Sure, we all get draggy from time to time. A sleepless night here and there, a stressful day at the office, or one too many Krispy Kremes can take their toll. But when you're constantly feeling drained, it might be time to look at what's bringing you down. Check out these energy zappers and see how many apply to you.
Sugar provides quick energy, but after picking you up, it drops you hard and leaves you looking for more, says Debi Silber, MS, RD, president of Lifestyle Fitness Inc. in New York.
One key to cutting back on sugar is having the right food with you so you don't head to the nearest vending machine. "The best intentions go out the window when you're not prepared," says Florida nutritionist Pamela Smith, RD, author of The Energy Edge. Smith tries to make sure she always has healthy snacks on hand, and she advises making sure they contain at least 1 to 2 ounces of protein to keep your blood sugar stable for several hours, combined with a complex carbohydrate to give you a quick boost of energy. Here are a few of her favorites:
Whole grain crackers and low-fat cheese
Fresh fruit or a small box of raisins and low-fat cheese
Half a lean turkey or chicken sandwich
Plain, nonfat yogurt blended with fruit or all-fruit jam
Small pop-top can of water-packed tuna or chicken with whole grain crackers
Caffeine can also leave us "tired and wired," Silber says. "If we need sleep and we choose caffeine instead, we continue to throw off our natural sleep cycle. If you find that too much caffeine -- whether it comes in the form of coffee, tea, cola, or even chocolate -- is keeping you from getting a good night's sleep, switch to decaffeinated varieties of your favorite beverage (and cut back on the chocolate), says Joyce A. Walsleben, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the NYU School of Medicine and author of A Woman's Guide to Sleep: Guaranteed Solutions for a Good Night's Rest.
3. Exercise (Too Little or Too Much)
When it comes to fitness, there are two ways to zap energy, Silber says. The first is by not exercising. "Exercise energizes us physically, mentally, and emotionally," she says. "Without it, we're naturally more sluggish." Exercise also enhances our mood by increasing the release of endorphins, a "feel good" chemical that increases energy levels. On the other hand, too much exercise also presents a problem. Overtraining depletes our energy reserves, breaks down muscle, and eventually makes us weaker, not stronger. Overdoing the workouts also suppresses the immune system, which in turn reduces our resistance to bacterial and viral invasion, Silber says. "We're more vulnerable to illness, which further zaps our energy as a result," she says.