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Energy Supplements: Calories continued...

“These are really attractive to athletes,” says Shao, “especially ones who might be in the middle of a marathon.” Easily absorbed carbs can give them the fuel they need to keep going. After exercise, these carbs may also help athletes to recover more quickly from a heavy workout.

But what if you’re not running in a marathon? Will a dose of sugar in a sports drink give you a boost after a day of sitting in an armchair? Maybe a little.

“If there’s a lot of easily metabolized sugar in a product, it could raise your blood sugar and rev you up a little,” says Coates. But that benefit fades pretty quickly. As the blood sugar drops again, you’re liable to feel sleepy.

And in the long-term, relying on high-calorie energy drinks and foods for a boost is a bad idea -- especially if you don’t get much exercise. Calories you don’t burn just become fat. Carrying around excess weight will probably leave you feeling less energetic.

Bottom line: Will these supplements boost energy? For athletes, yes. For everyone else, an occasional energy drink or energy bar might give you a brief blood sugar boost. Taken regularly, they can lead to weight gain and inflammation.

Energy Supplements: Keeping Perspective

So there’s the rundown. Of course, if you’re suffering from serious fatigue, you should check with your doctor before you start taking an energy supplement to make sure a medical condition isn’t causing your fatigue. Then, after ruling out a problem, here are some questions to consider:

  • Is this supplement safe for me? If you already have a medical condition or take regular medication, some supplements might be dangerous. Remember that we just don’t know much about their risks. They aren’t tested and approved by the FDA, like drugs.  
  • How good is the evidence that this supplement works? “Many of the energy supplements aren’t supported by much in the way of science,” says Coates. That’s not to say that they don’t work, necessarily. It’s just that there haven’t been enough studies to say one way or another.
  • Do I really need this supplement? A well-balanced diet should give most people  the minerals, vitamins, and nutrients they need, says Coates. Are there deficiencies in your diet? If so, why?

Finally, always follow the recommended dosing instructions -- or get guidance from your doctor or a dietitian. “The mentality in the U.S. is often, if some is good, more must be better,” says Clemens. “That’s not the case when you’re taking supplements.”

Boosting Energy with Lifestyle Changes

Although they might seem quaint when compared to the newest formulation of energy drink, there are more conventional ways to boost your energy. 

  • Sleep. Start with the stone-cold obvious: if you’re feeling tired and low on energy, sleep more. Getting into good habits before bed -- called sleep hygiene by the experts -- really might help. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Quick naps during the day -- just 20-30 minutes -- can also leave you feeling energized.
  • Exercise. “Really, the best way to have more energy is to have a more active lifestyle,” says Clemens. It might seem counter-intuitive, but exerting yourself will make you feel more energized, not less. One review looked at 70 different studies of the effects of exercise and energy levels. The result? More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing: sedentary people who started an exercise program had less fatigue and more energy.
  • Eat a healthy diet. There’s no special energy diet. But for overall health, experts recommend a diet with lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid high-glycemic index carbohydrates. Eat a reasonable amount of “good fats”, primarily monounsaturated fats like olive oil and omega-3s. As a rule of thumb, Clemens recommends following the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines.

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