brain releases hormones called endorphins. Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever and tend to be associated with a feel-good effect, also known as “the runner’s high”. Biologically, the purpose of these hormones is related to the fight or flight response, as endorphins can help to make your brain focused and your body comfortable to run in an emergency situation, but we can capitalize on that biological response with exercise as well. Making a habit of exercise can also help with a pattern of fatigue by improving your sleep.

Can lack of oxygen create fatique?

If you’re sitting in the office when fatigue strikes, however, you may not have the opportunity to get up and go for a run or access an energy-boosting snack. This is a time when a breathing exercise might be your best option to help you wake up and focus. Diaphragmatic breathing not only boosts your energy, but it also helps to relieve stress and can strengthen your immune and circulatory systems [7]. Set an alarm for 10 minutes (or however long you can take for an uninterrupted time-out) and close your eyes. Breathe in slowly and deeply as you count to four in your head, pushing your belly out first, and your chest expanding last like an umbrella. As you breathe out, slowly count to six while pushing your belly in. If you prefer words to counting, you can say “calm” or “peace” on the breath in and a two-syllable word like “relax” on the breath out as a reminder that the exhale should last a little longer. This works as an energy boost because deep breaths are bringing more oxygen into your blood and encouraging stronger circulation of that oxygen and nutrients to your cells for optimal energy production [7]. Enjoy your break and get back to whatever you were doing with a little more focus and energy.

  1. Laquale, Kathleen M. “B-complex vitamins’ role in energy release.” Athletic Therapy Today (2006).
  2. Zheng, Aisong, and Toshio Moritani. “Influence of CoQ10 on autonomic nervous activity and energy metabolism during exercise in healthy subjects.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 54.4 (2008): 286-290.
  3. Pravst, Igor, Katja Žmitek, and Janko Žmitek. “Coenzyme Q10 contents in foods and fortification strategies.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 50.4 (2010): 269-280.
  4. Abell, Lauren E. “Defective Branched Chain Amino Acid Catabolism Impairs Exercise Endurance.” Circulation Research 123.Suppl_1 (2018): A407-A407.
  5. Carlton, Andrew, and Robin Marc Orr. “The effects of fluid loss on physical performance: A critical review.” Journal of Sport and Health Science 4.4 (2015): 357-363.
  6. SleepFoundation.org. “The Connection Between Hydration and Sleep”. Sleepfoundation.org. Accessed June 4, 2020. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/connection-between-hydration-and-sleep
  7. Riehl, Megan. “An Easy Way to Beat Stress — and Build a Healthier Life”. University of Michigan Health. May 17, 2016. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/lifestyle/an-easy-way-to-beat-stress-and-build-a-healthier-life